Thursday, December 29, 2011

2010 Murder Figures

Diego Valle-Jones picks at the just-released database of homicides in 2010 here. As always, his analysis is worth a couple of reads.

New Piece

A review of Charles Kenny's Getting Better, and an argument that much of the same logic applies to Mexico here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Jarring Stat of the Day

According to the insurance firm AXA, just 16 percent of Mexicans habitually save money for retirement.
The lack of medium and long-term spending affects young Mexicans and their families, because it diminishes their capacity to create a nest egg or invest in their first home, higher education or universities for their children, or confront some medical emergency.


On Aguachile's recommendation, this profile of Enrique Krauze from novelist Jorge Volpi is great Dec. 26, lingering food hangover reading.

On Sicilia's Truce and the Philosophy It Represents

Víctor Beltri captures a lot of what I find wrongheaded about Mexican oppositionalism with this line:
Why not direct public attention to the need for confronting national problems with unity, instead of undermining confidence in the institutions?
That is perhaps a bit of a simplification, but there is a lot of truth to it. I tend to think of it as a holdover from the priísta era, in which merely expressing opposition to a closed political system was the most important stance one could take. Today, avenues for collaboration need to be explored and embraced, whereas many of the current movements rooted in frustration with the status quo seem to be searching for excuses to throw up their hands and walk away from the legitimate system. It will be interesting to see if this continues to be a problem to the same degree as more and more voters who have no memory of PRI rule come of age.

Puebla Is US Soccer South

Eddie Johnson joins DeMarcus Beasley in Puebla. Hérculez Gómez also enjoyed a successful stint there in 2010, though he is suiting up for Santos in the coming Clausura. That brings the total of Americans without Mexican roots in the Mexican league to at least three: Beasley, Johnson, and Jonathan Bornstein. And as far as the Mexican-Americans, aside from Gómez, there are José Francisco Torres, Michael Orozco, Homie Castillo, and I imagine there are a few more, but I can't think of any offhand. For the sake of both the US players and the Mexican league (or at least my interest in it), it'd be nice to see those numbers grow.

Friday, December 23, 2011

More Reading Material

Macario Schettino lists his favorite books of the year here. Tops on the list is Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Zuckermann has his favorite book here.

And Enrique Peña Nieto's staff just sent me his favorite book pick (though I had to sign a pledge not to ask him about it with 20 minutes of prep time):

Friday Reading

Alejandro Hope has a long, convincing look at the role Mexican criminal organizations play in American cities, which you should read now, before the eggnog impairs your analytical functions. The gist is that the frequent arguments from American officials that Chapo (or whoever) is taking over street-corners from Baltimore to Fargo are unsupported and unlikely, something with which I heartily concur. He also generously mentions a couple pieces of mine, which really only scraped the surface.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

On the Mexican Cinema

Carlos Puig notes that 52 movies in Mexico sold some 13 million tickets through November, out of a total of 200 million tickets sold. He also notes that the average movie brings in 8 or 10 million pesos in revenues, which, given the costs of making a movie and the theater's cut, means that almost all of them are losing money. More:
Many of the movies that are made today are essentially vehicles of tax deductions thanks to the so called "226", the article of the Law of Taxes on Profits through which busineses can give money to directors to make movies instead of giving money to the treasury. In reality, the incentive no hasn't produced better movies but rather many of them which allows the businessman to deduct, and later they remain in mothballs forever or they are a box office failure.

I am convinced that the although the rules, habits, and customs of our cinema are not conducive to more Mexicans seeing Mexican movies, the quality also plays a part in this disaster. No theater or distributor that has in front of him a movie that will make millions will neglect to do so because it is Mexican, nor are Mexicans crueler with Mexicans than with other people. Should Mexicans be more tolerant because they are Mexican movies? That is a question that is not easy to answer. Do we want garbage on our screens just because it is Mexican?
That's a pretty harsh take, though one I think you hear frequently in Mexico. My biggest problem with Mexican movies was that for the last ten years, so many of them seem to imitate González Iñárritu's depiction of life in Mexico City as an impossibly bleak existence. There are several inter-related problems with this obsession: 1) Most directors can't pull it off as well as González Iñárritu; 2) After dozens of movies trading on this, it is now extremely trite; 3) It's painful to watch and offers little in the way of insight into the human condition or payoff to the viewer; and 4) It willfully ignores the rest of the country, where 80 percent of Mexicans live.

Although I've been out of the country for a year and a half now, so maybe that's not as much of an issue anymore.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Next Generation of Smuggling Ingenuity

A Spanish model was arrested in Italy when authorities discovered that she had two kilos of cocaine hidden in her breast and buttock implants. There is an obvious late-night talk show joke begging to be written but I would probably whiff. I dunno: One breast started arguing with the other about the best DJs in Ibiza?

Evidence of Vázquez Mota's Continued Lead

This comes from an El Siglo de Torreón online poll. Reforma had similar info, though I imagine a bit more scientifically collected, last week. Santiago Creel said a couple of days that he had erased the lead and that he was on top. Cordero claimed, with a similarly absent factual basis, that he and Vázquez Mota were tied a couple of weeks ago. If poll after poll means nothing, it seems like they could keep this up forever, to say nothing of February.

Mass Arrests in the US

Seventy people were arrested in a drug sting in DC this week, and media outlets (though not the DC police news release) are calling it a blow to La Familia. More than 200 people were arrested in Arizona, an operation that the DEA and the media alike are hailing as a shot against Chapo Guzmán and company. I wonder what proportion of these two groups are Mexican citizens; I'm guessing it's not high. I also wonder if these types of reports, which are common, stem from a genuine lack of understanding of how a supply chain works or if it's just cynical horn-tooting.

As always, the emblematic case of this faulty logic is that of Otis Rich.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mexican Gangsters and American Agencies

Proceso had an interesting piece about the relationship between a lieutenant of Chapo Guzmán's and a couple of agents from ICE last week, which I have partially translated here. And here is part of what I wrote as a prelude:

While US agencies often employ a combative, not-one-step-back rhetoric with regard to Mexican criminal gangs, the reality is a bit more complicated. Rather than a straightforward situation with authorities like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in constant pursuit of criminal gangs, the two sides sometimes stumble into cooperative arrangements, which have periodically caused embarrassment for the US government.

One illustration of this is the case of Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, son of one Mexico's most famous traffickers, who was arrested in Mexico in 2009 and extradited to the US a year later. He has alleged that officials in the DEA, the FBI, and the Department of Justice had worked out an agreement with the Sinaloa Cartel to reduce the pressure on the gang in exchange for information on other groups. ICE's relationship with informant Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro caused a scandal in 2010, when it was revealed that he had been paid some $250,000 over several years while also participating in at least 12 murders and continuing to traffic drugs across the US border. Going back decades, as (among others) books like "El cartel de los sapos" and "El narco: La guerra fallida" have detailed, Latin American drug lords have often sought to turn themselves in to US authorities as a way out of the drug trade, exchanging information about criminal associates for a lighter sentence.

Another example of this deal-making is given in a recent report by Proceso magazine on the testimony of Jesus Manuel Fierro Mendez, who has been cooperating with justice since his arrest in 2008. He says that he was the spokesman for Joaquin Guzman, alias "El Chapo," in his dealings with US authorities. Fierro Mendez depicts a symbiotic relationship in which each side made use of the other: agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would arrest Sinaloa’s adversaries, while Fierro Mendez would provide tips and confirm leads for the US authorities.

American Views of Latin America

I have a new piece at Este País on two frequent flaws of US analysis of Latin America: that Latin America is a coherent region, and that it needs more attention from the US.

Monday, December 19, 2011

AMLO Seeks to Explain the Reaction in 2006

AMLO has an explanation for his heated reaction to the 2006 elections: if he hadn't launched the blockade of Paseo de la Reforma, there would have been violence in the streets. This single action, which is almost single-handedly responsible for his negative polling numbers being the highest of any prominent pol in Mexico, was an act of peace.

This is both self-serving and logically faulty. I mean, that's a nice, convenient, unfalsifiable assertion to get you off the hook. And wouldn't droning on about the pinche fraude, instead of repeating time and again that there was no evidence of a systemic, widespread fraud, have made violence more likely? And why was sending the institutions to hell necessary? However, addressing 2006 to start off with shows more self-awareness as to his predicament than I would have guessed.

