Sunday, July 31, 2011

On the Debt Deal

Macario Schettino had a column a couple of weeks ago about the US debt-ceiling crisis that I think illustrates the benefit of reading foreign opinions on national affairs. He says that it boils down to a choice about whether the US wants to have a broad-based social safety net, or whether the nation wants to continue being an imperial power for decades to come. I don't buy into that explanation 100 percent of the way (I suspect that if we were willing to accept taxes halfway between their present level and the European average, we could have both without too much difficulty) but I think that's a valid encapsulation of the choices at hand that I've not read in the US media. Sometimes a little bit of distance can provide a completely different perspective, and at the very least, it's always useful to know what sharp, knowledgeable outsiders think of us.

Big Arrest in Juárez

A high-ranking member of La Línea, who the government says reported directly to Vicente Carrillo, has been arrested. Authorities also say that José Antonio Acosta Hernández was responsible for 1,500 murders in Juárez, which is would be something like 15 percent of all the killings there since the city went off the deep end in 2008. I'm not sure about that, but this arrest does seem to support the idea that La Línea is losing force.

In other Juárez news, two of the men responsible for the jailhouse spree last week that killed 17 have been identified (I'm not sure if "arrested" really describes the action, since presumably they remained inside the prison), and six guards are being investigated for their involvement.

Another Murdered Mayor

The killings of local executive seem to have slowed from the blistering pace set in the second half o last year, but they have not disappeared. To wit, a Zacatecas mayor has been found dead after he was abducted by an armed group last week. He is the fourth mayor to be killed this year, though the first since January. Last year, 14 mayors were murdered.

Competition for Morena

Marcelo Ebrard has a broad new PRD organization behind him:
Today a new movement of the PRD will be publicly presented, which opposes the presidential aspirations of Andrés Manuel López Obrador and which will push Marcelo Ebrard ahead of 2012.

The group is called Democrats of the Left. One of its principal promoters is Jesús Ortega, the former president of the party, who explained in an interview with Excélsior: "Marcelo is closing the event today, but it's not an unveiling, because we are a left that respects legality and it's not the political season, we haven't even defined the method nor who will be the aspirants.
The name draws quite a nice distinction.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Embarrassed for My Country

This event goes somewhere between Abu Ghraib and Britney Spears on the scale of US embarrassment. I'm glad that among the lingering impressions of the US for one of the finest collection of athletes ever assembled will be a police officer ten times more abrasive then necessary.

Friday, July 29, 2011

On Obama's New Drug Strategy

I have a new piece at Este País. Short version: nice rhetorical changes of direction, not much beyond that.

Murguía's Silly Comment

Much is being made of Mayor Héctor Murguía's hand-washing regarding the state of the Juárez Cereso. (Asked if he could guarantee that there would not be future deaths, he said, "Only God can guarantee that, because given the conditions of the city jail, it’s almost impossible to control this type of event.”) And in one obvious sense, this is totally deserved: no one wants to hear a governing executive saying that he is powerless to address the situation in government agencies. If, for instance, Obama had said in January 2009 that the future of the American economy is in God's hands, but things don't look good, well, I don't think that would have gone over too well.

However, upon reflection, I think it's worth noting that, a) The question was silly and designed to make him look bad--why not ask, Can you promise that there will be an improvement in the quality of the local jail?, and b) His hands are rather tied. City governments have very little control over their income, so his spending is basically determined by what Murguía can get from the federal and state governments (the latter of which, in turn, is also dependent on the federal government). He can't promise to build a new jail with the snap of his fingers, or earmark $10 million toward the hiring and outfitting of a new, more competent group of prison guards. Plus, I'm assuming many if not most of the inmates at the prison were actually federal arrests, so the overflow is out of his hands in that regard, too. Finally, prisoners tend to linger in jail in large part because the federal and state court systems are both slow and overloaded--this, again, is something that Murguía has no control over.

Of course, instead of denying all control and coming off as an ineffectual chump, he should have just explained the above. Although maybe he did and it's merely not being reported.

Middle Class Identity in Mexico

From earlier this week:
Although 81 percent of the Mexican population declares itself middle class, only three out of every ten people are in that social level, says the consulting firm De la Riva Group.
During the presentation of the report The Middle Class in Mexico, the director of syndicated studies of the business specializing in market analysis, Priscila Arámburu, explained that people in that economic condition are made up of two segments, one of which is integrated by people with household earnings of 13,500 to 40,599 pesos a month, and a group whose salaries extend from a range of 40,600 to 98,499 per month.

The above indicates that close to 35.8 million of 112.3 million Mexicans in the country are in that social stratus.
That is a rather upward view of middle class, which of course shrinks it a bit. Someone earning well over a million pesos a year is typically considered rich, but the more significant difference in terms of the number of people it impacts is at the lower end. The government's bottom limit for poverty is 1,900 pesos a month in the city, 1,200 in the countryside, a small fraction of the De la Riva estimate. Such an expansive view of the middle class means that according to the government, there are a much smaller number of poor people, but as a practical matter, a household earning 6,000 pesos a month does not seem middle class to me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On the PRI's Chances in Mexico City

Some nice nighttime reading here.

This is definitely one that is all about the candidates, but all of the polls I have seen make me think that Beatriz Paredes would stand a very good chance.

On the Human Trade

I thought that this Washington Post article on sex trafficking and the Zetas gets it wrong in a number of ways. First of all, there's this:
A Mexican “padrote,” or godfather, from a trafficking stronghold in Tlaxcala state, got 40 years in Atlanta in March for forcing 10 girls, one of them 14, into immigrating north for prostitution.
Actually, "padrino" is "godfather". "Padrote" is "godfather" strictly in the context of employing women and girls for the sale of sex, which makes it "pimp". Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I can think of no circumstance outside of prostitution in which "padrote" is used.

More importantly, though, the headline promises a picture of the drug gangs' move into human trafficking, but never gets much beyond anecdotes, and offers no good sense of the amount of money they are now earning, why they branched out into people smuggling, and the relationship between the capos at the top of the food chain and the coyotes who have long controlled the racket on the ground. Worse still, the article focuses exclusively on the sex trade. That's certainly worth looking into, but it seems logical to me that, with hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans paying coyotes thousands of dollars to sneak into the US on an annual basis, the sex trade is not driving the broader human smuggling industry. Indeed, it seems like a very small subset of it. However, maybe my issue is more with the misleading headline.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Evolution of Corruption

Kill an hour or so reading this examination on the old and new styles of corruption in Mexico, by Luis Carlos Ugalde. It's not actually that long, but I assume you'll be bouncing between that and old Youtube clips of Walter Payton and Barry Sanders, which slows the progress a bit.

Also as Aguachile mentioned, this piece from Denise Maerker on the PRI's "electoral tourism" is interesting. That is, of course, every bit as morally shady a practice as burning ballots that went to the opposition, but insofar as this imposes a steeper cost on those who would contribute to steal elections, I actually think it's an improvement. Convincing an election-swinging quantity of people to pull up stakes and move to another state is a lot trickier than just stealing the or stuffing the ballots used to be.

Riot in Juárez

Seventeen people are dead following a Juárez jailhouse "riot", which seems to have been more a pitched battle between the Mexicles and the Aztecas, two local gangs whose members populate the detention centers. The jail was built for 850 people, but houses some 2,700, which seems par for the course in northern Mexico. The prison issue remains a scandal in Mexico. The system is 25 percent over capacity around the nation. Escapes of dozens of inmates are common. Mass deaths have occurred in Gómez Palacio twice, Durango, Tijuana, and now Juárez on two occasions, in addition to many other deadly riots. Plans to build 12 new prisons by 2011 have gone nowhere.

