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: