Friday, December 31, 2010

Dilemma for 2011 (and 2012, 2013, et cetera)

This recent back and forth from the pages of Milenio about the media treatment of insecurity continue an ongoing dispute in Mexico, and make a fitting way to end the year. First, Héctor Aguilar:
The state of Rio de Janeiro and its capital city have one tenth of the inhabitants of Mexico. To equal Rio's violence, Mexico would have to have had since 2003 roughly 420,000 homicides, 80,000 civilians killed by the police for resisting them and 320,000 disappeared.

What have the authorities in Rio, the media outlets, and the Brazilian government done with the violence? They have obtained a historic triumph: they have made the city the host of the World Cup to be held in 2014. And for Brazil, the host of the Olympics in 2016. [For the record, he has it backwards here; the Olympics will be in Rio, while the World Cup is nationwide.]

In the last seven years there have been some 35,000 homicides associated with drug trafficking and the war that the state started with these gangs in Mexico.

What have the media outlets and the Mexican government done with these figures, ten percent of those of Rio?

We have sent to the rest of the world the idea that Mexico is a violent nation, more dangerous than Iraq, unsafe for investment and for tourism, a threat for its citizens, with a government defeated by crime and a population convinced that the war against crime has already been lost.

Is Rio selling a lie, the disguise of a bloody and uninhabitable city that hides its hellholes to trick tourists? No, it's selling a marvelous city that has a problem with endemic violence that doesn't stop if from functioning as the great city that it is. It puts an accent on its greatness, not its miseries.

What are we selling? What have we already sold? The idea of a country chocked by violence, nothing else. Hand out the blame however you like: collectively, we have behaved very foolishly.
And in response, Ciro Gómez:
Before taking my portion of foolishness and continuing my life in tranquility, I'll have to at least ask him, Why have we been so foolish?

Why have we been so brutally sensationalistic? Why has marketing failed us? Is kidnapping and extortion, which are spreading, softened by the marketing geniuses? Or can they be brushed under the rug with an agreement about media integrity?

What about Tamaulipas in this foolishness? What is the daily life, beyond the numbers, in Ciudad Juárez and Gómez Palacio? Are Monterrey and Michoacán journalistic exaggerations, media immorality, awful public relations strategies?
Both make irrefutable points, but I think the goal is more than anything to find an appropriate place on the spectrum between the two extremes of Pollyanna-ism on one end, and willful cynicism and defeatism on the other. As a whole, Mexico is closer to the latter extreme, and would benefit if 2011 brought a shift toward Aguilar's point of view.

OECD: Not Enough Scientists

The OECD, while acknowledging significant improvement in the past decade, worries about Mexico's decrepit scientific establishment:
The evaluation by the OECD says that Mexico has made slow progress to foster growth in its scientific innocation, which is evident in the fact the research that members of the National Science Union carry out doesn't have an impact on the knowledge generated in the country, which in turn causes low international competitiveness.

It says that Mexican researchers should have greater links with industries and links, so that their work is used to make the country grow and to allow Mexico to compete with the emerging economies.


It also says that the if government doesn't allocate resource for science and technology, it will be impossible to count on a boost of innovation, which will leave the country struggling with poverty and unemployment.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

From Linguistics to Economics: More of Mexico and China

For the second time today:
Economists Timothy Kehoe of the University of Minnesota and Kim Ruhl of New York University explore in a paper (PDF) just how difficult it is for a country to leap from what the World Bank calls “middle income” status to the ranks of advanced nations. South Korea and Singapore are nearly alone in having made that transition. Most every other poor nation–whether one calls them “third world,” “developing” or “emerging”–gets stuck in second-tier, Mexican-style status.

“Absent continuing reforms,” the economists argue, “Chinese growth is likely to slow down sharply, perhaps leaving China at a level less than Mexico’s” — an outcome that would be a hard slap to the China-as-future crowd.

While Mexico and China seem very different, the economists point out a number of similarities. On the positive side, the two nations focused on foreign trade as a growth engine and they eased central government control of the economy. On the negative side, their financial systems are inefficient, their non-tradable industries (communications, transportation and the like) lack competition; and their rigid labor rules discourage employers from adding full-time workers.

The economists argue that despite the handicaps, developing nations can make big leaps in growth as they catch up with countries like the U.S. Mexico made its big leap forward in growth from 1953 to 1981; China has been making its move since around 1980. Mexico’s GDP per-capita is now about twice China’s, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Once that catch-up period is over, however, the countries need to continue to reform institutions and policies to produce a well-functioning government an efficient financial system and a steady increase in knowledge so it can continue to grow smartly. Few countries manage that transition, which leaves them well behind the U.S. and Europe.
This also doubles as a reminder that for all the justified excitement over China's economic performance over the past three decades or so, it still remains a poor nation.

Odd Inclusion

It was interesting to see the SSP, in offering a rundown of the seven primary drug gangs in Mexico, point to Colombia's Norte del Valle as one of those seven. You see the Colombian group mentioned from time to time in the papers, and every so often someone from the organization is arrested in Mexico, but to see them listed alongside the Zetas and Chapo's gang doesn't square with what we've been seeing in the media the past several years.

Spanish vs. Chinese

I was interested to see Nicholas Kristof argue for learning Spanish instead of Chinese, and insofar as it reflects my own decisions, I suppose I agree. However, this piece of supporting logic is weak:
Hispanics made up 16 percent of America’s population in 2009, but that is forecast to surge to 29 percent by 2050, according to estimates by the Pew Research Center.
But almost all of those people will speak English! Why is it beneficial to learn Spanish to talk to Antonio Villaraigosa? Not only that, the fact that they will be English-speakers is an important counter to people who oppose immigration on the grounds that Mexicans and Central Americans won't assimilate. Kristof's point, which again is wrong for the reason I just mentioned, could nonetheless be twisted into a fear-feeding illustration of the degree to which immigration is threatening America's essence: Now they are telling us that there will be so many foreigners, we have to learn Spanish!

Also, while everyone agrees that Chinese is extremely difficult to master, this kind of delicate problem emerges in any language:
The standard way to ask somebody a question in Chinese is “qing wen,” with the “wen” in a falling tone. That means roughly: May I ask something? But ask the same “qing wen” with the “wen” first falling and then rising, and it means roughly: May I have a kiss?
In other words, you adapt your tone to the context, and if you fail to do so properly, the meaning is confused. Hmm. Sounds like every other language to exist since we made the jump to the spoken word. You could write the same paragraph using the porque/por qué distinction, not to mention trickier terrain like the difference between pelar and pelársela (this one is especially prone to unintended offensiveness), to make Spanish seem impossible to someone who doesn't speak it.

Mexican Addicts

The Mexican Psychoanalytical Association says that 2 percent of the nation's 11- through 18-year-olds are addicted to the internet. While that number pales in comparison to the estimated 41 percent of young online junkies in Spain, the Mexican figure has quadrupled in the past two years.

A small number compared to the rest of the world, but still worrying in that the figure is rising--odd how computer dependency mimics drug addiction in Mexico.