Making all of this worse is the fact that this is not a new problem, and a huge surge in prisoners was an utterly obvious consequence of Calderón more aggressive posture, and the federal government has done very, very little on the issue in its almost five years in power. Furthermore, if Mexico ever improves its capacity to convict suspects, which is something we should all be hoping for, this problem will only get worse.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Great Stagnation and Mexico

I have a piece about Tyler Cowen's book and what it could mean for Mexico at Este País. If we accept his hypothesis that the US has no obvious, easy drivers of high growth rates for a while into the future, I think there are two competing tendencies with regard to Mexico: on the one hand, this is really bad news because a long-term decline in the lack of American consumption undercuts a significant plank of the Mexican economy. (I don't think this fact gets enough attention in Mexican discussions of the crisis and its impact.) On the other hand, the low-hanging fruit that the US grabbed is still there for the taking in Mexico, especially with regard to technological advancement and educational improvements. In any case, the logic for heavy dependence on the US economy over the next, say, 50 years seems to decrease.

Humberto's Nose Grows

Humberto Moreira assured people a couple of days ago that the relationship between Manlio Fabio Beltrones and Enrique Peña Nieto was tip-top. He also said that democracy in Mexico was the "PRI's labor", which is a bit like Nigel de Jong calling himself a devotee of fair play. All in a day's work for the party boss.

Vázquez Mota the Panista to Beat

Despite being less known than Creel --less than 55 percent know who she is, compared to more than 70 percent for Creel-- Josefina Vázquez Mota is the preferred candidate according do a CGE poll published in Milenio today. At just under 30 percent, she has a 7-point edge on Creel, and no one else cracks 5 points. Being less known and more popular in absolute terms is a good sign; if this election merely plays out a string without any major developments, it seems like hers to lose.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Respect for the Army

A poll from Excélsior revealed a strikingly pro-army viewpoint on a series of questions:
  • 58 percent said that the army and armed forces respect human rights, while another 15 percent said that they do partially
  • 67 percent said that the army's performance on human rights was satisfactory, compared to only 29 who said it was not. The corresponding figures for the Federal Police were 45 and 52 percent, and 30 and 69 for the municipal police.
  • Regarding the fuero militar, 61 percent said it contributes to military discipline, 61 percent said it increases the confidence in members of the military, and 61 percent said that guarantees that those who do commit abuses will be punished (to clarify, those were in fact three separate questions, just the same 61 percent evidently feels the same about all of them)
  • Half of those polled said that they have more confidence in the military tribunals than the civilian courts, against only 22 percent who said the opposite

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Seizing Assets in Mexico City

As the AP reported earlier this year, the supposedly landmark federal asset-seizure law passed in 2009 has not been used once, evidently due to a procedural error that makes it so applying the law risks future criminal cases against the holders of the dirty assets. However, El Universal reports that the government of Mexico City has made some hay attacking the ill-gotten gains of capital city criminals, using their local seizure law to impound some $30 million of assets in 82 different cases.

More Meth Seizures

Sixty tons more were found in Veracruz, on the heels of the 850 tons discovered in the Querétaro warehouse last week. Which together come on top of the 700-plus tons previously seized under Calderón. More reason to wonder how the drug-trafficking/production industry is changing in Mexico.

Curveball from Elba

The SNTE boss said in an interview with El País that Marcelo Ebrard is the candidate that she likes best. That certainly contradicts with the widespread perception that she is backing Enrique Peña Nieto. Given that she is self-aware enough to recognize that such a declaration could be harmful to Ebrard's chances, I'm guessing that not mentioning Peña Nieto was a ploy rather than an honest expression of preference.

Battle of the Guays

In the Copa América final, Uruguay is up 2-0 at the half on Paraguay on a nice strike from Forlán and a deflection from Suárez. This makes Paraguay unlikely to triumph, which is fair given that they have yet to win a game outright, advancing twice on PKs after three ties in the group stage. I was thinking that a Paraguay win in PKs today might be enough to force Fifa into reconsidering overtime (personally, I like the idea of dropping a player every five minutes following the initial extra time), but then again, the case for goal-line technology couldn't be more obvious following England-Germany in South Africa, and it's nowhere near becoming a reality.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Military's Role

Leo Zuckermann had an excellent piece earlier this week regarding the historic role of the army, in light of the recent changes to its legal jurisdiction. His point was that leaving the army to its own devices --i.e. the military fuero-- was a reasonably exchange for the army's promise not to get involved in politcs. Indeed, given the context of post-WWII Latin America, it was a very beneficial arrangement. But, he says, the time has come for change:
It's great that [the justices made the decision]. Because in Mexico we need a more intense and transparent relationship between the civilians and the military. We need to transcend this idea that the army is an independent and autonomous institution. An agency that is untouchable with its own rules and exemptions. We have to, at the end of the day, reconcile the military institutions with a new democratic reality.

We should recognize that the armed forces were a fundamental factor in the country's democratization. They didn't get in the way of, as has happened elsewhere, the democratic transition. Here they were respectful of the agreements with civilians that, later, led to the opening and democratization of the country.


But with the arrival of democracy, the time has come for the armed forces and the civilian authorities to adapt to the new democratic reality. The independence and autonomy that the armed forces enjoyed in the past is unsustainable.
He also recommends doing away with the requirement that the secretary of defense must be a military man.

Macro Changes in the Drug Trade

The 1990s are often pointed to as the decade in which the center of gravity in the trafficking world switched from Colombia to Mexico. You often see it described as a product of the Colombian and American governments' pressure on the groups operating there, and though that surely played a role, I think it was also because access to the American market is a scarcer commodity than the cocaine itself. The Mexicans had the ingredients to the secret sauce.

In any event, I read articles like this, about the seizure of 850 tons of precursor chemicals in Querétaro (which doubled the already substantial amount captured under Calderón), or this, about the 700 percent increase in labs in Mexico over the past two years, and I wonder if we are in the middle of another switch to Mexico as a producer country. I further wonder, and I'd have to think about this for a while, what that would mean regarding the criminal gangs in Mexico. Do producers present a qualitatively different threat from smugglers? You'd think that, out the need to be more static, they'd be more interested in corrupting law enforcement and politicians.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Calderón Not Open to 2012 Alliance

From Excélsior:
President Felipe Calderón said that he has a respectful relationship with the government of Mexico City, headed by Marcelo Ebrard, although he dismissed that this opens the possibility of a PAN-PRD alliance ahead of the federal electoral process of 2012 or of nominating the capital city governor.

"Definitely I don't see that. There has simply been a respectful relationship with the government of Mexico City despite the enormous political and ideological differences, but that in no way means that there could be an electoral alliance, that's something very different", he indicated in an interview on the radio with Oscar Mario Beteta.
Not a lot of wiggle room there.

Deliriously Massive Arrest

The Department of Justice is trumpeting a massive blow to La Familia in the US:
Approximately 1,985 individuals have been arrested on narcotics-related charges as part of a 20-month multi-agency law enforcement investigation known as “Project Delirium,” which targeted the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel, the Department of Justice announced today.

As part of an ongoing takedown that began June 1, 2011, 221 individuals have been arrested across the United States as part of Project Delirium, including more than 70 individuals apprehended yesterday and today. In addition, $770,499 in U.S. currency, 635 pounds of methamphetamine, 118 kilograms of cocaine and 24 pounds of heroin were seized by law enforcement agents since June 1, 2011.