Update: Upon reflection and re-reading, I should add that AMLO deserves some credit for tamping down on some of the potentially violent passions within his movement. All of the above remains true, however, so this is a bit like praising a weapons manufacturer for improving the safety-locks while fueling an arms race.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Romney's Description of the Honduras Coup

This is an amusingly slanted take on the Honduran coup from the Romney campaign:
[Obama] has allowed the march of authoritarianism to go unchecked. In some cases, he has actually encouraged it, as when he publicly backed former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya — a Hugo Chavez ally — despite Zelaya’s unconstitutional attempt to extend his term as president in defiance of the Honduran supreme court and legislature.
This is all the paper has to say on the incident, so hopefully no one reading this white paper is using it as their only source of information.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Old Pieces I Meant to Mention

Saturday catch-up:

Carlos Loret de Mola suggests that all the hullabaloo over Michoacán was a dry run at a coming attempt to invalidate the 2012 elections. His logic isn't particularly convincing--if annulment was the goal Michoacán, it didn't work. Plus, it's objectively and obviously a horrible idea for the country, for whatever that's worth. Nonetheless, he is quite connected, and therefore this scenario is a bit alarming.

This Milenio Semanal piece about the youth gangs in Monterrey is informative, but the pictures are the most memorable aspect to me. Who knew Cleveland State and died bangs were popular in the barrios of Monterrey?

Fifty-eight percent of Mexico's Senators
have abandoned their posts so as to seek positions in 2012. It's easy to be indignant about an absentee legislature, but in a country where there is no reelection and the Senate elections aren't staggered, such high figures are perhaps not inevitable, but nor are they surprising.

Pascal Beltrán del Río was impressed with the left's unity in the AMLO campaign kickoff.

Mexico's government is getting (marginally) better at bringing in increasing (though still small) quantities of tax revenue.

If the PRI Loses?

Macario Schettino's column last week wondered what would become of the party if, despite all the circumstantial advantages and despite its candidate, the PRI were unable to win in 2012:
The old president the PRI turned out to be a liar, and he is already gone. The president candidate turned out to be vulnerable. What will they do with him? Will the initial advantage be enough? Will the PRI really be able to stay united around this hope? Because if with this candidate the PRI doesn't win the election, it will have hard time continuing to exist.

Friday, December 16, 2011

On the Zetas' Breakdown in Authority

Here's a new piece at InSight:
As Borderland Beat reports, the banners, or "narcomantas," appeared on Monday morning in at least 10 different spots around the city, signed with the name of Zetas boss Miguel Angel Treviño, alias "Z-40." The messages' first paragraph declares:

We do not govern this country, nor do we have a regime; we are not terrorists or guerrillas. We concentrate on our work and the last thing we want is to have problems with any government, neither Mexico nor much less with the US.

The message went on to distance both Treviño and the Zetas from a recently uncovered alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US, as well as an August attack in a Monterrey casino that killed more than 50 people. A Zetas cell has been linked to the latter incident, while the assassination plot, according to US authorities, revolved around an alleged Irani agent contracting members of the Zetas to murder the diplomat in Washington, DC.

The most recent narcomantas contradicted a series of messages left in Nuevo Laredo earlier this month, in which someone writing in Treviño’s name openly challenged the governments of the US and Mexico. As that message's authors wrote:

Not the army, not the marines nor the security and anti-drug agencies of the United States government can resist us. Mexico lives and will continue under the regime of the Zetas. Let it be clear that we are in control here and although the federal government controls other cartels, they cannot take our plazas.

This episode raises a couple of points about the current state of the Zetas. One is that the group seems to be suffering a significant amount of organizational deterioration. This is clearly demonstrated by the disdain with which the latest banners refer to the Monterrey attackers; Treviño refers to them as having “chicken brains” and emphasizes repeatedly that the attack was not ordered from above.

This conclusion is supported by the contradictory messages appearing in the same, Zeta-controlled city just weeks before. There are two possible explanations for this: either Treviño’s subordinates felt comfortable issuing a challenge in his name and without his consent, or a rival group infiltrated a Zeta stronghold and managed to hang a handful of narcomantas around town without them knowing. Neither possibility would seem to reflect a finely tuned operation humming perfectly.

More broadly, the insistence on linking capacity to violence to the strength of the group behind bloodshed is one of the frequent problems in analysis of Mexico. We all have a tendency to exaggerate the size the enemies about which we know relatively little, but so much of what we've seen from the Zetas in the past year strikes me as the behavior of a headless chicken, not a stalking lion. Of course, that distinction matters little to the people who are victimized, so perhaps the proper comparison is a stalking lion to an epileptic lion attacking people willy-nilly without any clear plan. Or maybe animal metaphors aren't really the proper approach to this issue.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mexico's Most Unconvetional Bishop

Gatopardo has a long profile of Raúl Vera López, the notoriously liberal bishop from Saltillo, that makes for some great reading. Highlights:
Raúl Vera has not been tortured or exiled, but he has already taken precautions: his left wrist carries a bracelet with his name, his contact information, his blood type, and his antibiotic allergies: "So that the day they shoot me they know who I am", he tells me...

Among the Rafto recipients, Raúl Vera López is famous as a night owl and partier. And it's well earned: the bishop from Saltillo feels as comfortable in the buzz of a cantina as in the silence of his recliner, and as at home celebrating mass with prostitutes on Good Friday as he is discussing dogmas of faith with theologians from around the world. He is always conversing --whether with someone else or with himself-- and for that reason the small tasks of daily life, like dressing himself or parking the car, take forever.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Presidents and Books and Enrique Peña Nieto

New piece here. With regard to the last paragraph, I can't count: that number is closer to six than eight months.


Evidently, the celebration on Saturday night was just a bit too much for my weak constitution--I passed out not long after the third goal from Cesc and just woke up 20 minutes ago. Wow! Quite a game. It seems I was lucky to have Van Winkled the second leg of the Mexican final.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

On the Clásico

I recently read that Bismarck often used to, in his words, spend nights simply "hating". While I don't embrace hatred in the abstract, with the Clásico to kick off in just under six hours, I found myself filled with admiration for the master of Realpolitik. And while the hours of deep meditation on Ronaldo, Mouriño, Pepe, and every other horrible ogre taking the field in white today were quite satisfying, we also need spend some feeling the love:

That was nice. And while we are at it:

Here's a characteristically trenchant analysis of the tactical challenges for each team from Zonal Marking.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Threat to Elections

Apropos of Calderón's claim that threats from organized crime forced 50 candidates out of the Michoacán elections, I have a piece at InSight regarding the potential threats to the outcome of 2012. I focused not on the possibility that criminals could influence policy after the election, but whether they are actually capable of swinging a significant chunk of the votes, a la Michoacán (allegedly, anyway). Highlights:

However, there is reason to doubt that the presidential vote will be marred by criminal influence to the same extent as the local elections described above.

One fundamental reason is that in the three states in question, the influence of criminal groups arguably runs more deeply than anywhere else in the country. Each of them have spawned their own trafficking groups -- the Sinaloa Cartel in Sinaloa state, the Gulf Cartel (and the Zetas) in Tamaulipas, and the Familia and Caballeros Templarios in Michoacan -- which have deep ties to local business and politics. Crime hasn’t been imported from outside, but is an organic part of public life in each state, which makes it much more difficult to isolate politics from crime.

Vizcarra’s explanation for the photo with Sinaloa capo Zambada was illustrative: he didn’t deny it was real, but said it didn’t show collusion of any kind. As a rancher with ties to powerful business interests in Sinaloa, it was only natural that Vizcarra would have become acquainted with the longtime kingpin.

In some other states, even those which suffer high levels of violence, the links between drug trafficking and politics are not so inevitable, because organized crime is a comparably recent arrival. It is far less likely for criminals in, say, Queretaro or San Luis Potosi to be willing or able to exert influence over an election in the same way the Familia attempted to do in Michoacan.

