Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chávez Chávez Out

The attorney general is to leave his post, as has been long rumored. He will be replaced by SIEDO boss Marisela Morales, a move that had also been rumored.

False Premise and Crowbar Award Winner

From the NY Times' new (I think) Mexico correspondent:
Armando Ruiz and Verónica Villafuerte held each other tight, cuddling, caressing, stretched out on a bench in the middle of a busy promenade here. Nearby, just past a couple deep kissing in the grass, a man toyed with the buttons of his paramour’s blouse.

Children played all around. Cars passed. No one cared.

“It’s a little more open now,” Mr. Ruiz said after sitting up. “We can enjoy ourselves.”

In Havana or Rio de Janeiro, well, big deal. But historically this has been a city of formalities, of long-sleeved shirts, not skin-tight skirts. Blushing has generally been the response to overt sexuality, along with a lexicon of double entendres to mask X-rated desires with banal words, like “coger” (which, officially speaking, means to grab).
The trend that this article seeks to highlight does not exist. This isn't as egregiously misleading as the previous post's article, but it is is pretty silly. Unless the president was one of them, I can't imagine two people making out in public causing upset at any point in Mexico City since probably the Revolution. I certainly never noticed the absence of PDAs during my time there five years ago. And as far as coger, it's not because Mexicans are prude, but just because it has developed to mean "to fuck" and no one ever uses it to indicate "grab". It's not a nice way to say something dirty; it's a dirty word that developed from a banal one. That kind of cross-culture, single-language variation is pretty common; we don't assume the English are prudes because "shagging" means something different there than it does on a baseball field. And the albur isn't used to hide sexual references; on the contrary, it's a clever (ideally, anyway) way to squeeze sex into every possible realm of human interaction.

But the most laughable part of the article is this:
Other couples, however, described public affection in more ominous terms. Mexico these days is essentially Jekyll and Hyde: positive economic growth is paired with a sprawling war on drug cartels that has claimed 34,000 lives since 2006.
In the history of hysteria, I defy you to find a more unnecessary, out-of-place reference to the war on drugs.

Much of What Is Wrong in American Conceptions of Mexican Public Security, in One Piece

Via Joshua Frens-String, this piece from Rep. Michael McCaul is a doozy. For starters, the intro:

On Feb. 15, Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila identified themselves in Spanish as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and pleaded for their lives moments after members of a Mexican drug cartel forced their vehicle bearing U.S. diplomatic plates off the highway in Central Mexico. The cartel members responded by firing more than 80 rounds from automatic weapons, killing Zapata and wounding Avila. This event instantly changed the landscape of our nation's involvement in Mexico's bloody war.

For the first time in 25 years, the cartels are targeting American law enforcement.
As far as I know, the story that they were positively identified as American agents by the people blocking the road, then riddled with bullets as a consequence of their being American agents, has not been verified. It was contradicted by the initial arrestees. McCaul later says that he talked to Avila, but perhaps tellingly, he doesn't say that Avila told him this is how it went down, only that the attack was evil. McCaul was also pushing this version within hours of the incident, well before a complete picture was possible, which doesn't speak well of his credibility. To me, the more logical explanation --given that they were driving a big SUV with tinted windows and that diplomatic plates aren't very conspicuous identifiers-- is that the initial shooter squeezed the trigger because of nervousness about who was driving the car, not because he wanted to kill a couple of American agents. If McCaul is incorrect, shame on the Houston Chronicle; they just lied to their readers. But even assuming that McCaul's account is absolutely correct, to say that Mexican gangs are targeting --in the ongoing, continuous action sense of the word-- American law enforcement is also a stretch. One person was killed six weeks ago. Another agent was killed 25 years ago.

Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state controlled by criminals.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!! Idiots in the Congress, idiots in the Congress!! I thought this had been dealt with two years ago, but evidently not. I'll just recycle this comment from December 2008:
I have a hard time believing that the people who ask if Mexico is on its way to being a failed state have spent a lot of time here. Here's the Fund for Peace's brief definition of a failed state, which is based on 12 social, economic, and political factors:
One of the most common is the loss of physical control of its territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Other attributes of state failure include the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services, and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. The 12 indicators cover a wide range of state failure risk elements such as extensive corruption and criminal behavior, inability to collect taxes or otherwise draw on citizen support, large-scale involuntary dislocation of the population, sharp economic decline, group-based inequality, institutionalized persecution or discrimination, severe demographic pressures, brain drain, and environmental decay.
Mexico has a crime problem that manifests itself in state dysfunction, but it does not have a general state-legitimacy problem. There is no erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, no inability to interact with the international community, nor is their any sharp economic decline because of the state's failure to exercise authority. There's no large-scale involuntary dislocation, no severe demographic pressure, nor is there institutionalized discrimination of Mexicans as a result of the war on drugs. And even if you latch onto the few areas where the comparison between Mexico and Afghanistan (or Haiti or the Congo) isn't laughable, it doesn't really offer you any insight into either nation. So please, journalists in the American media, cut it out. It's cheap, it's lazy, and it's untrue.
Still basically holds today. There is more dislocation of people, though I don't think what we see today qualifies as "large-scale involuntary dislocation". Finally, the Congressman's proposal:
I believe we should explore a joint military and intelligence operation with Mexico, similar to the 1999 Plan Colombia. This plan aimed to destroy that country's cocaine trade, eradicate its cartels and restore its economic and national security, and we certainly saw results.


It is time for the United States to show serious commitment to this war on our doorstep. Without attacking the cartels at their roots, our borders will continue to be an expensive Band-Aid on a wound that will not heal.

As far as Colombia, there were improvements (though more than anything with regard to the threat from the FARC, a group that has absolutely no corollary in Mexico), but it remains the world's foremost cocaine producer and it is far more violent than Mexico. Not exactly the success he makes it out to be.

Lastly, McCaul, in his effort to explain how to attack "the cartels at their roots", never once mentions corruption, institutional improvement, or rule of law. That's akin to explaining football without mentioning blocking, tackling, or the pigskin. Like many American commentators, he is constitutionally incapable of envisioning a solution that does not rely on heavy US involvement, which is unfortunate, because without Mexicans pursuing the necessary reforms of their own volition, US aid is going to be wasted. People who don't recognize this are either not genuinely interested in a safer Mexico, or they haven't thought very deeply about the problem.

Update: I should add that a significant portion of the piece calls for Mexican gangs to be added to the State Department's terrorist list. Boz has more here. I lean toward thinking that's not a great idea, but I don't have terribly strong feelings one way or the other. More than anything, however, I just don't think it really gets at the problem.

Dirtbag Sentenced to Prison; Non-Dirtbags Celebrate

Child pornographer Jean Succar Kuri, who was linked to former Puebla Governor Mario Marín in one of the most distasteful episodes of official corruption in one of the most distastefully corrupt administrations in modern Mexico, has been sentenced to 13 years in prison in Quintana Roo. Somehow, the story linked above from Excélsior manages to avoid mentioning Marín, something I wouldn't have thought physically possible, but the author proved me wrong. Also, I know his case was a complicated one, but Succar Kuri has been in a Mexican prison since 2006; why is just getting sentenced now?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Failings of Conventional Wisdom

Another interesting bit from the most recent Jorge Zepeda Patterson column:
In the first version of this article, Saturday morning, I wrote that eveything indicated that Alfredo del Mazo would be the candidate of the government of Mexico State. It's not that any bird (or Gaviota) had told me so, or that I had intercepted an email from Peña Nieto's own desktop. I simply responded to the echo of a dozen or so political columns that had taken for grantd that Mazo would be the PRI's horse. Before finishing my article the mayor of Huixquilucan had stepped aside for Eruviel Ávila, surprising everyone. What happened?

Normally the punditocracy has a good batting average. The newspapermen and columnists tend to anticipate changes in the cabinet or the sort of projects that are cooked up behind the scenes. But the mistake with Del Mazo reveals one of the weaknesses of a system based on leaks, true or not. The leak is not an opinion that you can rebut, it's not a piece of info that you can verify or debunk easily. It's a prophetic revelation that upon circling enough becomes assumed as truth. The best demonstration of this power was the decision to anticipate the unveiling of Eruviel Ávila on Saturday, before the rumor in favor of Alfredo del Mazo elevated the cost of the political fracture that all defeats entail.