Mexicans Ruling the Spanish Underworld

El Universal provides further evidence this morning of Mexican gangsters' growing influence abroad with a story about the presence of Mexican in Spain's drug trade. One illustration of this trend: two Mexicans were in Spanish jails on drug charges in 1998, while in 2010 that number had grown to 302. Also, the sheer number of cocaine seizures grew ten-fold from 2000 to 2006. Spanish authorities say that the Mexicans are replacing the Colombians who have long been dominant in the nation's cocaine trade, and that part of the reason for their shift of focus is the saturation of the American drug market and the difficulty in slipping drugs over the northern border.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Protection for Immigrants in Mexico

In response to the daily attacks on immigrants passing through Mexico on their way to the North, Mexico and Honduras have created an anti-crime group that will "deal with, among other things, crimes committed against the Central American migrant community and facilitate the denunciation of said crimes."

This comes after an effort by the Senate to carve out some sort of safe passageway for migrants:
The Migratory Law the Senate has been studying since December 9 has as its principal objectives the creation of safe routes on ground, sea, and air so that undocumented immigrants aren't victims of kidnappings, extortions, and other abuses.

The initiative, which has the backing of the PAN, PRI, and PRD and has grown urgent following the massacre of 72 immigrants in Tamaulipas and the supposed disappearance of another 50 in Oaxaca, seeks to monitor to the entrance, presence, and exit of illegal immigrants, through the creation of the Migratory Police.

Getting On with the Middle East

Mexico and the Arab Middle East have had a happy 2010, according to the former:
Over the course of this year Mexico strengthened in a significant way diplomatic relations with Arab nations, the foreign ministry stated.

In a summary of its activities completed in 2010 with regard to nations in that region, the department detailed that its work will be the base for the further enrichment of bilateral agendas, the identification of areas of cooperation, and fostering inversion and commercial flows.

During this year, the prime minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Nasser Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al Sabah, and the president of Lebanon, Michel Sleiman; similarly, Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa traveled to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.

The foreign minister traveled to the headquarters of the Arab League, located in Cairo, Egypt in May, in search of new perspectives for cooperation in this international forum.

The foreign ministry emphasized that as a show of the excellent link with Arab nations, over the course of the present year Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates opened embassies in Mexico.
This may be more window dressing than a substantial embrace of the Arab world, and indeed it's hard to conceive of many significant areas of common interest between Mexico and the Arab world, but it also comes within a wider recent embrace of the Palestinian cause in Latin America.

WikiMexico, Part One Million or So

There wasn't a whole lot in the most recent WikiLeaks article from the NY Times that dealt with Mexico, and the portions that did offered revelations that fell short of earth-shattering. Nonetheless, I think two ideas were further illustrated as true: one, the DEA is a bureaucratic behemoth whose power could make national legalization of drugs very hard to pull off even if a majority of Americans are behind it. And if we do eventually legalize, it'll be interesting to see what happens to diplomacy in a lot of these countries where a large proportion of the bilateral communication is through the DEA. Two, the fact that Guillermo Galván complained of police corruption and asked for greater cooperation with the DEA suggests that while competency may be a lingering problem for Calderón's security team, honesty at the top of the military chain of command is less of one.

Heroes in Juárez, Elsewhere

Via Global Voices' Silvia Viñas, I learned about the "Chronicles of Juárez Heroes" initiative, which relies on citizen reports of heroic acts by Juárez residents and documents them on an interactive map. The inspiration for the comes from New York in the aftermath of 9-11:
A city that has been terrorized can be brave. We can all be heroes. The authorities in New York crated a campaign of citizen vigilance: If You See Something, Say Something. The campaign initiated by [New York] sought the collaboration of the society:; it asked everyone to be alert and report any suspicious or negative action. But if we only focus on this type of activity, as a society we can lose our balance. Likewise, promoting or spreading fear can affect the community and the social fabric. In response, New Yorkers and the Media Center at MIT created a counter-campaign called Hero-Reports. This campaign seeks peace and calls on people to initiate change based on values of compassion, strength, and dialogue, which can create the force and the bases necessary for a responsible and active society. For that reason in Juárez, we want to implement the same campaign, naming it here Chronicles of Heroes and thus documenting the good deeds of Juarenses...
It's easy to be cynical about the the potential for success here, but we should resist that natural response. The kind of emotion expressed above is sorely lacking in Mexico, and we should hope for the best for anyone trying to foster some sort of positive sense of solidarity. A few weeks ago, Genaro García Luna sounded a similar note when he said, "There are heroes ready to do away with crime." Again, it's easy to be cynical about such comments, but the contrast with post-9-11 New York is pretty striking. Of course, in terms of its impact on society's morale, crime poses a different sort of problem than does a single spectacular terrorist attack, in that the former relentlessly chips away at your optimism over a period of years, while the latter asks you to call upon your emotional reserves very rarely.

Following Up on the WSJ

El Universal had a piece on Torreón's police chief in yesterday's paper, basically running down the main points of the Wall Street Journal piece that ran the day before. El Universal did the same thing in the days after the long profile of Julián Leyzaola in The New Yorker. I suppose that kudos should be given to the paper for providing the basic outline of a pair of good profiles to Mexican audiences, but it dawns on me that the profile as a journalistic form is underused in local newspapers. This is unfortunate, because a properly done profile is both very readable and very informative. Furthermore, you see lots of good profiles in Mexican magazines, especially Gatopardo, but for whatever reason, in newspapers it's rarely used.

Students in the Crossfire

Authorities say that some 60 students died in 2010 in Ciudad Juárez as a result of gang violence, most famously in the massacres in January and October. Tragic as those 60 deaths are, with more than 3,100 murders in Juárez this year as well as the highly publicized mass killings, I honestly would have expected to be that figure to be a bit higher.

Revealing Stat

Mexico has only one judge per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Supreme Court Justice Guillermo Ortiz Mayagoitia, far below the regional average. This actually represents a substantial increase; the number of judges has increased by almost 20 percent since 2007. For comparison, according to the Center of Judicial Studies of the Americas, in 2008 Costa Rica had close to 22 judges per 100,000 people, Uruguay had 14, and Colombia had just shy of 12. The same study says that Mexico had 3.58, which means that either the figures from the Center or Ortiz are off (unless somehow the number of judges dropped by some 70 percent in two years, which I doubt), but there does seem to be a huge shortfall in this vital element of the judiciary in Mexico, despite the judicial reform passed in 2008.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

If Only

In one of its more clever Día de los Santos Inocentes gags, El Universal today reported that AMLO, having seen the opinion polls among potential leftist presidential candidates, was bowing out of the race for 2012 and retiring to his ranch. Unfortunately, that's not in the cards.

I wrote about another favorite Santos Inocentes joke here: Obama and his drunken trips to Tijuana and Juárez.