For similar reasons, it is unlikely that there are photos floating around of the leading presidential candidates --Mexico State’s Enrique Peña Nieto or Tabasco’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador -- arm-in-arm with a wanted man.

Furthermore, the presidency is chosen by a nationwide, winner-take-all election in which some 40 million people will cast a ballot. Even in the unprecedentedly close 2006 presidential elections, the difference between Calderon and runner-up Lopez Obrador approached 250,000 votes. Against that backdrop, any drive to redirect votes from one candidate to another, even by the most powerful gangs, would almost certainly be futile.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Un Guerrero Nunca Muere, Says the Slogan. That's Great, But Hopefully He Can Also Bring Home a Title.

Santos has once again reached the final of the Liguilla, for the third time in four tournaments, and therefore the third time in two years. Hopefully, they can avoid the pattern of heartbreak of the previous two.

The opponent is Tigres of Monterrey, who employs Carlos Salcido and Jonathan Bornstein. In the few games of theirs I have seen, Tigres have been horribly boring and very stingy on the defensive side, which probably has a good bit to do with Bornstein not playing. Santos provides quite a contrast; they light it up.

The Joke Parade

Here's AMLO poking fun at Peña Nieto's book blunder:
Toward the end, he invited Peña Nieto to take a reading workshop: “Paco Ignacio Taibo II has a a workshop to foster reading. I think that, with all due respect to Paco Ignacio, he could invite Peña Nieto to participate in the workshop", joked the Tabascab, who then said, "What reading doesn't give you, marketing can't provide".
I expect another six million comments in that vein over the next several weeks.

This horrible week of Peña Nieto is further evidence of how much the PAN is screwing up their nomination process. Right now, most of the people who are both leaning toward Peña Nieto and horribly offended by his callous daughter and his demonstrated disinterest in book-learnin' have a few options: they can either drop out of the election, shift their support toward AMLO, or hold their nose and continue supporting Peña Nieto. They cannot, however, latch on to the PAN alternative, because there isn't one yet. If Vázquez Mota were already the candidate, she could be using this to slam Peña Nieto and make herself seem comparatively smarter and appealing and all that crap that political consultants surely talk about in meetings, but in February, this will be a distant memory. All of the negative Peña Nieto energy from this episode will have dissipated, with no boost to the PAN.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Not a War

I have a new piece at Este País on the problems that occur when you take the war metaphor for Mexican insecurity too far. Highlights:

Así pues las conclusiones de RAND serían mucho más preocupantes si México de verdad sufriera de una insurgencia. Ante la coyuntura actual, decir que México está en el lado equivocado de 13 de 27 factores insurgentes es igual que decir que Chivas de Guadalajara está bien puesto para competir con los mejores equipos de básquetbol en el mundo; puede ser un dato interesante, pero como Chivas juega fútbol, es completamente irrelevante a su propósito y agrega muy poco al análisis de su capacidad.

I also mention the effort to bring a case against Calderón in the ICC, which frankly I don't think a whole lot of. However, I feel obligated to add that the administration's response, that it will consider legal action against those behind the movement, is utterly indefensible. It smacks of authoritarianism and is politically stupid, in that it makes him rather than his accusers look like the spaz with no sense of proportion. I don't know if the long presidency has sapped Calderón's common sense, but he's a veteran politician, and obviously he should know that virulent, even hysterical, criticism comes with the territory. Somehow, he's forgotten that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ball on the Clásico

Just five days away, I am already bubbling over with emotion. All I can think to write is "Please, please, please win Barça", so I'll cede the floor to Phil Ball:

Next week the Clasico will play on these emotions, but in a rather more nationally-focused fashion. The eternally wonderful thing about these games is that every one is slightly different, each one bringing its own particular set of contexts and circumstances to the stage. This time around, the difference is that the usual yin-yang nature of the two clubs' situations - whilst one is up the other tends to be down - is not the case at all. This is the first time for several seasons that I can recall a Clasico where both teams are frothing at the mouth with their own possibilities. Real Madrid's unquestionable improvement over the last year or so cannot be allowed to foreshadow Barcelona's continued excellence. Their home record is simply without precedent. Nine games played, 39 goals scored and none conceded. It would seem inhuman if it weren't for the relative contrast with their away record, with eight goals scored and seven conceded. Real Madrid will have taken note, as will have most of the Iberian Peninsula.


Barcelona brought forward their game with Rayo Vallecano in midweek, and have thus reduced Madrid's lead to three points, but have played a game more. They know that defeat in the Bernabeu could condemn them, after Christmas, to a nine-point gap whose psychological effects might cause difficulties for certain members of the Barcelona squad, accustomed as they have grown to always being ahead. I only suggest this as a possibility. It may motivate them to perform even better, but the discourse in Spain has changed. Mourinho is deliberately remaining quiet, since he knows, for the first time since he trod Spanish soil, that his project is bearing fruit and that his team may be about to dethrone their eternal rivals. The change of the guard might be upon us, or not. It's going to be a fascinating game, but Mourinho's non-provocative silence is an implicit message of his confidence. He only stirs it up when he's feeling a bit uncomfortable.

Complications in Sinaloa

I have a partial translation at InSight Crime of a Ríodoce report on the Zetas' incursions into Sinaloa. Highlights:
The suspicions of the government regarding the “presence in Culiacan of a large group of Zetas” was confirmed on November 4 when a narco commando unit murdered eight people on a volleyball court in the Colonia Pemex.

Although they don’t specify how many there are nor in what areas of Culiacan they operate, the 9th Military Zone, in coordination with the Elite Group [a specialized unit of the state police] and the Mixed Urban Operation Bases implemented a perimeter around the limits of the state capital towards the beginning of November so as to prevent the entrance of more Zetas. Nevertheless, the gunmen managed to slip through to the capital.

On November 24, reacting to 24 murders ocurred a day earlier, including the 16 burned bodies, the governor confirmed that “we all know that here the Pacific Cartel [an alternative name for the Sinaloa Cartel] operates and that there are other cartels or local cells that are allied with some of the Zetas, the Beltran Levyas, the Carrillos, that are in conflict ... It’s a product of groups, messages that are sent, that no one is strong or protected enough to prevent all incursions,” he said.


In Culiacan, a city previously not included in public security operations by state and federal police, some 300 soldiers were mobilized. Since the afternoon of November 23 they have patrolled the zones considered the most troubled and installed checkpoints in strategic locations.

In some cases, such as in the boroughs of Angostura, Salvador Alvarado and Guasave, the mayors were “advised” to tell the population to exercise precaution. One of the suggestions was to avoid being out on the streets, highways, or roadways after eight at night.

It was reported that in the community of Palmitas, in the city of Angostura, a commando unit that on Monday in the middle of the night kidnapped three police officers whose burnt bodies appeared in Culiacan on Wednesday morning, left a message threatening the residents that they would have the same luck if they were found outside of their houses at night.

Troublesome Tweets

Enrique Peña Nieto's 16-year-old daughter's Twitter account earned some attention for the following retweet:
She, or more likely he, has since closed the account. Personally I think we should make all the candidates and their family members tweet a "saludo a la bola de pendejos, que..." and then just see how they finish the thought. It could be more illuminating than a debate.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Rolling Stone Spanish Edition, You Are Just Terrible

What the hell is this?!?!Oh how I hope Barça drops another manita on them. Or rather him. Animus aside, I am looking forward to the eventual breakup once he leaves Real. I figure the leaks to the media will be five times juicier than they were at Chelsea.

Cotto-Margarito II

Cotto's loss to Margarito was one of the greater disappointments of spectating life. That night, I also also came away with food poisoning and had an enormous fight with my then-girlfriend, so really I think it is in the running for one of the worst days of my entire life, at least in the "long-term triviality" category. Since then, however, my stomach has bounced back like a champ, and I married the woman who had me so agitated, which is to say, I have addressed two of the three traumas that ruined what should have been a fantastic summer night out on the town. One remains: Cotto needs to whoop up Tony Tornado this Saturday.

Here is what appears to be the most entertaining part from their press conference:
Miguel Cotto, with an elegant gray suit, waited his turn at the microphone and answered, "Take a dictionary and see what 'criminal' means, it's someone who uses a weapon to hard someone else and you with your illegal handwraps are a disgrace for the boxing world."
Also, Eric Raskin's meditation on boxing and violence captures my ambivalence as a fan quite nicely. It's really a fantastic piece.

