Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ten Years of Panismo

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of Vicente Fox's arrival to Los Pins. Leo Zuckermann marks the occasion by running through all the elements of the PAN's tenure that he has liked and hasn't:
I'll begin with economic policy. I have definitely liked the responsible management of the public finances. The panistas understood that macroeconomic stability is a necessary condition for the health of the Republic. The country suffered a great deal when the PRI governments exploded public spending in the '70s and '80s. The panistas, on the other hand, have been very responsible with public money. They have maintained control of the governmental deficit, which has generated low inflation and growing confidence in the financial markets in the nation. This is particularly important in these times in which other economies that destroyed their public spending are having a very difficult times.

[Break]

I haven't liked, in contrast, that the PAN governments haven't been more aggressive in deepening the economic reforms oriented toward the market. This would have the objective of increasing the competitiveness of the nation. In this realm, we have remained stuck. A lost decade. We have survived with the same economic model from the 90s, where the principal engine of growth are the manufacturing exports to the United States. We haven't developed other engines neither in the internal market nor in potentially very profitable sectors like energy and telecommunications. The reality is that for ten years the panista governments have avoided confronting powerful interests that benefit from the economic status quo: monopolist businessmen and privileged unions.
He also talks about security, his frustration reflecting the failure of Calderón's team to establish any hierarchy of priorities in attacking criminal groups.
You have to confront the criminals. Nobody can be opposed to this. But you have to do so in an intelligent way focusing on the crimes that most harm society: homicide, kidnapping, and extortion. Fighting against illegal drug trafficking is a lost war. The state will never be able defeat such a lucrative market.
A liberal state, anyway. I don't think this is quite the prevailing opinion, but it should be. Anyway, the whole piece is worth reading if you speak Spanish.

He's Out

Speaking of Manuel Espino, he has been kicked out of the PAN, consummating one of the more persistent rumors in Mexican politics over the past several months. He's a hard character to take too seriously, but he's still a force, so it'll be interesting to see what he does next. Hopefully he'll form a far-right party that peels much of El Yunque off from the PAN.

A Calderonismo Divided against Itself Is a Calderonismo That Cannot Stand

Excélsior reports that unlike the intra-PAN elections that brought César Nava and Germán Martínez to the party's helm, this year there are two candidates who represent the calderonista wing of the PAN: Gustavo Madero and Roberto Gil Zuarth. The logical tendency is to blame this on a weakening of Calderón's power as the end of his term approaches, and I see no reason to think that the conventional wisdom has it wrong. Calderón is said to have allies in about 60 percent of the National Counsel seats, which means that the division between Madero and Gil could potentially, though it probably won't, lead to a non-Calderonista taking over for the first time since Manuel Espino left the party presidency in 2007.

And All Is Right in the World

It would be hard to point a more enjoyably impressive 90 minutes of spectating in recent years than Barça's destruction of Real. Reading the post-game commentary was almost as enjoyable:
And, while there was no goal from Messi, his first failure to score in 11 games for his club, the Barca star still produced a masterclass in incisive possession football, supplying two wonderful assists for both of Villa's second-half goals. As his erstwhile competitor for the title of the world's most best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, postured pointlessly, indulged in stepovers and became embroiled in a spat with Pep Guardiola, Messi, in his usual understated style, did what he does best: tear teams apart.

In fact, on this evidence, Ronaldo is not the best player on the globe. Nor is he the second or third. In Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, Barcelona possess three players who will be among the all-time greats when the history books are written. Watching them combine in such intuitive and mesmeric style is a treat.
It was interesting to see Xavi taking runs at the goal and Messi dropping back and distributing from a deeper role, a bit like the two periodically switched places. I don't remember that happening at all during the disappointing elimination at the hand's of Mourinho's Inter last spring, and not coincidentally Messi had little impact on either match. It seems as though that tactic was something Guardiola had up his sleeve to prevent a repeat performance from Mourinho's new club. But whatever the tactical reasons...5-0! What fun.

On Cancún

I have nothing meaningful to add to the conversation, so I'll cede comment here to Boz:
Mexico is showing real leadership on this issue, unilaterally setting ambitious goals to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions and implementing policies that have already begun to make a dent in that number. From the beginning of his term, President Calderon has made domestic and international environmental issues a key concern. The key topic of the first meeting between Presidents Obama and Calderon: Clean Energy and Climate Change (Calderon thanked the Obama administration for changing the direction of US policy on the issue).

Unfortunately, few people expect a major breakthrough at the Cancun meeting. There will be a lot of countries pointing fingers and blaming each other while very few leaders will make productive proposals or, like Mexico, unilaterally commit to improving their environmental conditions. The knowledge that the world's two biggest polluters, China and the US, have domestic situations that will likely prevent meaningful climate change measures from being implemented in the next year will also stall action at the meeting.

Still, I'm an optimist and hope that common sense prevails and at least minor reforms are agreed upon or a framework for future negotiations is achieved. Every year that the world lacks action on climate change makes it that much harder for Latin America and the Caribbean to adapt to the devastating environmental effects that are already taking place.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Clásico!



Also, go Barca. Down 2-0, may Ronaldo be sent off in the 88th minute after his 89th dive.

The Washington Post on Calderón on the Climate

Los Pinos was presumably tickled to get some attention in the Washington Post that painted the president in a positive light and didn't have to do with insecurity. And then they read the lede:
Mexico is battling billionaire drug mafias armed with bazookas, but when President Felipe Calderon ranks the threats his country faces, he worries more about methane gas, dwindling forests and dirty refineries.
This is a good example of the media's role in influencing perceptions over Mexico's drug problems. There was no need for anything related to security to be in the intro; this was a nerdy climate change story. Yet that's the first thing everyone reading this story sees, and in the process the image of Mexico-as-Somalia is furthered, in a piece that, again, is ostensibly about Calderón's views on carbon emissions and the like. That has to be extremely frustrating for the Calderón administration.

After noting that Calderón's team describes him as a climate wonk, the article muses, "Who knew?", which is a bit odd because Calderón has made quite a bit of noise on climate change for most of his term. In effect, the answer to that rhetorical question is, "People who follow Calderón's public statements", a group in which you'd expect the Washington Post correspondent to be included. It's an example of one of the key differences with Calderón's ideology and that of the right wing in the US: an avowed respect for science on the part of the former.

Also, I will spare everyone a repetition of my views on the gangs' billionaire status, but for anyone interested, here's a summary.

Interesting Stories from the Past Few Days

In an enormous and triumphant headline, El Universal reported over the weekend that Diego Fernández de Cevallos had been released healthy and happy, a happy fact which was subsequently denied by the family. Then El Universal, in much smaller type, repeated the claim in Sunday's paper, this time attributing the news to a nephew of the former presidential candidate. Is he free but stowed away at a family compound? Still locked up? Your guess is as good as mine.

The fact that this comes from one of Mexico's most respected papers makes the whole situation even odder. One would expect to see the offending reporter and his editors all publicly flogged after a comparable episode involving the NY Times, but the More from Burro Hall here.

Plus, Julián Leyzaola is out in Tijuana:
Tijuana's mayor-elect said Friday that he will replace the border city's top cop, who launched an unprecedented campaign to loosen the grip of drug cartels on what has been one of Mexico's most corrupt police forces.

But in a sign of continuity, Julian Leyzaola will be succeeded as public safety secretary by his closest aide, Gustavo Huerta, when the mayor's term begins Tuesday.

First, "unprecedented" gets thrown around too much. Second, this sounds more like a lack of comfort with the guy's profile than a wholesale shift in policy, but interesting nonetheless. One wonders if, a la Sports Illustrated or John Madden, it's the beginning of a New Yorker curse.

Lastly, the leader of the Los Aztecas in Juárez was arrested. Authorities are saying he was behind the murders of the US consular employees as well as the mass murder of partying youths in January. Then again, the Federal Police is saying that he is responsible for 80 percent of the murders in Juárez since 2009, which is ridiculously high proportion for a single man in a city as chaotic as Juárez and seems to indicate that they want to hang everything on him. Rumors that he killed Pancho Villa have not yet been confirmed or denied.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Security Numbers

The annual Inegi survey on citizen confidence in various security agencies is out, with the Marines taking the top spot (with a grade of 8.3), followed by the army (8.1), the Federal Police (6.8), and the new Federal Ministerial Police (6.6). Breaking those grades down a bit further, 43.3 percent of those polled said that the Marines' performance has been very effective, and 55 percent said that they had a lot of confidence in the agency. Those numbers were 41.1 and 52.5 percent, respectively, for the army, 15.1 and 24.6 percent for the Federal Police, and 15.6 and 24.8 for the Federal Ministerial Police. It's interesting to see the Marines at the top. Eighteen months ago, they were a nonentity, at least in the public eye, with regard to security, but now they have been involved in a number of major arrests, which is reflected in their positive image here.

