Monday, January 31, 2011

García Luna Says Murders Dropping in Juárez

One day after a cover story in El Universal called Todos Somos Juárez a failure, Genaro García Luna said in Congressional testimony today that the number of murders in the last two months of 2010 was down 46 percent from previous months. Two months isn't enough to conclude that this is more than a blip just yet, but with regard to the murder rate, going down is always better than going up.

Lessons from and Winners in Guerrero

Bajo Reserva:
Guerrero left behind various lessons for the Mexican political class. The virtual winner of the process, the alliance candidate Ángel Heladio Aguirre Rivero, was an inconsistent candidate, with a debatable path, the product of the same system that he now offers to combat, something that shall be seen. The outgoing governor, Zeferino Torreblanca, is one of the worst governors the state has seen, which is saying something; a figure who allowed the principal indicators of health, security, and well-being of his constituents to plummet. Was it therefore not a contest between local figures, but rather a battle of gladiators, between Marcelo Ebrard and Enrique Peña Nieto, where the first has scored a victory, while the other a defeat? Not so fast, perhaps.
This is an election with many clear winners - Aguirre, Jesús Ortega, Marcelo Ebrard, campaign chief Jésus Zambrano, DIA coordinator Manuel Camacho, etc - and many losers - Beatriz Paredes, Enrique Peña Nieto, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, Fernando Castro Trenti, and, to be sure, the new president-elect of the PRI, Humberto Moreira.

Yet lest we forget: Despite dire warnings, grounded in real events, of election violence, there were few major disturbances on election day - no murders of campaign activists or violence against voters. Whatever one think of the election results and the candidates: One clear winner is Guerrero democracy.

More Illegal Guns, Too

Via Excélsior and Boz, Project Gunrunner, the ATF's hallmark effort to prevent southward gun-traffic, is facing elimination. This was not a very effective program, but its disappearance (as opposed to its improvement) demonstrates once more than the Obama administration isn't too serious on gun trafficking.

More Legal Guns

Mexico's secretary of defense, which regulates all legitimate gun sales in Mexico, says that more guns are being sought through legal routes than ever before. Since 2007, the number of private security businesses seeking firearms has jumped by 40 percent. Roughly 6,000 private citizens, frequently past victims of kidnappings or assaults, apply to buy a gun on an annual basis, only 200 of which are approved. The biggest source of legal-gun purchases are local police departments, who account for some 25,000 of the annual total, or somewhere between 60 and 75 percent.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beltrones Wants Less Taxes, More Cash

In what seems like an uncharacteristically populist speech, Manlio Fabio Beltrones calls for "a fiscal reform that directly benefits those who have the least, with less taxes and better collection". This idea that the effects of lower taxes can be fully compensated for through more efficient tax collection strikes me as fantasy.

But even if you could do so, looking at Mexican government spending as a proportion of GDP compared to the rest of the OECD, lower taxes doesn't seem like it should be at the front of any Mexican fiscal reform:For those of you missing your specs, Mexico is last on the list at 23 percent, ten points behind Switzerland, 20 points or more less than all but four nations on the list. Beltrones hits a lot of sympathetic notes, and I don't think that increasing spending on the backs of the poor is a good idea, but I think the first order of business is to make the wealthy pay more, not to make anyone pay less.

Calling It

The PRD candidate in Guerrero, Ángel Aguirre, has been declared the winner of the Guerrero governor's seat by various objective observers. A less than objective observer, his opponent, Manuel Añorve, says that Aguirre hasn't won, but we're assuming Añorve's fibbing, and can therefore safely say that what could be a challenging electoral year for the PRI has now begun.

Election Day in Guerrero

After a particularly ugly gubernatorial campaign in a particularly violent part of the country, reports are that there haven't been any major acts of violence in today's voting in Guerrero.

Murders in Mexico in 2009

Diego Valle-Jones looks at the just-released mortality databases in Mexico, and determines that the murder rate in 2009 was 18 per 100,000. The municipalities with the highest murder rates are Juárez, Navolato (in Sinaloa), José Azueta (Guerrero), Gómez Palacio, and Tecate. The 20 cities with the highest murder rates are all concentrated in seven states: Chihuahua, Baja California, Guerrero, Michoacán, Durango, Sinaloa, and Sonora. Lots of other fun stats are in there as well; for instance, who would have guessed that Sunday is the most dangerous day of the week?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Further Evidence That a Presidential Alliance is Unlikely

Ebrard told El Universal he doesn't see a PRD-PAN alliance in 2012. You'd think that barring a radical change in the power structure of the PRD, Ebrard and everyone to the left of him being against an alliance would make it unfeasible. Although it would be interesting to see what would happen if AMLO runs and Ebrard doesn't; would Ortega and other anti-AMLO perredistas support a moderate panista in such a scenario? Would they run one of their own? Or would they bite the bullet and tepidly support AMLO?

A Good Suggestion from Kerlikowske

Though I disagreed with him in a post yesterday, I liked Gil Kerlikowske's suggestion to drop the use of the word "drug cartel" in its description of Mexico's organized crime groups. He suggested "multi-faceted criminal enterprises", which is more accurate in describing their activities (which for many groups include more than just drugs), and doesn't have the connotation of militarily structured organizations. Of course, it loses a good deal of linguistic punch, and will surely get shortened to MCEs in the future, thus furthering the unfortunate trend of over-acronymization. That's why I like "gang"; it's much simpler and more versatile. More here.

In any event, one officials idea won't mean the end of the word "cartel", but if he and everyone else in the US government started doing so, I bet use of the word would eventually fade. Although given the fact that I can't find the above story anywhere in the English media, despite the press conference taking place in Washington, I'm betting the "eventually" would be a long time indeed.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tucoz

Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have formed a trinational anti-Zeta special forces unit, Álvaro Colom told El Universal:
"Organized crime is global and regional. It's often said that the Zetas are Mexicans, but it's true that we have capture Guatemalans, Hondurans, Salvadorans. This criminal group has globalized, and that's why the solution to this serious aggression from drug trafficking that we suffer in our countries has to be regional, I call it the Meso-American Security and Justice Plan, with the support and co-responsibility of the United States."
The idea seems to be that each countries' members of the force will be able to operate freely across borders. This is also why Mexico cannot actively participate, Colom said, because of constitutional prohibitions against sending military forces outside of the borders. However, both Mexico and Colombia are supporting the move, he said. It seems as though this would be most useful if one nation's Zetas had sanctuaries elsewhere, a la the Farc in Ecuador. That may be the case, but I'm not sure; as I mentioned a few weeks ago, almost all of the Alta Verapaz Zetas arrested are Guatemalan. In any event, this is worth keeping an eye on.

The Drug Czar on Legalization

TT: You said in El Paso recently that decriminalization, or legalization of some illegal drugs is not an option, that is off the table. Why?

Kerlikowske: Well, one the administration’s stance is opposing legalization. When the president was a candidate, he opposed legalization. We don’t see any evidence that legalizing drugs and making them more widely available would be a help to anyone in this country. The second part is that, just from a common-sense standpoint, our No. 1 growing drug problem in the country, including fatalities, is prescription drugs. Well, prescription drugs are highly regulated, highly taxed, highly controlled, and yet we are completely incapable of keeping them out of the hands of kids, out of the hands of people abusing drugs and the evidence is very clear when it comes to fatalities and when it comes to emergency department visits.

TT: A lot of people here in Texas say the United States is responsible for the bloodshed in Mexico. Can you be a little bit more specific on why legalization would not quell the violence in Mexico?

Kerlikowske: I think the RAND Corporation study not only says that legalizing drugs would not reduce the violence in Mexico but the chaos could actually increase the violence in Mexico. The other part is that very rarely do I ever here any one in my seven trips to the border or my four trips to Mexico do I ever hear anyone blaming the United States. It used to be a very common term “Your drug consuming habits are fueling our violence.” I don’t hear that anymore. In fact the Mexican Ambassador here, Arturo Sarukhán, will tell you not to think of Mexico as just a drug-transit or a drug-producing country; it is also a country that is consuming drugs. We are all in this together, we all have our drug addiction problems and we all have our drug smuggling problems.
Nothing too surprising from a federal anti-drug official; advocating for decriminalization would be advocating for the end of his job, something few people are prepared to do. In any event, there are some flaws in his reasoning. He says that Mexico no longer blames the US, which doesn't square with Mexican officials' public statements in the least. It may be more muted than before in official circles, but the idea that American consumption is a major driver of Mexican insecurity is as prevalent as ever. To wit, here's Calderón in October:
I don't blame [the Americans] for everything, but of course they have a significant responsibility in this, because they represent the market for the drug smugglers and criminals.
Also, the Rand Corporation study had to do with the California referendum, not the nationwide legalization, so that comment is a bit misleading. Lastly, the bit about prescription drugs confuses the argument for legalization. It won't mean the end of heroin overdoses, of course; but, just as Eli Lilly and Merck don't hang decapitated bodies from bridges, the hope is that merchants of today's illegal drugs would modify their behavior if their merchandise was legalized.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Applying Old Lessons Elsewhere

Together in Davos, Felipe Calderón and Bill Clinton agree that more must be done to limit arms traffic to Mexico. The parallels between arms traffic and the drug trade are striking; Mexico and the US are focusing only on supply (and not really focusing, of course, so much as pretending to), without sufficiently internalizing the fact that supply follows demand. Guns will find their way into Mexico as long as there are millionaires and near-millionaires who want them.