There was a revolutionary general who used to say in that the symphony of barking that rattled around the night, only the first dog knew why he had barked, all the rest were simply his echo chamber. Something similar occurs with the punditocracy. One analyst declares the Del Mazo is "the one", another repeats it and 24 hours later it has become truth.
I have nothing to add, but interesting to see a veteran journalist acknowledge that.

Notes on Moreira

The PRI president says that the PAN-PRD referendum was an error, because they just showed fear and weakness. I love it when opposition politicians put themselves in the guise of the seasoned colleagues offering earnest advice. That could not be more transparent. It'd be like a basketball coach full of three-point bombers saying to his counterpart, You should really go with the zone, and sink it way back so we can't get to the rim. That's definitely what I'd do if I had your team.

I also enjoyed Jesús Zambrano's comparison of his intra-party adversary Dolores Padierna to Moreira. Given the context, he probably just meant that her anti-alliance position helps and mimics Moreira's PRI, but I hold out hope that his name is soon to become synonymous with "political hack".

No One Cares about Drug Trafficking in the US

The contrast of the pessimism and obsessiveness of media coverage of drug trafficking in Mexico with the relative ignorance of the same in the US is striking. Especially with regard to American media--the Mexican outlets often seem to do a better job scanning the news wires for drug arrests in the States, which makes the bilateral balance a little more even. The greater attention to Mexico is justified in part by the fact that drug traffickers are more threatening there, but much of it just seems to be the fickleness of media narratives. Case in point: earlier this week, the DEA indicted 11 people in Arizona for trafficking heroin and meth in from Mexico. Not the biggest operation in the world, but enough to land on the homepage of Excélsior for a spell, which is probably about the level of attention it would have received had the arrests taken place in Mexico. In the US, however, the only coverage I saw was a four-sentence story in Nogales International and a longer piece in the White Mountain Independent.

I'd also be interested to see a comparison of drug trafficking stories regarding both the US and Mexico in the big American papers that have bureaus in Mexico City. Obviously the ratio of drug trafficking stories to the total number of pieces about each respective country would be greater for Mexico (the ratio would be close to one a lot of months), but I also wonder what the absolute number of words dedicated to Mexican drug traffic and organized crime in the NY Times would be compared to the attention to the same topic in the US.

Revenues from Human Trafficking

Criminal groups that bring undocumented migrants through Mexico and across the border make $6.6 billion per year, according to the UN. That compares to estimates of $10-40 billion or so for drug revenues in Mexico. I'd be interested to see similar estimates for organized crime's revenues deriving from extortion, kidnapping, pirate merchandise, and the like; I'd bet it's another several billion as well. One lesson from all this is that the government needs to improve its capability to combat the gangs themselves, and not simply attack the drivers of the drug trade. Even if the drug trade disappeared, $15 billion dollars or so is still quite enough to support a diverse band of wealthy mafias. Profit margins would be less, and the work is more labor intensive, so it would be spread out among more people and not be as prone to emergence of all-but-untouchable capos like Chapo, but the solution to Mexico's public security in the near and medium term does not lie in demand reduction or legalization alone.

More here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More on the Media Pact

Boz has a thoughtful list of pros and cons. It depends a lot on how it plays out in practice, and this agreement could turn out to be quite ill-advised if it turns the whole of the media into a government mouthpiece. But on balance, I think the potential for and likelihood of good coming out of this is more substantial than the potential for problems. And I concur that it's healthy that Proceso and some others --but Proceso in particular-- didn't sign on.

What the PAN-PRD Referendum Means

Not much, according to Jorge Zepeda:
If we are to believe the preliminary polls, the referendum carried out by the PRD in the Mexico State this Sunday will favor the possibility of an alliance with the PAN. But without a candidate it will end up being a useless exercise. A very expensive tailored suit that winds up fitting nobody. The cases of Gabino Cué in Oaxaca, Moreno Valle in Puebla or Malova in Sinaloa worked because there was an attractive figure for the voter and an acceptable figure for the parties in the alliance. That's not the case in Mexico State. Without the possibility of Josefina Vázquez Mota, the option of Eruviel passed over and turned into the Mexiquense Malova now discarded, there is only Alejandro Encinas. I don't think he has much chance either, but anyone else will be washed away by Peña Nieto's powerful electoral machinery.