Also, Mitofsky has a poll that it conducted on behalf of Mexicans United Against Crime in which 49 percent say that Calderón's policies to combat drug trafficking have failed, with only 23 percent saying they have worked. That 23 percent is down from 48 percent five months, such a steep decline that one has to wonder if something else was skewing one of the polls.

A Pact after Calderón?

I have a piece at Foreign Policy in Focus outlining why I don't see a pact as a likely scenario after Calderón leaves office:

It’s not clear how much of the recent spike in violence is directly related to Calderon’s policies, and, consequently, sensitive to future changes in government strategy. In 2009, then-Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora reported that 90 percent of those killed in drug-related violence since Calderón arrived were criminals, while just 6 percent were government agents. Assuming the statistics are reliable, this seems to suggest that the government, though not a mere bystander, is not the most important actor on the stage.

If the violence is due primarily to factors that are independent of Calderón (such as the militarization of gangs, the feud between Chapo Guzmán and Vicente Carrillo in Juárez, a growing local drug market), then removing the army from the streets and reducing the risk of arrest for the capos—which is basically all the government has as bargaining chips—won’t lead directly to an enduring peace between the warring factions. Instead, the gang leaders would have to decide of their own volition to bury the hatchet.

Unfortunately, recent history suggests that regardless of the government’s posture, the biggest players in the industry are not enthusiastic about submitting to any sort of agreement that would allow some control over their violent conduct. On at least three occasions during the Calderón presidency—in June 2007, in October 2008, and in February 2009—major gang leaders have met with the express goal of settling disputes and returning the industry—and by extension, the nation—to some modicum of safety. In each instance, the pacts failed, and violence has continued to rise.

Not to be wishy washy, but I hasten to add that while I believe very much in the logic employed in the article, I could still be quite wrong. Predicting is always a fraught business, even more so when you are talking about a hidden industry.

Arrest in Acapulco

Carlos Montemayor, alleged head of one of the offshoots of Édgar Valdez Villarreal's organization and his father in law to boot, was arrested in Mexico City last night. He is said to be behind the kidnapping and murder of 22 Michoacán tourists last month.

Super Marcelo

Jorge Chabat is on the verge of some extreme effusiveness in discussing the mayor of Mexico City in a column titled, Super Marcelo?:
Until now, Ebrard has avoided a total break with López Obrador, maybe with the hope of the latter agrees to support his candidacy, something that frankly seems very far-fetched. Of course, Ebrard has the option of yielding to AMLO's candidacy, confident that he can win the presidency, which, according to polls and the proportion of the vote won by the PRD in the past elections, and even by all of the left, also seems very far-fetched. As such, everything seems to indicate that the only option that the mayor of Mexico City is is to seek the candidacy of the PRD, which seems more or less viable, and then seek the support of the PAN for a common alliance, which seems much less viable. Certainly, at the end of the day, we will be able to negotiate something who whoever is the candidate of the eventual PAN-PRD alliance for the presidency, with the hope that the alliance candidate wins, and Ebrard remains position for the candidacy in 2018.

Marcelo Ebrard is frankly in an uncomfortable position, in which he has little room to maneuver. Nevertheless, he has demonstrated himself to be an exceptional political animal. If he comes out of this backdrop politically strengthened, even if he doesn't win the presidency, he will have proved his political capacity. Now, if despite all of the obstacles, Ebrard manages to construct a viable presidential candidacy and win the elections, he will without a doubt end up in the category of legends of Mexican politics. We will soon see what kind of wood Ebrard is made of.
This is striking most of all because it takes quite seriously the notion of a presidential alliance in 2012, something I wouldn't have thought possible. It looks a lot easier in print than it possibly would in reality, but the fact that serious people are taking it seriously means it's perhaps not as unlikely as I'd assumed. And I'm not sure Ebrard's political instincts are quite as perfect as Chabat suggests (he remains hopelessly hemmed in by AMLO's ambitions, and he would need a mountain of lucky breaks to get anywhere near the presidency), but the reference to him as a potential political legend is unusual; most Mexican analysts are very shy with compliments.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Real Wordsmith

There's a scene in Shattered Glass in which Marty Peretz makes all of the younger staff sit down and underline all the commas in one issue of The New Republic, or some similarly stupid and demeaning menial task. The message was, first and foremost, Peretz is a harsh taskmaster, but, secondarily, he was also quite the grammarian.

Every time my eyes glance over more than about eight letters of his blog, the experience suggests, with increasing insistence, that the scene was apocryphal. For instance, take this headline:
Maybe You’re Accustomed To Reeling When Reading John Bolton’s Opinions. I Don’t.
The resemblance to the title of Colbert's opus is uncanny, but of course, Colbert's book was a joke. Even if you're not a naturally gifted writer, how could you spend 40 years or whatever at a magazine, and still arrange a pair of sentences in such a way?

Worse Than Ever Before! Or, Comparable to the Last Few Years

Here's the intro to a recent Mclatchy piece:

As recently as a year or two ago, commandos fighting for the Mexican drug cartels often would rather flee than confront security forces.

But an influx of combat weapons — purchased at U.S. gun shops and shows or stolen from Central American munitions stockpiles — and a vast supply of ammunition now enables them to fight, and sometimes outgun, army and federal police units.

Cartel squads toss hand grenades, fire rockets and spray security forces with high-caliber gunfire. They sometimes have 10 times the ammunition of federal forces.

The story about criminals' impressive firepower is certainly worth writing every now and then, but the implication that there's anything new about it is totally unsupported, and is just untrue. For one, the army has heavy artillery, which very few gangs do. Obviously, if three trucks worth of hit men attack a single army Humvee at an Oxxo, they former have more firepower in that moment, but that's more an issue of concentrating forces rather than the total sum of each side's firepower. The idea that the military's arms purchases fail to keep up with the gangs' and that's why Mexico is so violent is not right. Furthermore, grenades in Mexico are nothing new, nor are other high-tech weapons. To wit, this was from a piece written in 2005:

The U.S. government is shutting its consulate in Nuevo Laredo temporarily, citing new safety concerns in the wake of a high-stakes drug-cartel turf war that intensified this week to include rocket-propelled grenades, officials said.

[Break]

The Associated Press also said authorities found three massive shell casings, believed to be from a rocket launcher, according to unnamed investigators.

This piece, with its desire to label a longtime problem as something suddenly and unprecedentedly dangerous, is a perfect example of what I was talking about here:
This line from a Post piece on Patricia González's brother's kidnapping and videotaped confession jumps out:
Gonzalez's kidnapping and his forced video "confession," with its similarities to the propaganda produced by terrorists, represent a stark escalation in a drug war that has left 30,000 dead over the past four years. The warring cartels often accuse government officials of corruption but rarely in such al-Qaeda-style videos.
The second sentence refutes the first. The only thing even marginally new about this was the fact that the guys are dressed up in fatigues and holding assault rifles. Everything else you see has been going on for years. An anti-kidnapping cop in Torreón was taped crying, beaten, and confessing every illicit relationship and smuggling maneuver in the region back in 2007, and though jarring, it was nothing new even then. La Barbie videotaped the execution of a bunch of Zetas and uploaded to Youtube in 2005. Nothing in this most recent video outstrips that.
As if to prove my point, the scary confiscated weapon whose picture accompanies the Mclatchy piece is ...a revolver. OK, a revolver with a scope affixed to it, which is cool, but a weapon with less killing power than a hunting rifle.

Businessmen Call for a Truce

A business group in Tamaulipas has called for a truce between the federal government and the drug gangs:
We ask [Calderón] for a truce and for an exchange of military helicopters for tractors so as to make the rural areas more productive, to trade machine guns for credits for businesses, and to exchange each detonated grenade for a job.
If only it were so simple. I understand their exasperation, and it's only natural that they look to the government to fix what's broken, but I don't see how the government would be able to make Tamaulipas more peaceful by calling off the dogs. The reason for the spike in violence is the split between the Zetas and the Gulf. If the government was powerful enough to make them bury the hatchet, it would probably be more able to tamp down on the violence to start off with. Which is to say, easing up on pursuit would not likely have more than a marginal impact on crime. Given that, aside from being irresponsible, calls for a truce run counter to the interest of legitimate businessmen. More on this later.

