Monday, February 28, 2011

More from Mexico's Most Embarrassing Deputy

Fresh off sacrificing an afternoon of work in the Chamber of Deputies to a far more pressing attack on Calderón as a drunk, Gerardo Fernández Noroña was back in the news last week:
The PT deputy Gerardo Fernández Noroña went to the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México to converse with students, give his vision of the political world: "Neither Jesús Ortega nor [Carlos] Navarrete are leftists". "Marcelo Ebrard wouldn't defeat Andrés Manuel López Obrador even in Mexico City". The students from ITAM asked him why he had only sponsored one bill. The legislator announced that he would soon bring a proposal that there be female priests in the Catholic church...which, of course, doesn't depend on the Mexican legal framework. A fantastic ignorance.

Shortcomings in the Efforts to Stem the Flow of Dirty Money

A study from the Mexican Congress released last week estimated that between $25 and $40 billion is laundered each year in Mexico. That's at the high end of estimates I've seen, but it doesn't seem impossible, especially when you add non-drug profits to organized crime's revenue stream. In response to that, the leader of the Finance Department's anti-laundering unit compared his group favorably to counterparts in the US, the UK, Spain, and other nations. Whether or not that is true is beyond me, but the most recent report I remember reading on the topic said that in 2009 and 2010, the US and Mexico together brought 65 money-laundering cases affecting the latter nation, resulting in the seizure of some $60 million. During that time, if we are to believe the Congressional data, between $50 and $80 billion in illicit money entered Mexico, yet only 65 cases were brought, or one case per billion dollars laundered.

Another Arrest

An alleged Zeta linked to the shootings of Jaime Zapata and a colleague has been arrested by the Federal Police in San Luis Potosí. Luis Miguel Rojo Ocejo is said to be the Zetas' chief financial operator in the state, where Zapata was killed at a roadblock, and authorities linked him to some of the biggest names in the organization. He is nicknamed El Oso Rojo. This means the Red Bear and appears to be a play on his last names, but it also fit in well on Oscar night, as it sounds like a Viggo Mortensen vehicle and a potential dark horse winner in 2014. The Marines also arrested Sergio Antonio Mora Cortés, said to be the operational boss of the San Luis Potosí shooters, in Saltillo yesterday. His nickname, El Toto, is crap.

Torreón Bars Targeted Once More

As was the case on three occasions in early 2010, there have been mass killings in Torreón watering holes in the last couple of weeks, the latest of which killed nine people. As in last year's attacks, the most recent shooting featured indiscriminate firing against the defenseless public, which, lack of a political goal notwithstanding, fits most workable definitions of terrorism.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Peña Nieto the Tax-Cutter

A shrewd move from Enrique Peña Nieto:
The governor of the State of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, announced that starting in 2012 the tenencia payment in the state will be eliminated and that the federal government will be in charge of establishing the mechanisms for its elimination and compensating the revenue for this tax.
Tenencia, it may be worth reminding readers, is essentially a car tax of several hundred dollars per year, depending on the make and model. You may remember that Calderón eliminated the tenencia for newer cars last year. It was not a popular tax, but it is a significant source of state government cash, even after Calderón's declaration. Maneuvers like Peña Nieto's often get denounced as electorally motivated in Mexico, which always strikes me as kind of stupid, because of course it is! They're democratic politicians; virtually everything they do is motivated by elections. However, this is a pretty egregious example, because Peña Nieto will enjoy the fruit of the plan, as his popularity will probably get a bump ahead of the elections this summer and in 2012, as the plan goes into effect, yet when the bills come due and programs have to be cut or revenues increased elsewhere, it won't be his problem.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Not a Good Comeback

Humberto Moreira's response to the PAN criticisms of the PRI, in the aftermath of Sócrates Rizzo's declarations that the PRI presidents were intimately involved in drug trafficking:
What the PRI was in power, Chapo Guzmám was arrested; when the PAN arrived, he escaped.
Chapo's escape and (even more so) subsequent decade of life as a fugitive superpower in Mexico's underworld is indeed a serious weakness in the PAN record, but Moreira neglects to include one important fact about his arrest: it happened in Guatemala! Why should Salinas receive any plaudits for that?

Friday, February 25, 2011

More on Malcolm

Echoing my thoughts from earlier this week, I have a longer piece on Gladwell's annoying use of long-winded comparisons at a new website called Bored Lawyers. Read it and make me a rich man.

The Backlash against Cordero

This was a predictable response to his optimistic view of a 6,000-peso per month salary:
Ernesto Cordero, secretary of finance and public credit, must be a main of faith. There is no other way to explain how he can believe miracles, because that's it is for a Mexican family to be able to survive on 6,000 pesos a month from which you have to pay for food, housekeeping, clothing electricity, among many other expenses, the mortgage, the car payment, and even the tuition of the children in a private school.

We should be surprised that the man who manages the national finances would make such an absurd statement.

The Accusations of an Ex-Governor and the Nature of PRI Support for the Drug Trade

Former Nuevo León governor Sócrates Rizzo said to an audience at the Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila that when the PRI held Los Pinos, the president was actively involved in carving up the country for drug gangs. This predictably upset a lot of priístas, and filled a lot of opposition pols with consternation and (I presume) delight. Manlio Fabio Beltrones said, "Declarations of this type and superficiality a don't help to make an accurate diagnosis regarding the grave problem that we are experiencing today, of crime and drug trafficking." Former Quintana Roo Governor Joaquín Coldwell said that the comments amounted to "a personal opinion that I don't share, I've never seen evidence that something like that happened". Gustavo Madero said that a strong president doesn't pact with the narcos, but rather confronts them. Carlos Navarrete said the content of his remarks were an "open secret".

There's never been a final accounting of exactly what was the nature of the presidential relationship with narcos. Explanations swing between the president being the biggest of the nation's narcos to him just looking the other way. With regard to Rizzo's allegations, it just doesn't make much sense for the president to be the divvying up drug trafficking routes, nor is there any evidence of such intimate involvement, but the demonstrations of executive-branch complicity in the 1980s and 1990s are significant (Raul Salinas, Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, Juan Arévalo Gardoqui, Guillermo González Calderoni). Of course, it's hard to imagine any of the principals settling the issue definitively, what with the possible legal ramifications and all, so it'll probably have to remain as a topic of perennial debate.

Mass Arrests in Response to Zapata's Murder

Here's the NY Times on the arrest of more than 400 people nationwide:
A little more than a week after an American law enforcement agent was shot to death by gunmen suspected of being drug traffickers in Mexico, federal authorities struck back Thursday with raids across the United States that rounded up more than 450 people believed to have ties to criminal organizations south of the border.

The authorities said sweeps were conducted in nearly every major American city; involved more than 3,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents; and resulted in the seizure of an estimated 300 kilograms of cocaine, 150,000 pounds of marijuana and 190 weapons. Derek Maltz, a special agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the sweeps were part of a multinational investigation that could lead to more arrests and seizures in the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
Two points are worth raising. First, this almost certainly is not a back-breaking move. If these arrests were really capable of slamming Mexican organizations, and Mexican organizations are a longstanding menace, then we would have carried out the raids a week ago. I find it hard to believe that by virtue of our anger and indignation because of the shooting of Zapata, we were able to throw together a truly meaningful operation in the space of less than a week.