Turning the Ni-Nis into Soldiers

César Duarte has a plan to incorporate the ni-nis in his state --the youths who neither work nor study and are thought to be prime recruiting grounds for organized crime-- into the army. This is conceptually pretty clever, but also a bit dangerous--giving this cohort weapons training and putting them into situations where they are in close contact with organized crime could just encourage desertion and/or future criminality.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Debt, Debt, As Far As the Eye Can See

Fifteen Mexican states contracted some $3 billion in debt in 2010, and the overall size of non-federal public debt is almost eight times that size. Plus, 80 percent of the nation's municipalities confront debt crises, unable to continue paying for administrative tasks and even basic services in some cases.

More Consequences of Operation Fast and Furious

Via the Center for Public Integrity, more anti-ATF ammunition:

On Jan. 14, 2010, federal border patrol agents stopped two men driving a car through the border-crossing town of Columbus, New Mexico. Inside the vehicle was a cache of assault weapons, including AK-47s, Ruger .45-caliber handguns and pistols called “cop killers” because their ammunition can penetrate armor.

At the time, the border guards were unaware that six of the weapons had been purchased by alleged straw buyers in a federal sting and were supposed to be monitored by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents trying to bust a major Mexican gun running ring.

The ATF had not yet flagged the weapons in a law enforcement database, and CBP wouldn’t alert its sister law enforcement agency to the traffic stop for five months, delays that would prove fateful for both agencies.

The two men in the car turned out to be Blas Gutierrez and Miguel Carrillo, who earlier this month were indicted as part of a Mexican cartel gun trafficking operation that also involved Columbus’ mayor and police chief, court records show.

And one of the Ruger pistols from the vehicle turned up at a murder scene directly across the border in Puerto Palomas, Mexico, on Feb. 8 of this year, according to court records and a lawyer for one of the defendants.

I wonder how many more of these stories will trickle out in coming months.

Two Reasons to Be Irritated at Mexico's Paper of Record

El Universal has a new feature enabled that seems aimed precisely at people like me: you can no longer highlight large sections of their opinion pieces, so as to copy and translate them in a blog post. This, in turn, makes translating sections of op-ed pieces much more time-consuming. I don't know what the specific strategy behind this is beyond the vague sense of, "F' the bloggers", but it's rather frustrating. And odd that it's just for opinion pieces.

Second, El Universal has evidently contracted the services of Elba Esther Gordillo as an opinion columnist. I like the fact that the paper courts political leaders for their op-ed page, even if they only write self-serving nonsense much of the time. It's often revealing self-serving nonsense, and it generally gives me the chance to make fun of their writing and feel superior, which is an added bonus. However, Gordillo's three first efforts --titled Can the educational system generate quality?; What role does the teacher play in educational quality?; and, What role does the teacher play in educational quality? II-- are simply too nonsensical a brand of self-service to warrant publication. I can't translate the whole thing (see above), but I defy you to read today's effort and show me any attempt whatsoever to link teaching activities to educational quality. I'm fairly certain neither teaching activities nor educational quality is even mentioned directly. It's simply aimless pablum.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Alliance? Por Supuesto Que Sí!

The PAN-PRD alliance was approved in Mexico State today, with a healthy 76 percent majority (out of a total of 230,000 or so) voting "yes". Reports were that the consultation was carried out without incident, though the below image was taken today in Neza, so that appears to not be entirely true:

Lujambio's Hat: In the Ring

Alonso Lujambio declares himself ready to accept the PAN's presidential nomination, and in so doing, strikes a less-than-inspiring note:
We're not leaving neither through votes nor through bullets, we're going to stay in 2012 to legitimize our electoral triumph.
He also added that the PAN civilized "the troglodytes, the cavemen that said that they had arrived via bullets and only through bullets were they going to leave". I don't know, call me old-fashioned, but I think you should limit the formation of the word "bullets" on your lips as much as possible during a presidential announcement. "Troglodytes" too, for that matter. Although I imagine the first quote played off of the second in such a way that sounded less jarring in person.