Gael García Bernal as Roberto Durán



I think a great deal of Gael García Bernal's acting ability, but I can't say I ever saw him and thought, My, he would really make Manos de Piedra come to life. Even without having seen La Mala Educación, in which he spends much of the movie dressed as a woman, I don't think I'd say that García comes across as a raging bull of an actor. Then again, I can't say I ever expected him to pull off a norteña version of a Cheap Trick song in the guise of a star goalie itching to remake himself as a singer, so maybe I'll be surprised.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Murder City Review

I just published a review of Murder City at Wunderkammer. Here's a piece:
Beyond the factual problems, Bowden's writing is limited by his tendency toward crude generalizations. Among them:

"[W]omen count more in Mexican beer commercials than on Mexican streets."

"Mexicans learn early on, by watching the elders, to retreat or cower before authority..."

"Mexico is not a society that respects human rights."

“Mexico is not a good place to need help.”

Whether you read such sentences as a bit of harmless hyperbole or manifestations of an offensive anti-Mexican bias is largely a matter of taste, but suffice it to say that nuance is not a virtue in great supply in Bowden’s opus.

Special mention must be made of the over-the-top treatment of the Mexican army. At one point, Bowden refers to it as a "criminal organization.” Elsewhere he writes, “To have a general speak to you is not to be desired. They can hand out death like a party favor.”

He also accuses the army of institutionalized racism, saying that "officers have lighter skin that loses pigment steadily as rank gets higher until there is the rarified air of generals who look like Europeans dropped in from some colonial outpost." Here is the photo of the army's foremost commander, General Guillermo Galván, and here are the photos of all the top brass; either image presents about as concise a rebuttal of that claim as is possible.
As the above probably suggests, I had a lot of problems with the book. A vivid read, as Bowden's stuff always is, but as a description of reality, it was lacking.

The Backdrop in Colima

The Pacific state of Colima is not typically mentioned along with Chihuahua and Tamaulipas as irrevocably drug-addled, and it was a bit surprising to see, of all places, that sleepy state as the setting for the murder of a former governor. Here's some context from Excélsior:
This year there have been 97 homicides, 95 percent of them related to the dispute for territory between the criminal groups the Michoacán Family, the Milenio cartel, and the Resistance.

The cities of Manzanillo, Tecomán, Villa de Álvarez, and Colima are the most affected by the crime and the climate of violance has impacted the revenues of local businesses.

Just this year, the American Consulate in Guadalajara has twice sent warnings to American citizens, telling them to be cautious about visiting the state of Colima because of the insecurity in the region.
I've never heard of the Resistance, and I wonder if they are a new gang or just a local offshoot of someone we already are familiar with. As far as the Milenios, they operated in Michoacán for a long time earlier this decade, but were said to be destroyed by La Familia. Yet you still here about them from time to time.

Update: Authorities say that the murder was not linked to drugs. As always, grain of salt, but that's a denial that they don't usually make these days.

Mexico's Version of Gran Torino

There was a crazy story in Milenio about a wealthy, 77-year-old rancher in Tamaulipas, Don Alejo Garza, who was faced with demands that he turn over his hacienda to a group of drug traffickers, or else. On the day of the else, the man warned his employees to stay home, and then spent the previous night turning his estate into something resembling a fort, with gun embankments and whatnot all over the place. When trucks full of thugs came for the hacienda in the middle of the night earlier this month, they were met with Don Alejo's gunfire. At the end of the fight, which included grenades and lots of automatic weapons, Don Alejo had been killed, but so had four of his attackers, with two more severely wounded.

Milenio seems impressed with the story, and indeed I am as well; that's certainly a pretty ballsy response from Don Alejo, and it's always satisfying to see bullies get their comeuppance. But beyond the Hollywood aspect of it, what a sad finale to a life that didn't have to end violently. It would have been more boring but infinitely better for the whole thing to have been settled through a phone call to the authorities and a round of arrests.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ex-Governor Killed

Silverio Cavazos, Colima's governor from 2005-2009, was killed outside of his house earlier today. His successor, Mario Anguiano, has promised to utilize all the force of the state to capture those responsible.

Extortion Stats

According to the private security firm Grupo Multisistemas de Seguridad Industrial, there are roughly 760 extortion attempts on a daily basis in Mexico, which would amount to slightly more than 90,000 a year, and which is significantly more than the most recent government statistics that I am aware of. Of those attempts, 62 percent are paid, the firm says.

Also, two Paraguayan soccer players in Mexico reported that they were the targets of an extortion scheme. They are now considering whether or not leave Mexico and play elsewhere, which is understandable and a fitting illustration of the impact of extortion on the economic activity in the nation.

Bill Simmons Doubles Down and Sundry Boxing Comments

First, fresh off of calling for the scalp of one of boxing's faves, Bill Simmons doubles down on last week's boxing silliness and demands the fight that no one is asking for, Pacquiao vs. Pavlik:
Although an HGH/blood-doping scandal with Kobe remains my No. 1 pick in any "Non-Boston Sports Wish" fantasy draft, narrowly edging a Manny Pacquiao-Kelly Pavlik fight and Donald Sterling selling the Clippers.
And:
The only name 168-pounder Manny could beat! RT @TerronJ Pacquiao-Pavlik? Either Pavlik owes you money or you havent watched boxing lately.
Hmmm, where to start...perhaps with the fact that Pavlik is a career middleweight and has never won a significant fight at 168? Or that he's rumored to have a drinking problem that caused him to pull out of a Brian Vera fight on Saturday? Or that Pavlik is ten inches taller, and it would be just a freak show of a fight?

While we're complaining, why are there so many people calling Sergio Martínez's knockout shot last night a left hook? We have AP, Maxboxing, and Yahoo! all calling it a left hook. He's a southpaw. Southpaws, unless they switch up, throw right hooks, and either overhand lefts or straight lefts or left crosses. The Martínez punch was either an overhand left or a left cross, but it was not a left hook.

Lastly, I think that this column discussing Manny Pacquiao as being among the very best ever is a bit premature, though you could make a case for him being among the twenty best of all time already, even higher if he beats Mayweather. That's in one sense pretty odd, because Pacquiao is certainly not the best of all time in any of the individual divisions where he's competed, and he's way down the list in the divisions that have been around for many decades (126, 135, and 147). Yet he's been consistent and powerful despite the gain in weight, to a degree that has no precedent.

Why Ronaldo Is So Easy to Dislike, Volume 2154

Seriously, it's like he was a Duke fan as a kid, and said, That Laettner guy is irritating as all hell, but I can make people hate me much more than that:

A fuming Ronaldo, who had slalomed through the Spanish defence and lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Iker Casillas, had a fantastic tantrum before throwing his captain's armband onto the pitch in anger.

Nani has since apologised and Ronaldo has turned his ire towards the match officials, claiming the ball was over the line before his colleague got a touch. "I don't understand, even a blind man could see it was a goal, the ball was half a metre into the net," Ronaldo told Marca. "I don't know if it's a coincidence or not but my best goals with the national team are being disallowed."

Can't wait for the Clasico.

Going Home Again

Mexican media outlets are reporting that La Barbie is on the verge of being extradited to the US.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Today's Illustration that Juárez's (and by Extension, Mexico's) Security Problems Go Far Beyond Two Big Gangs

There are some 250 kidnapping gangs operating in Juárez, according to a prosecutor who works in the region.

Reducing Violence

The cover of Nexos this month features the headline, How to reduce the violence. I've not yet read the cover story, but this, rather than, How to win the war on drugs, is the right way to approach the issue, and I commend the editors for recognizing the distinction. Aside from being a pipe dream, "winning" the war on drugs also has various and contradictory implications in the short term. Do you want to make the country less violent, or do you want to weaken the gangs that do exist? In all likelihood, these can't be achieved simultaneously in the short term, so it's important to be precise about which goals are being pursued with a given set of policies.

You hate to get overly focused on semantic details, but when you talk about winning the war on drugs, whatever ideas you have, regardless of their merit, are inevitably going to fall short, and you set yourself up for failure. It kind of reminds of me Jeffrey Sachs' writing, in that sense.

Silly Comments from People Who Should Know Better

Barry McCaffrey, former drug czar, says that it's "inevitable that we win the war on drugs". This is indisputable, though only if you accept that "inevitable" is a synonym of "impossible".

Also, Rick Perry says it's time for Obama to send the army to Mexico:
"Obviously, Mexico has to approve any type of assistance that we can give them. But the fact of the matter is these [drug gangs] are people who are highly motivated for money, they are vicious, they are armed to the teeth. And I want to see them defeated," he said.
To his credit, he included the line about Mexico having to accept whatever assistance is given. But to his discredit, this is a silly idea that would put American soldiers at risk while striving for an unachievable objective.