As always in these cases, they don't say what proportion of this group is American, or offer any other indication that they are anything more than American gangsters who happen to buy their stuff from La Familia. I wish more reporters would call them out on this sleight of hand.

Also, I love "approximately 1,985". That's like saying I weigh roughly 163 pounds and six and a half ounces. Roughly.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

On the PRI's Potential Pitfalls

From Jorge Fernández Menéndez:
The divisions and ruptures were decisive in those poor results. In 2000, the cost of the internal process, the confrontation between Francisco Labastida and Roberto Madrazo, was enormous, and although it is true that there were campaign errors that contributed ot the lost, the internal confrontation was so tough that the weaknesses of Labastida's campaign were made public (as it turned out, Fox exploited the blows that Madrazo had already thrown).

In 2006, the PRI achieved the poorest election its history. The divisions were many: first, between Madrazo and Elba Esther Gordillo; then, between Madrazo and what was called Tucom, which made the error of launching the candidacy of Arturo Montiel, which was destroyed, by the PRI itseld, within a couple of hours, which in turn led to many governors, in the dilemma of choosing between López Obrador or Calderón, choosing to support the PAN's candidate. The result was a disaster for the PRI.
It's hard to see anything like that happening this time out, if for no other reason than Peña Nieto's advantage is so daunting that it discourages any challenges--if you want to bet your career on challenging a juggernaut, you need to have some indication that you could win. So for the PRI to fall apart this time, there most likely needs to be a self-inflicted wound or a scandal of some kind.

The PAN Field Thins Out

Javier Lozano is out. He threw his weight behind fellow cabinet-member Ernesto Cordero, but says he will support whoever wins the nomination, which is a good move in light of Cordero's likely defeat.

I don't think InTrade has any odds on Mexican political nominations, but I would throw down some big Josefina Vázquez Mota money (read: at least 50 pesos!) if they did.

Against the Alliances

José Fernández Santillán says the left needs to back away from all the alliance talk:
[T]he recent elections in the State of Mexico represented for the left the opportunity to rediscover itself and measure its capacities, without artifice. The complaints about not having allied with the PAN or thoughts about approaching them again are not necessary.

Not just for practical reasons, but especially for historic and ideological reason, the left must recover its doctrinaire principals. That way they will realize that the priority is to defeat the right democratically.

Ortega on Calderón's Economic Policy

Head Chucho and former PRD leader:
Since the beginning of the financial crisis, we have insisted that an alternative is applying a countercyclical strategy based on the expansion of public debt, which would not come only from public debt, but rather excess oil receipts and a progressive fiscal policy. Furthermore, this spending would be used for productive activities, such as the reconstruction of the industrial base, the rescues of the campo, and the construction of social infrastructure.

With the danger that the deepening of the Eurozone financial crisis has a worldwide impact, Mexico needs to be prepared to face this challenge with all of the economic policy instruments at their disposal, avoiding the same route that previously impeded our growth in the midst of an adverse worldwide climate.
Maybe it's because I don't read La Jornada enough, but I don't think this specific criticism is made as often as it should be. (However, you often read unspecific broadsides, such as, Calderón is a neoliberal.) Calderón's anti-crisis plan was relatively weak as planned, and ran out of money in any event. A better one wouldn't have created positive growth in 2009, but it could have done a lot to lessen the pain.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Policy?

Via Boz, this story should more of a concern to anyone paying attention to Mexican security than the Supreme Court decision on the military fuero:

The undersecretary of national defense, General Demetrio Gaytán Ochoa, declared yesterday that Mexico lacks a formal national security policy that makes government planning difficult, and because of which he called for the urgent construction of one so as to achieve the objectives stability and development of the country.
Calderón has, of course, published strategies guiding his crime policies, but they have always been deficient, both in their construction and their presentation. The fact that such a high-ranking officer could make that statement five years into the administration is a pretty clear-cut illustration of said deficiency.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Who's to Blame for Peña Nieto's Popularity?

Ricardo Raphael says AMLO and Calderón's behavior in 2006 is responsible for Peña Nieto's rise:
Felipe Calderón damaged his honor when he campaigned on the notion that his opponent was a danger for Mexico. AMLO, for his part, destroyed his democratic credentials when he said to hell with the institutions. That ordeal between these two figures seems very distant today, but it still serves to explain why a good part of the Mexican society lost confidence in the alternatives to the PRI.
There's probably some truth to AMLO and Calderón's role, but I don't think he gives Peña Nieto enough credit in this version. Clearly the PRI and Peña Nieto are in better shape thanks to the blundering by the opposing parties--politics is zero-sum like that. But he's far more a phenomenon of his own than he is a reaction to AMLO and Calderón. There's no way to know for sure, but I sure think the 2012 version of Peña Nieto would be the favorite in a three way race with AMLO and Calderón. And the hypothesis that Calderón so turned people off from the PAN with the "danger for Mexico" spot is at least somewhat undercut by the fact that Calderón won the presidency a couple of months later.

Raphael also writes:
It was 2006 that the PAN and PRD demonstrated that they could be as voracious and irresponsible as the worst PRI governments.
Again with this? They most certainly did not show that. For the PAN and the PRD to be as bad as the worst PRI governments, they'd need to send the army to massacre hundreds of demonstrating students, engineer a handful of homemade financial crises, steal elections as a matter of course, and have the president's brother use his influence to, ahem, squirrel away several hundred million dollars, among other niceties. There's no comparison. The PAN governments haven't been fantastic, and a PRD government under AMLO would in my mind surely be worse, but there is an ocean of distance between either of them and the PRI of Echeverría and Díaz Ordaz.

Military Pushback

So it's not a huge surprise, but the military is not thrilled about the Supreme Court decision:
The past week, the Supreme Court decided that military personnel will be judged in civilian courts --and not military ones-- in cases of the violation of human rights of civilians. This decision caused indignation and worry on the part of the armed forces, functionaries from the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) and the Marine Navy of Mexico (Semar) confirmed.

Without regulation to operate on the streets, the armed forces have considered modifying their mode of operation. In the case of Semar, they are considering the likelihood of pulling their troops back from the portions of Tamaulipas, Guerrero, and Coahuila that don't have coasts.

"As long as we don't have something that protects us we can't continue to attend to citizen complains," one Mexican army general assured Excélsior.
I think these arguments are pretty weak (and not just because Coahuila doesn't have any coasts, but that's true, too). If the armed forces had shown itself willing to punish its own consistently, this would be a non-issue. Furthermore, much of the support for the status quo glosses over the fact that soldiers have indeed raped witnesses and shot innocents, even if the number of abusers is relatively small. The general who says that the army has nothing that protects them ignores the fact that not abusing the human rights of civilians will pretty much solve the whole problem. (Of course there may be a smattering of cases of criminals using the law to embarrass the armed forces, but that eventuality can be dealt with as necessary.) Lastly, from the standpoint of naked self-interest, submitting itself to stricter scrutiny will make the military more effective. The abuses of human rights outlined in Uniformed Impunity were rank breakdowns in professionalism. Less professional units aren't just prone to abuse; they are also more prone to desertion and corruption, and are less effective at their core function, i.e. identifying and punishing actual bad guys.

As far as whether they will limit their activity from now on, I don't have any intimate insight into the Mexican military mindset, so this is all just speculation, but it seems unlikely that they would ultimately be willing to throw away all the influence they've earned in the Calderón era just because of a fit of pique regarding the way civilian abuses are handled.