Calderón Still Green

Excélsior reports that Felipe Calderón, basking in the glow of the only sustained batch of positive media coverage he's received in a long while, will continue the green-foot-first image he projected at the Cancún summit:
As a key point in his international policy, President Calderón will push a new round of lobbying, with the goal of finalizing by the end of this year...the agreements reached in December in Cancún, Quintana Roo.

The Mexican leader seeks to use this high-level forum of political and economic power, where more than a thousand leads of international businesses and 30 heads of state will meet, to link the topic of productive investments and jobs with sustainable development.
It goes on to say that he will use this image and that of Mexico as a country that dealt with the crisis effectively and has rebounded strongly as a counterpoint to the violent reputation that prevails today.

Predictions for Juárez

As long as we're on the subject of predictions, La Plaza has a piece about a Juárez academic team with a model that predicted 3,000 murders in 2010, and is predicting 5,000 killings in 2011:
An artificial-intelligence model generated by a university researcher in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, projects that 5,000 people will be killed in the violent border city this year. The same model projected at the start of 2010 that 3,000 would be killed in the greater Juarez area, a figure that eventually reached 3,111 -- about a 94% accuracy rate.

It may seem far-fetched to make such long-term projections on a fluid criminal conflict such as the drug war in Juarez. Researcher Alberto Ochoa, in an interview with La Plaza on Monday, said his model is based on methods that mimic biology-based, or "bioinspired," patterns. Barring a "radical change" in Ciudad Juarez -- where the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels are battling over the drug-trafficking route across the U.S. border into El Paso, Texas -- his projection foresees a figure of roughly 5,000 dead.

"This technique is nothing new," Ochoa said from the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez, where he is a researcher at the Center for Social Investigations. "It's not the most accurate model but it is based heavily on reality."

"It's not Excel," the researcher added, referring to the commonly used software program. "The model has to be fed, values have to be adjusted. It's complicated."
I know nothing about the science, but the concept strikes me as being of limited value. He says barring a "radical change", but what about a bunch of semi-radical changes? In any event, what is life if not a series of radical and semi-radical changes?

The Case for Humility in Predictions

I stumbled upon this Deadspin reaction to Auburn's hiring of Gene Chizik a little more than two years ago:
He also led the Cyclones to a robust 0-8 mark in the Big 12 this season. Oh, and he didn't play Texas, Texas Tech, or Oklahoma this year. But maybe I'm being unkind. After all, Chizik did beat Kent State and South Dakota State this year. Of course he lost 10 consecutive games after those wins. So, yeah, Auburn fans are pretty much fucked. How do you make Dan Mullen and Lane Kiffin look like Bear Bryant? You hire Gene Chizik.

[Break]

Chizik was on the verge of being fired at Iowa State. Right now Iowa State administrators are celebrating because they aren't going to have to pay Chizik to leave. Even still, on the same day he's hired at Auburn he's on the verge of being fired at Auburn. Don't believe me? Look at Auburn's 2009 schedule and tell me how many games he's going to win. Auburn goes to Georgia, to LSU, to Tennessee and gets Alabama, West Virginia and Ole Miss at home. They lost to all of these teams last year except Tennessee. And at least Tennessee hired a coach with an offensive resume. Chizik is a defensive guru. Auburn's trouble was on offense. Is he going to create a better offensive system than Tuberville did? Of course not. If everything breaks his way he can get to 7-5. And everything is not gong to break his way. Not even with four consecutive home games to begin the season. Recall that Nick Saban lost six games in his first year at Alabama. Only Nick Saban had a huge cushion and Alabama fans celebrated his arrival as if Jesus had risen. Not so with Auburn and Chizik. In two years he'll be gone. Book it.
He has a better chance of being scooped up by the NFL at this point than being fired. Of course, based on the facts at the time, the author was right. Hiring a guy on his way out at Iowa State was a stretch. But that just goes to show why the sports media's obsession with predictions is just kind of silly. Even if you get it right (i.e. Peter King's Super Bowl pick), it was more luck than anything.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Drug Catapult

I don't think I've ever written a more enjoyable headline. Anyway, here's the story:
"It looks like a medieval catapult that was used back in the day," Tucson sector Border Patrol spokesman David Jimarez told Reuters.

The smugglers left the area before they could be captured, but Mexican officials seized about 45 pounds of marijuana, an SUV and the catapult device.

"I have not seen anything like that in my time before as a Border Patrol agent ... although we are trained to handle any kind of a threat that comes over that border," Jimarez added.
Oh, is that right? How 'bout some jousters?

Incidentally, this happened in Naco, Sonora, which begs the question: is there a taboo for people in Naco against insulting people with the label, "naco"?

More Troops in Mexico City

The Mexican military is continuing its recent pattern of working in the Mexico City area, with a third straight day of armed forces activity in DF neighborhoods. Recent reports have said that the army and the Marines are looking for Zetas. Basically forever, or at the very least for the past several years, big-time Mexican gangs limited their disputes in the capital basically the airport, and as a result, federal deployments were rare. If this were to change, it could alter the opinions of a lot of influential people in Mexico City on public security. I'm not sure how, exactly, but actually seeing military convoys and changing daily routines because of frequent gunfights and the like would make the issue less remote and more difficult to brush off as strictly a problem in the North.

Educated Unemployed Mexican Women

A new report from Inegi says that 46 percent of unemployed Mexican women, or 338,000 out of 730,000, had either a high school education or above. In 1997, only 27 percent of all women had this level of education, so clearly they are significantly over-represented among the ranks of the jobless. (For men, 30 percent of the unemployed come from this high-education group, roughly the same as their representation in the population at large.) I'd say this reflects the longstanding inability of Mexico to fully tap the potential of its female population, plus the fact that the post-crisis employment bounce is concentrated in low-paying jobs.

Don't Call It a War. Save That Word for Other, Even Less Appropriate Circumstances

The "war on drugs" is certainly a problematic phrase. "War" serving as shorthand for the "security challenges" in Mexico isn't the biggest barrier to progress, but insofar as it encourages conventional conceptions of combat as the prism for improving public security (i.e. the persistent focus on attacking and especially the references to victory, which is close to inapplicable in this context), it suffers from a lack of logical coherence. So I was interested to see an article promising a criticism of the semantics of public security from UNAM rector José Narro Robles, but then I read this:
"The only wars that are worthwhile are against injustice, ignorance, and sickness."
Arm the doctors!

American Pundit Channeling Macario Schettino

Here's the subhead to a new piece from Michael Lind (it's more concise than any passage from the column):
Forget Democrats and Republicans. What America needs is two new parties: The Regressives and the Modernists
And here's Schettino a couple of weeks ago:
Behind the three parties, I repeat what I have said on many occasions: there are two large conceptions of Mexico and the world: One that wishes to return to the past, whether in the corporatist version of the PRI and the PRD, or the conservative version of the PAN; another that looks toward the future, in the renovators of the PRI, the liberals of the PAN, and the "modern left" of the PRD. This inhibits us from being able to, through the ballot box, resolve conflicts.

Today, for example, in the PAN the conservatives have won the internal election (although the new president isn't one); and the old corporatists that govern the PRI, especially their president elect. In the two-headed PRD, the issue is worse.
I wonder how many other countries have a similar dynamic.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gun Trafficking Routes

Mexican spy agency Cisen announced that it has detected seven major arms trafficking routes into Mexico, six in the north and one in the south. It also says, that the most of the guns enter in very small numbers, something that has been reported before, rather than in containers full of firearms. The second sentence demonstrates the relative lack of value of the discovery reflected in the first. If the guns are all coming in via small-timers toting two or three, than how concrete are the trafficking routes? It's not like there's a Ho Chi Min trail in northern Mexico; if the government sends a bunch of the personnel to crack down on the major routes, can't the "ants" just cross at whatever remote border town they find and wind their way to down using alternative highways?