Relatedly, as to whether the arrested have much to do with the havoc in Mexico, I am extremely skeptical. "Ties to criminal organizations south of the border" is the vaguest of terms. If you adopt a broad enough definition, then I have ties to the Zetas. Of course, in any practical sense, I do not, which is what I suspect is the case for the overwhelming majority of those swept up. The authorities haven't released names or statistics regarding nationalities, but I'm willing to bet that most of them are American criminals whose criminality is not the product of the Zetas or any other group in Mexico. This passage from the AP report in December is worth repeating:
The Justice Department claimed that Xcellerator arrested "hundreds of alleged Sinaloa cartel members and associates," but the outcomes of individual criminal cases suggest otherwise.

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

When asked about the Sinaloa cartel, Rich said, "Sina-who? I don't know anything about them guys." He's serving 15 years in federal prison in Atlanta for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

The arrests included a suburban Los Angeles software engineer and charter pilot accused of helping the cartel transport drugs. But he was acquitted after he persuaded a jury that he had no idea a passenger aboard his Cessna was carrying 66 pounds of cocaine on a flight from California to Stow, Ohio.

Two Takes on Sarkozy

Ezra Shabot:
The poor level at which the Mexican justice system functions is well known, but in this one, where the lights of the national and international press were present, there was no possible way to alter the facts, beyond the failed television show. The deep links between the Cassez family and President Sarkozy can partially explain the insistence of the French leader, not in the innocence of his countrywomen by in her right to be transferred to France to finish her sentence. It has also been argued that it was a propaganda campaign from Sarkozy based on a demagogic nationalism that obliges the French state to defend it nationals in any part of the world, regardless of what they might have done.

All of these arguments come against the backdrop of French cultural superiority...over what underdeveloped nations like Mexico can seek to explain. It's hard to imagine Sarkozy having confronted a similar situation with one of his partners in the EU, or with the United States. But with African nations, or with Latin America, the problem isn't innocence or guilt of the French citizen, or the incidents along the judicial process, but rather the fact that the only valid justice is that of an oil empire today on the verge of economic and in many senses cultural bankruptcy.
Mauricio Merino:
Of course President Sarkozy has shown an arrogance unworthy of a democratic leader. The shots of verbal aggression and discrimination like those that the Frenchman has launched seem extracted from the first half of the 20th century, when the European powers felt that they were the owners of the rights and destiny of peripheral nations. But I can't ignore that behind his disdain for Mexican justice there is a reasonable doubt about the veracity of the proof and of the process carried out against Florence Cassez. If the police were capable of using her, literally, to carry out a television smokescreen altering the timing, manner, and place of the capture of the criminal band to which she supposedly belonged, how can we demand trust in the objectivity and the impartiality of the rest of the process?
These are two basically opposing opinions, but the striking thing is how much resentment you see of France as thinking itself superior. You don't really see that a whole lot with Mexicans' commentary regarding Europe.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Popularity of Presumed Guilty in Mexico

I'd previously read far more about Presumed Guilty, a documentary about what appears to be a truly heinous miscarriage of justice in the Mexican court system, in the US media. However, Milenio says it has turned into that rarest of things: a documentary enjoying box-office success in Mexico. With the support of Cinépolis, the largest theater chain in the country, in its first weekend, Presumed Guilty earned 6.4 million pesos. This is only $500,000 or so, but it's already halfway to being the most successful documentary in Mexican history.

More on the Arrests of Zapata's Killers

The army presented nine alleged members of the Zetas, who evidently confessed to shooting up the car in which Jaime Zapata was killed. According to them, the attack on the Americans was not because of their nationality, but rather a case of confusion, as they were driving a car that looked like that of a rival band. That does make sense: big SUVs with polarized windows are a popular car for drug gangs in Mexico.

Off to DC

Obama and Calderón are to meet in Washington next week. Calderón will meet with some congressmen the day before he sits down with Obama, but, after last year's feather-ruffling, he has not been invited to address the Congress once again, which is probably just as well for both sides.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

That Was Quick

Earlier today, the Mexican army announced the capture in San Luis Potosí of one of the alleged shooters who killed ICE agent Jaime Zapata.

Chávez Chávez Heading for the Door

Bajo Reserva says that the attorney general is on his way out of Calderón's cabinet, as Diego Fernández de Cevallos loses influence in the Calderón administration (Chávez Chávez was said to be close to Jefe Diego). They also floated Miguel Ángel Yunis, fresh off a heated losing campaign for governor in Veracruz, as a possible replacement, but said that the PRI would likely object.

The Lessons Holder Takes from Zapata's Death

Speaking at the funeral of slain ICE agent Jaime Zapata, Eric Holder said:
"We will win this struggle," Holder vowed. "This is my pledge to you."
"He was working to help our neighbors and allies in Mexico," Holder said. "We must, and we will, eradicate the scourge that claimed his life."
Of course, as Holder must know, there will be no eradication, neither of organized crime nor of drugs. It was surely an emotional moment, and words in a eulogy shouldn't be confused with government policy, yet the spirit expressed above is pretty common when US officials address the drug trade. And it reflects zero understanding of the reality of the past 30 years.

No Smooching in Juárez

Mexico's ubiquitous saludos de beso, the kisses on the cheek when saying hi to someone (unless it's two men doing the hi-saying), have been banned in the Juárez city government of Héctor Murguía. This is the second time Murguía has held the post, and the second time he has imposed the rule. The reason is to foster "an environment of respect". Maybe there's a good specific reason for it (i.e. the chief of staff is vital to the city's operation, but the weirdo can't stop slipping tongue to his female coworkers), but this strikes me as an odd contravention of Mexico's prevailing social norms. It's also possible that Juárez takes after the US with regard to the kissing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Holding Up Police Improvements

The National Security Agreement, which was signed in late 2008 following a wave of popular anguish over the Fernando Martí murder and general discontent over the rising levels of insecurity, called for increased vetting and training of state police. A new report shows that this plainly has not happened, with just 8 percent of the state cops being vetted, and only 11 percent receiving any sort of training. This failure to carry out even the best designed reforms (which this was not) is a persistent problem in Mexico. Here's another example with regard to the judicial reform. In this case, unlike the judicial reform snags, it's not a budgetary problem, as the states spend only two-thirds of their security allotments from the federal government. It seems to be more a lack of capacity at the state level, which is a much trickier barrier to overcome.

On the Operational Variation among Different Gangs and the Use of "Insurgency"

From Jorge Fernández Menéndez, written a couple of weeks ago but still relevant:
The Mexican cartels aren't a narcoinsurgency, they aren't seeking power: of course they se the spaces of power the want to have, because they need to, sufficient territorial control so as to be able to operate and, some of them, particularly the Zetas because of their origin and formation, tend to use extreme violence and terrorist methods to achieve that goal, which can make them seem, in a hyper-ideological vision that certain groups in the US tend to have, like a narco-insurgency.

In reality, there are two groups that have carried out activities that could be confused with an insurgency: one is the Zetas, which originated at its roots from groups trained militarily in counterinsurgency and that, therefore, applies the methods learned from the groups that the were supposed to combat: they are the ones who have detonated car-bombs, those who began the narco-posters and narco-videos. They are the ones that openly mixed activities of drug-trafficking with others that directly strike against the population such as kidnapping, extortion, and immigrant trafficking.