I do, however, think this line from Ana Paula Ordorica is worth pondering:
But with the taint of crimes that remain unpunished in our country's civilian tribunals, I don't understand why the Supreme Court opted to restrict article 57 of the Code of Military Justice [and subject soldiers to civilian trials].

Monday, July 18, 2011

Complicating Legalization's Appeal

I've not yet read it, but the article "Are Underground Markets Really More Violent? Evidence from Early 20th Century America" would seem to cut against the case that a solution to Latin American violence in legalizing drugs. Here's the abstract:
The violent nature of illegal markets is one rationale for legalizing the sale of narcotics. High U.S. crime rates during the 1920s are regularly presented as evidence of the strong positive relationship between market illegality and violence. The author tests this theory by exploiting state-level variation in homicides and in the passage and repeal of temperance laws before and after Federal Prohibition. Support for the “wet” cause was positively associated with homicides in dry states. However, on average, murder rates did not increase when alcohol markets were criminalized. Observed crime trends during the early 20th century are primarily explained by demographic changes.
Of course, legalization is still pretty compelling from the standpoint of personal freedom (though up to and including which drugs I'm not quite sure), legal consistency (marijuana is illegal but tequila is not), and cost vs. benefit (we've spent a trillion dollars trying to enforce prohibition and are worse off in many ways). And who knows, maybe this article won't convince me.


Vázquez Mota on Her Candidacy

Calderón's former education secretary has an interview with Milenio today. In it, she says that there is no distance between herself and Calderón, but she makes clear that she is not Calderón's candidate. It sure looks like Cordero is going to wind up a distant third to Vázquez and Creel, which follows Creel's own defeat to Calderón when the former was Fox's preferred candidate. It's not really clear that Calderón is doing much to tip the scales toward Cordero, but the perception that he is Los Pinos favorite seems to be hurting. Vázquez also criticized the corporatist practice of trading positions in the bureaucracy for political support, though in rather vague terms. Asked if the PRI's return represents a democratic regression, she said:
First, I am convinced that the PAN has the capacity, the platform, the experience, and if we work with unity and cohesion we will also have the strength to win the presidency. In a democratic system, the most important thing is the decision that the voters make, and that is very important to say ahead of time, but we have seen in recent elections that there are practices that warn against a democratic regression. Practices of electoral order, coopting of votes, threats, coercion, which we thought were overcome many years ago and which, nevertheless, today we see not only that they have returned, but that they are becoming a method of practicing politics and winning elections.

Semantic Fakeout

I've often thought the use of the term "gasolinazo" to describe the government-mandated increases in gas prices is pretty ridiculous, given that Mexico must interact with the world market and gas prices tend to go up in the long term. Macario Schettino dug into that issue last week:
The cost of gas responds to the behavior of the world market. It doesn't matter if you produce oil or not, the cost isn't fixed by anyone, but rather the international daily exchange of 85 million barrels of crude around the world. Without a doubt countries that consumer a lot, such as the US, or that produce and export a lot, like Saudi Arabia, have a lot of weight in this market, but no one controls it. If a country decides to sell domestically gas at a price beneath that of the world market, that decision has a cost: the taxpayers pay the difference. It doesn't matter how you twist it, that's the way it is.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Manzanillo Isn't the Only Port Where Major Shipments of Precursor Drugs Are Seized

Some 22 tons of precursor drugs coming from China were seized by the marines in Veracruz this week. That brings the total seizures of of precursor drugs used to make meth under Calderón to 780 tons, the majority of which I believe has come in Manzanillo in the past two years.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Factually Dubious Lede

Via Boz, from the AP:
The northern city of Monterrey, once Mexico's symbol of development and prosperity, is fast becoming a new Ciudad Juarez.
There is very little statistical basis for this comment. Juárez, a third of Monterrey's size, was home to more than 3,000 murders in 2010. (Closer to 4,000, according to Chihuahua authorities.) Nuevo León, home to Monterrey and 4.6 million residents, is on pace to register a murder rate of roughly 40 per 100,000 residents. (I've found no good metro area-level info for Monterrey, unfortunately, but the stats for the metro area, which holds almost 90 percent of the state's population, can be seen as roughly corresponding to the figures for the state.) That is a high number, especially considering the traditional rate of between 3 and 7 in Nuevo León. But it does not compare to Juárez, where according to that state data the murder rate was well above 300 in 2010. To her credit, the author acknowledges that, but in rather general terms and not until the 15th paragraph.

Here's another questionable assertion:
The scale of the killings has rarely been seen in Mexico outside border cities such Juarez, Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo, the main gateways for drugs passing into the United States that have seen dramatic surges of violence since President Felipe Calderon intensified Mexico's crackdown on organized crime in 2006.
That's also not backed up by the statistics. Acapulco, Chihuahua, Gómez Palacio, and Torreón, all of which are farther from the border than Monterrey, have higher recent murder rates than Monterrey. Furthermore, in 2010 the entire states of Guerrero, Sinaloa, and Durango, none of which are on the border, had murder rates of 66, 48, and 85, respectively.

I think the worry in Monterrey is the sense that if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere, including Mexico City (hence this editorial). But it is not yet anything like the nastiest spots in Mexico, statistically speaking, and I think the sense of panic that has characterized a lot of the recent reporting needs to be balanced with this fact.

International Acceptance of the PRI's Return

It's ironic that a couple of months after Enrique Peña Nieto accused the PAN of arranging an international campaign to discredit his PRI, we had, in Felipe González and Arturo Valenzuela, two big-time international figures speak the PRI's return in reassuring and, more importantly, inevitable terms.

Aguachile had the following comment on Valenzuela:
To a group of Mexican journalists, he gave his opinion of the PRI:
"I do not agree with the idea that here there is a party of dinosaurs... Frankly, I see renovation in the PRI. I see new sectors. I see new people. One has done an enormous effort to try to modernize the party."
As for his analysis, I couldn't disagree more. What "modernization" have we seen in the PR, when the "new" faces of Humberto Moreira, Eruviel Ávila, Enrique Peña Nieto etc, merely continue exactly the same clientelistic and authoritarian practices of the "old" PRI?
I agree with Aguachile on this one: the group presently taking control of the PRI entirely seems cut from the old mold, what with the nepotism, anti-democratic legislative gambits (the Ley Peña, for example), budget insanity, and the obsessive focus on propaganda and image at the expense of governing well. And I think it's even odder is that the portion of the PRI that does seem more modern, more focused on ideas and policy, is led by Manlio Fabio Beltrones, who is almost a generation older than the above group and was actually a powerful politician in the time when the dinosaurs ruled the party. Although maybe that's the reason: he knows more intimately why the old PRI approach to politics is bankrupt because he lived it, while Peña Nieto et al see it just as another method of governance, as good as all the rest.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lots of Ink on Mexico

Malcolm Beith has a nice, long, well reported piece on Mexican security, politics and image concerns in Foreign Policy. Here's one section that jumped out at me:

In August 2010, the Calderón administration hired a hot-shot advisor from Britain, Simon Anholt, the inventor of the phrase "nation-branding," to try to solve this exact problem. When I contacted him about Mexico's image problem, Anholt admitted his hands were full.

"I've worked in more than 40 countries during the last 20 years and I have never come across such a gulf between reality and perception [as in Mexico]," he said. "It's a country of great and growing importance in the world order, yet it seems saddled with another country's image: one that's much poorer, smaller, weaker, more troubled and in every way, less dignified. Reputation always lags behind reality by years -- in some cases by generations -- and during the last few years, Mexico has to some extent become defined by its problems."