Lack of Attention to Institutions, Exemplified

Via Joshua Frens-String, the Center for New American Security has a new report about how to improve public security in Mexico. The gist:
The United States and its partners throughout the Western Hemisphere stand the best chance of securing the region against the most dangerous cartels by attacking them together. A regional security framework such as the “Mesoamerican Security Corridor,” proposed by the U.S. Department of State, offers a new opportunity to link U.S. and Colombian assistance and counternarcotics programs in Mexico to address challenges in the Central American states to Mexico’s south.
At no point in the piece is institutional strengthening mentioned. At no point is the word "corruption" or any of its derivations used. There is nothing precisely wrong about the piece, but any discussion of public security in Mexico that doesn't start with stronger and more honest crime-fighting institutions is almost by definition flawed. Putting aside the wisdom of the strategy, the idea that all we need is a regional framework (or, in alternative interpretations, all we need is COIN or to copy our approach to Colombia) assumes that Mexico has the bodies capable of pursuing any strategy to its logical end. Right now, that's clearly not the case; even a beautifully designed regional strategy won't automatically address the overloaded criminal justice system, the creaky prisons, or the municipal police officers who double as assassins for the local drug bosses. I imagine that part of the problem for American analysts, especially those with a military bent, is that it's hard to sketch out a significant American role in anti-corruption programs and institution building--the improvement has to be homegrown. But I do think the improvement in Mexico lies not in grand conceptual changes but in addressing a million different details.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fantastic Cover

Milenio Semenal has developed a gift for amusingly irreverent covers. Here's one from last week, of Jesús Ortega drawing a breath through a cigarette, looking like an ambulance-chasing lawyer or something. (The interview's worth reading, too.) There was also one years ago with Gabriel García Márquez giving the camera the bird with a very satisfied look on his face.

Reports in Mexico State

Alfredo del Mazo Maza is reportedly going to step aside, clearing the path for Eruviel Ávila to run as the PRI candidate to succeed Enrique Peña Nieto.

Also, Alejando Encinas has registered as a pre-candidate, though promising to withdraw if the coming referendum led to an alliance with the PAN.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Terror of Torreón's Criminal Class

Bibiano Villa Castillo, former Torreón police chief/admitted employer of extrajudicial killings, has arrived in Cancún for his next job. Oddly enough, as Burro Hall points out, he was dressed as a confused January 1986-era football fan. Before leaving Torreón, however, a caravan of five trucks tried to kill him in Torreón, resulting in the wounding of nine people. Another, slightly less worrying sign of Laguneros happy to see him leave town: only 28 percent of the people responding to an online poll from El Siglo de Torreón say that his departure will have a negative impact on security.

A Crime-Fighting Success

Mexico City says it has managed to reduce the rate of car theft by 15 percent in the city, which it attributes to the installation of 6,800 cameras around the city. It also says that in the central Cuauhtémoc delegation, in has reduced the response time by police from 12 to five minutes, on average. The note linked above, despite being only three sentences, amounts to a far more detailed and substantive explanation of changing crime rates than is typical in most government statements, so good for the DF. Everyone else needs to catch up. Although one wonders if Ebrard's crew just finished The Wire and got creative with their bookkeeping.

Media Pact against Criminal Groups

From yesterday's El Universal:
More than 700 media outlets from all over the country signed the Agreement for the Informative Coverage of Violence, which provides for the guarantee of the freedom of expression in an atmosphere of criminality and violence that racks the country.

In an action carried out at the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, directors and representatives of various communications media, from TV networks, radios, print edia, and electronic information sources, committed themselves to abide by a strategy that offers journalistic work greater depth and limits the propaganda effects of organized crime.
It's a bit hard to know what exactly this will mean, but the intentions are certainly praiseworthy. Calderón and Beltrones (and surely others) expressed support as well.