The other organization with these characteristics, perhaps the only one with an ideological veneer, is La Familia. Its leaders are from Tierra Caliente where for decades groups dedicated to growing marijuana and opium have had relations with distinct armed groups. Some of them were rural teachers, such as Servando Gómez, La Tuta, and all have worked with a religious rhetoric that gives their activities a different appearance.
I agree with most of this, but it should be pointed that groups aside from the Zetas and La Familia have used terrorist tactics and car bombs.

Cordero on the (Not-So-Challenging) Challenges of a Middle-Class Mexican Existence

Comments like this could come back to haunt Ernesto Cordero should he run for president:
[W]ith an income of 6,000 pesos a month there are Mexican families that have a credit for their own house, that have a credit for a car that have the time to send their children to a private school and are paying the tuition.
I don't doubt that it's theoretically possible to do all that with 6,000 pesos per month (roughly $500) in some areas of the country, but it would be very, very hard with a family of four, without eating a diet of exclusively beans and tortillas, to pull that off. But beyond that, it just makes him look callous and out-of-touch: be happy with your 6,000 pesos a month, which is a lot, you bunch of upwardly mobile peasants! The attack ad writes itself: you simply repeat that line, and then say, "Is this the man you want running Mexico?".

Also, it was interesting to see Excélsior include former UNAM boss Juan Ramón de la Fuente in its profiles of the ten top presidential contenders. That seems more like wishful thinking than a plausible outcome.

Blame for the ICE Agent's Death

According to a communiqué sent to The Brownsville Herald from the Gulf Cartel and Carteles Unidos (Sinaloa, La Familia, El Milenio, et cetera), the Zetas were the ones behind the killing of ICE official Jaime Zapata. It doesn't say whether he (along with his partner) was attacked intentionally as a US official, or was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

López Obrador on Ebrard in 2012

The headline:
If Ebrard wins the PRD candidacy I'll step to one side and I'll help him: López Obrador
That would seem a degree of magnitude more concrete (and more willing to consider the possibility of Ebrard's winning) than what we have heard on the subject, not to mention oddly timed considering his announcement yesterday about leaving the party. Yet the actual language leaves a little more wiggle room, and is pretty similar to what we've already heard from him:
At the proper time we will resolve [the issue] according to who is the best positioned. That is the pact we have.
I don't think I will believe that AMLO is actually stepping aside for Ebrard until roughly late June of 2012.

Opinions on the Cassez Case

According to BGC, thanks to Nicolas Sarkozy, Mexicans have united behind Felipe Calderón, with 65 percent supporting his decision to pull out of the Year of Mexico festivities in France, and 85 percent backing his decision to refuse to send Florence Cassez back to her home nation. Mexicans also firmly believe in her guilt, with 70 percent saying she is guilty and only 4 percent believing she is innocent.

AMLO and the PRD: Taking a Break?

Yesterday, owing to consternation over the PAN-PRD alliance in EdoMex that is growing more likely, Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced his temporary and indefinite hiatus from his membership in the PRD. Today, Jesús Zambrano, a federal deputy and one of the leaders of the strongest anti-AMLO wing of the party, rejected the move, saying that he must either resign or put up with the party's decisions in the State of Mexico. Here is Bajo Reserva on the issue:
The determination of leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador to take his distance from the PRD is due to two independent processes: evidence that his party and the PAN are hurriedly constructing an alliance in the State of Mexico, which could leave on the sidelines Alejandro Encinas, the only aspirant who was accepted by the Tabascan. The other factor is the hard data offered by all the polls, which all indicate that the party of the Aztec sun can only be competitive in 2012 if López Obrador and Marcelo Ebrard are on the same ship. Nevertheless, Ebrard has been building his own strength little by little, beyond the shadows of AMLO. The question is what comes now.

Radical Teachers, Part 17,000

This post from Aguachile was infuriating:

That's Sigfrido Olmedo, subdirector of the Technical Secondary School No. 1 in the capital of Oaxaca. He is seen here kicking the Oaxaca secretary of public security, Marco Tulio López Escamilla, while he's already down. López Escamilla had walked over to Olmedo and other demonstrators to try to have a dialogue with them, clearly with little success. Olmedo, the teacher, was recognized by his own students on Facebook.
"I weep for the future" is the pretentious sort of line one delivers toward an irritating upstart, as was the case in its original usage. It's not often someone of middle age inspires the sentiment, but evidently Sigfrido Olmedo isn't your average middle-aged dude.

Change in Philosophy?

The secretary of national defense (Sedena), Guillermo Galván Galván, declared yesterday that the army is determined to be transparent, to be held accountable, and to strengthen respect for human rights.

"Because of the right of the society to be informed, we incorporate ourselves with determination and good spirits to the culture and obligation of transparency. With an unprecedented opening, where only the character of our affairs limits us and prudence guides us", he said during the Day of the Army, carried out in Tamaulipas.

With President Felipe Calderón and Francisco Saynez, secretary of the navy, Galván added that respect for the individual guarantees of the population is the key for the society to continue trusting the army.

The general said that the role of Sedena in the strategy against crime is to seek peace: "The armed forces will collaborate in the restoration of social tranquility".
This follows other recent attempts to bring the military close to the population at large, which makes all of this seem like a concerted push by the army to clean up its image. It's easy to be cynical, what with the change from persistent denials that there was a problem in the army's conduct, and time will tell if this is a genuine change or just a passing phase. While acknowledging the possibility of the latter, I think this is good news, for a couple of reasons. Taking some of the mystique out of the army is a positive step that is long-overdue; Calderón announced his initial deployment in Michoacán more than four years ago, there have been tens of thousands of troops on the streets for basically the duration of his presidency, and no end to their deployment is in sight. Regarding human rights violations, an army showing concern for its image will ultimately be more professional and less abusive than an army that couldn't care less about its reputation. However, the impact will be severely limited if it is not accompanied by real changes in the way the military conducts investigations into abuse, which goes back to whether this is just a cynical ploy or reflective of a deeper shift in attitudes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On Mexico's Latest Troop Deployment

From Boz's Tumblr:
Calderon did not say when the troops would be moved into the region, how long they would stay or what their exact role would be.
— In one sentence, CNN describes a major problem with Mexican President Calderon’s actions. He orders sending more troops without considering the strategy or the details. President to send more troops to northeastern Mexico (CNN)
I couldn't agree more. Referring to Calderón's "strategy" is almost a contradiction in terms.

Ackerman on the American Shootings

John Ackerman has a piece on the shootings in San Luis Potosí in The Guardian:
The central problem with the military strategy is that it does not distinguish between violent and non-violent criminals, or serious and less harmful crimes. As Kerlikowske has pointed out, the Mexican cartels are not "insurgents" or "terrorists", but "multivalent criminal organisations", which have diversified into a wide variety of activities including kidnapping, extortion, piracy, human trafficking, money-laundering and government corruption, as well as the transportation and sale of illegal drugs.

Of all of these crimes, by far the least harmful for social and economic development is the transportation of drugs. Although drug consumption is clearly damaging, simply transporting illegal substances does not, in itself, create violence, economic crisis or human suffering. And even the harm of drug consumption pales in comparison to the effects of kidnappings, beheadings and human trafficking, especially when the consumption involves marijuana, sales of which make up two thirds of the profits of the Mexican cartels.
I agree with a lot of this. I'm not sure if the central problem of Calderón's policies is the failure to set priorities and distinguish between different crimes, but it certainly strikes me as an important one, and something that really is not remarked upon often enough. The one part I'd quibble with this the last sentence, about marijuana accounting for two-thirds of gangs' profits. I've referred to the same stat a number of times, but Rand's recent analysis of the figure and subsequent estimate that weed accounts for at most a quarter of gangs' profits seems more credible.