Expensive Elections

Citing a study from Cide, Leo Zuckermann says that at $17, the cost of elections per voter in Mexico's 2003 elections was roughly 50 times the cost in Brazil, and 17 times the Latin American average. The per-voter price in Mexico has since increased to more than $26. However, Mexico has a long way to go before it reaches American spending levels, i.e. roughly $40 per voter in 2008. Of course, that's also a product of greater voluntary donations, whereas Mexico's elections are financed with public money.

Bernard Hopkins Speaks, Thinks. In That Order, with the Second Portion Being Optional.

Everybody's favorite cantankerous forty-something champ says that Pacquiao has been ducking African-American fighters. His reasoning? African-American fighters --by whom he means "black fighters from the streets or the inner cities", he said, and not transplanted Africans like Clottey-- are slick in a way that other fighters aren't.

That is rather ridiculous. Pacquiao's spent most of his career beneath 130 pounds, where there were not any significant African-American fighters. He clearly fought the best in each division, but those guys were typically Mexican (Morales, Barrera, JM Márquez, et cetera). The best African-American fighter at those weights was, I don't know, maybe Erik Aiken? He won a title, but he was basically a cut above a club fighter. Pacquiao was ducking him like I'm ducking my future as a sanitation worker. Then there was Zahir Raheem and Nate Campbell at 135. Raheem brought no money to the table, and Pacquiao was a superstar at that point. But it's not like Raheem was a guy where people were saying, He has what it takes to beat Pacquiao, and were clamoring for the fight. Raheem's slick, but he lost to Rocky Juárez and Ali Funeka, so we're not talking about a world-beater. And Campbell, well, that would probably would have been a better fight at 135 than the David Diaz fight. Of course, Campbell, who's been knocked out twice by Robbie Peden, isn't particularly slick, and his style would have almost certainly led him to a one-sided beatdown from Manny. In any event, not fighting Campbell didn't amount to a duck.

Now at 140-147, I'd love to see Manny take on Tim Bradley or Devon Alexander, either of whom would pose a legitimate challenge. But since neither brings much cash to the table at this point, it's hard to blame Pacquiao for looking elsewhere. A fighter can be labeled a ducker if he's turning down legitimate paydays to avoid a fighter (i.e. Mayweather vs. Margarito back in the day, Haye versus the Klitschkos now), but not if he can make far more fighting someone else. In any event, Arum says that Manny could face the winner of Alexander-Bradley next year, so Hopkins will have his wish fulfilled. Of course, the African-American everyone wants to see in the ring with Pacquiao is Mayweather, but that hasn't happened because of Floyd, not Manny. Pacquiao-Mosley and Pacquiao-Judah, the only other potential fights with African-Americans, would be mismatches.

This is the third time I know of that Hopkins has stuck race into boxing analysis where it didn't really belong (Pavlik was missing a certain slickness he needed to learn from black fighters, and then Hopkins was going to defeat Calzaghe because he'd never lose to a "white boy", though in the event he did just that). It's annoying. Although we'll cut Bernard some slack, because his grandpa Johns has put together a hell of an institution over there in Baltimore.

AMLO's Mexico Candidate

AMLO is pushing Yeidckol Polenvsky to be the non-alliance leftist candidate for the seat currently held by Enrique Peña Nieto. She won't win (in with a stronger base of support, she came in third place, almost 30 points behind Peña Nieto, in the 2005 governor's election), but she will likely take a measurable slice of the left's votes and therefore sink the alliance, which is AMLO's goal with the move. In so doing, he will help Peña Nieto hand his seat over to a priísta, and thus overcome one of his last big obstacles before 2012, which is presumably not a goal of AMLO's. Although the logic is so blindingly obvious, one wonders.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Peña Nieto on the Environment

Enrique Peña Nieto highlights five changes to Mexico's environmental policies: lowering carbon emissions, better management of the water supply, protecting Mexico's biodiversity, improving waste disposal, and greater participation in global environmental initiatives.

This piece is reflective of a Peña Nieto paradox. It strikes me as a piece that few, if any, of the other presidential possibilities would write. Like most of what I've read with Peña Nieto's byline, it's thoughtful and well written and forward thinking. At the same time, I'm not sure those are reflections of his virtues. Rather, the piece just means he has an adviser or two who has paid some attention to the issues mentioned above, and I don't get the sense that he could speak off the cuff with any depth about this. I'm not sure that distinction matters as far as how a Peña Nieto administration would make policy, but then again if the advisors I like are sidelined, there's no assurance that the man at the top will maintain the policies I like.

The Mexican Media's Attention to Old American Think Tank Reports

The Strategic Studies Institute's musings on "narcoinsurgency" have earned enough attention this week to provoke a denial from Genaro García Luna. The timing of this is more than a bit odd, since the Institute's big report deeming Mexico's security problems a "narcoinsurgency" came out last year, and I'm not aware of any new one.

Also, the Center for a New American Security assures us that the war against Mexican drug gangs can be won, Excélsior reports. The same study says that Mexican gangs operate in 230 cities in the US and Canada (more on that later). The timing of these stories is similarly odd, since the original study was released in September.

In any event, hearing that Mexico's fight against drug gangs can be won is as ever frustrating, given that we know that regardless of any single gang's demise, the drug trade will continue as long as there exists a market for it. We really should avoid using "win" and all of its derivations in this context. Mexican security can be improved, and individual gangs can be defeated, but the war cannot be won. At least not in a democratic, free-market society.

And, like Noel Maurer (at least, I think he's written this), I'm not a big fan of the "narco" modifier in general. It's either an insurgency or it isn't (I'd say not). The word "narco" is really immaterial, and seems to serve as a bar-lowering de-intensifier. It's like calling the Farc narco-revolutionaries; what real insight do we get from that label? It's a semantic trick.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Still More on La Familia's Offer

The operator arrested the other day paints a pretty bleak picture of the organization, saying it "is going downhill, it's already really poorly organized." He also said that the offer was motivated in part because La Tuta "is just done...physically, emotionally, and in terms of health", and that he seems to be just looking to avoid problems.

This mental exhaustion is something that appears appears in virtually every detailed account you ever read of drug traffickers, from Osiel to Killing Pablo. Relatedly, the desire for traffickers to find a way out that doesn't imply life in prison or violent death is something you see repeatedly both in real life (Amado Carrillo had spoken of remaking himself in South America, and I believe Pablo Acosta was negotiating terms with American authorities when he was killed) and in fiction (all the characters look for an exit in Cártel de los Sapos).

The Downside of Mexico's Job Creation

Mexico has had success creating jobs this year, but Banamex says that there is reason to be less than thrilled: the sector of the labor force earning more than five times the minimum wage --which is to say, people earning roughly $30 a day or more-- is hemorrhaging, with losses of 359,000 jobs in the year up through the third quarter of this year. That kind of takes the wind out of the excitement over the 780,000 jobs created this year.

Details Screw Up Non-Details

El Universal declared today that the judicial reform of 2008 has been "killed" by the lack of funding in the most recent budget. In fact, the judicial branch will receive 31.4 billion pesos, or 10 percent more funds than they did last year (28.3 billion), but roughly ten percent less than they were asking for (34.9 billion). Nonetheless, this 3.5 billion shortfall, some $280 million, is enough of a hit that 71 courts that were to be used to alleviate the strain on the judicial system will now not be able to begin operating. That's probably worse news for security than the cuts in funding for the PGR. Thanks to declining oil production and a weak tax base, Mexico's revenues are such that there's never going to be enough cash to go around, but if you accept the importance of an improved judicial system to a safer Mexico, this nonetheless represents a setback.

It also serves as another reminded that while legislation is often a vital step toward truly addressing a problem, a landmark reform, however well designed, doesn't in and of itself amount to much.

Vulnerable Immigrants

Amnesty says that 20,000 immigrants per year are kidnapped in Mexico. With all the other security problems in Mexico, it's going to be hard to make threats to poor Hondurans and Guatemalans a major focus without periodic massacres, but Mexico can do a lot to alleviate this by breaking up organized crime rings generally. Although the incursion into human smuggling and migrant-kidnapping, most often associated with the Zetas, is probably in part a product of increased difficulty in trafficking drugs, which leads to the conclusion that the more success the government has in breaking up drug-smuggling networks, the more that will put migrants at risk.

Revolution? When?