Update: Perhaps not so praiseworthy; it depends a great deal on how it plays out in practice. More from Joshua Frens-String:

In a 10-point accord released Thursday, some of Mexico’s most powerful media executives, representing over 40 media groups, say they will begin limiting their publication of violent drug war images and stop printing “propaganda” that might glorify cartel activities. The Washington Post reports on the announcement, saying the “guidelines” are non-binding and will still allow for the publication of some sorts of violent images – although it remains unclear, at least from early reports, what limits are under the new pact.

Notably, a number of Mexico’s most important newspapers and news outlets – among them Reforma, La Jornada, and the weekly Proceso – refused to sign on to the agreement. Carmen Aristegui of CNN Espanol criticized the pact directly Thursday, calling it a move toward “patriotic journalism.” Proceso journalist GenaroVillamil said the accord “opened the door to a form of prior censorship.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Post-Pascual Balance Sheet

Leo Zuckermann sees a Pyrrhic victory in Calderón's engineering the ouster of Carlos Pascual:
Surely the majority of Mexicans will celebrate, now that Calderón has gotten the head of the ambassador of the United States that had criticized our government, military, and some politicians of the governing party. Perfect. The problem is that these types of victories are not free. They are going to have a cost for the governmental relationship of Mexico and the US. Or do we think that the Americans will give Pascual's head to Calderón on the cheap?

I don't think so. Empires don't like to appear weak. They abhor a government from a peripheral nation pulling one over on them. In this logic, Americans are going to charge a hefty price to Calderón: "OK, Mr. President, we allowed Pascual to go, no it's time for you to give us..." and they present a long list. If Calderón refuses, then the typical pressures will begin, perhaps with naming an ambassador who's even tougher than Pascual. "Well, you said you wanted someone else, right?", Washington will ask.

President Calderón, like many other leaders in other latitudes, has subordinated the foreign policy of Mexico to gain popularity before the public. It's a tricky strategy because --unlike Vicente Fox and his fights with Cuba, Venezuela or Argentina-- now we are talking about confrontations with heavyweight status like France and of course the US.
I'm not sure if the US will want to punish Calderón, exactly, but I do think it's safe to say that the Obama administration won't be bending over backwards to do Calderón any favors. Then again they hadn't been doing a whole lot for Calderón in the past several years anyway, so I can see why Calderón might have thought it was worth the risk. Calderón seems to be acting pretty much as he was before, calling upon the US to crack down on arms traffic earlier today.

Investing in Science

The OECD rapped Mexico's knuckles on science spending, saying it's annual investment of 0.4 percent of GDP was by far the lowest of the 34 states in the group. The OECD average is 2.3 percent of GDP. At 0.03 percent, the annual increase in science investment over the past decade has also been paltry.

Businesses Forced to Close

An influential Mexican business group says that 10,000 businesses closed last year because of security problems. This is a pretty good reflection of the pernicious developments in the Mexican underworld over the past five years, even beyond the rise in the murder rates. It's not the spike in killings that made these businesses close, but, the group says, kidnappings and extortion. This is, in that sense, a qualitatively different challenge.

This also doesn't measure the businesses that never opened because of security concerns. I actually had an idea for a street-side food-stand during my last six months in Torreón that would have surely made a killing, and in the process also given me the incredible pleasure of telling my horrid boss that I was quitting due to a more compelling opportunity to sell sandwiches on the side of the road. The plan was taking shape. I talked to other people who'd done similar stuff, started to build a client base through friends and acquaintances, put together the figures giving me a rough idea of what my profit margins would be, designed the portable grill set-up I needed and talked to a guy who could build it for me, and scoped out the space where I was going to set up shop. In short, I was ready to go. This close. Then, the daughter of a successful restaurant-owner a couple blocks from me was kidnapped and murdered by an organized crime group and the Oxxo that was to let me use the parking lot for my cash cow was held up at gunpoint. Suddenly, being out on the street every night with lots of cash seemed less attractive, so I reluctantly deferred the idea to a later date.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

At Long Last, A Poll. Of Sorts.