The thread linking all of Mexico's problems under Calderón has been his administration's failure to communicate: to explain exactly what it is trying to achieve; to describe those achievements, when they do occur, to Mexico and to the rest of the world; and to account for its mistakes, of which there have been many.

I couldn't agree more about the failure of Calderón's communications strategy. It seems as though they gave very little thought to how to present security policy to the nation, and major PR problems inevitably turn into political problems, which inevitably turn into policy problems.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Down to Three Panistas

Ricardo Alemán says it's essentially down to Josefina Vázquez Mota, Santiago Creel, and Ernesto Cordero, and that Lujambio and Lozano will drop out in the weeks to come, so as to concentrate the calderonista energy behind Cordero.

On the Supreme Court Decision

I wrote a piece pushing back at those who are unhappy with the Supreme Court's decision for InSight Crime. Here's the gist:
The military obtains no operational benefit from torturing or raping potential witnesses. Indeed, it generally serves only to turn the civilian population against the security forces, and reduce locals’ willingness to cooperate.

Similarly, summary executions of suspected criminals may cut through the red tape and eliminate the possibility that the suspect is released without a conviction, but it also means that that the witness in question cannot be persuaded to inform or work as an undercover agent for the government. In many cases, it seems that the army has put bullets into people who could have provided a wealth of information regarding the Mexico’s criminal threats.

The military is one of the public institutions that enjoys the highest levels of trust in Mexico, and civil prosecutions of soldiers may well undermine that prestige to a certain degree. However, the real long-term threat to the military’s enviable reputation is not the prosecution of a small (and hopefully diminishing) number of bad apples, but rather the steady drumbeat of reported violations coupled with the failure to hold the guilty parties accountable.

I hasten to add that even if such practices were beneficial, they should still be punished with all due vigor.

The End of Elba?

It does seem that a tipping point has been passed with Elba Esther Gordillo, and a critical mass of outrage capable of driving her from public life has begun to form. (For background on the teachers union leader's recent troubles, read this and this.) The accusations (that she requested cash handouts in exchange for political support) aren't anything too surprising to anyone who's followed her career, but the fact that other public figures are charging her directly, that Calderón is distinguishing between a political alliance of convenience and what she evidently took to be a "license to plunder", that connected columnists like Jorge Zepeda Patterson and Ricardo Alemán are writing columns titled "The end of Gordillo", and that she is being pushed to deny the rumors that she is going to suddenly retire, well, all of that makes you wonder if the end is nigh for La Maestra.

Hopefully, she goes. But I do think there is this tendency to confuse her as an emblem of all that is wrong with Mexican education with her as the actual cause of everything wrong with Mexican education. With regard to the latter, she is not. Educational improvement will be marginally easier with her out of the way, but that will not automatically and immediately transpire as a result of her retirement.

Two Fewer Years

Miguel Carbonell sees Calderón as slogging through the last few years of his presidency, much as Fox did:
Maybe many think that the difficulty with which presidents spend their last two years owes to their lack of leadership, political commitment or personal motivation. I don't think so. It has more to do with the dysfunction of the constitutional arrangement that perhaps worked in another era of Mexican political life, but today is not in the least bit useful.

The best solution is to change to a period of four years and discuss if we want to copy the US model, which permits only one reelection immediately, or the Chilean model, which permits reelection by not consecutively. Or if we reduce the period but we continue maintaining the principle of absolutely no reelection.

The worst thing that we can do is stay where we are waiting months for a new president to arrive, while the rest of the nations pass us by in economic growth, judicial reform, infrastructure development, job creation, quality education, et cetera. We need to modernize our antiquated regime and we need to do so as soon as possible, to overcome the political paralysis in which we find ourselves.
I offer no argument regarding the diagnosis. And actually I think the prescription is right on, too. I do, however, think that it's a bit much to expect that changing the presidential term will have a very direct, immediate impact on the above litany of problems.

El Universal on the New Drug Strategy

From an editorial last week on the new ONDCP strategy and the visit to the border by Janet Napolitano and Gil Kerlikowske:
Officials gathered in Nogales, Arizona, to delineate the strategy for their country against drug trafficking. It is an advance because it emphasizes the importance of combating the corruption among federal agents in American institution. Furthermore, the Obama government will invest 10 billion in preventative education and treatment initiatives with the objective of reducing the use of drugs by 15 percent among American youths in the next five years.

But despite all of these announcements, which are doubtless encouraging, the balance of bilateral communication continues being negative for Mexico. A reduction in consumption among young people in the US, in five years, will be far from translating into greater security for Mexicans. "Redoubling" the efforts and cooperation sounds very good, but nevertheless, if the nature of this help is just that of recet years --information for the capture of capos and a few million dollars of military equipment-- the result will be the same: the deterioration of quality of life, above all along the common border.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Limiting the Military Fuero

This is big news:
The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation curtailed the military fuero: effective immediately, any member of the armed forces that abuses human rights of civilians will be judged in [civilian courts].

"In situations where civilian human rights are threatened, under no circumstance can the military jurisdiction be operable," the decision says.
I think it's really important to note that this is not a setback for the military--it will make the military stronger and more integrated with society, and will hopefully lead to fewer cases of abuse. It will also make it easier to argue that the abuses that do occur are not systemic but rather isolated. I hope the military leadership embraces it.

Also, the Cacho case notwithstanding, I think we will look back at the SCJN in the Calderón era as a bastion for progressive decisions.

Young Voters and the PRI

Leo Zuckermann offers a couple of comparisons to explain the futility of scaremongering with regard to the PRI's return:
Saying that, if the PRI wins, it will be a return of the past, that the "new PRI" is the "old PRI", I don't think it will move the younger part of the electorate. In the best of cases, young people will imagine that country that has already left us. But they will have a hard time thinking that it will return just because the PRI returned to Los Pinos through the ballot box. No. Young people aren't stupid. Will they really believe, for example, that if the PRI wins the army will come out to repress and kill students because they are demonstrating? Or that we won't be able to see certain movies censored by the Interior Department?

Furthermore, the young voters will never understand thoroughly what the "old PRI" was for a basic reason: they didn't live it. I, no matter how many books I read about World War II, no matter how many movies I see or conversation I've seen with the survivors, haven't been able to quite understand that horrible era of totalitarianism in which people lived in terror. Fortunately, I have never felt what they did feel. And the same thing happens with young people today who never lived in the era of the authoritarian PRI. No matter what I tell them, they won't feel the same thing we felt: the same aversion of the regime that limited liberty and democracy.

Put another way: no matter how much I tell my kids about Maradona's greatness or how much time they spend watching his goals on YouTube, they will never feel the same vibration that I did when I saw the footballer scoring one of the best goals in history live at the 1986 World Cup.
Ha-ha kids, you don't know what it was like!! Anyway, in honor of Diego:

More Details on El Equipo

Well, this is embarrassing:
The Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) paid Televisa 118,116,880 pesos [about $10 million] for the production of 13 episodes of El Equipo.

According to a contract turned over to El Universal by the SSP, obtained through the Federal Transparency Law, the agency requested that Televisa put together a series in June of 2010, at which point the head of the federal SSP, Genaro García Luna, already had the money authorized through fund 3701 and with the authorization of the agency's Committee of Acquisitions, Contracts, and Services.
It's almost more embarrassing for Televisa--I'm not surprised García Luna wanted to do this, but shouldn't they be a filter for such ploys?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

More Silly Spanish, Now Mixed with Falsehoods

In a post creatively titled Escandalo Cibersexo, Barry Petchesky writes:
Mexico's Copa America squad has already been decimated by prostitutes. Now, an Argentinian model has sold some photo and videos to the tabloids, allegedly featuring an online encounter with an U17 World Cup player, at 1:20 the night before a big match. [Guanabee]
The player is Andrés Guardado. He is, as the article states, 24 years old. He did not play in the U17 World Cup, nor has he ever. (He wasn't named to the 2003 U17 team, and he was too old for the 2005 squad.) Deadspin has been all over Grantland for their factual errors, so it'll be interesting to see if they fix this.