I also loved the follow-up article from Excélsior, which attributes his piece to The Guardian's editorial line, without ever mentioning Ackerman or the fact that the author is a longtime commentator in Mexico.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gladwell's Comparisons

Malcolm Gladwell has taken an unfortunate turn in his recent writing toward long-winded and only superficially appropriate analogies: there was the juxtaposition of figuring out what makes a good teacher and the difficulties in drafting a QB; there was the ludicrous comparison of football to dog-fighting, which served only to obscure the important health issue he was addressing; and now, in his latest piece for The New Yorker, we have the comparison between rankings in the suicide rate in different nations (which can be altered by different cultural views toward suicide and different practices by the coroner's office) and rankings of different universities.

This latest comparison went on and on, yet Gladwell totally ignored the basic difference between the two: suicide, while sometimes hard to pin down, is, or at least can be, an objective act. Some people do mean to kill themselves. Quality in education, however, is inherently subjective. That is a significant difference, though it wouldn't have mattered so much if Gladwell hadn't spent hundreds of words on the analogy, and used it as the leaping-off point for everything that follows.

Indeed, all of these comparisons might merit a line in passing, along the lines of, "Much as scouts struggle to pinpoint the source of a QB's greatness, school boards have a hard time identifying great teachers ahead of time." However, he spends hundreds upon hundreds of words lost on the far side of the analogy, which is ostensibly not the focus of the article and is only included to better illustrate the topic at hand: challenges in teacher selection, brain injuries in football, and the arbitrariness of college rankings, respecitively. He dwells on the comparisons, all of which are very easy to understand without any deep explanation, with such insistence that you begin to question his common sense and basic judgment, which, needless to say, is not something an author shoots for from a reader.

Friday, February 18, 2011

More PR from the Army

I mentioned a while ago how the military seems to taking small steps in connecting with the public at large, and I've mentioned a number of times how the idea of a heroic government official is so absent in modern Mexico. This video from the army helps address both of those issues.

Panistas Laying the Groundwork

Excélsior reports on the names of the panistas setting up support networks in Mexico City ahead of a possible presidential run: Alonso Lujambio, Heriberto Félix, Santiago Creel, Josefina Vázquez, Juan Manuel Oliva, and Emilio González. The one name that is most conspicuous by its absence is Ernesto Cordero, the finance minister that many have assumed was Calderón's favorite, although he has said time and again that he's not going to run.

And one name that is conspicuous in its presence: Emilio González, the Jalisco governor with a taste for drunken rants, and a distaste for homosexuals particularly and social liberalism generally. It would be hard to come up with a less appealing candidate for the PAN.

Sarkozy, Cassez, and Mexico

The Sarkozy-Mexico dust-up over convicted kidnapper Florence Cassez is truly bizarre. It maybe makes some sense for Sarkozy to risk the health of a relatively unimportant bilateral relationship over a single person if she was demonstrably innocent, but I've not seen any evidence that she is. As a deputy in Sarkozy's own party said, "She's not innocent just because she's French." If you accept her guilt, or even if you aren't 100 percent convinced of her innocence, then his public posturing on the issue, which has been going on for years now, really is hard to explain rationally.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Explaining Mexico City's Violence

In the wake of a weekend massacre in Nezahualcóyotl, the head of the semi-official Mexico City human rights commission has asked authorities to clarify whether cartels are operating in the capital or not. This comes in response to comments from the head prosecutor in Mexico City:
No, what we have is what we have already said, which is what has to do with narcomenudeo [retail drug selling]. I repeat once more, narcomenudeo is not considered organized crime...
This is a bit of a false distinction, and one that demonstrates the obfuscatory nature of the word "cartel". Whether or not cartels, according to whatever your definition is, are operating in Mexico City isn't really the issue, but rather whether the worst symptoms of organized crime --massacres, corruption, extortion, et cetera-- are present. Such symptoms seem to be on the rise in Mexico City, and saying that they don't constitute organized crime and they aren't cartels seems like a dodge. Whether the groups behind the recent crimes are funding their existence via small-time drug sales or big shipments, and whether they are officially part of La Familia or Los Zetas or whether they just get their drugs from such groups, is of secondary importance. Similarly, the exclusion of narcomenudeo from organized crime seems totally arbitrary.

Also, if he is admitting that there is a problem with narcomenudeo, doesn't there necessarily have to be some drug trafficking? It's not like all of the drugs in Mexico City are produced locally.

Obvious Idea

It seems obvious to me that the busiest Starbucks should have two lines: one for the people who want food or prepared drinks, and another express line for those of us who just want the standard cup of coffee. Just like the express toll lanes for daily commuters on the highway. Please make this happen, Starbucks.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More on the Murdered ICE Official

American officials are saying the shooting in San Luis Potosí was a random event, not an intentional attack on American officials. Former DEA official Phil Jordan:
I wouldn't suggest that these idiots knew that they were dealing with American agents. If that was the case, it would be suicide for them.
And former American Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza:
Yesterday's murder seems to be the work of low-level members of a cartel that were acting in a robbery or extortion attempt.
Update: And other American officials, who seem to have more firsthand knowledge of the events, are saying the opposite.

Drop in Murders?

Being outside of Mexico, I've not had a chance to follow the running tally of murders connected to organized crime that the papers helpfully post in an appealing graphic on a daily basis. But this blog post* tells us that Mexico reached 1,000 murders on the year on February 14. Irony aside, that would put Mexico on pace for just a bit over 8,000 murders this year, which is to say, far less than in 2010, and a fair slice down from 2009, too. There's a lot of 2011 left, of course, but that would be fantastic news.

*So Burro Hall may not be quite official, but I'll be damned if he's not trustworthy. Unless he's lying, in which case I'll never believe the media again.

Update: Burro points out that we are basically on the same path that we were in 2010, and that upward revisions by the government at the end of the year have turned the media tallies into underestimates. Both good points.

Responding to Fox?

For whatever reason, I am on a press list for the Venezuelan Embassy to the US, and I got this press release in my email in-box today:
Ship with More than Two Tons of Cocaine Intercepted

In a joint operation between Venezuelan and French authorities, a ship carrying more than two-and-a-half tons of cocaine was intercepted, announced the Minister of People's Power for Interior and Justice, Tareck El Aisami.

EL Aisami said the boat sailed from Colombia and that during the procedure seven foreigners were captured..

Throughout 2010, Venezuelan security agencies seized more than 63 tons of illegal drugs.

The president of the National Anti-Drug Office (ONA), Nestor Reverol, recently reported that more than 54 tons of drugs seized were from international traffickers and the rest were to be distributed and marketed within Venezuela.
This, of course, comes just after Vicente Fox accused Chávez of facilitating drug trafficking in Venezuela. Take that, Chente! That could be a new tactic to encourage participation from foreign governments on drug trafficking: send Fox out to accuse them of not doing so.


In honor of Ronaldo's retirement and Barça's match with Arsenal here in a couple of hours, here is the Phenomenon with Los Culés.

Aristegui's Back

The recently deposed radio host has been rehired by the company that fired her. Baseless speculation on what really happened: Los Pinos complained to MVS about her comments regarding Calderón, but without explicitly asking for her to be fired. MVS misinterpreted this steam-blowing as a message to can her, and they obliged; Los Pinos wanted nothing to do with the fallout, and sent signals for her to be rehired. Which would mean that the genuine meddling in the company's affairs occurred only at the end of the episode.

The Unfortunate Requirements of Newspaper Writing

The LA Times has a fun and relatively comprehensive (given the space limitations) rundown of the slang in Mexico, from guey to no manches. Of course, being a newspaper piece, competing takes on the issue had to be squeezed in, hence the following:
Some Mexicans worry about a proliferating usage of slang terms once considered too coarse for common use. They blame the looser talk on television and radio, as well as social changes that have given Mexican women equal access to colloquialisms, even raunchy ones.

"A narco, a rube and a yuppie all speak alike," said commentator Guadalupe Loaeza, who said she has been shocked by the crude words that sometimes pepper the e-mail she receives.

"There's a laxity of language that I would say is almost offensive," Loaeza said. "We've gone too far to the other side."
This story is basically a written form of a conversation between a foreigner who knows Mexico really well and is consciously attuned to the idiosyncrasies of certain phrases in a way that only a foreigner usually can be (because a native just learns them organically, without stopping to think, Wow, that's weird, why do I call my best friend "motherfucker"?), and a new arrival. It's an enjoyable conversation for both sides, and a fun topic to read about if you have an interest in a country. But at no point do I ask myself during that conversation, Hmmm, are there scolds who dislike all this?

And, as always, the definitive online source for Mexican slang is Effective Swearing in DF.

American Official Killed in San Luis Potosí

A US Customs official was killed in San Luis Potosí at a road block presumably set up by members of organized crime, while a colleague was wounded. The two men were driving from Mexico City to Monterrey. The New York Times wrote about "the escalating risk for American officials fighting Mexican crime gangs that move drugs and migrants into the United States" in the opening sentence, which seems quite a bit premature. As the story mentions, he's the first Customs official ever to be killed in Mexico, and the most recent comparable case was Enrique Camarena a generation ago. Hopefully, and most likely, this is just a one-off incident.

Update: More here from Joshua Frens-String. Two big questions at this point are whether the shooters knew they were shooting at Americans (some American officials have been quoted as saying, Yes, they definitely did, but without offering much supporting info); and whether we are going to make the responsible shooters' patrons (probably the Zetas or the Gulf kingpins) targets in the way that we pressured Mexico to go after the 1980s capos connected to the Camarena killing. In that regard, this quote from Janet Napolitano is open to interpretation:
Let me be clear: any act of violence against our ICE personnel…is an attack against all those who serve our nation and put their lives at risk for our safety. We remain committed in our broader support for Mexico's efforts to combat violence within its borders.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Focus on the Candidates

Leo Zuckermann says that the primary reason for the PRI's defeats in Guerrero and Baja California Sur was a failure to pick electable candidates:
Guerrero was a state governed by the PRD where the PRI erred in their candidate. Instead of using their best chip, Ángel Aguirre, the priístas went with Manuel Añorve. Neither slow nor lazy, the PRD snapped up Aguirre, with whom they won. At the end of the contest, the PAN jumped on to the alliance with the left, adding a few votes for Aguirre. In this way, the PAN and the PRD once more applied the TUPRI formula, which is, Todos Unidos Contra el PRI [everyone united against the PRI].

In Baja California Sur, the PRD governed. The governor, Narciso Agúndez, made a show of sending Luis Armando Díaz as the candidate of his party to succeed him when his best card was Marcos Covarrubias. Neither slow nor lazy, the PAN snapped up Covarrubias and they won. There was no alliance here. The PAN simply took the governorship of the state from the PRD with a candidate that before the election was a perredista. There was no need to apply the TUPRI formula to defeat the PRI.

All of which leads us to insist that the local elections are local and must be viewed through local factors. You don't need to mix the local and the national.
It's a good point, though perhaps a bit of an oversimplification. In any event, he says that the drive to pick the most electable should lead Peña Nieto to throw his support behind Ecatepec Mayor Eruviel Ávila this summer.

Attacks on Civilians in Tamaulipas

An attack on a bus full of civilians was part of a bloody night that left 18 dead in Padilla, Tamaulipas. For some reason, terrorist attacks with guns in Mexico get much less attention than any sort of attack with bombs (see the virtually ignored shootings at El Ferrie and Juanas in Torreón last year for more examples of this phenomenon), but, assuming it wasn't a case of mistaken identity, this would seem to be a terrorist act by any reasonable definition. No word on which group was behind it, but this is in the region being contested by the Zetas and the Gulf.

Less Mérida Money

El Universal reports that the amount of money allocated for Mérida Initiative spending in FY 2012 totals $282 million, or just over half of what was laid out (though not spent, at least not yet) in 2010.

This is certainly not a sign of redoubled interest in Mexico from the Obama administration, but as I've said before, money isn't the best measure of how much the US is doing to help Mexico. More important than the dollar amount are the programs being funded, and if it's targeted correctly (i.e. fewer helicopters), this doesn't necessarily have to be a correspondingly steep decline in the positive US impact in Mexico.

Monday, February 14, 2011

2012 Polling

Buendía y Laredo has some new polling on the 2012 presidential race. It places Enrique Peña Nieto above the pack with 52 percent support, compared to 32 for Ebrard and 21 for Santiago Creel. (I'm not sure if the Ebrard score is a typo or a product of a funky way of tallying support, such as an average of different candidate combinations. However, elsewhere they say that Ebrard's support swings between 17 and 24 percent.) The poll also reports that 44 percent of those surveyed said that their vote will depend on a candidate, compared to 43 percent who always vote for one of the three major parties. In other words, a big swing vote. That could spell bad news for the PRI if Peña Nieto somehow loses the nomination, as his likely replacements (Beatriz Paredes and Manlio Fabio Beltrones) were only at around 30 percent. The generic party preferences are also interesting in this regard; at 33 percent, the PRI is 8 points beneath its recent ByL high in September of 2009.

In other news, I'm preparing my reaction for when Peña Nieto's lead inevitably shrinks: [Frenzied epiphany: you mean favorable opinion polls two years before an election don't guarantee victory?!?!?!]

Rejecting Napolitano's Hypothesis

UN drug trafficking expert Antonio Mazzitelli pushes back against the suggestions from Janet Napolitano that the Zetas and terrorist groups could be working together:
[T]here is no information that permits us to say that there is something of this type. There has been talk in other areas about possible links between organizations that operate in the Middle East like Hamas and Hezbollah, and we are talking about financing, but directly relating to the Mexican context there's nothing.
On the one hand, such collaboration is not impossible, and you can understand the authorities' desire not to get caught with their pants down. However, there's a limited amount of resources available, and self-interest would argue against the Zetas or other drug gangs having any meaningful operational nexus with Middle Eastern terrorist groups, so this shouldn't occupy too much attention from the government without further evidence. In any event, rather than seeing Chapo break bread with a terrorist, I actually think we would be more likely right now to see one of the small-time gangs Mexican gangs we've never heard of cooperate with a Middle Eastern group.