Declining Opinions of Pemex

In the wake of the deadly explosion of the Pemex pipeline last week, BGC polled Mexicans about their opinions on a handful of issues related to the explosion and the oil giant. Many of the questions don't tell us a great deal--what can one make of, for instance, Mexicans' expectations on whether all the weight of the law will be applied in searching for those responsible for the blast? However, I was interested to see that over the past several years, opinions of the oil company have been steadily declining. For instance, in 1997 50 percent of respondents said that Pemex was an excellent or good company, 32 said it was regular, and just 15 said it was bad or awful. In 2007, 43 percent labeled Pemex good or excellent, 27 now called it regular, and 26 said it was bad or awful. Today, 34 say it is awful or bad, just 33 call it good or excellent, while 25 say it is regular. This may reflect gas prices going up more than anything, and it's also only three data points, but it could still suggest a potentially deep and growing reservoir of support for a future oil reform, which is often brushed off as politically impossible.

Wanting In

The number of petitions for asylum in the US from Mexicans this year increased roughly twelve-fold, from 254 in 2009 to 2,973 in 2010. This makes Mexico the second nation in terms of number of asylum requests. While this year's spike, which El Universal understandably attributes to insecurity, was significant, the number had been steadily rising for years. In 2000, for instance, just 42 Mexicans requested asylum.

Zetas in Guatemala

According to EFE, the Zetas in Guatemala have promised terrorist attacks in the northern state of Alta Verapaz, where a bunch of heavyweights have been captured in recent weeks.

Thankfully, terrorist tactics haven't been a regular part of the Zetas modus operandi in Mexico. This makes me wonder how close the links between the groups calling themselves Zetas in Guatemala and in Mexico are. Guatemalans have been included among arrests of Zetas in Mexico for years, but the number of them is relatively low. Likewise, the leader of the 22 Guatemalan Zetas recently arrested was a Guatemalan military officer, and only one of the bunch was Mexican. The gang is often painted as a drug-smuggling group, but more than any of the other big-time DTOs, its income seems to come from locally generated activities like extortion, for which a transnational network isn't necessary. It may be that the Guatemalan Zetas are taking orders from Tamaulipas, but it seems just as likely that there are some people in Guatemala who became part of the Zetas in Mexico in the past, but now operate with a great deal of autonomy in their home country.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Possibilities Are Endless

This could make cars a lot more fun:
Should an electric car go vroom vroom like its internal combustion ancestors, make a noise like a space ship in Star Wars or emit the tranquil sounds of birdsong?

Researchers in England considering noises to alert pedestrians and cyclists to the presence of oncoming electric cars say legislation to force silent electric vehicles (EVs) to make a warning noise is inevitable.

"It's definitely coming," Warwick University Professor Paul Jennings told Reuters. "It's being prompted by the fact that there are now real statistics."

Figures compiled by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show pedestrians and cyclists are twice as likely to be hit by a hybrid electric vehicle running silently at low speed than by a car with a normal engine.
In a perfect world, I'd go with classic calls from John Ward and Harry Carey on my car. While accelerating, touchdowns and home runs (for the Cubs). While braking, interceptions and home runs (for the opposition).

The Old Stomping Grounds Featured in the WSJ

Via the Mexico Institute, The Wall Street Journal has a terrific dispatch from Torreón about the city's police chief Carlos Villa, and his attempts to clean up the ranks of his subordinates. Highlights:

Thanks to the army, the general now has a contingent of 60 former or active-duty soldiers. None are from Torreon. They live in the police headquarters, venturing into the city only on patrol. The general lives in a single room next to his office, with a mattress, an exercise machine and a pet boxer named Chata.

For most of the soldiers, this has been their first time in a police force. "I couldn't believe the lack of discipline," said Lt. Francisco Naranjo.

After the strike, Mr. Villa was left with about 80 police from a force of 700, mostly older officers near retirement. He and his troops went on patrol several times a day and night, often taking on traffickers. "I've seen more action now than in my entire career in the army," he says.

The police chief and mayor also set about recruiting new police. Results were mixed. One applicant had just gotten out of jail for murder.

A psychologist was hired to evaluate recruits. "Most applicants were completely unfit. They had all kinds of psychological issues, including narcissism and delusions of grandeur," says Bismark Soriano, a 26-year-old psychologist.

But then a different type of person started coming through. Hortencia Ovalle, a 36-year-old housewife, heard a radio report about the general and signed up. "I wanted to be a part of something bigger for my city," she says.

A challenge will be keeping new recruits honest. Across Mexico, cartels spend an estimated $100 million a year bribing police, according to the federal government.

One new tactic: buy a home for all beat police. If a police officer stays 15 years on the force with no issues of corruption, they get the home free. "It's a way to get the wives of the cops to make sure their husbands stay on the straight and narrow," says the mayor. The city raised salaries for police from an average of $570 a month to about $800—which puts Torreon in the top five best-paid police forces in the country. Police are also getting scholarships for their children at private schools.

That last paragraph is heartening. Mexico needs to be more creative in finding ways to incentivize loyalty among police, and this is potentially a pretty good one. The gangsters have a big advantage in that they can instill fear of life and limb in a police officer in a way that the authorities cannot, but cops' services are often being bought for a pittance, with insufficient attempts by the authorities to compete for their loyalty.

Also, I wrote about some of the things Villa is confronting here and here:
I recently mentioned that the police were on strike here in Torreón, so it was kind of surprising to see two patrol trucks outside of a convenience store by my house last night. As I walked in, a uniformed officer was joking with a kid in line next to him, which was also kind of unusual, since they are typically not particularly sociable. After he paid, just before he left the premises, he turned around he said, "We're not the same police as before. Just so you know, and so you aren't suspicious of us." I have no idea of the replacements will turn out to be more honest and effective than their predecessors, but his desire to win over the customers seemed genuine, and it was an oddly moving moment. In a lot of ways, there must be no job so depressing as that of an honest municipal police officer in northern Mexico.

Dangerous for Reporters

An NGO known as the Press Emblem Campaign has named Mexico as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists in 2010, with 14 killed. In January, I wrote about Valentín Valdés, one of the first Mexican journalists to lose his life this year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Threats to the Cities

For everyone disappointed by the absence of a hyper-specific crime stat in their stocking, Edgardo Buscaglia has a little something for you: the ubiquitous Mexican expert says that 73 percent of the nation's municipalities are under the control of criminal groups. As is often the case with his figures, the precise accuracy of this claim is hard to verify, but the general thrust here is irrefutable: Mexico's municipal governments don't have the resources to protect themselves from criminal groups.

South American Investment

Mexico invested roughly $42 billion in South American in 2010, a jump of more than $6 billion from 2009. Half of that money went to Brazil, where investments expanded by 21 percent from 2009. A big increase with Mexico overcoming its horrible 2009 was to be expected, but the 21 percent jump in investing in Brazil would seem to reflect more than the natural rebound. Shockingly, the largest investor was Carlos Slim's Grupo Carso.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Addressing the Prison Breaks

Malcolm Beith had an interesting suggestion for how to reduce the number of mass escapes from Mexican prisons:
Wardens lament that their facilities are not equipped to handle federal criminals (ie, organized crime). I understand this, and they're definitely in the right. But is NOT that hard to keep these prisons well-guarded, at least temporarily.

It's simple: use the military.