/Angry because I once met Guardado in an airport, and he was quite friendly.

//Actually just saw him from a medium distance.

Los Señores

I just finished Los Señores del Narco, one of the more copiously researched books on Mexican drug traffickers I've ever read. Unfortunately, the fruits of her investigation are organized under the overarching narrative that the Sinaloa Cartel is all-powerful, and virtually everything that happens with regard to organized crime and the combat of it in Mexico is a product of the Sinaloa Cartel's machinations. This naturally leads to her credulously embracing many dubious conclusions. Among them:
Vicente Fox let Chapo Guzmán out of prison in exchange for tens of millions of dollars

Marta Sahagún loved Genaro García Luna because he would personally deliver her suitcases full of cash

García Luna headed a gigantic kidnapping ring at the AFI

Mayo Zambada took down the plane that killed Mouriño and Santiago Vasconcelos, using C4

Amado Carrillo and Nacho Coronel are both alive

The US only worries about drug lords when they take their money out of US banks (as silly as it sounds, I promise it is a faithful paraphrase)

The US drug war is false
There are more similarly outlandish claims. Evidence that cut against those conclusions --the extradition of the son of Zambada, or the fact that C4 is typically used to blow up buildings rather than airborne planes, or, most obviously, the billions upon billions of dollars the US has spent and the millions of people it has incarcerated in the pursuit of a policy that is "false"-- are given very little attention, if they are given any at all.

Any book author is not just a reporter, but a filter and an interpreter, and this role is all the more important if the topic is as complicated and removed from the public eye as is drug-trafficking. A belief in all of the above illustrates such a skewed perception of the world that it basically disqualifies the holder of said beliefs from being a trustworthy interpreter of anything. (I should also mention the flimsy basis for many of these claims: anonymous sources, circumstantial evidence, testimony from non-credible witnesses commenting on their enemies, including one character whose failure of a polygraph test does not prevent him from being quoted at length.) Which is really a shame, because she has obviously done a hell of a lot of research, and some of the allegations are certainly true.

ATF's New Mandate

From the Times:
The Obama administration on Monday approved a new regulation requiring firearms dealers along the Southwest border to report multiple sales of certain semiautomatic rifles, a rule intended to make it harder for Mexican drug cartels to obtain and smuggle weapons from the United States.

Under the rule, dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas will be required to inform the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives if someone buys — within a five-day period — more than one semiautomatic rifle that accepts a detachable magazine and uses ammunition greater than .22 caliber. Such weapons include AK-47s.
This is a nice symbolic move, I guess, but if you put yourself in the shoes of a gun ant for the Mexicans, it's really hard to see how this has much of an impact. Instead of amassing a half dozen AKs in a single day from a single store, you amass them from six stores in three days. Or they can do things exactly as they did before, but in Colorado and Nevada instead of Texas and Arizona. A bit less convenient, but otherwise? The gangs in Mexico were already being supplied in relatively small numbers, with assault rifles arriving in the twos and fours rather than by the dozen. This doesn't make that much harder. At best, it will make the flow of guns marginally slower.

The FP on LF: Questions, Questions

I was interested to see from this Milenio note about the Federal Police report on La Familia that the group has been operating supposedly since 2000. That contradicts the previous line that they basically emerged thanks to the Zetas' sponsorship in 2006. Also it was odd to see the following states: Mexico State, Jalisco, DF, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Guerrero, Morelos, Aguascalientes, Tlaxcala, and, of course, Michoacán. Where's Guanajuato? Familia agents have been popping up in the state for years. To take but just one arrest, the Federal Police detained the Family's chief operator over a large chunk of the state in March 2010. Maybe it's the reporter's fault, but sometimes the government reporting on its own actions falls well short of what one would expect.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Creel's Out! And In!

Santiago Creel has left his seat in the Senate so as to chase his presidential aspirations full-time. He encouraged his fellow panistas to do the same. Ironically, he's probably among the PAN candidates for whom a separation from his job in order to campaign is least necessary, what with him being a Senate backbencher who could probably be replaced with a stuffed animal with no one the wiser. Unless I'm mistaken, everyone else either runs a cabinet agency (Cordero, Lujambio, Lozano, Félix), a state government (González), or is in the congressional leadership (Vázquez Mota).

Perhaps the Worse Panista, But the Worse Party?

In the midst of potentially interesting by far too overwrought column arguing that Calderón has been worse for PAN than Fox --the one big thing he overlooks is Calderón having to face a the worst international economic crisis in 70 years-- Ricardo Alemán says that the PAN "turned into worse governments than those of the PRI".

This is just blindness and/or forgetfulness disguising itself as ignorance. Alemán cannot believe that the PAN, for all of its faults, is worse than the party that authored the Tlatelolco massacre, that provoked economic meltdowns on a regular basis, that mastered electoral fraud, et cetera, et cetera. How is it that so many people have such short attention spans?

Monterrey Explanation

Evidently, the Gulf Cartel was after narcomenudistas who worked out of/were employed by the bar they shot up in Monterrey on Friday, in which 20 people died. Eighteen of the 20 people killed were employees, which makes this resemble the Torreón shootings of 2010 much less.


The morning home page from El Universal. The front page of Clarín will look strikingly nothing like that should Argentina somehow not manage to knock off Costa Rica this evening. That is, if Argentina, and by extension Clarín, still exist in such a scenario.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Almost Kickoff

Thinking about the ramifications of Mexico's possibly winning two U17 World Cups in six years, I looked at the 13 previous winners of the tournament, which was first held in 1985. You do see some correlation between U17 success and trophies for the adult teams: Brazil has won three tourneys, been runner up twice, and lost in the semis twice. Spain also has a pair of runner-up finishes, and two more semifinal losses.

However, Nigeria has won three titles and lost three times in the finals, and Ghana also had a pair of titles in the 1990s. Switzerland is the defending titlist. Even Saudi Arabia has a title. And the list of undistinguished semifinalists is really quite extraordinary considering the relatively short life of the tournament: Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Burkina Faso, and Guinea have all made it to the penultimate round. In general, South America outside of Brazil and Europe as a whole are very underrepresented: the only titlists from the latter continent are the Swiss, France in 2001, and the USSR in 1987, while Uruguay is the first non-Brazilian finalist to ever hail from South America. So, in summary, good for Mexico if they can pull off the title in front of their fans, but glory in Russia 2018 is no foregone conclusion.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lessons from Mexico State

Macario Schettino says disunity and poor candidates did in the PRD and the PAN in Mexico State, and adds this bit regarding 2012:
So, heading into 2012 the PRI has a candidate that seems good (that's what the polls say), but they still need to assure themselves of unity. The PRD, in contrast, hasn't decided on their candidate still, but the decision would seem to assure that there won't be unity. The PAN, finally, seems to be the party with the best chance of maintaining unity, but with the least clarity regarding who will be their candidate. And, unlike the others, in the slate of seven aspirants there are many bad candidates.

Until there are candidates, we won't know who can win. Don't get confused.
Regarding PRI unity, Manlio Fabio Beltrones called on Peña Nieto to reject the old era of dedazos in selecting the party's candidate.