One of the things that you hear a lot about Latin America and Mexico --or maybe it's just something Oppenheimer writes, but I think it goes beyond that-- is that they are hopelessly obsessed with the past. This didn't really reflect my experience, in which Mexicans were basically no more or less oblivious to events in bygone eras than were Americans. That's not a knock, either; I'd say both nations' citizens are biologically and culturally driven to focus on the present and the near future far more than the past. Anyway, here's evidence supporting my view: a BGC poll published on Monday asked the following question:
Since the approval of the 1917 Revolution various presidents have governed. Tell me, with what you know of the people who have governed, which do you think is the one who best followed the ideals of the Revolution.
Predictably, Lázaro Cárdenas came in first place, but with a mere 13 percent of the votes (he should have been around, I don't know, 100 percent). But then he was followed by Felipe Calderón, who is light years away from the ideology of the Revolution. In third place, out of nowhere, is Adolfo López Mateos. And then in fourth place is Benito Juárez, who is indeed the most celebrated Mexican ever, but who died 40 years before the Revolution began, and therefore would seem to be disqualified by the question. This is not unlike a big chunk of the US crediting Lincoln for winning WWII. Sharing fourth place with Juárez is Ernesto Zedillo, whose most memorable contribution as president was handing the presidency to a panista, which, while in my opinion a major step forward for Mexican democracy, was about as unrevolutionary an act as could be conceived.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Explaining La Familia's Offer

A just-arrested heavyweight in Lázaro Cárdenas says the offer was part of an attempt by La Tuta to clean up La Familia's image, and to put pressure on the Federal Police to leave Michoacán.

2011: No Fun

Analysts at a meeting of Latin American economic analysts said that Mexico's economic performance next year will be worse than the rest of the region's, which is a sobering prediction, though somewhat less so because the projection isn't, objectively speaking, that bad (3.9 percent), and also that the projections for 2010 shorted the actual growth. In general, though, Mexico has a couple of big long-term barriers to development that could prove trickier than those faced by many other nations in Latin America: they are overly dependent on the US, which is looking at years of reduced consumption, and they have (for now) a competitive rather than a complementary relationship with China, which stands in stark contrast to what is fueling a lot of South America's growth.

B and L Security Polling

Buendía and Laredo have a new poll out with a potentially disturbing number for Calderón: 70 percent of those polled say his policies have made the country less secure, a number that has leapt 20 points since the last poll was conducted in August, which had been the highest figure for that question under Calderón. The people who say his policies make the nation safer amount to only 19 percent, which is down only 2 points from August and is not an all-time low. So essentially, all of the previously neutral respondents have become more negative, while the hard core that supports Calderón remains roughly the size.

Another new and potentially meaningful revelation in this poll: the number of people who view public security as the foremost problem in Mexico now outnumbers those who say the economy, by a 44-39 margin. In September of 2009, 64 percent said the economy was the biggest challenge against only 24 who said security, but it has been trickling the other direction ever since. Most pollsters (Pew being a prominent exception) have typically pointed to the economy as the worst problem, but with the economy improving and the security situation either worsening or plateauing at "really bad", you wonder if this shift will be mimicked in other polls. Although the sudden 20-point spike in people saying that the country is more unsafe thanks to Calderón makes you suspect that there was something funky with the sample.

Budget Passed

The spending bill --the second, and generally speaking, more enjoyable, portion of Mexico's annual budget two-step-- has now come and gone, with the Chamber of Deputies approving the bill last night. El Universal reports that security forces will be given much less (though not Sedena), though unless I'm mistaken, they mean less than Calderón asked for, and not less than last year. (My link to an article with last year's budget particulars is broken, thanks to Excélsior's website revamping earlier this year.) Education was given more money than Calderón had requested.

More on Big Tobacco in Mexico

The Center for Public Integrity has a very long examination of tobacco companies' international lobbying efforts out today.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Talking with Malcolm

I have an interview with Malcolm Beith about his new book and Chapo Guzmán here. Click on it, or your Monday won't be as stimulating as it might have been.

Brazil Envy/Admiration

One of the dominant sentiments among Mexican elites in recent years is, Why can't we be like Brazil? You see it in the disappointment at being excluded from the BRIC grouping, the envy over the Olympics and the World Cup, and the admiration for Lula's place in the world. You also see it in this article, which reports that a handful of Mexican political heavyweights (Manlio Fabio Beltrones among them) received a lesson in carving out a development strategy from Roberto Mangabeira, the former minister of strategic affairs under Lula. Evidently, the Mexicans visited with Mangabeira while at Harvard. Who knows if in reality it was a seminar in which the wise Brazilian was dispensing advice, or if it was just an idea session, but the fact that El Universal would come away with an article titled, "Mexico adopts the 'Brazilian recipe'" demonstrates the force of Brazil envy among a certain segment of Mexican elites, either among the politicians or the journalists who cover them, or both.

Hoping to Reel in More Big Fish

The Mexican marines say that are going to employ the tactics they used to track down Tony Tormenta and Arturo Beltrán Leyva to go after other big shots, including Chapo Guzmán. You'd think they'd be better served to do so without announcing it in the media, but whatever.

Anyway, this past year and the coming one, assuming the marines have some success in their plans, amount to something of a litmus test for the kingpin strategy, as Robert Bonner calls it, through which gangs are dismantled from the top down. So far, the sudden increase in capos' vulnerability (Nacho Coronel, La Barbie, Sergio Villarreal, and Teo García, in addition to Beltrán Leyva and Tony Tormenta) hasn't done a lot to make Mexico appear less vulnerable to drug violence. The success of such a strategy might not be evident until long after the fact, but personally I feel fairly confident in asserting that when Mexico's violence does go down, it won't be because of the demise of five or ten big shots alone, but rather that in combination with broader efforts to attack the guts of their networks.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blasphemy. Or, Bill Simmons Burnishes His Credentials as a Boxing Poser.

Bill Simmons calls for Jim Lampley's firing:
PS: Time for Gus Johnson to replace Jim Lampley on these HBO fights. Lamps steps all over his partners and doesn't shut up. Enough already.
And:
Apologies for the rounds tweet - didn't realize the backstory. I deleted it. Also: didn't realize Gus got bad MMA reviews. Bob Papa then?
This is simply ludicrous. Last night may not have been his best broadcast, but I don't think any announcer is more beloved by his sport's fans than Lampley. The guy's more in his element than Harry Caray singing at Wrigley. And Gus Johnson? If Simmons followed boxing outside of the sport's Super Bowls, he'd know that Gus isn't just disliked for his coverage of MMA, but has been heavily criticized for years for his excessive screaming during Showtime boxing broadcasts. Since Simmons doesn't, and therefore doesn't know what he's talking about or have anything remotely insightful to add, maybe he shouldn't write about it.

Beyond this specific critique, I find Simmons' endless carping about announcers and coaches very tiring. He's always looking for a whipping boy, which can be hilarious when he finds a good one (Art Shell), but is often unfair (him beating up on Mike McCarthy this year) and is just old at this point. Much of the sniping is a function of his job, but he takes it way too far for my taste. A critic, whether writing about sports or movies or whatever, should approach the subject as an objective analyst and arrive at his criticism organically. Simmons, in contrast, often writes as if he's just looking for things to bitch about.

Requesting the Army's Return

It was interesting to see César Duarte publicly call for the return of the army to Juárez. You see this a fair amount: while the army makes a convenient foil for opponents of Calderón, while it has not been successful in tamping down violence or eliminating any of the most fearsome gangs, and while it has had at least a handful of pretty horrid violations, the army remains the agency politicians of every party look to when security becomes dicey. I don't think this will change, which will make it very hard for the next president to walk the army back to the barracks without a much improved security climate, or a much improved Federal Police.

Foretelling of a Million Heated Street Protests?

Earlier this week, José Ángel Córdova, in addressing the potential solutions to the IMSS financial crisis, conspicuously did not rule out a rise in the retirement age.

Reactions to the Offer from La Familia

They were not favorable. Leo Zuckermann:
With you, there can be no dialogue, negotiation, and especially no pacting.

Because you are delinquents that threaten, intimidate, bribe, and kill. You aren't English gentlemen who keep your word. You use AK-47s to "convince". You, in summary, are one of the most violent cartels in the country.

Don't try to fool us: you aren't saving Michoacán. Far from it, you have condemned to be one of the entities with the worst figures for executions, not to mention extortion of kidnapping. You should admit what you are: c-r-i-m-i-n-a-l-s. Don't be hypocrites. Don't disguise yourselves as lambs when you are some of the most ferocious wolves that exist.
For the record, that's the second time that Zuckermann has fallen back on the English gentleman comparison as a way to discourage pacts. And here's Jorge Fernández Menéndez:

La Familia asks for opinions about the organization and their offer. And we must respond: La Familia wasn't created to defend the people, nor anything like it. It is a criminal group that specialized in marijuana traffic and that with time branched out into methamphetamines. Today it is one of the foremost cartels in the country. For a while they were operators with the Beltrán Leyvas, with whom they split and initiated a ferocious battle for control of the state, above all when the latter separated from Chapo Guzmán's cartel, who allied with La Familia. Their war has been against the Beltráns and the Zetas. Their activity has been as violent or more so than any other gang and they have expanded to all of the central region of the country and even, as we have seen, to the US. Where is the humanitarian and the defense of the state and its people?