All one needs to do to secure these prisons is keep the military on constant patrol outside. You don't need more than a few humvees and well-armed soldiers, and you will provide a serious deterrent. I'm not saying that no one will try to break out, but it will be that much harder. Meantime, one can get on with cleaning up the prisons on the inside.

I have to admit I'm a bit tired of hearing how the military "arrived" on the scene of an escape or riot, when they should have already been there. I understand that Mexico prides itself on its rather open prison system (rehabilitation rather than simply incarceration) but having the military patrol OUTSIDE will not infringe on prisoners' rights, and would do nothing to affect activities on the inside. It would simply make waltzing out of a medium-security facility and hopping onto a convoy of awaiting buses, as happened in Nuevo Laredo, that much more difficult.
I don't know if this would work, but it certainly seems plausible. What's striking is nothing as creative ever leaks out of the government; all they ever do is arrest the guards and try to recapture the escapees one by one, which does absolutely nothing to discourage future escapes. Even if what Malcolm is proposing would be imperfect (and, as he implies, nothing would be more effective the organic improvement of Mexico's woeful prison system, a goal for which there's no shortcut), at the very least it is an idea.

Farc in Mexico?

Emails on the computers of recently deceased FARC commander Mono Jojoy show that the group was considering entering the kidnapping market in Mexico strictly as a financing mechanism. With the going rate for a big-time victim evidently $30 million, we can understand their eagerness, though we of course hope they remain isolated in the Colombian jungle.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Predicting the Future

A new Stratfor study predicts that the Zetas will branch out and strengthen their position in Mexico's underworld in the coming months. Trying to figure out what's coming next is an irresistible game (see here for my own recent attempt), and it's a useful exercise insofar as it helps us hone our understanding of (for lack of a more articulate phrase) why things happen. But when it comes to the internal positioning of the drug trade, a hidden industry whose meanders are determined in large part by personal enmities and predilections of psychopaths, even predictions that turn out to be right seem more a product of luck than coherent analysis.

A good counter example is the outbreak of World War I. From Lords of Finance:
...Lord Esher would declare that "new economic factors clearly prove the inanity of war," and that the "commercial disaster, financial ruin and individual suffering" of a European war would be so great as to make it unthinkable. Lord Esher and Angell were right about the meager benefits and high costs of war. But trusting too much in the rationality of nations and seduced by the extraordinary economic achievements of the era...they totally misjudged that a war involving all the major European powers would break out.
So I'm cherry-picking an extreme case, but the point is that this is a case of governments, some of them democratic, that operate out in the open and telegraph their activities to the world (at least, relative to drug gangs). And even then, most everyone's crystal ball was completely wrong.

Debate Upcoming?

Between AMLO and Marcelo Ebrard, the former figured to be the harder man to corral for an all-left debate ahead of the 2012 nomination, but the former mayor of Mexico City had a positive reaction to the idea in a recent interview. He also promised that it would be a civil affair, and that "their adversaries" wouldn't get the fight that they were hoping for. He also said that Alejandro Encinas still might be available for the Mexico State governor's race next year.

Jesús Ortega referred to such a debate as a key step in determining a candidate to unify the left for 2012, which would seem to be a big jump back from the PAN-PRD presidential alliance that he has been sporadically rumored to be considering.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How Worried Is the Obama Administration about the Arms Trade?

This story makes you question the Obama administration's commitment to helping Mexico on crime:
This spring, President Obama promised Mexican President Felipe Calderon that he would work to deter gunrunning south of the border. Behind the scenes, White House officials were putting the brakes on a proposal to require gun dealers to report bulk sales of the high-powered semiautomatic rifles favored by drug cartels.

Justice Department officials had asked for White House approval to require thousands of gun dealers along the border to report the purchases to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. ATF investigators expected to get leads on suspected arms traffickers.

Senior law enforcement sources said the proposal from the ATF was held up by the White House in early summer. The sources, who asked to be anonymous because they were discussing internal deliberations, said that the effort was shelved by then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a veteran of battles with the gun lobby during the Clinton administration.
That the gun lobby throws its ample weight around in Washington liberally is, of course, not a secret. Nor do I think that an assault-weapons ban or other efforts to limit arms traffic are the key to making Mexico safer. (I think I've written this before, but once more for the record, with stricter control of the arms trade, the big criminal gangs will most certainly still be able acquire lots of dangerous arms. Nonetheless, it would be nice to see new gun-traffic measures just for the optics of it, and I do think it would help some around the margins, especially in terms of limiting small-time gangs' capacity to buy assault rifles.) This does, however, undermine the Obama administration's rhetoric about being serious about helping Mexico in its battles with organized crime, and the fact that the Democrats are scared to battle the NRA on this is, to say the least, disheartening.

Minor Irritation

Anybody who's done much book-shopping in Mexico has probably noticed that the relationship between the text on the spine and the cover is the opposite of what it is in the US: if you have a book standing up with the cover to the right and the spine facing toward you, in Mexico the title usually reads from bottom to top, while in the US, it reads from top to bottom. In other words, you tilt your head to the left to read the title of books lined up along a shelf in Mexico, but to the right in the US. When you jump between countries but stick to each nation's respective language in your shopping, this is not a huge issue; one can quickly adjust his tendencies, browse the shelves, and find the desired book without any danger to life or limb.

However, disturbing problems do in fact emerge when one is searching for Spanish books at American bookstores, because they carry books both from Mexican and American publishers, with the latter group maintaining the same spine-to-cover typographical relationship in their Spanish divisions that they do in their English arms. The result is chaos, with mismatched spines standing back-to-back. This unfortunate circumstance forces the shopper to bob the head back and forth with an unsettling, dizzying rapidity, which makes the peruser appear to an outside observer as though he were honing his defensive tactics for an upcoming boxing match. Continuing with the pugilistic metaphor, a 30-minute visit to Barnes and Noble essentially bludgeons the brain much the way another boxer might in four rounds of combat, provided that your previous defensive training drills were fruitless. You the leave the store feeling battered. I hereby call for Congressional intervention; no Spanish-reading book-buyer should be forced to suffer this fate.

Rumors of a Kidnapping

There are reports that some 50 Central American immigrants were kidnapped in Oaxaca last week, though the Mexican government denies it. The governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are asking for an investigation. Hopefully the rumors are just that, but the lack of roots and consequent vulnerability of Central Americans passing through Mexico means that they will continue to be targets, and that there have probably been far more killings than the public is aware of. After all, the murder of 70-plus migrants in Tamaulipas this summer was only discovered because one of the victims survived a coup de grace and walked dozens of kilometers with a bullet wound in his neck and mouth. Absent that impressive and unlikely feat, we may never have known what happened.


An 18-year-old kidnapper has been given life in prison in Chihuahua, the first such sentence handed out in modern Mexico. The convict, Arturo Cruz, was arrested with two accomplices on November 26 with a kidnapped businessman in his custody. It's hard to have any sympathy for kidnappers, but given his age and the absence of a murder charge, Cruz seems like a bad guinea pig. It's also odd that Chihuahua's famously overstretched judicial system was able to go from arrest to life sentence in less than a month; it's almost as if some powerful new figure on the Chihuahua scene decided to make Cruz his scapegoat.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Margarita's Out, and Other Notable Comments from a Calderón Interview

In a radio interview, Felipe Calderón (and perhaps his wife deserves more of the credit here, but she wasn't speaking) wisely popped any bubble of support that threatened to form around his wife ahead of a 2012 run. Virtually the whole of the Mexican political system was united against Fox's pseudo-attempts to have Marta Sahagún run under the PAN banner in 2006, and while Zavala is much, much more appealing than Sra. de Fox, it's better to nip that in the bud.