Peña Nieto on His Wife

Here's Peña Nieto's recent interview with Jorge Ramos. The portion that deals with his late wife and the allegations regarding her death is striking in that Peña Nieto's reaction is so stiff. I can only imagine that's the product of having had to deal the same painful issue some 10 million times. Either that, or he's made of metal and wires and diodes and such.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guadalajara Worsens

A grenade attack on a bar in Guadalajara, Mexico's second city, killed six people and wounded 37 yesterday. In response, mayors in the metro area announced the creation of a specialized police unit. It's hard to imagine that this will be the key to stemming the rising crime rates in the area, but good on the mayors for at least trying to take things into their own hands, instead of merely lamenting the lack of support from the feds and the state government.

Who Worries Encinas in EdoMex?

Alejandro Encinas intimated that of all the possible candidates for governor in Mexico State, the only one who could defeat him is Alfredo del Mazo Maza, who is also the second cousin (I think) of Enrique Peña Nieto. Encinas also said that opinion polls have him (Encinas, I mean) showing 40 percent support.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Random Look Back on the Exploits of Nigel de Jong

I'm not sure what prompted it, but I went back to look at the Nigel de Jong jump-kick on Xabi Alonso to see if it was really as bad as I remembered it, or if it had merely grown worse in the mind's eye and at the time we all made a big deal out of a relatively minor offense. Turns out, it was the former. That was like a Mortal Kombat move. Outside of a half dozen hockey plays and this woman's rampage, I cannot remember ever seeing a dirtier play on the field.

Payback for Carmen

Supporters of Carmen Aristegui hacked the website of the company that fired her:
Titled Operation Tequila, the action lasted more than an hour, during which access to the homepage of MVS Communications wasn't possible.
Having a group like that behind you has to be helpful the next time she's negotiating a new contract.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ortega Speaks

There is lots of interesting stuff of this Jesús Ortega interview first mentioned by Aguachile. This portion was especially striking:
Did you manage to put order in the different streams of opinion in the PRD?
No, but we laid down conditions and rules so to create streams of opinion.

Was the left blurred?
No, it's more that we are letting go of that orthodox vision, for some being blurred is no longer being what we were, but, shouldn't we cease to be what we were? I think we should. In the political wilderness but faithful to doctrines, dogmas if not principals? I ask.

But you are accused of violating certain principles.
What principles, whose of the old left, those of the old revolutionary nationalism, those of the old priísmo? Principals aren't forever. I mean to say that we didn't violate principles of democracy.

Did you put the PRD on the path to leftist modernization?
We contributed to that. The Mexican left is freer and democratic.

Was Obrador the shadow of your presidency?
Well, yes. It's a conservative vision.

He has a conservative vision?
Yes, in many aspects he has a conservative vision.

For example?
He has a conservative vision in the idea of democracy. When he says that Yeidckol [Polevnsky] will be the candidate, is that a democratic or a conservative vision? It seems conservative to me when someone decides who will be the candidate beyond the margins of the opinion of the population or the party. When he uses citizen referendums in some cases and in others he casts them aside, it's inconsistent.
I think his criticism of AMLO is right on, but at the same time the dichotomy of democratic vs. conservative is odd, and a bit worrying, in the sense that it presupposes that conservatives are not democrats.

More Concern from US Officials about Mexico

Following up on Joseph Westphal's misguided worries about insurgency in Mexico, Janet Napolitano expressed concern about an Al Qaeda-Zetas nexus in an appearance before Congress, and National Intelligence Director James Clapper said that the threat presented by Mexican organized crime had recently been elevated to the maximum level possible within the government. Each of these stories earned front page coverage from at least one of the major Mexico City dailies.

In related news, Greg has a very neat, concise rebuttal to the idea that Mexico's troubles constitute an insurgency:
An insurgency is an illegal armed group seeking to overthrow a government. That is not happening in Mexico because the drug trafficking organizations do not want to overthrow the government, but rather simply to absorb themselves into it. Much of that effort has nothing to do with armed insurrection, and instead involves well placed bribery, recruitment of political candidates and other such strategies.
It's not just a matter of semantics. If you call this an insurgency, then you click into place a variety of counterinsurgency measures that in the Mexican case will not work.
I'll have a more on this last point next week, I think. Some of the tactics called for in COIN actually would be of benefit in Mexico, but that's more because COIN has a lot in common with police work, not because Mexico is suffering through an insurgency and needs to radically shift its efforts toward a COIN strategy.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

More on the Zetas in Guatemala

I wondered a while back about how closely linked the Zetas in Mexico and those in Guatemala are; today's article in the Post has an answer: quite close indeed.
U.S. law enforcement agents say Turcios and other alleged local drug bosses, including Walter Overdick, known as "El Tigre," may have brought the Zetas into the country as partners or protectors but were quickly muscled aside:
"They invited the Zetas to the party, and the Zetas decided to take over," said a senior U.S. law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his work in the region and security policies.
Then again, a couple of paragraphs later, the authors report:
None of the 21 suspects taken into custody since December in Coban is a Mexican national, and authorities said the Zetas commanders have probably slipped back into Mexico or relocated to more lawless parts of Guatemala.
The second fact doesn't necessarily negate the first, and the explanation offered isn't implausible, but the absence of Mexicans certainly should call the easy explanations for Tamaulipas taking over Guatemala into question a bit.

Also, this line jumped out at me:
And the boss of all bosses, the billionaire Sinaloa drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" ("Shorty") Guzman, was seized in Guatemala in 1999, only to escape in a laundry basket from a Mexican prison two years later.
The clause at the end indicates that it wasn't just a slip of the finger, but rather a significant gap in knowledge, as Chapo's arrest came in 1993, and was a famous episode even at the time, what with his connection to Cardinal Posadas' murder. Post correspondents: read this book.

One Little Disclosure ahead of the Election

Seemingly out of nowhere, Enrique Peña Nieto released the investigation into his first wife's death to Jorge Ramos. I've not read it, but according to news reports, Mónica Pretelini died of heart failure following a convulsive episode.

This doesn't differ much at all from the previously public version. Hopefully this will nip some of the inevitable unseemly speculation during the election season about a cover-up in the bud, but I doubt it's enough to convince most of the conspiracy theorists out there.

Reacting to the Elections

Excélsior reports that the PRD and the PRI are busy reexamining their electoral strategies after the failure in Baja California Sur (and in the PRI's case, Guerrero as well). My first reaction is that this would seem to be a bit of an overreaction to a very small sample size.

Members of the PRD are also saying it's time for Ortega to go. In the PRD's case, this is pretty silly, given that less than two weeks ago they scored a pretty significant win with Ángel Aguirre in Guerrero. However, whatever the circumstance, there are always going to be members of the PRD whose reaction is that it's time for Ortega to go, so we need not take that too seriously.

But maybe it actually makes sense for the PRI. Their biggest enemy at this point seems to be the expectation that they can keep winning elections by virtue of not being the PRD or PAN, which are very dysfunctional and/or saddled with incumbency in a very difficult context. If the reexamination means that the PRI will actually look to proactively win elections via specific proposals and a coherent ideological platform, well that's probably good news for everyone, even if it doesn't necessarily mean that the run of electoral success from 2007-2010 will be continued.

Back to Mexico

Zhenli Ye Gon, the naturalized Mexican citizen whose DF mansion was discovered to be hiding more than $200 million of presumably illicit cash in 2007, is heading back to Mexico, his extradition from the US now approved.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New Piece on the Shuffling among Mexico's Drug Gangs

Written by me, you can find it here.