A Skeptical Take on Money-Laundering

A new piece here for InSight:
Neither Mexico nor the U.S. government has adequately defined the goal of AML: is it to reduce the amount of revenues, or is it to dismantle existing gangs?

If it is merely to reduce the profits, it’s worth noting once again the tiny size of the amounts seized thus far. Is the legislation being proposed going to lead to exponentially larger amounts of dirty cash being seized? The seems an unlikely result. This doesn’t make stricter AML laws a bad idea, but government officials and analysts alike would do well to temper their enthusiasm and weigh the potential benefits against the costs to the legitimate economy.

If the primary goal is to dismantle existing groups, then the question becomes whether AML is successful where other law enforcement tactics -- infiltrating smuggling networks, electronic surveillance, etc. -- fail to bring about a criminal group’s demise. While there may be some isolated instances of this dynamic, they are the exception rather than the rule. In any event, no one arguing for stronger AML provisions is making this case.

An alternative argument for AML laws is that captured criminals and their families should be prevented from enjoying ill-gotten wealth. This may be valid, but it means that attacking dirty money is essentially an after-the-fact, punitive measure rather than the head of the law enforcement spear.

Many analysts point to crackdowns on terrorist financing as evidence of the AML’s potential for organized crime, but there is an important difference between the two: money is a terrorist group’s means to the end, i.e. launching terrorist attacks. Governments do not worry about terrorist groups having large bank accounts, per se, but rather about them being more able to carry out attacks on civilians. AML efforts reduce the ability of terrorist groups to kill civilians, even if they don’t necessarily lead to prosecutions.

The dynamic with organized crime groups is fundamentally different. A large bank account is the end in and of itself for a capo like Joaquin Guzman, alias "El Chapo." Therefore, attacking his assets doesn’t reduce his ability to harm society the way it does for a terrorist boss. If anything, in fact, it does the opposite; a capo could very well compensate for a marginal reduction in his profits by ramping up production of illegal drugs and flooding the market with more merchandise.

Also, Steve Dudley has an engrossing account of a virtual kidnapping.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Memory Lane

I randomly bumped into this article during a totally unrelated Google search today. I wonder how many people would have guessed then that Guzmán would still be on the loose more than ten years later.

On the Massacres in Guadalajara

New piece from InSight. Highlights:
The Guadalajara killings offer the latest illustration of an alarming trend in Mexico's underworld: attention-grabbing massacres. This latest incident comes just weeks after dozens of bodies were dumped around Boca del Rio, Veracruz, a populous state along Mexico’s Gulf coast. The Boca del Rio killings, in turn, followed the August arson attack on a Monterrey casino, which left 52 civilians dead. In June, more than 20 people were killed in a Monterrey nightclub when gunmen entered and opened fire.

Prior to the attacks in Monterrey, massacres already appeared to be on the rise. Three different attacks on nightclub in the northern city of Torreon killed scores of civilians in 2010. Attacks on migrants and bus passengers in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas earlier this year and in August 2010 led to the discovery of hundreds of bodies around the small city of San Fernando.

While mass killings were certainly not unheard of in the past, such attacks seem to be growing more frequent, and spreading across the country. They are not confined to a single group: the Zetas are thought to be responsible for the casino attack as well as the San Fernando killings, the Gulf Cartel for the previous Monterrey attack, the CJNG for the Boca del Rio killings, while a local group linked to the Sinaloa Cartel has been blamed for the Torreon shootings.

Malcolm Beith also has a two-parter distinguishing Mexico from Colombia.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Looking for Lessons from Juárez

New piece here.

Facts Matter

Mary Anastasia O'Grady with a fantastically ahistorical take on Mexico's response to the crisis:
In contrast to the U.S., PAN President Felipe Calderón rebuffed Keynesian proposals that Mexico increase deficit spending to counter the slump that followed the 2008 financial crisis. Mr. Peña Nieto concurs.
Personally, I think transferring domestic political disputes onto foreign terrain is a recipe for misunderstanding, as every nation's context and history are simply too important for easy equivalences, such as, the PRD is the Democratic Party of Mexico. Or, the stimulus was a bad idea in the US and therefore must be a bad one in Mexico. However, if you do want to engage in cross-border partisanship, facts, as ever, are important, and O'Grady's assertion is simply incorrect. Here's Calderón announcing his economic stimulus in January of 2009. Here's a rundown of the plan's provisions. Here's me thanking Calderón for the portion of it that reduced my gas bill. And, here's Enrique Peña Nieto, supposedly Calderón's partner in a fiscally conservative response to the crisis, endorsing his plan, with the reservation that it should not be used for electoral purposes.

In summary, there was a Keynesian response to Mexico's crisis, and the primary criticism of it was that it ran out of money and was cut short in the summer of 2009.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Josefina: Worry!

I wrote last week about how the PAN's inability to select a candidate in a timely manner was handcuffing the party ahead of the 2012. Since Josefina Vázquez Mota seems the most likely candidate, this seems an especially problematic issue. (For Cordero, in contrast, it just means he gets to stay in the limelight for another several months.) However, she comes across relatively unconcerned about the PRD and PRI head start in this article:
It's been said that the fact that the PRI and PRD have a single candidate could be an advantage and that the PAN has months to go before selecting their candidate. What do you think about that?

I am sure that we will resolve the issue correctly, that we will resolve it fulfilling the goals of unity and cohesion, which, in this case, is the most important thing for the party.
Maybe they are going to speed the process along, but that doesn't sound like it to me.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ebrard's Future

Marcelo Ebrard is promising another, non-abortive presidential campaign in 2018. He is also trying to bring Britney Spears to Mexico City for a holiday concert.

I wish him more luck in the first endeavor than in the second. I would have thought in 2007 that it was impossible we'd be facing a 2012 in which AMLO defeated Ebrard for the nomination, so that makes me wonder: why are we so sure that AMLO will stand aside in 2018? Presumably, Ebrard received some assurance over the past several months that if he supported AMLO with little fuss, he'd have a crack at the presidency down the line, but promises can be broken. AMLO will be 65 in July 2018, which isn't young, but nor is it mandatory retirement age for politicians. And I can't see his support base disappearing. They had all the evidence of AMLO's defects was manifest in 2006, and yet here we are, readying ourselves for another Peje presidential campaign.


This is a couple weeks old, but the stupidity remains worth highlighting: there is a proposal floating around the Chamber of Deputies to make writing or broadcasting narcocorridos or other "apologies for crime" punishable by four and a half years in prison.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Impact of Insecurity on Business

The Economist with an interesting dispatch from Juárez. For the record, the notorious border town had witnessed just under 1,600 murders in 2011 as of November 1, putting it on a pace for some 1,900 on the year, the lowest number since 2008.


Ricardo Alemán sees the recent seizure of $15 million belonging Chapo Guzmán as evidence of a renewed push against the notorious drug lord, and says that we will see him captured before December 2012, when Calderón leaves office.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Remaining Piece of the PRI Puzzle

With Manlio Fabio Beltrones bailing, probably the biggest piece of the PRI campaign team still unsettled is that of party president. Thanks to a potential criminal case against him in the Coahuila debt/fraud scandal (his ex-treasurer has already been arrested), and thanks more generally to being a polarizing figure, Moreira seems to be teetering. His best bet to stick around seems to be his close relationship with Peña Nieto, which Moreira's comments yesterday emphasized:
With the candidate considers necessary for the operation of his campaign is what will be done. I can't say "I'll be here until 2015". That's the party discipline.

Inside Baseball from Way Outside

Excélsior had a brief profile of Grover Norquist today, dealing with his success in blocking efforts to reduce the deficit. Good on them. As good as many American newspapers are, the asymmetry between the ambitions of their foreign coverage and other nations' coverage of the US is quite striking. (Perhaps it's merely a US-Mexico asymmetry, but I suspect it's broader.) I can't imagine the Times dedicating more than an article or two a year, at most, to Mexican budget debates, and here Excélsior gave readers a rundown of one of the more obscure, in the sense that he's not an elected official, yet vital actors.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Blake Mora's Crash and the PAN's Missing Candidate

These are actually two separate pieces. Here's the first, and here's the second. The aforementioned gratuitous reference to Messi can be found in the second.