Cisen also provided some stats for the weapons seizures during the first four years of Calderón's term: roughly 40,000 handguns (a 127 percent jump from the first four years of the Fox era), 55,000 long weapons (a 419 percent rise), 9.9 million bullets (430 percent), and 7,500 grenades (7,000 percent!).

Very Unfortunate Writing Tic

This is the opening paragraph of a new piece about applying counterinsurgency techniques in Mexico:
The Mexican Army‘s counter-drug (CD) operations are making a limited impact on narco-trafficking in Mexico. If they continue their current CD tactics, they will not be effective in the long run because SEDENA is not approaching CD operations like a counter-insurgency (COIN) mission, nor are they effectively attacking the Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) Center of Gravity (COG). SEDENA operations are currently centered along two principal lines of operation - source control (drug eradication/seizure) and HVI interdiction (arrest). By weighting these two lines of effort, SEDENA operations are not focused on what is the key terrain in any counter-insurgency environment - the population. Additionally, SEDENA targeting efforts are not focused on attacking the critical vulnerabilities that directly affect the DTOs strategic COG – the revenues derived from drug sales.
I'll have more to say on the merits of the piece later, but first, let me second Matt Yglesias in saying how lame it is to overuse acronyms. This is absolutely ridiculous. I would have returned this with a "Do again or accept a zero" if a student ever turned it in to me while I was teaching English. There are 13 acronyms in the opening paragraph! You know, the one that should state your case clearly and concisely and encourage the reader to continue reading. This encourages you to throw tequila and lime juice in your eyes. "Center of gravity" is turned into an acronym! That's not a long piece of technical jargon, but a basic piece of American phrasing. I don't know if this habit is inspired by pretension, tradition, or a nerdy belief that acronyms are cool, but the author has made his piece far less effective.

Hillary in Mexico

El Universal highlights the contradiction between the hurry with which the trip was announced and the anodyne nature of the statements during the visit:
Hillary Clinton, secretary of state of the US government, came to Mexico yesterday. The visit was announced just lat week; she met with Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa and then with President Felipe Calderón, each in a different city, to speak officialls abut everything from climate change to drug trafficking. It wold seem that the visit had to do with something urgent, but the speeches reflected the opposite: another meeting of formality.
Maybe it was to warn them that Obama is going to place them in a new, updated Axis of Evil in tonight's speech: "Felipe, we still love you, all this 'crack down on the narcos' stuff is great, but we have a big empty spot between Syria and the Sudan, and we need you to go there."

Why Good People Get Into Drug Trafficking



It's all about the cars:
The double-cabin pickup truck appears to have come from a science fiction movie along the lines of the British agent James Bond. [Note to anyone willing: send actual science fiction movies to Excélsior editorial offices]

The pickup...apparently being used by bands linked to organized crime, was bulletproof and had "devices to hurl oil, gas, nails, and smoke".
That beats the hell out of the VW Bug I was driving in Mexico.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Juárez Economy Rebounds

From the AP:
The recovery of the about 350 maquiladoras is the single bright spot in a city where drug violence has killed 7,000 people in three years. The maquiladoras may also be a sign that the economy in the region is finally turning the corner, after gross domestic product for Mexico shrank by almost 7 percent in 2009, the worst contraction in decades.

"There's some real competing realities in Juarez at the moment," said Bob Cook, president of the Regional Economic Commission in El Paso, Juarez's cross-border sister city. "The violence has not targeted our industry, and the cartels ... have not destroyed all the advantages of doing business there."

Unemployment for Juarez is high, at 7 percent compared to Mexico's national average of 5.4 percent. But plants that furloughed employees in 2008 and 2009 are now offering overtime as well as jobs.

The Juarez maquiladoras added about 26,000 new jobs from July 2009 until August 2010, when they employed more than 192,000 people. But there's still ground to make up - three years ago, the sector employed about 250,000 out of Juarez' population of 1.3 million.
Cook said that since 2008, 106 new permits for maquiladoras were granted in Juarez. An additional 15 companies have notified the commission of plans to locate or expand in the city, which would create up to 11,400 more jobs.
This squares with what I heard when visiting the town in June. The violence was as bad as ever, but there was a cautious optimism due to the hiring binges in the maquiladora district. Even the nightclubs were starting to open back up.

It also strikes me as simply amazing that the maquilas employed 250,000 people in Juárez, or 20 percent of the city's total population. At one-fifth of the total population, that probably amounts to somewhere between half and one-third of the town's labor force. I'm not sure what the government could have done to avoid such a scenario without inhibiting the overall growth of the city, but having such a huge chunk of the work force tied to a single industry whose fortunes are so closely linked to the business cycle is a recipe for an unstable environment.

Still Another New Group

In running down the new gangs operating along Mexico's Pacific Coast, I forgot to mention the Independent Acapulco Cartel, which began making noise last year, especially with the kidnapping and murder of almost two dozen michoacanos. The group was in the news this weekend, with the arrest of a boss blamed for 22 killings already this year. That makes at least four new groups coming to life along Mexico's West Coast in less than a year; this does not bode well for a peaceful 2011, although the replacement of giant gangs with smaller fragments, in the long-term, presents less of a threat to Mexican institutions.

Who's Going to Win in Baja California Sur?

Gustavo Madero says that Humberto Moreira will start off his tenure as the head of the PRI with two big losses: one in the Guerrero governor's election next Sunday, and the second in the race for the same seat in Baja California Sur the following week. Guerrero looks to be leaning away from the PRI, but I'd not seen a huge amount of reporting or analysis on the second race. Looking around for some polling, I was astounded by the variability of results. Check out, for instance, this collection of polls. Virtually everyone has the PAN's Marcos Covarrubias Villaseñor or the PRI's Ricardo Barroso Agramont winning, but the polling results range from a 24-point lead by Covarrubias to a Barroso advantage of 14, which is to say, a nearly 40-point discrepancy in polls taken a couple of weeks apart. There's also a single poll that shows the PRD's Luis Armando Díaz, in third place in every other sample, in first, with a five-point edge over Covarrubias. In effect, who the hell knows?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

On Ronaldo

Brian Phillips has a really insightful piece about Cristiano Ronaldo at Run of Play:
Nevertheless, he deserves more attention, or at the very least he deserves a different kind of attention. Ever since he left Manchester United, he’s essentially been filling the role of predesignated unworthy losing rival to Messi—the mercenary face of the mercenary team whose joyless accumulation of superstar talent makes them the ideal foil to Barcelona’s spontaneous natural genius. We all know he’s playing brilliantly, but come on. He’s so impeccably written for the role of sports-movie bad guy—can his collars even un-pop?—and strikes such an antipathetic chord in most fans, and has minced his way so helplessly through all those devastating losses to Barça, and presents such an obvious contrast to the Messi style of play (Messi an elegant glide at an angle nobody thought of, Ronaldo a churning dust cloud plowing straight ahead) that whatever praise you offer Ronaldo seems fundamentally beside the point. He’s become a kind of casual hate figure, a semi-acknowledged moral whipping boy.

The problem is that using Ronaldo as an emotional tool to reinforce the justice of Barcelona’s greatness has made us—me, certainly, all too often—overlook the fact that he is playing absolutely brilliantly. His vicious hat trick against Villarreal yesterday not only pulled Madrid through a legitimately dangerous match and kept them within slipstream distance of Barcelona, it made another entry in the increasingly routine catalog of crazy Ronaldo heroics. That is, it was the sort of the thing he does for Madrid all the time, has been doing all the time since he got there (63 goals in 62 games doesn’t lie), and hasn’t quite been getting full credit for doing because he has hair gel and Messi scored even more over the same period.
Another factor is that Madrid hasn't won anything since he arrived there.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Car Bomb in Hidalgo

A police investigator and four state police officers in Hidalgo, responding to a call, were met with a car bomb upon arriving to their destination earlier today. Four of the officers were wounded, and one killed. The ambush aspect of this killing more closely resembles that of the car bomb in Juárez last summer than any of the handful of car bombs since, though the gang behind the Juárez bombing, La Línea, is not said to operate in Hidalgo.

Update: Now they are saying the Zetas were behind the attack, in response to the arrest of two hit men in the town (Tula) where the attack occurred. The arrests occurred two months ago, which makes the timing of this a bit odd, and gunmen are arrested all the time, which makes the decision to respond so aggressively unusual as well.