Stumbling over Security in Mexico

Joseph Westphal, undersecretary of the army, had the following comments at a recent appearance in Salt Lake City:
“As all of you know, there is a form of insurgency in Mexico with the drug cartels that’s right on our border.”

“This isn’t just about drugs and about illegal immigrants,” he said. “This is about, potentially, a takeover of a government by individuals who are corrupt.”
This rightly provoked accusations of alarmism, which led to furious backtracking from Westphal:
[I'm sorry if my] imprecise statements have caused some sort of worry among our friends and partners in the region, especially Mexico. [Note: translation of a translation]
My comments don't reflect the position of my government.
All of this has occurred to the delight of the local papers, some of whom found room for him on their front page. Can you imagine a fourth-tier foreign official's comments on the US ever hitting the front page of the LA Times?

More Narco-Planes

Authorities have announced that the number of small landing strips used by drug traffickers has spiked in the past four years by more than 700 percent, compared to the annual average from 1988 through 2004. I've not seen a great deal about Mexicans moving drugs through the skies in the past couple of years, certainly not as much as what was written about El Señor de los Cielos, Amado Carrillo, yet this suggests that planes are an increasingly important tactic.

Questions abound: Is this a response to more troops on the ground and capos being hemmed into specific areas, whereas in the past they were freer to roam the nation? It's noteworthy that one of the municipalities with the highest number of clandestine airstrips was Badiraguato, the hometown of Chapo Guzmán.

Is this more a reflection of drugs being moved from Colombia to Mexico, within Mexico, or are private planes jumping the US border, too?

Is this increase more a product of increased searching by authorities, or increased building?

In any event, this certainly supports the arguments coming from Aguachile that Mexico needs to invest in its air force.

Random aside: when I first arrived in Torreón, I was a semi-serious runner, and I used to hit the road every morning before dawn, because after the sun comes up drinking beer is the only viable outdoor activity in the North of Mexico. I always used to see small planes at that hour, seemingly about halfway through their approach, as though they were heading to an airport 50 miles away. I lived about ten minutes from Torreón's airport, so when planes would come in to land, they would be right on top of me. These planes were clearly heading somewhere just a bit over the horizon, but the nearest big city in that direction was Durango, which was a couple hundred miles from La Laguna. When I asked about the planes, people would say, "Son los narcos", or words to that effect. Although one person suggested that it was Bush and the CIA.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Less Approving, Still Hopeful

Felipe Calderón's approval rating in the latest poll from Buendía y Laredo stands at 52 percent, his lowest point in the past two years. Somewhat paradoxically, 53 percent feel optimistic about the final two years of this administration, with only 37 percent expressing pessimism about Calderón's stretch run. The optimism expressed here is of a piece with other recent polling data.

Civilian-Military Interaction

Over the weekend, El Universal ran a note about a recent military event at a facility near Mexico City called, "The great force of Mexico". The gist seems to be that civilians could get a closer look at what the military does, and kids could play with a whole bunch of cool crap.

The Mexican military's isolation from the population at large, and especially the middle and upper classes, is striking to someone who grew up in the US. (Or, at the very least, it is to someone who grew up outside Washington.) That isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world, given the military's traditionally narrow mandate in Mexico, but as long as the armed forces are going to be out among the people performing domestic security tasks, the military should try to close the gap between themselves and the general population. Of course, a big part of any image-enhancing effort should be an end to the periodic shootings of civilians, and the swift and open investigation of such events when they do occur. Without that, the PR impact of friendly events on military bases is going to be limited.

Popular Figures

The growing exhaustion with insecurity in Mexico seems to be resulting in the inordinate popularity of normal civilians who stand up to the goons, despite the inevitable consequences. One of these was Don Alejo Garza, whom I mentioned last year. A more recent example is Arturo de la Garza, the son of a former Nuevo León governor who was kidnapped last month. When his kidnappers tried to make contact with his family, he yelled over the phone, "Don't give anything to those sons of bitches". Unfortunately, each man wound up dead; De la Garza's admonition was the last anyone heard from him. What's also striking to me is that that when the public is searching for a figure on whom to project heroic fantasies, government officials never enter the equation.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Three American Teens Killed in Juárez

A 15-, 16-, and 17-year-old, all American, were killed while checking out the options at a car lot in Juárez today.

Aristegui Fired

Carmen Aristegui, a media personality known for a nightly interview show on CNN and a daily radio program, has been fired from the latter gig, evidently for the following comment about the banners that Gerardo Fernández Noroña placed in the Chamber of Deputies accusing Calderón of being a drunk:
Does the president have problems with alcohol or not? The Presidency of the Republic itself really should give a concise, formal answer regarding this. There is nothing offensive when someone, if this were the case, goes through a problem of this sort, alcoholism is a health problem, very well studied, very well known...
And on and on she goes, hitting the same notes. I agree with Aguachile. Her reaction was both bizarre and silly; no president should have to answer all of the baseless personal claims made against him during his time in office. But this is a weird thing to get fired over. It wasn't particularly hostile, nor were insults or bad words used. And it's at least the second time she's had a controversial exit to a radio show; a personal feud with Pedro Ferriz led to her leaving a previous show in 2002.

Then again, you never know what the dynamics are that led to a firing. It may be that she irritated everyone in the office day after day with lots of petty stuff that people have just kept quiet about:
"She demanded that I write a haiku every Friday about her pores", said a former intern.
"Carmen called my mother to complain about the cookies she'd sent me for my birthday, which she'd had stolen from my lunch," said another former coworker. "She thought they were too sweet."

Creepy Story

Gatopardo has a compilation of interviews with female gunmen (gunwomen?) by Alejandro Almazán. It's by turns chilling and irritating, the former for obvious reasons, the latter for the degree to which the people in question seem to revel in their lives. For instance, this exchange:
"Let me ask you one more thing", I say and she accepts in exchange for a cigarette. "Do you hate Ciudad Juárez?"

"No", she responds. "It's my city and I love it."

"Don't take this the wrong way, I'm not a priest or an investigator and I don't want to write a self help book, but then why have you done so much to destroy it with the murders?"

Marta looks ashamed. She takes the cigarette to her mouth and holds the smoke in her lungs as though she were smoking marijuana.

"I hadn't stopped to think about that", she says when she lets the smoke out. "But between tears in my house or tears in theirs, better theirs."

"But a lot of people that have nothing to do with drugs are dying, a lot of innocent people."

"Here there are no innocents. All of the dead have done something."

Winner in Baja

Yesterday's gubernatorial race in Baja California Sur came out in favor of PAN candidate Marco Covarrubias, who is provisionally some 8 points in front of PRI rival Ricardo Barroso. This is the first time the PAN has governed the state, albeit with a former perredista as their candidate. This also marks the second of two races in 2011 in which the PRI has campaigned vigorously yet lost. And now that I think about it, new PRI boss and erstwhile trash-talker Humberto Moreira has been really quiet for the past ten days or so.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

American Chapos?

Richard posted the following commentary from a blog called Chihuahua Resiste the other day:
[A]n unsuspected number of executive authorities, legislators and U.S. federal and state court officers are on the payroll of drug lords.