If that cartel or any other decides to dissolve and abandon its criminal activities, great news. But nobody should be fooled: if that happens it will be because of the pressure of the authorities, using a strategy that many have disqualified from the get-go. For now, everything seems to more a public relations than a serious decision to drop their weapons and take responsibility. But that's not a result of strength, but rather of weakness.

This seems to be the standard reaction, and the point that the Familia is hypocritical and shouldn't be negotiated with hard to dispute. But I guess my point is that there is a lot of space between negotiating and ignoring them entirely, and the government doesn't lose much of anything by subtly encouraging them to leave the business.

Also, Fernández Menéndez's final point about the offer being a sign of weakness rather than a sign of strength is not a debate to which we should be devoting too much energy. For one, we don't know. You can't measure the strength of a gang with quarterly profit numbers, nor can we, in most cases, pinpoint what their actual strength is or what the leaders' perceptions of it are. Secondly, at a certain point, it almost doesn't matter whether gangs are motivated by strength or weakness. The actions themselves are what need to be considered. If a gang is killing scores of people, forcing businesses to close, and generally wreaking impossible amounts of havoc, it's small consolation to say that they are doing so because they are getting weaker. In this case, La Familia may be weaker than they were two years ago, but does Fernández Menéndez doubt that they can remain the same destructive force for the foreseeable future that they have been for the past four years?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Perhaps the Flakiest, Least Convincing Piece of Writing I Have Ever Encountered

For the good of the country and the Democratic Party, Obama should renounce second-term ambitions, say Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen:
This is a critical moment for the country. From the faltering economy to the burdensome deficit to our foreign policy struggles, America is suffering a widespread sense of crisis and anxiety about the future. Under these circumstances, Obama has the opportunity to seize the high ground and the imagination of the nation once again, and to galvanize the public for the hard decisions that must be made. The only way he can do so, though, is by putting national interests ahead of personal or political ones.

To that end, we believe Obama should announce immediately that he will not be a candidate for reelection in 2012.

If the president goes down the reelection road, we are guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it. But by explicitly saying he will be a one-term president, Obama can deliver on his central campaign promise of 2008, draining the poison from our culture of polarization and ending the resentment and division that have eroded our national identity and common purpose.
The reason for gridlock, of course, is that Republicans are not interested in negotiating anything, which is why what was a center-right health reform three years ago is now being called a milestone on the road to serfdom. So how would Obama's single-term gambit untie that not? Read on:
Forgoing another term would not render Obama a lame duck. Paradoxically, it would grant him much greater leverage with Republicans and would make it harder for opponents such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) - who has flatly asserted that his highest priority is to make Obama a one-term president - to be uncooperative.
That's all there is--a simple assertion, backed up by not a scrap of evidence or logic. Try flipping it, and tell me if it is any less logical:
Forgoing another term would render Obama a lame duck. It would grant him much less leverage with Republicans and would make it easier for opponents such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) - who has flatly asserted that his highest priority is to make Obama a one-term president - to be uncooperative.
Goes down just as smooth, wouldn't you say? I don't know if it's disingenuous or just plain stupid, but as a piece of persuasion, you'd have a better chance of convincing me that NFL teams would be better off in the Wing T offense. To its credit, ESPN, unlike the Washington Post, doesn't commission pieces so utterly divorced from reality.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Solution to Crime in Juárez: Serious Edition

Excélsior says that the Federal Police is implementing a new security plan in Juárez:
Federal Police officials are patrolling the most dangerous zones in Ciudad Juárez, where they are carrying out a census in order to obtain information on residents. The objective: create "safe zones".

The strategy seeks to create "islands" of security, which is to say, neighborhoods and roadways that will be patrolled 24 hours a day and where federal forces will be in permanent contact with the citizens. The tracing of personal information, which has caused mistrust among Juárez residents, seeks to locate residents and close avenues for delinquents.
First of all, this sounds a bit like the clear, hold, and build strategy that US government employed in Iraq. One would think it, in theory at least, it would be a lot easier to implement across a city instead of an entire nation. Second, the distrust is not unjustified given the abuses we have read about in Juárez. The flip side to that is that this kind of operation won't be able to succeed if abuses by federal forces are more than just very infrequent anomalies.

Lastly, I believe this is the first piece I've read that about Juárez that sketched out an operational strategy. In the past, the descriptions never got beyond the unit being sent to Juárez, as if that alone amounted to comprehensive approach to the city's security.

Leaving Arizona

This is not a sequel to the classic Coen brothers film (though I guess it could be the title of the final scene), but what Latinos are doing as a result of SB1070. According to Bancomer, 100,000 Hispanics have left the state since the law was passed just a few months ago. According to the Mexican government, roughly a quarter of that number are Mexicans who returned home.

Very Wealthy Union

Last week, Milenio's Sunday magazine had a long article about Mexico's educational travails, focusing on Andrés Oppenheimer's new book as well as a new documentary featuring Carlos Loret de Mola. Oppenheimer tries to get a copy of the SNTE 's budget, which Elba Esther Gordillo promises to send, but then never does. But he does report that educational experts peg the size of the annual operating budget at $4.7 billion, which would be close to twice the amount of annual revenues from Burger King, a company with more than 12,000 franchises. That figure may be high, but it doesn't strike me as impossible; the union has 1.7 million members, and lots of investments that we only hear about when they explode in scandal.

Two other highlights, so to speak, of the piece: Gordillo responding to tough questions from Loret by taking his hand in hers and asking, "Don't you trust me?", which couldn't be more hilarious and lacking in self-awareness if it came from Don King; and Alonso Lujambio dismissing international tests with the complaint that "They want to compare us to Switzerland, to Germany", which is, of course, precisely the point.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2011's Biggest International Soccer Tournament

For those who've been counting down the days to the 2011 Copa América since the shine on the Spanish victory in South Africa wore off, today was a big day, as the three groups making up the tourney were drawn. Mexico was lumped with Uruguay, Chile, and Peru, a group that, with the exit of Bielsa from the Chilean squad and the ongoing weakness of the Peruvians, shouldn't post the most difficult challenge. And the US, you ask? For some inexplicable reason, they declined to attend the festivities in Argentina. I guess they figured if they can almost beat Ghana, than there's nothing to gain by measuring themselves against the likes of Brazil and Argentina.

Solution to Crime in Juárez: Ring Dinner Bells All Night Long


Examining the time distribution of the murders in Juárez, Diego Valle-Jones notices that within a broad rise in the number of killing in during most of the nighttime hours, for some reason, there is a sudden drop at 7 pm. He suspects it's because they race home to eat. I'd suggest another reason:

After all, who can concentrate on shooting when Los Monterrubio are on screen? Diego's blog, as ever, makes for good and unusual reading if you are interested in Mexican security.

(Over?)Attention to Crime

Out of curiosity, I tallied the number of news stories (excluding op-ed columns) in the front section of Monday's Excélsior that were related to crime, and those that were not. The final tally: 17 were crime-related, 14 not. That strikes me as a high proportion; Excélsior is a bit more sensational than El Universal, but it's not a yellow rag. I'll check El Universal and Milenio's content if I can online, but I imagine that their proportions are not grossly dissimilar. Compounding the issue, I guarantee that the proportion of major American media stories dedicated to crime is far higher. When Mexican leaders complain about the exaggerated focus on crime, it often comes across as wanting to play deaf and dumb while infuriating a huge problem, which is infuriating. But, given that on an average day, 60 percent of a major newspaper's news stories are devoted to crime, there is something to the complaint.

Of course, I'm a (small) part of the problem, because probably close to half of my posts have something to do with crime.

La Familia Splitting Up?

Via Boz, La Familia, reaffirming its position as the weirdest gang in Mexico, has evidently offered to disband, with the caveat that the government increase security in Michoacán. The offer came via narcomanta and in an email to El Blog del Narco.

The government's reaction was, We cannot make deals with criminals. I understand and support that predisposition, but I think that was the wrong response here. Assuming the offer was genuine, it should have been something like, "Michoacán's security is very important to us, and we are always examining ways to improve security there, as across the nation. Former criminals who renounce their criminal groups run much less risk of being arrested or killed by security forces." After all, if you want the gang to disappear (which maybe the government doesn't, at least not in this way, because of the vacuum that would result), you have to give them some sort of olive branch.