Peña Nieto Goes All Authorly on Us

Via Shannon O'Neil, Enrique Peña Nieto has a new book out: México, la gran esperanza. Un Estado Eficaz para una democracia de resultados. Campaign books are generally a painful genre, but I've liked Peña Nieto's written efforts in the past (or rather, I've liked his staff-members' written efforts), so this could be the rare exception.

Messi Windu

Phil Ball on the spat between Guardiola and those [your blogger's hand is raising, though a bit more slowly and sheepishly thanks to Pep's response] who worry about Messi getting a bit burnt out:

Talking of other greats, Leo Messi was the subject of some controversy in midweek, the journalists at Pep Guardiola's press conference asking if he was to be rested, after flying home from South America quite late in the week. Guardiola, annoyed by the questions, asked the journalists if they preferred him not to play - which may well have been the case with several of them.

Of course, Messi did play against Zaragoza, and of course he scored. Which doesn't mean that (some of) the journalists don't have a point, but Messi is simply from a distant planet, in most respects. He is also very probably a Jedi. If he doesn't need to rest, he doesn't need to rest. It defies belief, after flying so many miles, cooped up in a pressurized cabin, but it would seem to be second nature to these guys.

Beltrones Is Out

The supposed non-Dinosaur Jr.* alternative to Enrique Peña Nieto as the PRI candidate has dropped out. It's been clear for years that Manlio Fabio Beltrones was not going to come out ahead without a major scandal in Mexico State, but AMLO winning the poll on the left increased the urgency for the PRI to formally decide. And the PAN? I should have a piece coming out a bit later, which includes a completely gratuitous reference to Barça and Lio Messi, wondering about that very question.

*As far as I know, I just invented that moniker, and I feel quite satisfied. Let's all watch this video to celebrate.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Less Suspicious

Excélsior has an interesting poll today comparing reactions to the crash that killed Blake Mora to the one that killed Mouriño. The publicly available evidence for each strongly suggested an accident, yet in 2008 Mouriño, 33 percent said they thought the crash was an intentional act, with just 28 percent calling it some kind of accident. However, this time, just 22 percent thought the crash was no accident, compared to 40 percent who said it was. The pro-accident numbers might have been slightly juiced by the fact that Excélsior had more categories that could be broadly defined as an accident this time around, but that's still quite a shift.

In 2008, I mentioned that at least virtually no one was wildly claiming that Calderón was behind the crime. That reaction was, and this one is, progress. I also think it demonstrates that a widespread belief in conspiracies is linked to an authoritarian system with no free press. The more that era fades into the rear-view mirror, the less the conspiratorial mindset will dominate.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Modest yet Important Achievement

Alejandro Hope points us to a report that Juárez went an entire 24-hour day without a single murder, something that would have seemed impossible a year ago. In fact, this is the fourth time in recent weeks that Juárez has gone a day without a killing. Hope has also argued recently that the explosion in violence in Mexico is slowing, and has speculated that in three decades, Mexico could well have a murder rate comparable to Europe's today.

On Mexico's Response to the HRW Report

New piece, though not a particularly new argument, at it reflects a longstanding flaw from Calderón:
Calderon responded, as he has in the past, by saying the main threat to citizens is from criminals, not the government. It is almost certainly true that the human rights violators represent a small minority of the government officials, while violating human rights is a rather fundamental part of most gangs’ operations, but in his response, Calderon is skirting the issue.

The most obvious flaw with Calderon’s logic is that he is comparing apples to oranges -- the criminal gangs are more abusive precisely because they are criminal gangs. If the best the government can do to address the issues raised by the HRW report is to say that the criminals are worse, it’s hard to imagine a more damning indictment.

Furthermore, while the government is understandably embarrassed by the content of the report, the automatic assumption that the ultimate interests of HRW and the Mexican government are in conflict is short-sighted. One point that does not get made often enough is that the abuses outlined in the report are not the case of a juggernaut government stepping on a few toes while otherwise doing a good job; they are symptomatic of a broadly ineffective force unable to keep up with the demands of the task at hand. If the Mexican military and police agencies were less prone to extra-legal activities, then they would almost certainly be more effective in their pursuit of criminals.

Mutually Assured What Now?

Bill Simmons on the NBA's labor problems:
For that reason and all the others, I keep saying "no" whenever anyone asks me if there will be a 2011-12 NBA season. Just know that there's no side to take — it's mutually assured destruction in its purest form. That's difficult to explain to anyone losing their job over these next few months.
Putting aside all the inherent problems in comparing the potential annihilation of the human race to a single league's labor negotiations, this is an inappropriate metaphor that Simmons has used more than once. MAD was a long-term mechanism for a tenuous peace; if the NBA were the Cold War, this is a parallel version where the missiles are flying, something we avoided thanks precisely to MAD. Indeed, the fact that the NBA is heading into its "nuclear winter" itself is proof that the metaphor is inapt. The way this would work is if there was a horrible CBA for 40 years whose limits would be pushed but without anyone bailing, knowing that it could easily trigger the end of the league. But clearly that's not what is happening.

So what is the best possible international relations metaphor for the NBA? They are all limited, but I think maybe World War I is the best fit; two sides misread their opposition and underestimate the potential damage, and in so doing blunder into a tragic and avoidable catastrophe. And the power relationships everywhere are likely to be completely scrambled in very unpredictable ways. (That part may be a reach.) So where are we presently? I'd say it's February 1916.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Too Much Time behind Bars

I am not particularly familiar with the back-story here, so maybe there is more to Johnny Jolly's history than is being reported, but it seems just a phenomenal waste of resources, and not to mention the prime of a person's life, to send someone to prison for six years for a series of non-violent codeine possession charges. Granted, 600 grams of codeine is a lot, but even so.

Stupidity in College Sports

This is far from the worst example of the phenomenon in recent weeks, nor is it anything particularly new, but this story about the NCAA's continued unwillingness to consider a college football playoff is, as the topic always is, irritating as can be.

Among a handful of suggested format changes being considered by Bowl Championship Series members is an informal proposal that would radically change the structure of the BCS and significantly alter the major bowl selection process.

According to sources with direct knowledge of meetings held in San Francisco earlier this week, the suggested change calls for the BCS to sever its direct ties with the so-called BCS bowls -- the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Discover Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio -- and concentrate solely on arranging a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national championship matchup.


"There's a lot of stuff being thrown at the wall," said one official who attended the meetings. "I think the people in the room really want to get it right. They're tired of getting beat up. So you'll probably see us go slow on this one."

They're tired of getting beat up, and yet they don't consider the one solution that would satisfy everyone immediately and has long been used to great success in pro sports leagues and international competitions around the globe: a playoff. There's not need to throw a bunch of crap at the wall! There is your solution! Evidently, they're not tired enough of getting smacked around.

For the record, the word "playoff" appears once in the article, and not until the 23rd paragraph.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blake's Replacement

Alejandro Poiré, who has served as Calderón's security spokesman and was named director of Cisen a couple of months ago, has been named the new secretary of gubernación, in place of José Francisco Blake Mora. Given the promotion, Poiré will presumably soon be granted the perennial modifier "Harvad-trained".

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Big Promises from AMLO

El Peje has kicked his campaign off saying that he will create 4 million jobs in his first 42 days in office. That figure represents roughly 8 percent of the Mexican labor force, which would indeed be a hell of an accomplishment.

He also promised to send the army back to its barracks within six months. That is much more achievable, but I do wonder, in such a hypothetical, what he would do the next time a governor in a violence-wracked state started clamoring for the army's return, and blaming the federal government for abandoning them.

Attacks on the Press, Part 1,000,000

Someone attacked el Siglo de Torreón early yesterday morning, or very late Sunday night, depending on how you want to look at it. No one was hurt in the attack, which consisted of burning a car outside of the paper's newsroom and then firing 20 AK-47 rounds at the building. A similar attack occurred in August 2009. Two more journalists were evidently kidnapped in Zacatecas, just after reporting that they were being tailed by a pair of police trucks.