Referring to the recent escape of 141 inmates from a Tamaulipas prison, Calderón expressed frustration with a pithy yet oddly personal line: "I grab them, they let them out".

The following portion was also interesting in that it shows Calderón aspiring to magnanimity in 2012, while he benefited from precisely the opposite choice from Fox in '06:
Asked whether the PRI would be the enemy to beat in 2012, as Andrés Manual López Obrador was in 2006, the president said no and that as long as the contest was democratic and fair, "whoever turns out to be the winner, man, woman, or party, it will be good for Mexico".

Diego's Out

Diego Fernández de Cevallos has been freed, looking not unlike Steve Carell playing biblical Noah. He said that he was treated extremely well and that he committed himself along with his captors to fight for a more just Mexico. Notwithstanding the bonhomie between captive and captors, Calderón has promised to catch those responsible. And thus ends one of the weirder episodes to occur in Mexico in the past several years. More details will be passed along as they emerge.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Off for a Spell

I'm heading out of town for a week, but I'll be back next Tuesday. I leave you with some interesting stuff about Barça's youth academy by Phil Ball:
It's easy to see how so many kids fall by the wayside because they all have to make decisions, sooner or later - but my son isn't under the roof at La Masia. One of the boys from his team was signed by Barcelona last summer, though, and is now there, under the legendary roof, separated from his parents and apparently miserable. It's not a criticism of La Masia. It's a completely normal state of affairs.

The story goes that when Messi turned up in Barcelona with his father, at the invitation of the club, it was still touch-and-go as to whether he would really stay. The club had offered to pay for the boy's hormone treatment, and to look into job possibilities for his father. But personnel at the club from that time all recall Messi as looking like he would never last the famous nine days that the club had calculated for a final decision to be made. Apparently he just sat in a corner of La Masia's reception area, looked at the floor and spoke to no-one. When his mother flew over to see if she could help out, and then was forced to return for work reasons, Messi begged to return to Argentina with her. Whoever persuaded him to stay - and most people credit Carles Rexach with that - deserves some kind of award, too.

His Ballon d'Or colleagues had a hard time of it, too. Andres Iniesta, who came from Fuentealbilla, in the province of Albacete, spent most of his first year in tears, and refused to eat for the first two weeks he was there. He still looks vaguely undernourished, but was apparently also close to packing the whole thing in, and has since admitted that if there had been the internet back then, it might have been easier.
Happy shopping everyone.

Kidnapping Details

One stat in the long Milenio Semanal piece on kidnapping that leaps out at me is that 52 percent of victims of the crime in Mexico are middle class or working class, rather than members of the economic elite. I think that this gets lost in a lot of stories that portray kidnapped people as scions of wealthy families; wealthy families are certainly obvious targets, but they are not the only ones being victimized. This is equally true with entrepreneurs and extortion; a lot of those being hit up are small-time shop owners, not major magnates. The article further estimates that the kidnapping industry is worth some $60 million annually, and that between 2 and 10 percent of the crimes are punished, which is why the death penalty alone won't do a whole lot to address kidnapping.

This quote from Isabel Miranda de Wallace, the famous mother/investigator of kidnapping victim Hugo Wallace (who was subsequently killed), is also interesting:
Kidnapping bands have transformed themselves: now that activity has turned into a 'family affair'. The father and oldest son abduct the victim, the mother feeds him, the children learn to live taking care of a person bound and gagged...
I'm not sure exactly what policy implications that shift toward familial kidnapping groups would have, but it's interesting nonetheless.

No More of the Teaching Tuta

Michoacán's educational authorities have announced that La Tuta, one of the foremost bosses of La Familia Michoacana, will be removed from the teachers lists of the state's public education system, something they had previously said would be impossible absent his arrest or death. They also said that he hasn't earned a paycheck since 2009, and not since the first part of this year as had been reported.

Funny Nacho

Ignacio Beristain, currently best known to boxing fans as the trainer of the Márquez brothers, gave an interview to Milenio regarding his recent election to the Boxing Hall of Fame and sundry other topics, and it turns out he's a pretty funny guy, in a Ted Williams sort of way:
How did you find out about your election to the Hall of Fame?

I was on the highway driving my '65 Mustang, and another car lowered the window to yell at me: "Don Nacho, we just heard that you were elected to the Hall of Fame". The motherfuckers made me park the car on the shoulder of the highway so that I could listen to them. I thought they were going to rob me.

Any wish for the New Year?

I ask Mexicans to not be such dumbasses as to vote for the PRI. And the PAN even more so. They called me from the Interior Secretariat for making these types of comments in the past. Once, in the era of Zedillo, they invited a champion of mine to Los Pinos, but they warned him: "Don't bring your trainer". Poor bastards! I still haven't eaten from the sadness of not being invited to Los Pinos.
Other comments are largely in that spirit, which seems to be lost in translation during interviews with the American boxing media. He also had some colorful criticisms of trainers who let their charges absorb tremendous beatings (he's against it), and said that De la Hoya's brother wanted him to give Oscar one more round versus Pacquiao when Beristain called it a night.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Happy Day in the Laguna

Last week's smashing of Santos by Monterrey in the vuelta of the Mexican league finals still stings, but it was nice to see the Laguna's favorite son Cristian Mijares bounce back from two years of struggles to win a world title last night. And while the opponent, Juan Alberto Rosas, won't ever draw comparisons with Sugar Ray Robinson, Mijares looked sharper than he has since beating Alexander Muñoz in spring of 2008. It was nice to see.

From the self-promotion department, I wrote a long piece about Mijares in 2008, right as he went to from being one of the pound-for-pound best in the world to being someone about whom we were all asking, What happened to that guy?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

New Digs for Ricardo

Ricardo Alemán has found a new home at Excélsior, and one of his first columns is dedicated to analyzing the possibility of an alliance 2012:
Thus far, Marcelo Ebrard and Juan Ramón de la Fuente are mentioned as the possible presidential candidates, the first proposed by the Chuchos and the latter by Felipe Calderón. They are even discussions of other options to replace the ex-rector of UNAM, whose image has begun to be seen with more negatives than positives.

The first reactions to these discussions by the PRD and the PAN regarding 2012 have already produced major scandals. The first was a repeated declaration by the president that it wouldn't be unthinkable for the PAN to consider a citizen candidate from outside the PAN. This happened days after Calderón effusively praised Juan Ramón de la Fuente.
Alliances at the presidential level make no sense to me for major parties. From a national agenda-setting panista point of view, why Ebrard be so much better than Peña Nieto? The logic on the local level is logical; only the combined forces of the PAN and the PRD could bring about an end of the residual authoritarian states in Puebla and Oaxaca. But to join forces with your ideological opposite so as to keep the PRI out of the presidency and hold on to a chunk of federal jobs would be a perversion of each party's identity. And it would likely fail, because there's no way the hard left wouldn't field its own candidate. It also seems unlikely that the ambitious, presidenciable panistas would fall in line behind this.