Massacre in Monterrey

An armed group walked into a bar in Monterrey and opened fire with automatic weapons last night, killing 17, as well as three more people outside the establishment. The perpetrators also abducted eight more people. So far, authorities haven't spoken about a suspected group, but the area is ground zero in the fighting between the Zetas and the Gulf. For what it's worth, this sounds quite a bit like the attacks on bars linked to the Zetas in Torreón from last year.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fighting in Michoacán, Attacks on Hotels

The recent fighting between the Caballeros Templarios and the Federal Police in Michoacán (seven of the former have been killed) seems to be part of an attempt by La Tuta to consolidate control over the state in the wake of the arrest of his big rival, José de Jesús Méndez. In any event, it reminded me of this story over the weekend about an attack on Federal Police "installations" in Michoacán. As you can see in the above picture, the installations appear to be a hotel in a crowded area, as is common for the agency. As I believe I've mentioned before, that's far from ideal, because it scares off the non-affiliated guests, puts the hotel management in a tough position, and invites attacks on what are semi-soft targets. And it's a problem the government eventually has to address if they want the Federal Police to fill the role that it presently shares with the military, i.e. deploying hundreds or even thousands of troops around the country as needed according to the ups and downs in a given region.

Then again, perhaps I'm biased because I spent my wedding night at a hotel where the Federal Police were stationed. Nothing like taking an elevator up to your room, flanked by your beautiful bride and a machine gun-toting, ski-masked federal. It was not a dirt-cheap hotel, either. It seems as though if they must stay in hotels, the government could save some cash by finding cheaper digs.

Update: Alliances, AMLO, and Ebrard

Armando Contreras, the PRD official charged with overseeing political alliances, said that without an alliance, his party is going nowhere in 2012. His position might play a small role in that assessment --it would seem to give Contreras a much larger role in the presidential election process than he would otherwise have-- but such a stark admission is rather damning.

Also, AMLO reaffirmed his commitment to step aside if Ebrard is better positioned in the fall, though again without straying from his purposefully vague formulation of "better positioned". He said, "I don't even aspire to be a man of the state, I aspire to be a man of the nation; what I am seeking is the transformation of the country, I don't fixate on elections."

Interesting self-analysis, given 2006. He also said that Ebrard "isn't disliked by the mafia". Take that, Chelo!! A bigger insult would be hard to conjure up.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

As though It Were a Movie

The scoring in Mexico's semifinal win against Germany in sunny Torreón went like this: Mexico-3 minutes, Germany-9, Germany-59, Mexico-75, Mexico-89. That right there indicates a pretty wild game, but the way Mexico bounced back was even better: a gol olímpico, which is to say straight in off the corner kick, and then a bicycle right before the opening of injury time to win it. Julio Gómez, who netted the winner, did so with a bandage around the upper 40 percent of his head, having just come back in after cracking his head on the tying goal.

Now Uruguay, and perhaps Mexico's second U17 title in six years, awaits in Sunday's final at Estadio Azteca.

Good Stuff from the Times

I second the rest of the world in recommending Damien Cave's piece about declining Mexican illegal immigration. It's really good, and it deserves even more credit for rejecting a lot of what you read about Mexico in the American media. The multimedia additions are also great. Anyway, at one point he writes:
Per capita gross domestic product and family income have each jumped more than 45 percent since 2000, according to one prominent economist, Roberto Newell.
That's impressive, but if anything, it understates the scale of the improvement. By PPP standards, per capita GDP jumped by 64 percent from 2000 to 2009.

The only thing I would add is that the late '90s increase in immigration lagged the peso crisis by a few years, so by that logic it's possible we could see a bump in illegal immigration in the years to come. Also, the state of Mexican labor market doesn't seem quite so enviable to me.

2012 Alliance: Not Dead

Gustavo Madero breathes life into the not-quite-dead embers of a PAN-PRD alliance in 2012:
Is the chapter of the alliances closed?
The alliances are very successful, I am convinced of that, but certain conditions need to be met, they can't be invented or placed together artificially.


No possibility is closed; in the future, the PAN wants to create alliances with the people, the PAN will open itself up to young people.

But you are not shutting down an alliance with the PRD in 2012?
We are neither working on it nor shutting it down. We are going to prepare so that the party, with all of its organizational structure, its proposals, and its candidates, is ready to win the election in 2012.
At the very least, he neglected to throw water on the fire.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Moments away from Argentina-Colombia

This remains the best explanation for Messi's lack of goals with the Argentine national team:
The other point - and forgive me if this seems blindingly obvious to you, but it appears to be anything but to a large section of the Argentine press pack - is that Argentina don't play like Barcelona. When Messi gets the ball for Barcelona in the midfield area, he's typically got plenty of options: Daniel Alves, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andres Iniesta and Pedro will all be making runs ahead of him, with Xavi likely to offer a short passing option. Messi has three things in this situation: space, team-mates giving him quick (and quickly changing) options, and his own ability. Barca's high-tempo, high-pressing game is perfectly suited to getting the best out of him.

By contrast, Argentina play at a relatively sedate pace. They like to retain possession and work an opening, but there the similarity to Messi's club ends. In his country's shirt, if Messi picks the ball up in that same midfield position, he'll have support behind him from Javier Mascherano, Juan Sebastian Veron et al, and might have, say, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain ahead of him. The paucity of options high up the pitch is startling - especially for a side with as many frankly brilliant attacking players as Argentina have.
The thing is, most of the time, Messi looks just as brilliant with Argentina with the ball, but it's further away from the goal, he doesn't get the same feeds as he does with Barça, and his passes don't turn into cracking goals from Villa, Alves, Pedro, et al.

Also, why are the camera shots at the Copa América so crappy? They come from far away from the pitch, they are at a weird angle, and they look like a fog machine were running just beneath the cameraman. I think I remember this from Venezuela '07, too. It's killing me.

Spanish Banalities Do Not Equal American Irony

Deadspin has this odd habit of translating random words in posts that have to do with soccer or Latin America into Spanish. Often, this appears to be the punchline of the joke that wouldn't exist were it not for the random translation. Behold:
Emma Carmichael, writing about a crotch-foul on Dos Santos the other night, writes, "May they leave los penes en paz."

Brian Hickey on the Quito hooker scandal, reports that "eight members of the team were sent home amid an ¡escándalo delicioso!"

Hickey again chuckles over the Copa América announcer's "pasión for Budweiser, the Rey de Cervezas."
These were all in the past week, and I am not an every-post reader of Deadspin. In small doses, I wouldn't notice, but day after day, it's rather irritating.

On the Left

I have a piece on what Mexico State means to the left at Americas Quarterly. I'm not optimistic.

I'd also like to highlight an article I linked to in the above piece, about the moderation of the average Mexican voter versus the polarization of the elite, written by political scientists Kathleen Bruhn and Kenneth Greene in the aftermath of the 2006 elections. Four years after I first read it, their article remains one of the more insightful pieces I've read on Mexican politics in a long time.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

U17 Semis in the Laguna

France's U17 jerseys against Mexico reminded me very much of a French prison uniform in some movie or TV show previously buried deep in my subconscious. Or maybe it was that early Simpsons when Bart gets abused as a wine-making apprentice. In any event, they were hideous, far more so than they appear in the above shot.

On the strength of that 2-1 victory, Mexico is now in the U17 semifinals on Thursday night against Germany, to be played in Torreón. (Crap, I left a year too soon.) I'm sure the Germans will love the late afternoon in La Laguna. That's some first-rate schedule-making, Mexico.