Sports-Chat Silliness

Bill Simmons had the following exchange in a chat yesterday:
Dave (Vacnouver, BC)

OK, Explain to me how people still feel judging a QB by wins and losses is valid after most knowledgeable observers have agreed that we shouldn't use W's and L's for baseball pitchers? QB's are just as dependent on the rest of the team as pitchers, or am I missing something?
Bill Simmons (3:42 PM)

Totally fair point. I'm more interested in the "how many times did you lose as a favorite and win as an underdog" portion of that record. A great QB should take care of business with a better team, especially at home as a big favorite. For Brady, SB 42 + last Sunday are big-ass blemishes on his resume. Same for Manning losing 7 playoff games in which his team was favored.
This is odd (and perhaps a measure of how seeing sports through the prism of gambling can distort your perception of performance). His response totally ignores the point of the question: a quarterback is only one member of a large team and is on the field only half the time, and therefore has a limited impact on the outcome of the game. A team is capable of losing a game in which the QB plays quite well, regardless of whether the team is favored or not. Vegas' bad judgment on a team's defense ahead of time shouldn't have any bearing on how the game impacts a QB's reputation.

The question aside, what an weird way to evaluate quarterbacks. Not that it's a worthless detail, but, in determining whether or not the game is a blemish on a QB's record, who was favored seems more like an afterthought than a vital piece of the puzzle (the vital and obvious piece being, Did the QB play well?). By Simmons' logic, Brett Favre deserves to be dinged for Super Bowl 33 (three TDs, one pick, 256 yards) more than Drew Bledsoe the year before (two TDs, four picks, 253 yards) because Favre was an 11-point favorite against the Broncos in 1998 while Bledsoe was a 14-point dog in 1997.

In other news, I'd forgotten how ridiculous Brady's MVP against the Rams was. The Greatest Show on Turf gets held to 17 points, Ty Law returns an interception for a touchdown, the first 15 minutes of that game are just a parade of huge hits by the Pats' secondary that scare the Rams O into a shell, but Brady's 16-27 for 145 yards and a single TD takes the trophy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Money Poorly Spent

One thing I've mentioned regarding the Mérida Initiative is that it's hard to implement training programs on a significant effectively (hence the focus on hardware). Quite difficult indeed, as a new inspector-general's report on USAID's support for the Mexican legal system makes clear:
The objectives of the audit were to determine if USAID/Mexico’s rule of law and human rights program was achieving its main goals, which are to support the implementation of the criminal justice reforms at the federal and state levels and to strengthen civil society organizations’ promotion and oversight of human rights. Furthermore, the audit also determined if the mission’s program reporting was providing stakeholders with complete and accurate information on the progress and the results achieved.

Over the years, USAID/Mexico has supported a broad scope of activities in support of Mexico’s justice reform. In the last few years, USAID/Mexico has facilitated exchanges between attorneys from the United States and other countries with members of the Mexican justice sector at the federal level, and has played a key role in helping to draft the federal code that focused on starting the justice reform. As well, USAID/Mexico provided technical assistance to support the judicial reforms in Chihuahua, by training judicial officials on oral advocacy, and supporting the state of Oaxaca to promote its mediation initiatives through stakeholder exchanges and the input of mediation experts.

However, the audit found that under the current awards-implementing activities to support the rule of law program, USAID/Mexico has not delivered technical advisory services in a strategic manner to reach maximum efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability, mainly because it lacks a strategic focus (see page 4). As a result, USAID/Mexico’s rule of law activities has had limited success in achieving their main goals: to support the implementation of the criminal justice reforms at the federal and state levels and to strengthen civil society organizations’ promotion and oversight of human rights.

The audit found that USAID/Mexico generally provided accurate information related to standard indicators in its performance plan and report for fiscal year 2009. However, the performance indicators and their respective targets are not appropriate for measuring progress toward accomplishing the subobjectives (see page 8).
Fixing this program would be a better use of American resources than seeing to it that the remaining helicopters are handed over with all due speed. (H/T)

Another New Group along the Pacific Coast

Yesterday in Manzanillo, the army captured a cell of the "Jalisco Cartel", another group about which little has been reported. This follows references to the La Resistencia in recent days, and the emergence of the Pacific South Cartel over the past year or so. The latter group is said to be reconstituted remnants of the Beltrán Leyvas. The other two?

Overly Serious Photos

The silliness of the Foreign Policy blogger photos is quite astounding, and not sufficiently remarked upon. Take Tom Ricks's:

Ricks is great and all, and I assume it wasn't his design, but it looks like the sort of headshot a small-time actor would send to Jerry Bruckheimer looking for a bit part. And I promise you, it's not an outlier. Stephen Walt's is even worse. David Hoffman is tilting his head like a very serious puppy. The only one of the FP bunch who seems to have entirely avoided this unfortunate trend is Marc Lynch.

Problems with Legalization

I have a new piece about the potential short-term side effects in Mexico of marijuana legalization in the United States. As I mention in the piece, I do support legalization of marijuana, but it's pretty clear to me that doing so without any coordination with Mexican authorities or any improvement in said authorities' capacity to keep a lid on public security in Mexico would be dangerous. Highlights:
But one element of legalization-as-solution that hasn’t been adequately taken into account is the immediate aftermath of such a move in Mexico. Here, the best arguments for legalization also turn into rather daunting reasons to think twice; without any improvement of Mexico’s crime-fighting agencies in the meantime, the short-term impact of legalization on security could be severe.

Marijuana legalization would amount to the overnight elimination of several billion dollars of annual income for the gangs. That is, by any measure, a significant economic dislocation. As a generation of Detroit residents can tell, significant economic dislocations are necessarily traumatic. If you substitute a collection of money-hungry killers for middle-class autoworkers, the scale of the trauma increases exponentially. If Mexican gangs respond to the seizure of 134 tons of marijuana with the promise to kill 135 innocents, as was the case In October, shouldn’t we be a little more concerned about the impact of eliminating all their tons of marijuana?

Mexico’s secretary of defense has estimated that some 500,000 Mexicans earn their living off the drug trade. Other estimates place the number at closer to a million. Whatever the real number, there’s no question that legalization will put many of them out of work, and this isn’t a group that will seamlessly reinsert itself into the legitimate labor force selling insurance. Instead, many of them will branch out into criminal enterprises significantly more harmful to Mexican civilians than drug trafficking.

Indeed, Mexico’s past few years present evidence of this. With a far more aggressive federal approach making trafficking large loads of drugs northward more complicated, the incidence of extortion, bank robbery, and kidnapping has exploded in many parts of the nation. To wit: in 2007 Mexico had 50,000 complaints of extortion, compared to only 500 five years previous. Federal authorities have also reported that the number of kidnappings has tripled in the past five years.

The increase in such crimes is disturbing for two reasons: the first is that unlike drug smuggling, which can be carried out without physical harm being done, the above enterprises necessarily include either the act of or, in the case of extortion, the threat of violence.

The second is that extortion and the like directly target civilians, and the victims—the middle class tortilla manufacturer, the son of the sporting goods magnate—are typically preyed upon precisely because they are successful. In other words, while drug traffic serves as a blight on society, it is a blight that is often hidden and easy for the responsible citizen to ignore. The above crimes, in contrast, disincentivize prosperity, and therefore have a much more insidious impact on Mexico’s broader economic development.

Breaking a Taboo

There has long been something of a taboo regarding military security operations in the capital, stemming from, I imagine, lingering memories about the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. Nonetheless, the army is now patrolling in Nezahualcóyotl, the overpopulated suburb which borders and is essentially indistinguishable from Mexico, DF, searching for members of La Familia and Los Zetas said to be operating there.

Repairing the Damage

Hillary Clinton is coming to Mexico next week, in what Excélsior is terming as a kiss-and-make-up session following comments of hers revealed in WikiLeaks and the September speech in which she compared Mexico to Colombia in the early 1990s. In addition to burying the hatchet, the meeting aims to "analyze the effectiveness of bilateral cooperation and articulate strategies on the topic for 2011". Sounds ground-breaking.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Test Case

Thanks to a federal grant of some $8 million, Nuevo León will be the first entity to implement a unified police command. This is a good place to start for a number of reasons: it's home to the country's industrial wealth as well as probably the second most important city in the country, it's been extremely violent for the last 12 months or so (59 murders in the first 15 days of the year in Monterrey), and the disorganization of the police in the handful of municipalities making up the Monterrey metro area is legendary.

At the same time, just $8 million to establish a new department in a state with 4.5 million inhabitants? That's not going to get you too far.