Nonetheless, lots of people who follow the situation more closely than I keep talking about the possibility of a presidential alliance.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another Capo Killed?

Via Boz and Malcolm and Reuters, there are rumors that La Familia big shot El Mas Loco, or Nazario Moreno if you want to go by what his mama called him, was killed in the fighting with Federal Police in Michoacán yesterday. That would bring the total of capos brought down in the past year to seven: Moreno, Nacho Coronel, La Barbie, Sergio Villarreal, Teo García, Tony Tormenta, and Arturo Beltrán. Or am I forgetting someone else? That doesn't amount to a successful counter-drug policy in and of itself, but it's a pretty striking jump given the lack of big-timers arrested under Calderón up until December 2009.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Random Security Stats

The CNDH says that 100 innocent bystanders have died in the last year and a half in shootings involving Mexican authorities.

Only 32 percent of a recent batch of aspirants to state anti-kidnapping bureaus were seemed suitable, though if this is a bad thing (i.e. only the misfits want to join the cops) or a good thing (it's so competitive that only a third can get in). The article implies that it's the former case, but I suspect that many in the Mexican media would write it that way regardless.

A local university study found that in Juárez, there are almost 33,000 empty houses as a result of an insecurity-induced exodus. In the southeast region of the city, more than half the houses are unoccupied; in the northwest, the figure is 33 percent.

The PGR says that the number of protected witnesses has tripled from 80 in 2006 to more than 267 today. That conflicts with this report that said the jump was from 99 in 2002 to more than 400 today, but in any event, I think we can agree that the number is rising. I also think that we can agree that in a nation where there somewhere from 500,000 to 1 million earning their living in the drug trade, and with a total pie of $25 billion or so, even 400 is a pretty small number.

Five Years of Rumors To Be Consummated?

Guillermo Ochoa is training with Fulham, which is also home to Carlos Salcido. The rumors of his imminent transfer to Europe have been raging essentially since before he was even born (I exaggerate, but only slightly), and seem to be cresting despite Aguirre wrongfully benching him at the World Cup.

La Tuta to Remain on the SEP Teacher List

Michoacán says that Servando Gómez, one of the five most notorious criminals in Mexico, cannot be removed from the teacher's rolls because he is no longer collecting a salary, as he had been from 1995 until earlier this year. The only way they could take him off the list, SEP authorities say, is if he is brought into custody. So that's another reason to hope that he's caught.

Shifting directions, everyone needs to start preparing their jokes about how the best preparation for leading a mafia is standing at the head of a classroom.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Two Illustrations of the Perpetual Scandal That Is Mexico's Educational System

One: La Tuta, the Familia Michoacana's most recognizable big shot, has been drawing a public school teacher's salary for the past 15 years. The first quarter of this year, for instance, he was paid roughly $4,000. For the record, the article says that he does not have a professional background in education.

Less spectacularly, Mexican 15-year-olds averaged a score of 425 on the most recent PISA exams, which are used to measure different nations' kids against one another. This represents an improvement over previous tests in 2003 and 2006, but it is well below the OECD average of 493.

Not Everything Can Be Explained in Terms of Efficiency

In a post that is almost a parody of the emotionless, nerdy, borderline non-human economist, Dennis Coates sets out to explain why we should be happy that Qatar will host the 2022, but really he just succeeds in demonstrating the limits of economics as an explainer of real-life satisfaction. His reasoning:
Economists and public policy analysts have studied the economic impact of large international sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics, and national events like the Super Bowl, and the evidence shows that there is very little in the way of economic benefit from hosting these events. Incomes don’t grow faster, more jobs aren’t created, governments don’t rake in significant hauls of new tax revenues. In other words, the best evidence produced by disinterested researchers is that the economic value of hosting the World Cup or Olympics is not especially large.


So, congratulations to Russia and Qatar. I wish you well as you organize the World Cups in 2018 and 2022. I hope for your sakes that the victory you have today time does not reveal to be Pyrrhic. At the same time, I celebrate that the U.S. avoided the curse of winning the bid.

My reasoning: I'd like to watch a world-class soccer match without flying to another continent. Virtually no one celebrating after the World Cup bids are handed out is doing so thinking, Wow, South Africa/Brazil/Russia/Qatar is going to make lots of money off this, and incomes are going rise and there's going to be a bundle of cash. They are thinking, There's going to be a hell of a party right around the corner, and I just might be able to see Lio Messi net a golazo from a few hundred feet away. Or in economicese, the utility derived from the event far outweighs my share of whatever gain the US has scored by losing out to Qatar.

México Greenísimo

More stories on Mexico becoming greener: Felipe Calderón has announced that over the next four years, Mexico will phase out incandescent light bulbs, resulting in their total elimination from the market starting in 2014; and Ernesto Cordero promised in Cancún to reduce Mexican emissions by 50 percent by 2050 and to do more to attract private investment in green technologies. He also said that the government had set aside $4.5 billion for "actions of mitigation".

I'm not sure either of these promises will come off, nor do the $4.5 billion really convince me that there is a legitimate green spending push in the offing (exactly what programs are being funded with that?), so all this amounts to is an aesthetic adjustment. Still, aesthetics do matter, and the belief that environmentally beneficial programs should matter could later lead to them actually being given more significant and sustained attention. It will also hopefully lead to modified behavior from Mexicans themselves, such as greater purchases of hybrid cars and more recycling, which is very rare in Mexico despite being common practice for two decades in the US. Furthermore, lodging the idea of Mexico as a green paradise in minds of the international media will probably generate some stories in the future, and help to counter the prevailing image of Mexico as little more than a capo killing field. (This supposition is based on the steadfast belief that media narratives describing Mexico are quite superficial.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Marcelo

A little more international recognition for Marcelo Ebrard: fresh off hosting scores of counterparts from around the globe in a climate change summit late last month, Ebrard has now been named world's top mayor in 2010 by something called the World Mayor Project. Good for him; now, if only all that attention could help untie the AMLO knot before 2012.

Earning Plaudits

A positive English-media story about Mexico, much less one that never mentions security, doesn't come across the wires every day. In lieu of a day off and a national celebration, I'll just pass along the first few graphs of this Reuters piece:
Mexico's deft hosting of U.N. climate talks is raising the stakes for nations with hard-line positions -- such as Japan and Bolivia -- since they risk getting more blame if the meeting fails, analysts say.

At the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, Denmark's use of "secret" negotiating texts among only a few nations angered many poor countries who felt left out. Denmark then got some of the blame for the failure to agree to a binding U.N. climate treaty.

This year, Mexico has won high marks so far for steering talks among almost 200 nations in the Caribbean resort of Cancun. "There are no secret texts," Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa has often insisted, drawing a contrast with Copenhagen.