El Universal responds with an editorial making the obvious point that one reason these attacks continue to occur is that the perpetrators are never punished. Indeed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

There Was No Robbery

Here's a taste of what the Mexican newspapers and their readers are saying about Pacquiao-Márquez fight:

That Mexicans would react like this is understandable; there's always a predisposition in sports media to support their own in any international competition. This piece by Jay Caspian Kang, who watched the fight in Mexico, indicates that the sentiment rubbed off on him. Highlights:
But from the opening bell to the late-middle rounds, Manny seemed stuck in the past. Every time he went forward, Marquez answered with precision counterpunching. At the end of the seventh round, the Mexican TV scorecard read: Marquez 69, Pacquiao 64. It made sense. Manny was clearly frustrated, confused. Marquez had whipped himself into a rare focus. I asked my friend if he had ever seen Marquez this good, this sharp, this strong. He shook his head and said, "He is ready, I think, to be Mexico's champion."


I had scored the fight 116-112 for Marquez. I felt awful for Marquez, who fought a perfect fight. I felt awful for the people in the bar who had been ready to crown Marquez as the great fighter of his generation. But mostly I felt awful for myself and all the time I have spent over the past years trying to make sense of this corrupted, dying sport. The bout I watched was a dominating win by the fighter who was willing to make adjustments and outsmart his faster, stronger opponent. Manny threw more punches, but they reminded me of the "more punches" Oscar De La Hoya threw in his bout against Floyd Mayweather.


When I got back to my hotel, I was shocked to find that a number of boxing writers whose work I admire had scored the fight much differently. One scored it a draw. The other scored it 115-113 for Marquez. Another had the fight 115-113 for Manny.


Let's stop talking about the power of the almighty dollar and call the fight for what it was: a robbery.
This is a bizarre take: he seems to recognize that reasonable people could disagree on the result, yet he calls boxing a corrupt, dying sport, and says it was a robbery. A lack of objectivity is written into the rules of boxing, and fights that could have gone either way are inevitable. To be boxing fan is to accept that. Horrible decisions are quite maddening, but this wasn't Lewis-Holyfield or Whitaker-Chávez, nor was it even Lara-Williams. There were nine or ten different rounds that could have been scored either way. I love Márquez --in fact, I bet on him in the first two Pacquiao fights-- and I can sympathize with the fact that he has essentially proven himself Manny's equal over 36 rounds, yet he has come away empty handed. But there is a difference between an unjustifiable robbery and a close fight that went the other guy's way. Indeed, it's important distinction to draw, so as to both shine a brighter light on the truly heinous decisions and to spare us all the silly upset over close calls. After a fight like this, those people who are so convinced that no right-minded person could disagree with them that they give up on the sport are just infuriating. If only they would follow through on their threats.

Kang's take on the specifics of the action is odd, too; Márquez fought the perfect fight, except for getting completely out-hustled down the stretch. That was a significant imperfection! And Manny didn't sit down on his punches the way he did with Margarito, who had nothing to throw back at him, but he wasn't merely slapping. If he did, Márquez's face wouldn't look like this today:

Márquez vastly exceeded expectations, and it seems as though many people wanted to hand him the victory based on that alone. This happens from time to time; the same dynamic drove a lot of the angry reactions, to take but one example, to the Jermain Taylor-Cory Spinks fight, in which the latter, a light-fisted welterweight, boxed beautifully but did about as much damage to Taylor that evening as you or I did. In short, exceeding expectations is not the same thing as scoring more blows than the other guy; Wepner, it should be remembered, actually got his ass kicked by Ali.

At the end of the day, we have this: Márquez never knocked Manny down, nor did he ever seem to hurt him. The reverse is also true, but Pacquiao has been a stronger puncher than Márquez his entire career, and Márquez landed more total punches than Pacquiao in one single round. Márquez landed more power shots than Pacquiao in four of 12 rounds. Compubox totals aren't God's truth, but they do give us an indication of the flow of the fight, and here they tell us what anyone watching should already know: it was not a robbery, but a close contest that could have gone either way.

As Rumored, It's AMLO

The leftist candidate for the 2012 presidency is the same as the leftist candidate in 2006: AMLO. I will look forward to have a reason to say el Peje more frequently over the next several months, so that's a positive. But I fully expect him to get crushed, and I am disappointed that the Mexican left thinks that he deserves another run.

On Peña Nieto's Economic Priorities

Here's a new, mostly positive piece at Este País.

Monday, November 14, 2011

On the Blake Mora Conspiracies

More here:

An alternative theory is much simpler and more logical, though probably more damning. That is, the extraordinary number of fatal crashes is not caused by criminal groups sending messages to the president, but rather by a deficient aviation safety system. Defects in the model that killed Mouriño and Santiago Vasconcelos, a Learjet 45, had provoked a warning from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in 2003, yet the Mexican government purchased a handful of them for use by senior officials a year later.

The helicopter carrying Blake Mora had recently received maintenance, according to reports, but it was also almost 30 years old, having been purchased originally during the administration of Miguel de la Madrid.

With so many fatal crashes in recent years, it’s difficult to rule out criminal sabotage in every case, but the lack of attention to aviation safety crops up again and again. Such carelessness in protecting the men and women responsible for running the Mexican state, while not as viscerally scary as the idea of hyper-aggressive, all-powerful capos, would ultimately be more worrying.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Everyone's a Winner

Here's the latest from Michoacán, according to El Universal:
Hopefully a more definitive result will emerge before too long.

This Christmas Season, the Gift of Petulence Keeps on Giving

Ronaldo being Ronaldo, as ever:

Ronaldo was the subject of 'Messi' taunts and had laser pens pointed at him throughout the session before Friday's Euro 2012 play-off draw with Bosnia & Herzegovina. The Real Madrid star responded by raising his middle fingers to the fans jeering him, but has received criticism in the media for his actions.

"Everyone is speaking badly of me, but why don't people criticise the lasers that were being aimed into my eyes," Ronaldo told the press. "They behaved in that way and so I reacted in my own way ..."

In fairness, having one those laser pointers aimed at your eyes makes you want to kill someone.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Still No Word

Martín Moreno, however, says that PRD insiders know that AMLO has come out ahead in the presidential poll, and that he will be the left's candidate.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sad News

José Francisco Blake Mora, the secretary of the interior since 2010, has died in a helicopter crash in Mexico City. He is the second secretary of the interior to die in such circumstances under Calderón, with Juan Camilo Mouriño dying in a plane crash just over three years ago.


Sometimes, given all of the near-constant lamentations of Mexico's current path, it's healthy to step back and marvel at all the advances that Mexico has achieved in the past century. Here's one piece of evidence of that: in 1930, the life expectancy of a Mexican was 34 years. Today, it's 75. Of course, the goal is always more progress, but that's not bad for 80 years.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seats Changing

Marisela Morales' short term at the head of the PGR continues to be one of great turnover among the high-level staff: Just a couple months after Patricia Bugarín replaced Morales as the head of SIEDO, Bugarín has been shown the door, replaced by José Cuitláhuac Salinas Martínez. Salinas Martínez, a longtime PGR official, kicked off his tenure by touting the Zetas the group with the most widespread presence in Mexico, which is, I believe, the first such declaration from the Calderón administration. I'm not sure anyone from the administration has ever addressed this directly, but I would have guessed beforehand that they'd have said Sinaloa had the largest presence. This seems to be of a piece with the Calderón administration naming the Zetas the principal priority in the nation earlier this summer.

The Waiting Is Killing Me

A bout of anxiety over the winner of tomorrow's AMLO-Ebrard poll has made blogging impossible for the last several days. Apologies. But a couple of Xanax pills have turned things around, so we are back.