Big Spenders in the PGR

Three officials at the PGR have been charged with spending a bit more than $2 million improperly, with the money financing, among other irregularities, a trip to Las Vegas. Somehow, that's still a crime.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Playing with the Numbers

According to government figures, the number of innocent civilians killed by organized crime rose from 61 in 2009 to 166 in 2010. That represents a 172 percent leap in raw terms, but also basically a doubling in terms of the proportion of the total number of murders, from roughly 0.6 percent to 1.2 percent (I did the numbers in my head, so give or take). However, given that as recently as 2009 the government was saying that 4 percent of all deaths were innocent bystanders, these numbers are probably dubious. As the article points out, tallying a dead law-abider as a dead criminal is not the most difficult trick in the world.

The Times on Gun Traffic

The editors call for greater regulatory and investigatory freedom for the ATF:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced it was seeking emergency authority to require 8,000 gun dealers near the border to report multiple purchases by any individual of high-firepower semiautomatic rifles that use a detachable magazine.

The bureau asked the Office of Management and Budget, which must sign off on the plan, to do so by Jan. 5. That date has come and gone without a decision.

The death toll in Mexico’s drug wars is staggering — more than 30,000 people killed as of last year. The role of American-purchased guns in that carnage is also undeniable. In the past four years, more than 60,000 guns connected to crimes in Mexico have been tracked back to American gun dealers. About three-quarters of those weapons originated from gun shops in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California, the four states covered by the A.T.F. plan.

Administration officials insist that approval will be coming soon, and we hope that is the case. But the delay is worrying. (Before the A.T.F. spoke up, the idea had languished at the Justice Department for months.)

The gun lobby and some vocal allies on Capitol Hill have denounced the proposal, claiming that this reasonable effort to track down gun traffickers threatens Americans’ gun rights and exceeds the A.T.F.’s mandate. The bureau’s authority to demand information from a limited group of dealers shown to present elevated risks of crime has been upheld by courts in other cases.
The NY Times has editorialized about cracking down on gun traffic with some frequency over the last few years. That's admirable, and Obama administration's unwillingness to pursue anything that might offend the gun lobby is disappointing and worthy of criticism. But the paper should recognize that reducing American gun traffic isn't going to revolutionize Mexican security. With an industry worth between $8 and $25 billion, finding deadly weapons won't be a problem for Mexican gangsters, regardless of the porousness of the American border. (As I've said before, unleashing the ATF more and other policy changes of the same mindset can help around the margins in Mexico, mostly by raising the price of guns, which would consequently make it harder for the smaller gangs to kill as many people. But that would be a long-term process of limited effect.)

At the same time, to the best of my knowledge and searching capabilities, the Times editorial voice has for years ignored legalization of marijuana (though Nicholas Kristof wrote in favor of legalization a few months ago), despite the much greater potential benefit of such a move for Mexican security. It is inconsistent to bemoan the tens of thousands of Mexican deaths in the context calling for stricter application of gun laws on a near-monthly basis, while refusing to apply the same logic in drug policy. But if you're only going to focus on one of the two, legalization of marijuana, an utterly sensible idea which could use more respectable, establishmentarian institutions like the NY Times calling for it, should be the issue. The Times has it backwards.

The Resistance in Guadalajara

The other day I mentioned the heretofore unknown (at least by me) group La Resistencia, which was said to be behind some street blockades in Jalisco. Today Excélsior has a story of the arrest of 10 members of the gang in the Guadalajara area. A rocket-launcher was found in their possession and they were allegedly planning to attack the chief of police in the nearby tourist area Chapala, which suggests that this isn't just a bunch of upstarts. Then again, no other big-time gang is mentioned in the piece. I believe that Jalisco has typically been home to La Familia, which we know has declined significantly in recent months, and Chapo's gang, which has not, or at least not to the same degree. I guess the big question is if this new group is aligned with one of the bigger hegemonic gangs, or if they are intent on challenging them. A spike in violence in the coming months would indicate the latter.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Another Big Arrest

José Jorge Balderas Garza, believed to be the shooter of Salvador Cabañas roughly one year ago, was captured in Mexico City early this morning. He says that his bodyguard, who was arrested last year, was actually the shooter. His beauty queen Colombian girlfriend was also arrested, which precipitated a story from Excélsior with the following intro:
Among the people who were detained along with José Jorge Balderas Garza, aka El JJ, his significant other also deserves mention: the Colombian model Juliana Sossa Toro, Miss Antoquia 2008.

According to the authorities, the woman of 23 years and green eyes was captured in a house in Bosques de las Lomas.

The Colombian is 1.70 meters tall, weighs 52 kilos, has brown hair and her measurements are 90-60-94...
I promise you it is a faithful translation. So, of the five Ws, would we file that under the, "Why"?

Security Stats

Ricardo Raphael, back from from his off-stage duty of the past several months, has some stats on who's behind the lion's share of the murders in Mexico over the past several years:
Of the total number of deaths thus far during Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's administration, roughly 60 percent can be attributed to the confrontations between the Pacific Federation--led by Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán Loera--and its various adversaries. In fact, during the same time period, only 10 percent of said murders occurred without the participation, direct or indirect of that drug cartel.
These figures seem suspect. I imagine he is including virtually every murder in Durango, Chihuahua, and Sinaloa among the 60 percent, but many of those are small-time gang skirmishes that have nothing to do with Chapo or anyone of his level. I also imagine that he's including the Zetas-Gulf violence in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León as among the 30 percent indirectly caused by Sinaloa, which is also dubious, given that the two groups' split may not have had anything to do with Sinaloa.

More broadly, this is evidence of why "cartel", with its image of militaristic top-down control and Chapo and his circle ordering the murder of 20,000 people in four years, is a misleading label. It just doesn't make sense to assume that every member of every sub-division of every street gang working for one of Sinaloa's underbosses--it's worth remembering at this point that are an estimated 1,500 gangs in Juárez alone--is one of Chapo's foot soldiers. They may well carry out his dirty work sometimes, but not all of the violence they commit has anything to do with Chapo and his enemies.

Zetas Founder Arrested

Not el Lazca, but still a big fish: Flavio Méndez, who was attributed with the group's expansion into Central America, and is being investigated for his connection to attacks on migrants passing through Mexico. No word thus far on where he was caught.

Increasing the Monitoring Capabilities

On Twitter, Alejandro Martí called for the installation of GPS chips into cellular phone chips, so as to better locate kidnappers.
When they kidnap a kidnapper he always has a bunch of those chips. The solution was to demand geolocalization! We've got to fix the law!
I'm not sure if this was just a misfired germ of an idea (damn Twitter!) or something he really believes, but it's hard to see how this would make a huge difference. If kidnappers have dozens of chips, they can just use it once and be done with it, or find other ways to communicate with their victims' families. It may help eliminate the serial virtual kidnappers, whose model relies on them demanding money for a kidnapping that didn't actually happen from various targets, until they land on a gullible mark. Since the typical reaction is to hang up, this activity relies on repeated attempts to bear fruit, so having to change chips after every attempted virtual kidnapping might make the practice unprofitable. However, I don't see how it will reduce actual kidnappings a great deal, where the phone-call-to-payoff ratio is much lower, and the ransoms much larger.

Furthermore, given that weeks after the national database for cell phone numbers kicked off, USB memory sticks with the entire contents of the database were for sale in Mexico City street markets, you can't blame Mexicans for not wanting to entrust the government with the power to track their cell phones across the globe.

Josefina's Chances

Via Aguachile, Jorge Zepeda Patterson argues that Josefina Vázquez's gender will be an insurmountable obstacle in winning the PAN nomination for the 2012 presidential elections. Woman have, both objectively and comparatively, historically played a small role in the PAN, but I'm not convinced that it will be an insurmountable obstacle for Vázquez. Whereas in the past widespread sexism was almost certainly a driving factor for the absence of women in important posts, I imagine that today it's more a function of inertia, though there are people with sexist and misogynistic views high up in the PAN. If I'm correct, an open primary could counteract a narrow band of elite, gender-based opposition to Josefina.

More generally, one of the lessons from Obama's victory in 2008 is that the attitudes of the masses change more rapidly than we are able to perceive.