That means the spotlight is less likely to be on Mexico if Cancun fails to overcome a deadlock over a modest package of measures including a new climate fund to help the poor, ways to share green technologies and to protect tropical forests.

"The Mexicans are doing a great job here and it will put people on the hook to deliver at the end of the week," said Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, of the November 29 to December 10 meeting.


"This is always very, very difficult. There was transparency last year despite the myths that are being created. And the Mexican presidency has done a lot of work to ensure transparency here," she told Reuters.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Citizen Candidate

Felipe Calderón encouraged the possibility of someone outside the PAN running for the party in 2012. Maybe it was a meaningless comment, and personally I'd love to see more political outsiders running for office in every party, but it doesn't seem like something one would say if there were a logical, viable PAN candidate.

One of the people most able to mount a legitimate campaign is Alejandro Martí, and I was interested to learn that he has a blog (which in Mexican media is often a euphemism for online opinion column) with Animal Político, a new politics website. Here's a piece of one of his first efforts:
I see two great bottlenecks that impede the improvement of our system of justice: police corruption and inefficiency of the public ministry [the department in each entity that carries out investigations, from what I understand of a combination of a DA's office and a homicide detective].

In conclusion: either no one realized that we would arrive at this national public security crisis because of abandoning our state and municipal police, or many people benefited from this abandonment, which in any event is complicity.

Like a hydra of 1,000 heads, the police, corrupted, have turned against their own creators, leaving the citizens as their prey.

Picking Up Latino Votes by Default, Not By Design

Janet Napolitano's department is evidently quite proud of its unorthodox methods and unprecedented results in deporting Mexicans:

But in reaching 392,862 deportations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement included more than 19,000 immigrants who had exited the previous fiscal year, according to agency statistics. ICE also ran a Mexican repatriation program five weeks longer than ever before, allowing the agency to count at least 6,500 exits that, without the program, would normally have been tallied by the U.S. Border Patrol.

When ICE officials realized in the final weeks of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, that the agency still was in jeopardy of falling short of last year's mark, it scrambled to reach the goal. Officials quietly directed immigration officers to bypass backlogged immigration courts and time-consuming deportation hearings whenever possible, internal e-mails and interviews show.


But at a news conference Oct. 6, ICE Director John T. Morton said that no unusual practices were used to break the previous year's mark.

"When the secretary tells you that the numbers are at an all-time high, that's straight, on the merits, no cooking of the books," Morton said, referring to his boss, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. "It's what happened."

Awesome. I'm sure everyone who's completely straightforward immigration case has been bungled or delayed is pleased to know that the relevant agencies were busy meeting these goals.

Interesting Choice of Words

reports that Gustavo Madero called Peña Nieto a danger to democracy in Mexico. Given the lingering upset over the above advertisement, "danger" is an interesting word choice, though I personally don't think much of Peña Nieto's democratic instincts.

Another sign that Madero is following a calderonista playbook: he's stacking the PAN's National Executive Committee with Calderón loyalists, including the president's sister. Within the party, at least, Calderón doesn't yet appear to be the power-hemorrhaging lame duck he's been rumored to be for more than a year.

On the Radio

I talked with Silvio Canto about WikiLeaks, comparisons between Mexico and Colombia, and sundry other topics.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

No Less of a Fan For Distance. Well, Not Much Less Anyway.

The story in the North of Mexico this weekend isn't any lifeless body or corrupt official, but the Clásico Norteño doubling as the final of the Mexican League: Santos vs. Monterrey. Santos carries a 3-2 edge into Monterrey for this evening's game, and Laguneros and ex-Laguneros alike have to feel good about their chances. Should they win, it'll mean the first title for perennially snake-bit coach Rubén Omar Romano, who I believe has lost the final four separate times without ever winning, none more heartbreaking than last spring's when Santos had a 3-1 edge in penalty kicks and missed two straight chances to close it out. Romano was also kidnapped while coaching Cruz Azul in 2005, his first match back being the first Mexican league game I ever saw live.

New Pres

Gustavo Madero is the new PAN president, after yesterday's seven-vote victory over Roberto Gil Zuarth and company. He promised to avoid that the PRI returns to Los Pinos next year, which seems like bold talk if he wants to have his performance measured by that high standard, though I guess his first statement couldn't very well be, "We'll do what we can, but I don't like our chances".

Embarrassment for Calderón and Company

Sandra Ávila Beltrán, la Reina del Pacífico, has been freed from prison and cleared of all charges of drug trafficking. She had always said that her crime was growing up among drug dealers and being of that world, not actually trafficking drugs. According to the Mexican legal system, she was right. Felipe Calderón was among those who loudly trumpeted her arrest in 2007. As with Michoacanazo, thanks to the triumphant reaction on the occasion of the arrest, he now looks worse than he would have had the case come apart with him remaining silent. In most of these cases where there is some doubt, he'd be better off remaining silent until the conviction came down.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

WikiMexico, II: I Stand Corrected!

Actually, there was something pretty juicy in the WikiLeaks from Mexico: Guillermo Galván evidently suggested the imposition of martial law in Mexico in 2009, a proposal that was subsequently shot down by Fernando Gómez Mont (martial law would require Congressional approval to be legal, and Gómez Mont, as the Interior Secretary, acted as Calderón's chief liaison with Congress at that point). Had it been implemented, Galván's gambit could have resulted in suspensions of freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and constitutional guarantees to due process. I'm interested as to whether Galván really believed that this was a viable option for the pacification of the nation, or if it was just a suggestion made in the interest of putting all the options on the table, a la Adlai Stevenson during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Daniel Hernandez has lots more on the cables at La Plaza. This cable notwithstanding, it seems that most of what we have learned has been official analysis of things we've long been reading in the papers.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cracking Down on the Kids

It's ironic that the Senate passed a new law that allows for much harsher penalties of 14- to 18-year-olds convicted of drug trafficking, terrorism, rape, or kidnapping on the same day that Mexico's most famous child hit man was arrested. The hit man (boy?) in question, known as El Ponchis, turns out to be 14 years old, not the 12 years or younger that had been rumored. I haven't read any specifics about the law, but Mexico's recent focus on strengthening the penalties for crimes without increasing the risk of capture for criminals amounts to much sizzle, very little steak. Also, it's important that you try to avoid turning every law-breaking teen into a career thug. The article mentions mechanisms for reinsertion into society, but the very act of establishing harsher criminal penalties for kids accused of drug traffic seems to run counter to that.

Update: El Ponchis is American.


As is the case elsewhere, everyone is all atwitter because of the release of cables having to do with Mexico. Many of the revelations are interesting enough, though none that I've seen are especially remarkable: Hillary was worried about Calderón's stress level, Carlos Pascual thought that the Marines were more trustworthy and competent than the army. Given that, I think the full-throated condemnations from the Mexican government are odd. Everyone probably assumes there is juicier stuff in diplomatic cables; if what they are saying merely echoes what you read in the papers, who cares? It's not like anyone thinks a great deal less of Calderón or Mexico because of what was leaked thus far. Nor does anyone believe that Mexican diplomats abide by some higher code of conduct in their cables back home.