Also, if they do break up, I wonder if they'd get back together for a reunion tour of bloodshed in like 15 years, when all of their solo efforts turned out to be less satisfying than they'd expected.

Update: Upon rereading, yesterday's reaction comes across as extremely credulous. I'd like to clarify that I don't think that all of the gang will demobilize, though I do think there's a possibility that the top level of gangsters really does want to retire. I also think there's a good chance that the offer was hooey. But I don't think the government loses anything with something like the response I outlined, and many big-time traffickers have historically sought an easy, non-violent way out of the trap their life has become. If there is a chance that this message is legitimate and sincere, the government can and should subtly encourage their retirement without sitting down to negotiate.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Lamest Form of Political Horn-Tooting

With all of my being, I loath the political tactic, common among mayors and governors in Mexico, of ostensibly demonstrating success by simply pointing to a large number of tasks accomplished, with very scant attention to the quality of the tasks. The problem, of course, is that you can lower the bar enough so that not appearing before the cameras with toilet paper covering shaving cuts is an accomplishment, and leave office with six million compromisos cumplidos. That wouldn't, of course, make your tenure a successful one, because often in governing, one legitimately big accomplishment --say, balancing the budget, or reforming the police-- is worth more than millions of small ones. I thought of all this when I saw this fawning story about Enrique Peña Nieto's reaching the 508 pledges fulfilled. Quite the milestone.

Ex-mayor José Ángel Pérez was a big proponent of this approach in Torreón. I believe his big opening was 100 public works in his first 100 days. However, you'd be hard pressed to point to eight public building projects that were more complicated than a series of speed bumps, and as I've discussed in the past, the more complicated ones seemed needlessly costly and complicated. It's also noteworthy that despite his 100 projects, Pérez left office widely considered a failure.

Military Aid to Mexico

Via Boz, The Washington Post on increased aid to the Mexican military:

The U.S. military has begun to work closely with Mexico's armed forces, sharing information and training soldiers in an expanding effort to help that country battle its violent drug cartels, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

U.S. military officials have been hesitant to discuss publicly their growing ties with Mexico, for fear of triggering a backlash among a Mexican public wary of interference. But current and former officials say the U.S. military has instructed hundreds of Mexican officers in the past two years in subjects such as how to plan military operations, use intelligence to hunt traffickers and observe human rights.

The Pentagon's counternarcotics funding for Mexico has nearly tripled, from $12.2 million in 2008 to more than $34 million in 2010, according to estimates by the Government Accountability Office.

This doesn't really surprise me that much, given the increase in visits by American military brass to Mexico in the past couple of years, from Gates on down. Boz has some interesting commentary on the subject as well:
In any conversation about US military aid to Mexico, someone will immediately remark about how the Mexican public will oppose military aid because of the historical tensions. It's a mandatory line in any article about this issue. This leads to three possible conclusions:

1. Don't do it.
2. Do it, defend the policy publicly and accept the criticism.
3. Do it and don't talk about it.

I know lots of commentators who believe the first option. I happen to be a supporter of the second option, believing that military aid is important but an abundance of transparency should come with that aid, even if it means facing criticism. Mexico is a democracy and their president or Congress can reject the aid. If they accept it and the public disagrees, they can vote differently next election. If controversial military aid is going to be provided, this is a debate that needs to occur publicly and with some level of accountability. The US officials providing the aid and the Mexican officials receiving it should be willing and even eager to discuss the issue in public.
I tend to agree, and I'd also say that fears of Mexican nationalism are often stronger than the nationalism itself. Obviously, Mexicans don't want the 82nd Airborne patrolling in Zacatecas, but I think the number of people who are going to be truly apoplectic about this, and not just trying to make political hay, is pretty limited. I know people in the States assume Mexicans are permanently scarred by the Mexican War and therefore extremely distrustful of all things having to do with the US, especially its government. The Mexican War and the loss of territory certainly plays a big role in kids' history lessons growing up, and there's an element of lingering fear, but Mexicans increasingly have first-hand knowledge of the US that weighs much more heavily than events that they know only from classes. In my experience (which was in the North, which could affect my thinking) your average Mexican isn't much different than your average non-American in his views toward the US and its military, which is to say, once again, that no one wants American troops on Mexican streets, but $35 million in aid and some limited training programs aren't going to spark a popular uprising. That's not to say that there aren't risks, but the Mexican public is completely capable of concluding that the benefits (i.e., greater capacity to take down drug traffickers, perhaps evidenced by the Mexican marines' long and successful hunts for Tony Tormenta and Arturo Beltrán Leyva) outweigh the risks.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Group

The marines report that the group of toughs protecting Tony Tormenta was known as the Scorpions, which is certainly sinister, though we prefer our gang names with a bit more obliqueness. La Línea, or Los Zetas, for example. After all, if you have to conspicuously call attention to your dangerousness, then you're probably not that dangerous. Anyway, we'll see if this group disappears or if they emerge as a name that continues to play a role in Tamaulipas and beyond.

Why World Leaders Shouldn't Use Twitter

There's lots of reasons, actually, but Calderón's embarrassing reference to the slain mayor-elect Gregorio Barradas, in which he calls him "Gerardo", is a pretty good one. Just like Vicente Fox's fumbled felicidades to Mario Vargas Llosa, in which he screwed up the list of Latin American Nobel winners. We don't need the filter between politician's brain and our ears completely removed. Neither of the above mistakes says much about either Fox's or Calderón's fitness to govern, but each makes the man seem smaller.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bad Archbishop

A federal judge has issued a warrant for the detention of Onésimo Cepeda, the loony archbishop of Ecatepec about whom we wrote here, for fraud, regarding a bad loan of $130 million. The judge is located in DF, which will give Cepeda an obvious excuse: it's all because Marcelo Ebrard hates him.

Should he be found guilty, I wonder how this would effect the Transparency International rankings. Do they take dirty priests into account?

A Popular Pledge

Enrique Peña Nieto has proposed social security for everyone in Mexico (today it is limited to people who work in the formal sector). That's bound to be a popular idea, and in the long term, it is a good one, too; it's hard for Mexico to consider itself part of the developed world when the barest of social safety nets are denied to most of the nation. However, the timing of the proposal is interesting, in that we learned last week that IMSS is on the brink of bankruptcy. I guess this could be a policy ju jitsu move, in which the reforms needed to insure the solvency of the institution are also used to radically expand its breadth, but I didn't read anything in the article suggesting that such was his argument.

Consequences of Tony Tormenta's Death

The organization is now in the hands of El Coss, Eduardo Costilla, and Mario Cárdenas Guillén, Tony and Osiel's brother. Although my understanding is that Costilla didn't really ascend as a result of last week's killing; he already was a major leader.

Also, there is speculation that this is good news for the Zetas, which it probably is, though it's always very difficult to predict the exact ramifications of any episode in an industry where everyone hides their activities.

Marine high-ups are saying that they were on Ezequiel Cárdenas' trail for six months, which is a lot like what they said after they killed Arturo Beltrán Leyva. One wonders if it's all talk, or if they are just a lot better at doing the painstaking tracking that works against the capos. If so, that institutional knowledge should be exported.

Criminal PR

Interesting piece from Mike O'Connor, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, about the Zetas PR efforts in Tamaulipas:
The press releases began arriving about four months ago, she said. They come by email, often including photos, to a police reporter who, it is assumed for bribes, is the Zeta liaison with the press, Lopez said. The reporter sends them on to other reporters who file them to their papers.

There are two editorial lines in the press releases. According to Lopez, the Zetas write their “stories” to make the Mexican army look bad. The army is deployed in the state to help fight the Zetas. So the Zetas send stories about army human rights abuses. “Some of those stories are accurate in a small way, but they are exaggerated. Sometimes they are not true,” Lopez said.

And, then, Lopez said, the Zetas want to make the local police look good. “They protect the police because the police are their allies,” she said. “We get stories about how the police or the chief are so wonderful, especially the chief.”

At first, Lopez said, there were three or four news releases a month. Now it's two or three a week, and the releases are reaching into the society pages. Recently, there was one about the birthday party of a 5-year-old boy, apparently the son of someone high in the gang.
A similar, though not so novel, example of gangs focusing on their PR: Carlos Montemayor, La Barbie's alleged criminal heir, released a statement saying his group had nothing to do with the 20 murdered Michoacanos in Acapulco.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Impunity

Studies revealing the rates of impunity in Mexico are not uncommon, and this new one from the Tec de Monterrey has nothing particularly shocking: only 1 percent of the crimes committed in Mexico, including both federal and state cases, result in convictions. That indicates a ton of problems both in apprehending and processing criminals, obviously. But this stat indicates that citizens, either because of fear or lack of faith in the criminal justice system, aren't doing much either: only 22 percent of crimes are even reported to the authorities.