It's hard to know how much to make of the players at the U17 level (from the 2005 title team, Gio Dos Santos, Efraín Juárez, and Héctor Moreno look like sure things to be a part of the national team for a long time, and maybe Carlos Vela and César Villaluz, but no one else really leaps out at me), and after watching the Copa América everyone kind of looks like a spaz at that level, but Carlos Fierro has some nice touch.

Divergent Reactions

AMLO says the loss in Mexico State was the fault of Carlos Salinas and Enrique Peña Nieto --i.e. The Mafia!. Marcelo Ebrard had a different take:
Alejandro Encinas said he didn't want an alliance, we'll do it like this, well, here are the results...

The Meaning of Sunday

Jorge Fernández Menéndez has some interesting thoughts on Sunday and the PAN:
In the PAN's case, Mexico State and Bravo Mena confirm that you cannot invent candidates, that they have to be naturally competitive, that proximity to power doesn't guarantee anything and that they can no longer keep improvising. And this must be reflected in the search for a presidential candidate: repeating the experience of Bravo Mena at the federal level is the best guarantee that the PAN ends up in 2012 in a distant third place...They won't win anything with an anachronistic anti-PRI discourse: in this election, as in 2009, young people, who didn't live under PRI governments, voted overwhelmingly for the PRI. They are interested in the immediate past, not history.
I also agree wholeheartedly with his analysis of the PRD: horrible news for the party, basically good news for AMLO, and he will definitely be a candidate in 2012, with or without the PRD.

Creel Is Bold, Confident, Unfamiliar with Recent Polls

Santiago Creel says that he has a 2-to-1 edge on all of his potential foes for the PAN primary. In fact, in the most recent BGC poll (from mid-June), he was slightly behind Josefina Vázquez. In May, according to Mitofsky, he had a slight lead, though nothing close to 2-to-1. These are two separate firms and just two data points, so we can't assume that he has declined against Vázquez in recent weeks, but it's not encouraging for Santiago.

Self: Promoted

I've got a new blog at Este País called Norteando. The content will be a bit different from here (where I might be around less often, unfortunately), focusing more on academic studies and American political issues that affect Mexico, and all that good stuff. If you speak Spanish, come on over and drink it down.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Congrats, Nation!

Happy birthday, America. Have one of these on me. You look great--I swear, I wouldn't put you at a day more than 230 years old.

On the PRI's Victory

Ricardo Raphael seems equal parts fatalistic and concerned:
Yesterday's elections prove that the Institutional Revolutionary Party is willing to do anything to recover power. It matters little if this political force was reborn during the past decade, if the accusations of corruption against its governors have weight, or the viability of its campaign proposals. A principal message that the priístas have placed before everything mentioned above: they are the only ones capable of producing victory.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

No Shockers

TV Azteca has Ávila ahead in Mexico State by a wider margin than opinion polls had previously indicated, but otherwise, everything is going according to the forecasts. It also looks as though a PAN-PRD alliance in Nayarit may well have won.

Try To Avoid Making Sweeping Statements regarding Places You Just Started Learning About

From a TNR piece about Javier Sicilia:
For the first time, wider Mexican society started having a conversation about how the country—which has the world’s eleventh largest economy and one of the richest political histories in Latin America—has deteriorated into brutality.
Woah, what? Mexico just started talking about insecurity? Just like international football just started noticing that that little Messi fellow is a talented player, I suppose.

She also wrote that the Sicilia murder remains unsolved. In reality, a significant chunk of the local leadership, including the authors of the murder, of the gang thought to be responsible --the South Pacific Cartel-- has been arrested.

Obvious Improvement

Why doesn't Concacaf stage the Gold Cup once every four years, sharing the summer with the European Cup? As it is, the tournament competes for attention and first-team resources with the Copa América and the Confederations Cup, which is worse because the US and Mexico compete in both of them, which often leads to them to send a B-team to get spanked by world powers. The embarrassment aside, that's just a terrible missed opportunity; instead of sending that joke of a squad in 2007, it would have been great to see Donovan and the rest match up against the best in the hemisphere. This year, Mexico's sending Gio and a bunch of under-22s, which is fine, but I'd like to see Hernández, Barrera, and the rest of the A-teamers square off against Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.

As it is, the best US and Mexico squads typically have the chance to take the field against the best in the world in games that matter only in the Confederations and the World Cup. The results speak for themselves.

Although Mexico sent A-teams to both tourneys in 2007, so maybe the fault lies with the federation rather than the schedule-setters.

Update: Or not, that's a new Concacaf rule, according to last night's broadcast. Ridiculous.

Another Nasty Turn for Chihuahua

Bears coming down from the mountains and moving into Chihuahua cities to fight it out with the narcos/dig through the trash! I'm waiting for the American think tank report to tell me how this strengthens Chapo's hold over the region.

A Disastrously Wet Election Day

Amid disastrous rains around the state that have 60,000 homeless, with much of the damage concentrated in Ecatepec and Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, both of them huge population centers, the Mexico State election goes on today.

Vicente's Time Is Valuable

The PAN state leader in Coahuila says that Vicente Fox asks for money to show up at party rallies and fire up the troops, and accused Marta Sahagún of being behind the practice. That is precisely Fox was nowhere to be seen in the closing days of the Memo Anaya campaign, he says. Not that would have made much of a difference, but stories like these are a pretty good example of why Fox isn't the beloved figure in his party that, say, Bill Clinton is.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Line of the Week

On this afternoon's fight between David Haye and Wlad Kiltschko, courtesy of Eric Raskin:
If you close your eyes and listen to the fighters' conversation with Kellerman, it sounds something like a debate between Ali G and Borat, especially when Klitschko refers to Haye's jewelry as "flashy-flash.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What To Look for on Sunday

Zuckermann says that the reaction of the losing parties could give us a clue as to their approach to 2012:
The left's strategy is telegraphed: they are going to deny the results and disqualify the electoral institutions. The question is what the PAN will do. Will they join the protest? Will we return to the era of the 1980s of post-electoral conflicts with PRI victories? The national leader of the PRD, Jesús Zambrano, says that...there is already an agreement with the PAN to watch over the vote in EdoMex and that "there are not any shenanigans."

It seems that the real struggle in Edomex will begin Monday morning: Will the PAN join the left to repudiate a PRI victory? Will the State of Mexico become not only an electoral but post-electoral laboratory, ahead of the presidential elections in 2012?
From AMLO's perspective, it makes little sense whatsoever to make a big deal out of the loss, which will not be close. It will just remind people of 2006, which is the single even most responsible for his huge negative ratings. He's already got the rapid left in his pocket; now, he needs to find a way to tack toward the center. Although his reaction to 2006 was a substantial enough event that most everyone's mind is made up anyhow, so maybe he figures he has nothing to lose.

Ebrard Tries to Look Presidential, Gets Friendly with the President

At a meeting of the National Public Security Council, Marcelo Ebrard shook Calderón's hand for what Excélsior says is the first time since he became president, and, in a plea for greater security coordination from the state and local governments, said, "It's not fair to leave the president alone". He also presented a catalog of security proposals.

While I celebrate any positive contribution to the public security debate regardless of its motivations, this change of direction comes across more than a bit calculated after four years of distance. It seems as though Ebrard is trying to carve out a space as a respectable, presidenciable alternative for the left. But I'm not sure what it accomplishes with regard to his race with AMLO for the nomination; he already was the more popular moderate alternative with the electorate as a whole, and the majority of leftists who prefer AMLO aren't going to change their minds because he was talking nice to Calderón.