Monday, January 17, 2011

More Narcobloqueos

Last August, I wrote of the narcobloqueos:
It's interesting how two relatively new criminal tactics have remained isolated in their place of origin: blockades in the Northeast (especially Monterrey), and machine-gunning partiers to punish the venue's owners in La Laguna. One of course hopes that neither menace spreads across the nation (especially the latter), but it's alarming to consider that many of the more worrying recent changes to Mexico's criminal landscape --increased use of decapitations, extortion-- were once relatively isolated to certain gangs or regions.
Since then, we've seen them in Michoacán, and, as of this weekend, in Jalisco, used by a group calling itself La Resistencia. (I've never heard of them before.) On the other hand, targeting civilians has not spread, thankfully.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

More on Peña Nieto's Crime Strategy

Macario Schettino agrees with Boz:
Mister Peña ends up offering a strategy almost exactly like that of the government: professionalizing the police, making the judiciary efficient, confronting the problems of the most violent cities, coordinating the three levels of government. There will be those who believe that the first pillar of the proposal, widening the social safety net, is different from what the government is doing today, but that is difficult to prove, above all with the growth in the coverage of health, education, hosing, and anti-poverty programs under this administration. But, again, this is about appealing to sentiments, and taking advantage of Calderón fatigue. That's how you fight for power.
He goes on to say that the plans for congressional majorities are an insufficient, because the real problem is that the real dividing line in Mexico politics is not between the different parties, but between those who want to modernize the political and economic system, and those who want to maintain their privileges under some version of the old system. And each party has significant chunks of both groups; the economic liberals and the conservative right wing in the PAN, the AMLO wing and the New Left in the PRD, and the reformers and the dinosaurs in the PRI.

Kicking the Can Down the Road

Jesús Ortega, a staunch advocate of the PRD-PAN alliances, says that an intra-party referendum on the Mexico State election could be held in February. The PAN's maneuvering will be key to whether or not this referendum matters, should it come to pass. If, as Gustavo Madero suggested earlier this week, the PAN would perhaps be willing to support PRD candidate Alejandro Encinas, then a strong vote of support from the party faithful will make it hard for Encinas to reject an alliance. (Though I imagine AMLO will still find a cause to oppose it.) If Luis Felipe Bravo Mena succeeds in building momentum around his candidacy in the meantime, the results of the PRD referendum will not be of great importance.

No More Virtual Border Fence

Reuters reports:
President Barack Obama's administration on Friday canceled the troubled "virtual fence" project meant to better guard stretches of the vast U.S. border with Mexico and will replace it with other security measures.

The project, begun in 2006 and run by Boeing Co (BA.N), has cost about $1 billion and was designed to pull together video cameras, radar, sensors and other technologies to catch illegal immigrants and smugglers trying to cross the porous border.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said commercially available surveillance systems, unmanned aerial drones, thermal imaging and other equipment would be used instead, suggestions made by critics of the Boeing SBInet program.

"This new strategy is tailored to the unique needs of each border region, providing faster deployment of technology, better coverage, and a more effective balance between cost and capability," she said in a statement.

The Obama administration has been under intense pressure to beef up security to stem the flow of illegal immigrants flooding across the U.S.-Mexico border as well as halt the smuggling of drugs and weapons.
Well, that was money well spent. The virtual border was created in part to keep northern Mexico's crime problems out of the US, yet we have thus far spent less than half that total on the Mérida Initiative. As far as stemming immigration, well, I wonder what $1 billion could have done were it sunk into some of the migrant-producing towns in Zacatecas or Michoacán.

Why Hasn't Diego Cut His Beard?

Evidently, this was taken quite recently, at a Chedraui supermarket in Querétaro. He also seems to have replaced the power suit with a cardigan.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Political Violence Coming Back?

Whatever else you could say about Mexico's security situation over the past few years, one thing that we could all be thankful for was the relative absence of political violence. Intimidating people who would support another candidate or killing those who would run for office against you is extremely damaging to democracy, and has a long history in Mexico, well into the modern era. (For instance, hundreds of PRD activists were killed in the years after the party was formed.)

Hopefully, that state of affairs will continue, but insofar as it suggests a rise in political violence, the severe beating of a PRD rep to the Guerrero IFE, and the murder of the Oaxaca mayor Luis Jiménez Mata Santiago, which his brother alleges was provoked by his pledge to audit the accounts of his predecessor, is worrying.

Nice Work

This must have felt good:
Awakened at 4:33 a.m. Wednesday by a ringing phone, Aaron Titus jumped out of bed in a panic. Maybe something terrible had happened, he thought. Even if nothing was wrong, his heart raced with other considerations: His five children, ages 5 and under, including his week-old daughter, were mercifully still asleep, and he wanted to keep it that way.

In a blurry rush, Titus answered the phone halfway into the second ring, listening in disbelief to an automated caller tell him what he already knew: It was a snow day. School would open two hours late. In other words, he and his family could sleep.

But now he couldn't.

"I thought, 'C'mon, people. Really?" he recalls.

Sometime later in the day, the 31-year-old father from Fort Washington, a lawyer who knows a thing or two about technology, made a decision that might well bring amused satisfaction to like-minded parents everywhere.

Titus arranged for an automated message of his own.

He found a robocall company online, taped a message and listed every phone number he could find for nine school board members (sparing the student member), Superintendent William R. Hite and General Counsel Roger C. Thomas.

At 4:30 a.m. Thursday, phones began ringing with 29 seconds of automated, mocking objection:

"This is a Prince George's County School District parent, calling to thank you for the robocall yesterday at 4:30 in the morning. I decided to return the favor. While I know the school district wanted to ensure I drop my child off two hours late on a snow day, I already knew that before I went to bed. I hope this call demonstrates why a 4:30 a.m. call does more to annoy than to inform.''

It ended: "Quit robocalling parents at 4:30 in the morning or at least allow us to opt out of these intrusive calls."
I often dream of avenging petty slights in such a way, but, lacking Titus' technical expertise and general willingness to follow through, typically I just fume for 30 minutes, irritate everyone around me, and then move on.

Making a Splash

Humberto Moreira's first several days as the PRI president-in-waiting have been eventful. He's had an ongoing spat with Alonso Lujambio and other cabinet members, saying (roughly) that "they know nothing, they do nothing", among sundry other insults; he defended Elba Esther Gordillo; he installed his brother as his likely successor as governor of Coahuila; and, in perhaps the surest sign that he has arrived at the national political level, he was called a "dictator" by AMLO.

It's hard to read about Moreira and his open embrace of his role as the bulldog and not think of Germán Martínez, the similarly confrontational and spectacularly unsuccessful president of the PAN in 2009. Being an aggressive loudmouth might win supporters while circumstances are good, but it also makes people more likely to turn on you when things go badly, as was the case with Martínez. Moreira's first big electoral test comes a couple of weeks from now in the gubernatorial race in Guerrero; it'll be interesting to see if Moreira's rhetoric changes if the PRI loses, as it is predicted to.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Third Murdered Mayor

Luis Jiménez Mata Santiago, the mayor of Santiago Amoltepec, Oaxaca, was killed outside the state capital earlier this morning. That's the third of 2011, which, by my count, puts Mexico on track for some 84 murdered mayors this year. Hopefully the pace slows down significantly. While most of the recent spate of mayoral killings have been linked to organized crime, the article above mentions an agrarian dispute in his home town.

Dangerous Towns

A new report from the Mexican NGO Citizen Council for Public Security and Justice lists the world's most dangerous cities (according to murder rate), and has Mexican metropolises occupying a quarter of the spots. Juárez, not surprisingly, is the world's most dangerous city, according to the Citizen's Council. Other cities appearing on the list include Chihuahua (fifth most dangerous worldwide), Mazatlán (eighth), Culiacán (ninth), Tepic (13), Durango (14), Torreón (17), Tijuana (21), Acapulco (23), Reynosa (34), Nuevo Laredo (36), and Cuernavaca (38).

While no one would doubt the main thrust (Mexico has problems with murders), the specifics of this report seem dubious. One obvious tipoff is the murder rate of 118 per 100,000 in Caracas, when some reports put the figure at more than twice that. Another red flag is that Gómez Palacio, which was significantly more violent than its sister city Torreón does not appear on the list, yet Torreón does. More broadly, the group pegs the number of murders, including those that have nothing to do with organized crime, across the country at around 25,000 for 2010, which would amount to murder rate of 23 or so. That's high, but significantly lower than Central American nations like Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as South American countries like Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil, among others. Yet Mexico still has a quarter of the most dangerous cities, according to this report. Considering that Mexico's population, relative to that of the countries with higher murder rates, isn't that large, that just doesn't add up.

Calderón on Peña Nieto's Crime Plan

He's enthusiastic about it:
Theoretical planning is good, obviously I share that opinion, and maybe if it had been accompanied in practice by deeds it would be very, very useful", said Calderón.