If nothing is done and nothing is known by anyone from secretaries of state down (Every man for himself), the conclusion is that governors, legislators (senators especially), judges, journalists, police officers of all kinds, the FBI and the DEA and even the infamous and feared Border Patrol — everyone could be deeply involved in the lucrative narcotics trafficking business just as they were with other criminal imports in the prohibition era.


Where are the American drug lords?

Why — in the U.S. — have they not begun to prosecute major drug traffickers?

I know, I know… it’s because neither the consumers nor the authorities nor the narcos or the press want you to know who they are.

Everyone supports this business, and everyone colludes in it.

Better, to blame Mexico for all their woes …
This is a rather overwrought version of an argument you hear a lot in Mexico, and I've never found it particularly convincing. It's hard to refute, what with the difficulties of proving a negative, especially a conspiratorial one based on the doings in a hidden industry. But even if one falls short of absolute proof, the logic here argues against a class of American Chapos protected from view by his pawns in the media and in government.

The only reason that American authorities and journalists, who simply love a new enemy to blow up into an existential threat, wouldn't want us to know about these supposed American Chapos is that they're all in on it, as the author suggests. All the DAs and US attorneys and editors in newsrooms around the country, all of the people with the capacity to disseminate this information and thus make their career doing so, are receiving cash in order to avoid doing so. That, frankly, is absurd, for a plethora of reasons. To take but one: in this scenario, there isn't an honest minority in the American elite who would resist temptation, as there is in even the most corrupt nations' governments? Surely this group would be capable of offering some evidence of American Chapo.

The differences in the respective place occupied by the drug trade in the two nations are much more convincingly, albeit boringly, explained by other factors:

1) There is an asymmetry of attention to drugs in the two nations. People think it's so much worse in Mexico in part because no one outside of shrinking metro desks and Radley Balko pays attention to the government's pursuit of the war on drugs in the US. For instance, did our author above notice this note about 78 people being arrested in Texas on federal drug charges earlier this week? I expect not. Federal drug arrests are utterly commonplace, yet they receive little attention. In Mexico, a similar sweep would have landed on the front page of Milenio, but in the US, it's maybe gets mentioned on the local news website. The same is true, though to a lesser extent, with arrests for corruption.

This fact is a valuable counterpoint to the hysteria regarding Mexico: Lots of people suffer and die in the US because of drugs, too. Anyone who wants to make that point, kudos to you. But to turn widespread ignorance of drug enforcement in the US into an argument that there is an epic web of deceit hiding our eyes from the truth about American Chapo doesn't hold up, to put it mildly.

2) Because Mexico is a trafficking more than a consumer country, large quantities of drugs tend to be more concentrated among a smaller group of people, which lends itself to larger sums of money going to this same group, which gives them an inordinate amount of power. In the US, drug sales and the profits derived from them are smaller and spread among more people, which makes the accumulation of wealth and power comparatively difficult for US criminals.

3) American law enforcement institutions, for all their flaws and misguided zealotry in the war on drugs, are much, much more effective than their Mexican counterparts. Evidence of this is everywhere: mass escapes from Mexican prisons, inability to convict arrestees, inability to arrest suspects, polls and surveys on corruption, the mordida one pays every time they get pulled over, et cetera. As a result, American drug kingpins have to adopt a much more defensive approach to business to survive, and typically do not survive for as long as do Mexican capos.

Friday, February 4, 2011

More Money for Juárez and Chihuahua

José Francisco Blake and César Duarte have crossed party and governmental lines to dump a huge chunk of cash on Chihuahua for security concerns. The roughly $45 million also includes $8 million or so for the creation of an elite police force to operate in Juárez. We'll see if any of this has an appreciable impact (skepticism: warranted), but politically speaking, despite the fact that such moves are a win-win situation, you see very little of these shows of mutual effort from different levels of government.

Chicharito's Response

Man Utd's favorite substitute striker responds to the gang at Top Gear, who at one point in their infamous program said, "Imagine waking up and remembering you're Mexican".

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gerardo Staying Classy

The always entertaining Gerardo Fernández Noroña and his allies posted a banner in the Chamber of Deputies with Calderón's picture, and asking the question to one side:
Would you let a drunk drive your car? No, right? Then why do you let one drive the country?
The resulting chaos (mutual accusations of schizophrenic and pot-smoker, et cetera) caused the suspension of the session. Never a slow day in San Lázaro.

Replacing Ortega

Excélsior reports on three names who are said to be jockeying for the presidency of the PRD (the elections for which will be held in March): Jesús Zambrano, a staunch ally of incumbent Jesús Ortega's and one of the Chuchos' namesakes; the infamous Ricardo Monreal, who suffers the burden of having left the PRD years ago for the PT but compensates for it by being friendly with the pejistas; and Javier González, who is not closely affiliated with either of the two sides.

The last PRD election was a photo finish between Ortega and Alejandro Encinas that lingered for close to a year without resolution as each side lobbed fraud allegations; if it turns into a contest of essentially Monreal versus Zambrano, it'll be interesting to see if either side has increased their support enough to make it a more one-sided affair.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ignoring the Narco-Political Nexus

César Gaviria recently criticized Mexico for its lack of attention to political support for organized crime:
I am absolutely certain that drug traffickers are connected all over the political scene, the same way they did with security officials.


In Colombia they stick governors or congressmen in jail, anyone who has in any way collaborated or accepted money or accepted electoral support, this society has to be conscious that the problem has expanded to every sector in society and not just the police, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them mixed up in the politics in the state of Guerrero, they must be mixed up in politics around the country.
This isn't a particularly new criticism, but it doesn't suffer from widespread repetition. Stories like this one, about the detention of various mayors in Veracruz for playing loose with public money, are relatively common, but a bunch of mayors being arrested for protecting criminals hasn't happened much. Mass arrests of non-elected public officials have also been very rare, outside of Operación Limpieza, which was in fact initiated by an American official. From this standpoint, Calderón's aggressiveness on security has lacked balance: he's had lots troops in the streets shooting at the grunts-level narcos (and increasingly the capos), but very little attention, at least for the past two years, to the networks of protection within government. One wonders whether this has to do with the failure of the michoacanazo and consequent apprehension about opening the government up to another embarrassment, or if it's just a matter of a lack of investigative capacity, or if it's just a matter of convenience and avoiding stepping on toes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's As Though "Capacity to Offend" Were a Resume Requirement

With one scandal of horrible stereotyping among famous English broadcasters safely behind us, the boys at Top Gear double down on another, with women now replaced by Mexicans:

Felipe's man in London, Eduardo Medina Mora (who probably hoped that his exit from the attorney general's post meant an end to public scandals), is angry.

What You Didn't Hear in Guerrero, You Won't Hear in 2012

Alberto Aziz Nassif:
The visibility that these state elections have allow us to see the contradictions and absurdities used by the political class to what benefits their interests. The game that is played with the electoral rituals is called pragmatism, violence, clientelism, anything but perspectives on the development of the state, which has very high indices of poverty and welfare deficiencies in health, education, infrastructure. What is important is to win, the price doesn't matter, neither in Guerrero, nor in the upcoming electoral contests through the presidential succession in 2012.
State elections aren't the best forum for wide-ranging policy discussions, but he's right; the Guerrero coverage was rather devoid of substance, and the 2012 election doesn't promise any great change. The media has a big share of the blame as well; they don't demand much on the policy front, and even when politicians do offer positions, they aren't picked over with any particular zeal.