Ricardo Alemán points out, as many (including yours truly) have previously, that the big winner tomorrow if AMLO comes out on top will be Enrique Peña Nieto, as he'd much rather confront the candidate with more limited appeal. However, even if he loses, AMLO will still likely renege and run, so the effect will be the same, or even more advantageous: no viable threat from the left. Tomorrow's results notwithstanding, I won't be convinced that AMLO is really stepping aside until roughly June 30.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Forbes and Chapo

I've returned to one of my favorite subjects at Este País, and it feels quite good.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Developments in Michoacán

In recent years, Leo Zuckermann has often argued that candidates matter more than is often realized in Mexico, pointing to, among other elections, the PRI's defeats in Guerrero and Baja California Sur. I haven't been following the Michoacán election too closely, but the news that, according to Reforma, Cocoa Calderón is now leading the governor's race sounds like more evidence of that. She was, after all, in third place a month ago, 13 points off the lead.

Alternatively, the poll could be crap. We'll know here in about 10 days.


On Calderón's Dispute with the Governors

More here:
The governors, for instance, ignore the fact that they are carrying out the vetting at a snail’s pace. According to a study from the National Public Security System, released in February 2011, just 8 percent of the state police officers have passed through a vetting process, while states collectively spend just two-thirds of their total security budget allocation.

Given these statistics, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the state governments are not doing everything possible to improve the police under their control as quickly as possible. Furthermore, while the gap between the average advanced country’s police and Mexico’s is yawning, the sense of fatalism displayed by Aguirre is disheartening; revolutionizing a police system consisting of thousands of different institutions is a daunting prospect, but shouldn’t Mexico at least aspire to have world-class police forces?

Calderon’s position is motivated in part by the fact that Mexican governors typically respond to increases in violence with pleas to the federal government to deploy troops; this has been the tactic of, among others, Andres Grenier in Tabasco, and Zeferino Torreblanca in Guerrero. Stronger state police agencies would alleviate the strain on federal resources, allow them to concentrate their efforts more selectively, and could also allow the military to withdraw to a more supportive role.

Furthermore, Calderon has long sought a police reform that would consolidate the nation’s more than 2,000 municipal police departments into just 32 state bodies. Such a reform would make the integrity of the state institutions all the more important.

But Calderon’s position is also flawed. He implies that the vetting process simply needs to be brought to a finish, and then the state governments will all enjoy clean, competent police force.

Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this. Past police purges have not served as a long-term solution to corruption in Mexican security agencies, and it is not likely that this one will be any different. Those police who remain after the vetting are not universally incorruptible; many of them have simply not been confronted with the dilemma. But if a criminal group loses all their local police protectors, logic dictates that they will seek to replace them. No matter the efficiency and thoroughness of the housecleaning, the gains will be only temporary.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Book. And Relatively New Book.

Here's a brief excerpt from Ioan Grillo's new book, El Narco:

Gonzalo has more demons than most. He was incarcerated in the prison a year before I met him and bought his way into the Christian wing hoping it would be a quiet place where he could escape the war. But when I listen carefully to his interview, he sounds as if he has really given his heart to Christ, does really pray for redemption. And when he talks to me – a nosy British journalist prying into his past – he is really confessing to Jesus.

"You meet Christ and it is a totally different thing. You feel horror and start thinking about the things you have done. Because it was bad. You think about the people. It could have been a brother of mine I was doing these things to. I did bad things to a lot of people. A lot of parents suffered.

"When you belong to organized crime, you have to change. You could be the best person in the world, but the people you live with change you completely. You become somebody else. And then the drugs and liquor change you."

I have watched too many videos of the pain caused by killers like Gonzalo. I have seen a sobbing teenager tortured on a tape sent to his family; a bloodied old man confessing that he had talked to a rival cartel; a line of kneeling victims with bags over their heads being shot in the brain one by one. Does someone who has committed such crimes deserve redemption? Do they deserve a place in heaven?

Yet, I see a human side to Gonzalo. He is friendly and well-mannered. We chat about lighter issues. Perhaps in another time and place, he could have been a stand-up guy who worked hard and cared for his family – like his father, who, he says, was a lifelong electrician and union man.

I have known angry, violent men in my home country; hooligans who smash bottles into people's faces or stab people at soccer games. On the surface, those men seem more hateful and intimidating than Gonzalo as he talks to me in the prison cell. Yet they have killed nobody. Gonzalo has helped turn Mexico at the dawn of the twenty-first century into a bloodbath that has shocked the world.

More here.

While I'm at it, because I was traveling when I read it, I never gave Malcolm Beith's The Last Narco its proper due here. It's a great read, anyone interested in the war on drugs or modern Mexico should dig right in.

Political Fanboys and Girls

If you can stomach it, the comments on Enrique Peña Nieto's website are lots of fun, in a cringe-inducing sort of way:

Monday, October 31, 2011

The FBI's New Gang Report

I have a new piece looking at the new report, and what it says about Mexico. Highlights:
The report is also noteworthy for what it doesn’t say. For the past several years, U.S. authorities have highlighted the role of Mexican criminal groups in the U.S., painting the picture of a situation that is growing ever-more precarious. In 2008, the National Drug Intelligence Center published a report that named 195 U.S. cities in which Mexican traffickers “operate,” including remote locales like Decatur, Alabama and Kalamazoo, Michagan.

That number continued to rise. “Mexican drug cartels are in well over 200 cities here in the United States,” Gil Kerlikowske, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told The Daily earlier this year. In the same report, an ICE agent told The Daily that the activities of Mexican gangs in cities “all over America” was “the stuff of nightmares.” Despite the fact that law enforcement officials gave little context or qualification for their concerns, voices like Rep. Michael McCaul and Lou Dobbs used such comments to stir up fears of an invasion in progress by Mexican criminal groups.

The most recent assessment, in contrast, offers a much more nuanced picture of the relationship between the most notorious Mexican gangs and crime in U.S. cities. Rather than a Mexican hegemon pulling criminal strings on U.S. streets from thousands of miles away, what we see is evidence of a supply chain. The Mexican groups all have local partners charged with retail distribution of their merchandise: the Sinaloa Cartel works with, for instance, the Latin Kings and the Mexican Mafia, while the Zetas work with the U.S.-based branches of MS-13 to market their drugs.

This is not fundamentally different from the relationship other foreign drug traffickers -- Vietnamese opium producers, Colombian cocaine manufacturers -- have set up to import drugs into the U.S. Indeed, foreign producers of any good, illegal or otherwise, will by necessity have a similar relationship with domestic retailers. Rather than the ominous incursion of the world’s nastiest gangs into the U.S., this is merely the working of a global supply chain.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hillary Hates Enrique?

Bajo Reserva says that, a couple of years ago, Hillary Clinton responded to the possibility of a Peña Nieto presidency with not entirely friendly, "Over my dead body". I'm not sure what she may know that the rest of us don't, but that's an odd reaction, if it's true. First of all, it shows very little appreciation for the historical ineptitude of the US when trying to influence Latin American elections. Second, it shows little appreciation for the context, since Peña Nieto has been the favorite for 2012 since well before Clinton was deployed to Foggy Bottom. And lastly, it's especially odd because I can't why he would provoke such a harsh reaction from an American diplomat. I am no fan of Peña Nieto's, but he is not outside the mainstream of the Mexican political elite, nor does he represent a wing of it that is especially hostile to the US or its interests. In any event, it said she is warming to the idea of a Peña Nieto presidency, as well she should, given its likelihood.

The same column offered some details of Lula's recent visit to Mexico, in which he called for a Pemex-Petrobras partnership and scolded the PRD. Bajo Reserva, which referred to him as the "legendary Brazilian ex-president", said that Lula postponed meetings with Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and Marcelo Ebrard to hang out with Peña Nieto and Humberto Moreira for a while longer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Another Day, Another Chaotic Internal Election for the PRD

Aguachile has the info:
As expected, things went very wrong in the PRD's internal election this weekend. The count was cancelled in five states - Mexico City, Chiapas, Zacatecas, Oaxaca and Veracruz - all key states for the party.

Having cried fraud for more than two weeks ahead of the contest, the discredited Dolores Padierna and her internal party faction IDN as expected managed to sabotage the election, and blamed Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard for the disturbances. In several states, thugs loyal to the IDN resorted to violence against its party opponents, such as in Durango, where the infamous Cecilio Campos led groups armed with lead pipes that attacked their fellow party members.