I interpret as a support from the author himself for the strategy that we are following and I appreciate it, although I must say that there are states, like the the State of Mexico, that have rates of control and confidence and evaluation of police that are very, very low, far behind what we'll call the commitment assumed in the commitments [author's note: using "commitment" twice reflects his fractured syntax, not my translating mistake] of the Agreement for Justice and Legality, which reflects as well a very delicate criminal problem, maybe because the population of the state is the largest in the country", he added.
This makes some sense; as Boz pointed out last week, the Peña Nieto plan has a lot in common with the strategy Calderón announced last summer (though the need to lower violence first and foremost has more emphasis from Peña Nieto).

Political Violence in Guerrero

Just a couple of weeks from the gubernatorial election in Guerrero, the PRD rep to the state IFE was severely beaten by presumed supporters of the PRI in Chilpancingo yesterday, after he confronted a group of kids about yanking down his candidate's signs.

Also, El Universal gives PRD candidate Ángel Aguirre Rivero a six-point lead in the polls over the PRI's Manuel Añorve Baños. The PAN candidate is polling at just 4 percent.

Mexican Reaction to the Gifford Shooting

Leo Zuckermann wrote a column titled "The defect of the United States", and focused on the country's permissive gun laws and ran down some of the terrible mass shootings in recent years.

You see knee-jerk dismissals and condemnations of US conservatism generally and gun laws specifically from lots of corners in Mexico, but it's worth noting that Leo Zuckermann is one of the most US-centric writers in the major newspapers. He has lived in the country, knows the politics well, and seems to try to understand it on its own terms, rather than using the US as a punching bag. Which is to say, in Zuckermann's case, the criticism is not really comparable to the jerk of a knee.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Big Number

Alejandro Poiré announced that 15,273 people were killed in Mexico in 2010 in murders linked to organized crime. That represents a 100 percent jump from 2009 (though they have adjusted those number retroacticely a great deal, so I may be off on that) and a ten-fold spike since 2005, the year before Calderón was elected. Although Poiré still managed to point to a silver lining: the number of murders in the fourth quarter was down 10 percent from the third quarter.

Update: The final adjusted number for 2009 according to the government was 9,614, so this isn't a doubling, but is more than a 50 percent increase.

Interpreting the Cabinet Changes

Jorge Fernández Menéndez and Carlos Loret both say that the arrival of Roberto Gil as Calderón's chief of staff means that he, and not Interior Secretary José Francisco Blake, will be managing the politics of Los Pinos agenda. As Loret points out (and other have before him), this was the setup when the late Juan Camilo Mouriño was in the post, which is often pointed to as the period of Calderón's greatest legislative success.

As If On Cue

Per the commentary on Mexico's prisons yesterday, 11 inmates died in a riot in the Cereso in Gómez Palacio yesterday, which started hours after two lawyers who worked at the facility were found dead beneath the bridge connecting Gómez and Torreón. This is now the third consecutive year that a riot has left multiple inmates dead in the Gómez Cereso, with the worst incident coming in 2008, when 19 people were killed.

From the Department of Obvious Headlines

Courtesy of Reuters:
Optimistic teens show lower depression risk
No word as of yet on whether teens swimming in a pool are more likely to be wet than the average.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Local Leaders in Juárez

Via the Mexico Institute, there's an interesting (though quite brief) piece at TheAtlantic.com about local business leaders trying to combat Juárez's decline:
Juárez is dying. The houses in the center of the city are abandoned; there are so few opportunities here," says Contreras from his office inside the cavernous furniture factory he owns. Most famously, there's the violence. In 2010 alone, more than 3,100 people were killed here. Unlike most Mexicans, Contreras doesn't immediately mention the American hunger for drugs as the reason for his city's--and his country's--woes. "The true origin of the insecurity is corruption," he says, blaming a toxic brew of political and socioeconomic problems for the deterioration of public safety.

Contreras is not alone in his exasperation. He leads and belongs to a number of groups: Juárenses for Peace, Security Roundtable, Economic Development for Juárez, among others. They are part of a hodgepodge force of civic groups old and new founded by angry businessmen, doctors, and other professionals--an encouraging, if still small, indication that civil society in Juárez, and Mexico more broadly, is experiencing a form of awakening.
Although as far as Mexicans typically blaming the US addiction first, that was not my experience; in everyday conversation, I always found people talked about corruption most readily.

Prisons Overflowing

El Universal had a cover story yesterday on the lack of capacity in Mexico's prisons, and some of the numbers are indeed worrying: Mexico has roughly 227,000 people in prison in 429 facilities, with an estimated prisoner population surplus of 54,000. In other words, close to 25 percent above capacity. The government's strategy has been two-fold: one, a sizable relocation of prisoners so as to alleviate the problem as much as possible, presumably by spreading it as thin as possible across many possible detention centers; and two, building more prisons. The latter is an obvious necessity, but the article points only to a prison to be opened in Veracruz in 2012 that will house some 3,000 high-security prisoners, which is great, but it amounts to less than 2 percent of the total prison population. The government committed itself to building 12 new prisons in with the National Security Agreement signed in December of 2008, which would have been a good start (though it wouldn't have addressed corruption among the prison staff), but then late last year reports started to leak out that signed agreement or not, the new prisons weren't in the cards.

This is one area where Calderón deserves to be knocked for his lack of foresight. It was obvious in December 2006 that an increase in the pursuit of drug traffickers would lead to an increase of prisoners, and the system was already overloaded then, yet no serious plans for improvement or expansion were made. And there is no question that the situation in Mexico's prisons is now desperate, with scores of people murdered in prison yard riots and massacres and hundreds of people escaped (including three mass escapes), and the government does little more than arrest the corrupt jailers after the worst incidents, which is fine, but isn't to be confused with actually addressing the problem.

Rising Confidence

Macario Schettino points out that Inegi confidence measures for consumers and producers alike are increasing:
In summary, the producers see that the economy is functioning, and although they are still not convinced that it is time to invest, they do perceive that not only are things improving, but they also have more confidence in the future than in the present.

[Break]

The opinion of the producers and consumers regarding the function of the economy coincides with what we've been saying in this column since halfway through last year: it has been a good recovery. Furthermore, this process of growth hasn't stopped. The leading indicators of Inegi (the stopwatch of the economic cycle) demonstrate that we are still in a phase of expansion.
He goes on to say that despite this bit of good news, growth will be sufficient only for the creation of 400,000 to 500,000 jobs annually, or somewhere between one-third and half of what it needed. This is of a piece both with the greater optimism in opinion polls that we noted recently, as well as my comment that even with the jobs numbers being boosted by the one-off rebound from the crisis, they are still insufficient.

Two Murdered Mayors

The second municipal president to be murdered in 2011 was Abraham Ortiz Rosales of Temoac, Morelos, who was ambushed yesterday while driving with his family and two bodyguards. One of the children and one of the bodyguards were also wounded.

Messi!


In honor of his second straight Ballon d'Or, and just out of general gratitude for not being Ronaldo, here's all of his goals from the 2009-10 season.

Monday, January 10, 2011

You Will Be President by the Time You Are 40, Or I Will Ground You!

This article on the so-called Chinese parenting style is one of the ugliest things I ever remember reading that didn't have to do with wartime atrocities. It reads like an Onion article. You get the feeling that the author would be proud to tase one her two unfortunate daughters if it would turn a 95 into a 98.

Popularity in the Cabinet

A day after Calderón announced a major round of cabinet changes ahead of the 2012 cycle, Excélsior's most recent popularity poll demonstrate that none of the lost officials will make the administration noticeably less beloved. Outgoing Secretary of Communications and Transportation Juan Molinar Horcasitas is the 16th most popular out of 19 total, while former Energy Secretary Georgina Kessel is 11th. (The other big change was the departure of Chief of Staff Luis Felipe Bravo, who was not included.)

The survey also further demonstrated something we've seen in a number of surveys: military leaders are popular, and the marines/navy are more popular than the rest. To wit, the most popular cabinet officer is Navy Secretary Francisco Saynez, and Defense Secretary Guillermo Galván is third on the list. Yet the fact that Genaro García Luna is in dead last indicates that the support for the military leaders is based more on a support for the military specifically rather than security forces in general.

Other high-ranking figures include José Ángel Córdova, still a popular guy almost two years after he rose to prominence with the swine flu outbreak, clocks in at number two, while Patricia Espinosa, at the peak of her prestige with last month's Cancún conference, is four. The low-profile guys recently moved into high-profile posts, Arturo Chávez Chávez and José Francisco Blake, also do relatively well, at ten and seven, respectively.

Peña Nieto Reiterates

Enrique Peña Nieto basically reprinted his FT.com crime piece in El Universal today. Not to go all populist on you, but it's striking that in sketching his approach on this vital issue, he spoke to the foreign investor class before he brought the issue to Mexicans. Bad form.