Also, someone earlier this week (I think it was Matt Yglesias) was saying that the Saudis worrying about Iran doesn't reflect only their own concerns, but their perceptions of what the Americans want to hear. The same thing occurred to me as I was reading about Calderón voicing worries about Chávez interfering with Mexican politics.

You can find further commentary from Malcolm and Richard.

The Scandal No One Is Paying Attention To

I want WikiLeaks to get their hands on the cables coming in to Sepp Blatter so we can find out how the hell the US lost the World Cup to Qatar. Although it will be nice to see the Qataris playing inspired before their home fans, digging into their deepest reserves of athletic ability, and being eliminated with an 11-goal differential after three straight losses.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Colombia's Lessons for Mexico: A Nuanced Take

Courtesy of Nathan Jones:

The most important lesson Mexico can take from Colombia is the importance of a willingnes to pay. According to Professor Samuel Gonzalez Ruiz of UNAM and the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, Mexico generates less than 9% of GDP in tax revenue. Only one country in Latin America does a poorer job: Haiti. Upon entering office in 2002 Colombian President Alvaro Uribe raised taxes to improve and expand the military and national police forces. The funding also paid for social programs like Familias en Acción, which paid for poor children in rural areas to attend school and get basic nutrition. Without a willingness to pay for better state institutions, any reform plan will fail regardless of its strategic orientation. There can be no more relying on the state oil company PEMEX to generate 40% of government revenues. Those profits should be distributed to taxpayers and taxed back by the government to increase transparency, accountability and swell the ranks of official taxpayers.

That 9 percent is lower than what you see from other sources (such as the OECD), but Mexico without a doubt needs to collect more cash. Like most of the ways in which Colombia offers lessons for Mexico, this is a goal whose realization would help Mexico regardless of its security situation and Colombia's resemblance to it. This is good advice because a broad, sustainable tax base is objectively better than a narrow, declining tax base, regardless of what your spending needs are.

A Harsher Take on the PAN

Here's Alberto Aziz Nassif on the decade of the PAN:
In ten years the panista right has demonstrated that it doesn't have the capability of changing the course of development toward more inclusive policies, that could correct the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans that each year join the informal workforce or immigrate. The social policies that has been applied in these years is, according to some economists, is like a tip that won't thoroughly attack poverty. In economics there is a continuity of the neoliberal orthodoxy and an incapacity to grow. In the labor market corporate control has grown, adding to the destruction of jobs. Politically, there is a weakened presidency that navigates between special interests without achieving its own profile, except on the issue of organized crime.

In the celebration of their ten years, Felipe Calderón said yesterday that Mexico didn't deserve a return to the "old-fashioned, the authoritarian, the irresponsible [past]". But, since when did panista governments leave those circumstances behind?
There's a lot of fair criticism in there, and a lot that is a little too strident for my taste (i.e. the final implication that there is nothing separating the PAN presidencies from that of, say, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz). I would have been interested to see a little more about Calderón's neoliberalism, which is repeatedly tossed off without much clarification. I'm having a hard time thinking of any single episode that was both a significant change of course and a significant embrace of any of the ten planks of the Washington Consensus. I guess you could point to the Luz y Fuerza takeover, but operations weren't privatized, but rather turned over to another state firm. Trade wasn't further liberalized, nor was there a great change in attitudes toward FDI, nor was there a big change in how exchange rates were managed. There was, painfully, no tax reform, nor did the oil reform come close to being neoliberal. Or how about this goal of the WC:
Redirection of public spending from subsidies ("especially indiscriminate subsidies") toward broad-based provision of key pro-growth, pro-poor services like primary education, primary health care and infrastructure investment;
Does that describe the source of Calderón's economic failures? I'd say not in the least. Maybe there's something I'm missing, but nothing comes to mind. I guess you could argue that Calderón's neoliberal sins lie in maintaining previous changes in policies regarding trade, property rights, and the rest, but in that case AMLO may well have been a neoliberal devotee, too.

That's not a defense of Calderón's development program, but I think attacking him as a "neoliberal" just confuses the issue. The argument would be much better were he --and everyone else who accuses with that loaded term-- to point to specific policies that failed. In other words, I'm not convinced that the ways in which Fox's and Calderón's development policy fell short were failings of neoliberal per se, despite each man coming from the right. This sounds more like neoliberal as a euphemism for, "a rightist president whom I dislike".

Really, the basis of any criticism of Calderón's (though not Fox's) development results is provided very concisely by Aguachile here. And no, the word neoliberal doesn't pop up once.

A Dip in Violence

Milenio reports that November had the lowest daily number of murders related to organized crime of the year, which is surely faint praise, given that 853 people were killed. Still, one can hope that the tendency continues. Chihuahua remains the bloodiest state in the country, with 218 killings, though that number is down from 275 in October.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mexican Narcos Are in Every American City! Or, There Exists a Global Supply Chain

Via Malcolm Beith, this, from a story on Operation Xcellerator, is an amusing reflection of the fact that for all the talk about Mexican gangs operating in American cities, mass arrests in the US do little to affect the Mexican capos:
Many of the people they do arrest are not even middle management. They are low-level American street dealers and "mules" who help smuggle the drugs. But most have never heard of the Mexican organized crime gangs they're supposed to represent, let alone have conducted business directly with the cartel. Such workers are easily replaced with only an inconvenience to the organization.


The Justice Department claimed that Xcellerator arrested "hundreds of alleged Sinaloa cartel members and associates," but the outcomes of individual criminal cases suggest otherwise.

Otis Rich, a 34-year-old career criminal from Baltimore, Md., was arrested after he was connected, via cell phone calls, to another Baltimore cocaine dealer, who had his product shipped from an Arizona trafficker, who got his product from Mexico.

When asked about the Sinaloa cartel, Rich said, "Sina-who? I don't know anything about them guys." He's serving 15 years in federal prison in Atlanta for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Xcellerator, you may remember, was hailed as an unprecedented blow to Chapo Guzmán, despite the fact that Chapo was about as threatened by the arrest of Otis Rich as I would be if you kill an errant blade of grass while walking from your home this morning. Here's a portion of the DoJ press release when the operation was announced:
The Sinaloa Cartel is responsible for bringing multi-ton quantities of narcotics, including cocaine and marijuana, from Mexico into the United States through an enterprise of distribution cells in the United States and Canada. The Sinaloa Cartel is also believed to be responsible for laundering millions of dollars in criminal proceeds from illegal drug trafficking activities. Individuals indicted in the cases are charged with a variety of crimes, including: engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise by violating various felony provisions of the Controlled Substances Act; conspiracy to import controlled substances; money laundering; and possession of an unregistered firearm.

“We successfully concluded the largest and hardest hitting operation to ever target the very violent and dangerously powerful Sinaloa drug cartel,” said DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “From Washington to Maine, we have disrupted this cartel’s domestic operations—arresting U.S. cell heads and stripping them of more than $59 million in cash—and seriously impacted their Canadian drug operations as well. DEA will continue to work with our domestic and international partners to shut down the operations of the Sinaloa cartel and stop the ruthless violence the traffickers inflict on innocent citizens in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.”