If there ever was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it: IDN and Padierna actively tried to derail the process in order to make Marcelo Ebrard look bad. It his hard to understand this logic of "destroying your own party to save it" from a rational point of view, but from that of the IDN, who support the bid of Ebrard's rival Andrés Manuel López Obrador to become the presidential candidate of the left, it makes perfect sense to make the PRD, now led primarily by the social-democratic Nueva Izquierda faction close to Ebrard, look bad.

The party will likely make another attempt next weekend to hold elections in the remaining states.
And more, in bullet form:
* The heads of the PRD factions meet to lick their wounds and attempt a "reconciliation," with new elections scheduled for next weekend in the five states where they were not held this Sunday.

* But Dolores Padierna/René Bejarano of the IDN faction, which has caused so much trouble and discredit of the party, was not there.

* Earlier, IDN claimed it had intercepted a trailer or two of handouts, but offered no evidence, nor did it report the alleged incident to the authorities.

* And in a very open attack on Ebrard, IDN even demanded that Ebrard leave the PRD!

* Former party president Jesús Ortega blamed IDN for the turmoil this past weekend, arguing it is part of IDN's strategy to discredit the PRD and Ebrard in order to promote the candidacy of AMLO.

* Pro-AMLO groups also demand the cancellation of election in other states where it appears their opponents won.

* The Mexico City government, through Secretary of Government José Ángel Ávila, denied that it had anything to do with the elections.

* Marcelo Ebrard, from Kuwait: The 2012 candidacy will not be decided by "whomever screams the loudest," the perennial strategy of Padierna et al.
With regard to the possibility of Ebrard leaving the party, you have to wonder if he hasn't considered it. This is of a piece with everything that has happened within the party since the 2008 election for party president.

Leo Zuckermann has more here.

Murders in 2011

I had a piece earlier this week about the recently released data on murders in Mexico in 2011 (through August). Highlights:
But while the news is bad in [Acapulco and Monterrey], other areas have experienced a significant lessening of violence. The foremost is Juarez, the border city in Chihuahua, which has for the last several years enjoyed the dubious designation of Mexico’s most dangerous city.

While it remains exceedingly bloody, Juarez is far safer than it was in 2010: with 1,065 murders through August, it is on pace for just under 1,600 murders, a murder rate of roughly 120 per 100,000 residents. In 2010, the city registered some 3,000 murders and a murder rate of roughly 250 per 100,000.

The drop in violence in Juarez is driving a broader decline in murders in Chihuahua, though one that is not nearly as marked. With 2,147 murders through eight months, the state is on pace for slightly more than 3,220 murders this year, compared to 3,514 in 2010, according to the SNSP.

Another region where murders have dropped is Baja California, the Pacific border state that is home to Tijuana and Mexicali. With 464 murders so far in 2011, the state, which has long been among the regions most readily associated with organized crime violence, is on pace for 696 murders this year. That would give Baja a murder rate of 22, comparable to the nationwide average. In 2010, in contrast, Baja California was the site of close to 900 murders. Part of this drop may be due to what's been called a "Pax Tijuana," whereby two large criminal forces reach a business arrangement, thus reducing the competition and acts of bloodshed.

Taken together, the picture is one of a nation growing slightly more violent, with the violence growing significantly more dispersed. The Calderon government has long responded to critics by pointing out the violence is concentrated in a relatively small number of areas, Tijuana and Juarez prominently among them. However, even as the violence drops in some of these hot spots, it is more than balanced by the increases in formerly tranquil oases like Monterrey.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Switching Roles

For most of the past couple of years, while the race for 2012 was still a messy blob just beginning to take shape, Manlio Fabio Beltrones was always the sensible, modernizing alternative to Enrique Peña Nieto's dinosaur redux. But on the oh-so-important issue of Pemex, the roles are reversed: Peña Nieto spoke recently about opening Mexico's oil company up to outsiders, while Beltrones responded by rejecting any privatization of Pemex.

The easy explanation is that Peña Nieto is aware of his reputation as a new-age dinosaur and is seeking to modify it, while Beltrones simply needs to distinguish himself from Peña Nieto however possible. In this case, I think the easy explanation is pretty much correct.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

More on Zepeda Patterson and Monterrey

Right here. Also, Norma Samaniego looks at the links between the labor market and violence in Mexico here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Monterrey Piece

Letras Libres has a new piece on Monterrey, which very long and full of good interviews, and about which I wrote here. Highlights:

Between the Mariano Escobedo Airport, in the industrial municipality of Apodaca, and my hotel in San Pedro Garza Garcia, a bit past 11 at night and after crossing the entire city of Monterrey, I don’t see a single soldier or policeman, despite being just a week after Mexico’s worst attack against the civilian population: the burning of Casino Royale, perpetrated by gunmen who acted with impunity in the broad daylight, where 52 people died. And that will be one of the most unusual constants during this visit. Not even in the interview with the secretary of governance, Javier Treviño, nor with the threatened mayor of Guadalupe, Ivonne Alvarez, nor on the drive around the Barrio Antiguo, not even to enter the Tec [de Monterrey] for a ceremony presided over by two of the most important businessmen in Mexico, no one ever asked me for identification, checked my backpack, nor confirmed that I had an appointment or an invitation.

The explanation for this lack of control was given to me by Jorge Tello Peon, unsalaried cabinet coordinator for security in the Nuevo Leon government. The creator of Cisen, the old collaborator of Fernando Gutierrez Barrios and maybe the man who best understands what goes behind the scenes in Mexico’s security agencies, Tello is emphatic during a breakfast in a restaurant simply named Wall Street: “Nuevo Leon is facing an alarming deficit of police officers.” The systematic clean-ups of officers who are corrupt, if not on the payroll of organized criminal groups, has left the state agencies, and the majority of the municipalities, with negligible numbers. Bernardo Gonzalez-Arechiga, director of the Tec’s Graduate School of Public Administration and an expert on security issues, corroborates the statistics: “Nuevo Leon has less than 8,000 police officers and it should have, given its population and under the UN standards [at least 2.8 police per 1,000 inhabitants], 20,000, and under the Goode standards [which measures the number of losses among the police to calculate the required number], 40,000.” There is a state program in place to build a new police agency, but it’s not easy to recruit. No one wants a job in which you risk your life if you don’t become corrupt. And that’s the case despite conditions having radically improved: the government offers a salary of 14,000 pesos a month with good benefits. The recruiting drive has had to go outside the state and offer housing for those who aren’t residents. Not even that works. Furthermore, the process of incorporating the recruits is inevitably slow. Nothing is more dangerous than recruiting desperate people and giving them a weapon without any training. The Mexican Army knows it, as it confronts the desertion of a significant number of commanders of its special battalions who have turned into leaders of the Zetas. “In February,” Tello tells me as an example, “we fired 30 police, and we need 500 per month.”


With a per capita income of 40,000 dollars, figures above those of Canada, and with more finance and marketing graduates from North American universities than any other place in the world, San Pedro Garza Garcia, in the wooded foothills of the Sierra Madres, has the luxury of starting with the ceiling, as in the house of the mayor. [Mayor Mauricio Fernandez, a wealthy businessman outside of politics, has an exquisitely painted ceiling on the top of his home.] That is, firing all of its police and hiring as many as it needs, comfortably surpassing the indices recommended by the UN. Creating a municipal intelligence agency. Carrying out a scandalous registration of domestic workers. Even the mayor proposes a reduction in the penal minimum age to 12 years. That’s not to mention the rumors running around about a “group of tough guys” at the mayor’s service. With approval ratings of more than 80 percent, according to various polls, Fernandez Garza can brag of zero kidnappings at this point in the year and only two murders, before 40 per week in the rest of the metropolitan area of Monterrey. Obviously, the mayor-sheriff “method” cannot be transplanted.

Part of the success is owed to a historic revenue collection in his first year in office. He discovered that many of the wealthiest men in the city, some of them his neighbors estate to estate, had gone years without paying the predial, the tax that cities charge and that is the most basic for keeping its books in order: “Tricks from their lawyers to justify their jobs,” he tells me to excuse them. And he threatened them with publicizing their delinquency in the social life supplement Sierra Madre, which is edited by El Norte [one of the biggest daily papers in Monterrey] for subscribers from that city. An effective change: one thing is to cheat the tax man, a bothersome abstraction, but quite another to be chewed over at the country club.