Another Week, Another Ebrard-Church Spat

Actually, not really spat, but a Church publication called Ebrard "ignorant" and "fundamentalist". They also criticized his criticism of the Church for comparing him to the Taliban last week. This back-and-forth is lots of fun, and makes you wonder how much the Church would be willing to pay to not have Ebrard win the presidency, but it's growing a bit tiresome and they need to step up the insults to keep my attention; I'm not going to say anything more about this until someone calls someone something that can't be said on TV.

Pantsless

Evidently, spurred on by an Improv Everywhere gag, 500 people neglected to wear pants on the Mexico City subway yesterday. Good for them. No word on how many of this group were actively participating in the event, and how many of them just prefer to be unencumbered by needless garments while riding to work.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Angry with Lula. Making Up with Dilma?

Bajo Reserva with an interesting factoid about Dilma's inauguration:
The US sent Hillary Clinton as a representative of President Barack Obama to Dilma Rousseff's ascension to the presidency. In contrast, the Mexican government opted to send as its representative the Foreign Ministry's undersecretary of Latin American and the Caribbean, Rubén Beltrán Guerrero.

The reason for this decision, we are told, is that the diplomatic relationship between Mexico and Brazil was sidetracked following declarations from December 1, 2010, of then-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who predicted that there wouldn't be concrete advances in the Cancún summit. We are told that the comments from Lula were poorly received by the government of President Felipe Calderón, because they were made just as the most delicate stage of the process of negotiation of agreements was being carried out.

We won't have to wait long to know if President Rousseff received the Mexican message of anger, because Undersecretary Beltrán Guerrero offered an olive branch in inviting her, if she wishes, to make a state visit to Mexico this year. Will she accept?
Silly as the origin of this dispute is, you hope and expect that this doesn't sidetrack Brazil and Mexico's growing commercial relationship.

Making Its Bid for the "Hub of Violence in 2011" Title

Acapulco, which has long had bouts of drug violence but has never really been ground zero, was the site of 28 killings yesterday, including 15 decapitations. The story doesn't mention it, but this surge in violence squares with the La Familia arrestee who last week said that his gang and the Zetas were ganging up on the remnants of the Beltrán Leyvas in Guerrero.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Most Absurd Headline and Story of All Time

Channeling Churchill, Ryan Inspires His Team
And my favorite piece of the story:
Recently, Woody Johnson, the Jets’ owner, reflected on Ryan’s speech, saying, “Winston Churchill couldn’t have done it better” and “That was the best piece of oratory I’ve ever heard” and “It encapsulated everything we want to be and everything we are.”
Ugh. Johnson's previous "best piece of oratory I've ever heard", I'm assuming, came from a cartoon character, or someone of similarly immense gravity and significance. Most big-time sports are embarrassingly self-important (thanks in large part to media who cover them in such a way), but, wow, that is ridiculous. Everyone involved, from Ryan to Johnson to Greg Bishop, the author of the story, should be exiled to Siberia.

Sundry Security News

A car bomb exploded in Zuazua, Nuevo León, injuring two people. This is the third such bombing since the infamous explosion in Juárez last summer. Despite everyone leaping onto that incident as a dark omen and turning point, there has been very little coverage of the three that followed. Kind of odd; the media is very fickle.

Continuing an ugly trend from last year, the mayor of Zaragoza, Coahuila was abducted and killed yesterday. He is the first mayor to be murdered this year.

An apparently important underling of Chapo's was arrested in Sinaloa. This is more newsworthy than it typically would be for two reasons: first, the marines were the ones behind the arrest, which suggests that they are going after Chapo. (Previously, there presence in Sinaloa and the Golden Triangle region was very limited.) If recent events are any indication, the use of the marines instead of the army in chasing Chapo also makes his capture much more likely.

Second, this is the second Chapo lieutenant to be arrested in recent weeks, the first coming days after Christmas after a shootout with the Federal Police in Durango. More on the government's tracking of Chapo from Malcolm Beith here.

The Need to Help Central America

After expressing concern about the lack of American attention to Central America despite its grave security problems (which are in many nations far worse than in Mexico), Jorge Montaño asks for more effort from the Mexican government:
The government of our country must make an effort to recover control of the southern border. This wold be a historic contribution that no other government has attempted with determination. It is a priority to exercise the force of the state in this territory that is today dominated by organized crime, where chaos and corruption of authorities prevails. Likewise, it has the responsibility to develop new common strategies with the countries of the isthmus, through agile mechanisms. There is a capacity to transmit regional objections in the European Union and the United States, with arguments that convince the legislators, executives, and NGOs. Nothing will be possible if they don't understand that immediate action is needed.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ebrard on Encinas: Everyone's a Winner

Referring to the impending Encinas candidacy, Marcelo Ebrard's reaction was, With Encinas, we all win, even López Obrador. It seems that he forgot to mention Peña Nieto.

In response, PAN Senator Ulises Ramírez is suggesting an inter-party election with PAN and PRD voters to determine the alliance candidate. That's kind of funny, and will likely go over about as well as nerdy kid's earnest invitation for everyone at happy hour to switch to lemonade.

Peña Nieto's Crime Plan

Via Boz, Enrique Peña Nieto has a piece in FT.com laying out his security proposal:
The biggest challenge that Mexico faces in 2011 and beyond, therefore, is to implement a National Strategy to Reduce Violence with one clear aim: to bring down the number of murders, kidnappings and extortions significantly in the next five years. The strategy should rest on four pillars.
This is notable in that he talks about reducing violence, instead of reducing the threat of the gangs, as paramount. Those two goals, of course, are not the same, and often work at cross-purposes. This may be just tailoring the message to the audience; potential investors read the Financial Times. While speaking to the Wilson Center in Washington in August, where his audience was presumably foreign policy gurus, he instead emphasized the need to continue the war on drugs. So which of these two contradictory goals will serve as the guiding objective of security in a Peña Nieto administration? I have my suspicions, but the fact that we are asking these questions despite Peña Nieto addressing the issue is a telling reminder of why he worries people.

He pledges to the build the strategy (sorry, the Strategy) on four pillars:
1) Prevention, a catch-all which means anything from tax reform to more education spending.

2) A better trained police force and a more efficient judiciary. He also mentions better investigative services, by which I imagine he is referring to the ministerios públicos, whose incompetence is often fingered as a barrier to a more effective criminal justice system. He also talks about the need to reduce the size informal economy.

3) Focus strategy on the most violent municipalities. That's his wording, and of course I know what he means, but that's kind of a tortured phrasing; focus "implementation" or "efforts" would be better.

4) Shared responsibility between the three levels of government.
Parts of this seem rather incoherent to me, in the way that it tosses rather specific goals (more efficient judicial branch) with broad objectives (such as, "prevention"). But although this is thrown together willy-nilly from an organizational standpoint, there is nonetheless a lot of completely sensible stuff in there.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Contesting the American Impressions

I'd not seen this, but evidently Ruth Zavaleta was singled out by a WikiLeaked cable as having a relationship with Hugo Chávez, which provoked a staunch denial in last week's column for Excélsior:
I categorically deny any link "of regular contact" or sporadic contact with President Hugo Chávez or his representatives, nor would I have any reason to be in contact with him given that I don't share his ideas or activities: I believe in social democracy and not populism; I believe in the democratic system with its rules and institutions and in the construction of social pacts through agreements, I don't believe in violence as a means to an end.
After that denial, she writes:
WikiLeaks teaches us some lessons: not all of the information from the US embassy is correct and even when the information must be made public, the findings must be contrasted with verified information about who is saying it, why they are saying it, and when they are saying it. Which is to say, the basic principals of journalism, which, of course, I don't seek to teach to the professionals in the field and much less the national security institutions in our neighbor to the north.
Whatever the other embarrassments, I don't remember reading much from the cables that were later contradicted as flatly incorrect.

Also, Zavaleta is a darn good writer for a politician; I can't think of any other op-ed-producing pol whose 800 words a week aren't an awful slog.

EdoMex Alliance: Not Dead Yet

Gustavo Madero said that even with the candidacy of Alejandro Encinas, the PAN is not ruling out an alliance in Mexico State, saying it is watching the situation "with reserve, but with interest". This seems like it would be a hard sell among party faithful, given that Encinas is close to AMLO (although Madero tried to soft-pedal that by referring to his "changes of definition in his political participation). If they do make it happen, you wonder what would be the limit for alliance supporters in trying to prevent Peña Nieto from winning the presidency. I ask only slightly in jest: Would the panista alliance supporters support an AMLO candidacy if only to make it harder for Peña Nieto to win?