Curfew?

Excélsior says that the fighting in Matamoros that followed the arrest of Tony Tormenta led to a curfew in Brownsville, the American town across the border. As far as I know, that's not particularly common.

Update: Or perhaps not. Gtodon points out in comments that there is nothing on the story on the news wires, and that someone from Brownsville is denying the news in the comments below the Excélsior piece.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Narcobloqueos Outside of the Northeast

After the arrest of some La Familia big shots, their allies in Morelia copied the tactic, pioneered in the Monterrey area, of setting up blockades around the city. Evidently, the goal, which was not achieved, was to rescue the arrested.

Elect a Shady Politician and Shady Things Ensue

The security chief of Mauricio Fernández, the San Pedro mayor best known for the recordings of him seemingly talking about his deals with the Beltrán Leyvas and his disclosure of the execution of a San Pedro bad guy hours before the body was found, was murdered earlier this week. Fernández denied that the murder was a personal threat, and emphasized the tranquility in his city.

The PAN's Best Hope

Via Aguachile, Josefina Vázquez has a very dignified, one might even say presidential, new website.

Big News

Malcolm Beith reports that Tony Tormenta, Osiel Cárdenas' brother and one of the protagonists in all of the fighting in the Northeast these last several months, has been killed. No word by whom.

Update: El Universal is reporting that he was killed by the marines in Matamoros.

Friday, November 5, 2010

From Anonymous Miners to National Heroes to the Inspiration for Porn

As you might have deduced from the title, everyone's favorite feel-good story is coming soon to a Chilean theater, but not the sort of theater you'd want your kids to hang out in, should you happen to be in Santiago. The actress (not sure how they are going to fit a woman into that scenario, but one imagines that's not an insuperable obstacle) starring in the film: Ana Karenina. Tolstoy would be proud.

The PRI's Next President

If Paredes and Peña have their way, it'll be Humberto Moreira. That would seem to be a strong enough pair as to make defeat unlikely. This is a sensible move for everyone involved. I speculated at some point that Moreira could be a potential adversary for Peña in 2012, should the State of Mexico race go against the PRI in 2011. Supporting Moreira seems a cagey way for Moreira to head that possibility off, unlikely though it may seem. And now Moreira, who's quite young, positions himself to be a logical candidate in 2018 (never too early!).

Bodies Found

Eighteen of the bodies of 20 Michoacanos kidnapped last month have been discovered (we think) in a mass grave in Acapulco. More info from the AP:
Before the first two bodies were found, a video posted on YouTube showed two men _ their hands apparently tied behind their backs _ telling an unseen interrogator that they killed "the Michoacanos" and buried them in the area.

The two bodies found by police were wearing the same clothes as the pair seen in the video and were lying atop the mass grave.

A sign left between the two men read: "The people they killed are buried here." It was signed by Acapulco's Independent Cartel _ a little known drug gang that has been claiming responsibility for killings in the area over the past two months.

The group is believed to be a breakaway faction of the Beltran Leyva gang, whose top leaders have recently been killed or captured. The men interrogated in the video appear to be members of a rival faction.
This new gang may be the same as the Pacific South Cartel, but if not, that makes two new groups trying to emerge from the ashes of Beltrán's network.

Also, the body of the brother of ex-Chihuahua prosecutor Patricia González has been found, and eight of his alleged captors have been arrested as well.

Just a Guess

The BBC on a big anti-drug operation in the US:
Police in the United States have arrested 45 people they accuse of belonging to the Mexican drug cartel La Familia Michoacana.

Agents also seized cash, guns and drugs as part of their operation against the cell, based in Atlanta, Georgia.
This is just a hunch, as I've read nothing, but I suspect that the vast majority of those arrested were American citizens who are only marginally closer to La Tuta and the rest of the hierarchy than you or I.

Mexican Humans Slightly More Developed in 2010

The new UN Human Development Index has been released, and Mexico has added .005 points to its index, giving it a total of 0.75, good enough for number 56 in the world. The nation remains above the world and the Latin American average, which are .624 and .706, respectively. Despite a decade of unspectacular growth, including one year of spectacular decline, Mexico's HDI has risen steadily throughout the past decade, starting at .698 in 2000. One major hurdle to further improvements, the authors say, is education.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mexican Auto Industry Triumphalism

While on a swing through Coahuila the other day, Calderón said that Mexico was a world champ in the auto industry. It's true that triumphal comments from any president should be taken with a grain of salt, and Calderón probably more than most, yet a recent FT piece makes you think that he may be onto something:

Automobile production has taken off in Mexico this year as the country recovers from its worst recession last year since 1932. Car exports to September reached 1.4m units, up 71.2 per cent on last year and 10.5 per cent on 2008, the best year on record.

[Break]

The growth has come mainly in so-called “compact” and “sub-compact” vehicles as manufacturers discover that Mexico offers one of the best export platforms to meet global consumers’ increasing preference for smaller, cheaper cars.

In addition to VW’s $1bn investment to develop and produce the new Jetta in Mexico, Ford this year turned its Cuautitlán stamping and assembly truck plant into a production facility for its Fiesta compact model, which it will sell in North America.

Since 2008 Ford has invested about $3bn in Mexico, including a 25,800 sq m expansion at Cuautitlán with its five new lines of presses and 270 robots, a new diesel-engine plant in the northern state of Chihuahua and a new plant to supply automatic transmissions for the new Fiesta.

[Break]

“You can produce an SUV anywhere in the world and make a profit but you can’t make a compact car anywhere,” said Mr Karig. “That is why Mexico has emerged as a global centre for producing small cars.”

Happy with Cali


Excélsior's large and triumphal headline about California's No to legalized weed in yesterday's edition was noteworthy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mexico's Newest Crime Wave

Evidently, thieves are targeting the wearers of luxury watches in Mexico City. Money quote:
Many residents already know that you have to be crazy to wear jewelry or watches because around here the robbery of such articles is common, despite the police presence.
Over/under before this gets turned into evidence of the worsening situation in Mexico in the American media: 17 days. (My money's on Fox News.) A possible lede for such a story:
The unwritten rule used to be that decapitations were fine, but an honorable kingpin didn't touch his victim's jewels. Now, in an unprecedented turn of events marking the descent of the nation under Felipe Calderón, a man's Rolex is no longer off limits.

The Silliness of Mainstream Punditry on Latin America

And Obama will have more time to spend on foreign policy. How are we going to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan? How can we continue the dialogue with China over trade and currency issues? How can we strengthen ties with India, Brazil, Indonesia and other large developing democracies? How can he work with Dilma Roussef to check the spread of authoritarian populism in the region?
I have little positive to say about Hugo Chávez, but this makes no sense, for a variety of reasons. First, there's been a coup and a half in the past eighteen months in Latin America, something that, if it spreads, poses a greater threat to the region than Chávez. In any event, authoritarian populism, such as it is, is a product of ongoing poverty and inequality along with the ham-handed implementation of free-market economic policies in the 1990s. Alleviating poverty and keeping a closer eye on the losers when implementing economic reform will do infinitely more to limit authoritarian populism than securing the participation of Brazil's president in an anti-Chávez scheme. (That may have been what Yglesias was referring to, but then why do we need Rousseff to do more to address poverty ourselves?)

Second, we tried this already. Rumsfeld went to Brazil in 2005 to try to convince Lula to reign Chávez in, and the gambit failed miserably. Even if Brazil had agreed with Rumsfeld, I don't imagine it would have, in turn, been successful in lowering the volume from Chávez a great deal. In any event, the move worked out quite well for Lula. He stayed on good terms with Chávez, had a less than chummy but not disastrous relationship with the Bush administration, and wound up a superstar. Had he aligned himself with Bush and stuck himself in the middle of an unwinnable ideological brawl, it's quite possible that his current level of prestige wouldn't exist. Rousseff was a huge part of Lula's administration, and presumably she saw how that worked out for her predecessor and mentor. Rousseff may wind up on Chávez's enemies list, but I can't imagine it will be because we asked to her to be meaner to him.

You hear people talk about putting Chávez in his box from time to time, and what Brazil can do or what we can do to see that happen. But Chávez already is in his box. It's called Venezuela. High oil prices or not, there is a limit to what he can do from his perch at the top of the continent. We do not need to spend large amounts of energy seeking to corner him, which perversely increases sympathy for him and prolongs his existence on the world stage.

Lastly, if we want a change of position from Brazil, it's not on Chávez, Correa, et al. It's on Iran. The stakes are much higher, the chances of a moderated Brazilian position much better.