The closest thing I can find to a proper poll on the drones thus far is the reader survey accompanying this article from the news aggregator Terra, the respondents to which were overwhelmingly in favor of the drone program, with 77.5 percent calling it a good idea. Of course, just 40 people have answered it, which limits the salience of the poll just a tad.

Also, evidently a woman filed a freedom of information request with the IFAI after seeing a drone in an independence day parade last year. The fact that they would throw these unusual vehicles serving as the foundation stone of a super-secret program into a public parade leaves me speechless. I guess they figured everyone would be too drunk or ignorant of modern weaponry to know what they were looking at, but they were wrong! The agency has announced that the Federal Police are obligated to turn over all info regarding the plan.

Piracy in Mexico

This doesn't seem possible, but the PGR says that of every ten goods sold in Mexico, six are classified as illegal pirate items. The number was only 40 percent in 2009, they say. Even if the actual proportion is off, the jump probably reflects a real trend, and one that you could tie organized crime branching out into other rackets.

On Rooting for Barça

I embrace my fair-weather fandom:
I am, as of about three years ago, a big fan of Spanish soccer powerhouse FC Barcelona. Not coincidentally, they are, for the past three years, unquestionably the best team in the world, and employ the services of the best player of his generation, Lionel Messi.

I don’t mind being one of the latest (and lamest) people to hop on that bandwagon. Being a Barça partisan is a fucking fantastic experience. All they do is win, and in bunches. You may remember the Clásico against Real Madrid in November, who had just signed the world’s most recognized coach and were smashing all comers. A building has a better chance against a wrecking ball: 5-0 in Barça’s favor. The second leg of the Champion’s League match against Arsenal last week, after Barça dropped the first 2-1? The Spaniards breezed through 3-1 against one of England’s best squads, despite their two best defenders being out. It’s gotten to the point now where it’s like a game in a Playstation season: a simple 2-1 victory doesn’t even do much for me. It’s OK, but unless Messi scores a brilliant goal and the team piles on five or more, I am tempted to hit reset.

Chapo's Consuegro

The the father in law of one of the children of Chapo Guzmán has been arrested by the Federal Police in an operation covering several states. The consuegro, Víctor Manuel Félix Félix, was evidently caught in the company of half a ton of cocaine, $500,000, and eight other arrestees. A spokesman for the FP said that the group was part of a financial network with links to Ecuador.

Update: This piece of context was missing in the first story: Félix was arrested in Ecuador.

Update II: More context from Malcolm Beith.

Update III: Or perhaps not arrested in Ecuador (thank you Excélsior). And he may not have been Chapo's consuegro, but rather his concuño. As you might have guessed, the details about this were a bit sketchy. But someone with matrimonial links to Chapo was arrested, and his financial network had links to South America. That much we do know.

Interpreting the PRD Election

Jorge Fernández Menéndez on what the PRD election means for Marcelo Ebrard:
I imagine that the mayor of the capital city must be thinking that this absurd hybrid in the PRD leadership will give him some time to build his candidacy inside of the party (for obvious reasons, Ebrard has more greater presence outside of the PRD, where López Obrador simply doesn't want to give him even a bit of space). On the other hands, he surely thinks that with this agreement he defers...the confrontation with López Obrador. And maybe he also thinks that the Bejarano-Padierna clan is highly pragmatic: if it benefits them, at the hour of truth they will go with whoever has more potential for them. And they are one of the wings of the PRD that generate the largest quantity of funds (although it comes from difficult-to-discern sources) and that moves more people in protests and demonstrations, at least in DF.

The problem is that with this decision these assumptions can turn into their inverse: Padierna will make the PRD unmanageable and that began to be evident yesterday: while the party has a consultation regarding Mexico State programed, she already said that as secretary general she won't accept it and will try to block it; she already declared that she will seek out Alejandro Encinas so that he is the Mexico State candidate and I don't want to imagine the scandal that will occur next sunday when, at the same time as the referendum is being carried out, Zambrano and Padierna will take over their new post, each one, Dolores would say, in charge of his/her own PRD. In this context, Ebrard avoided a rupture within the PRD possibly at the cost of making more evident than ever the internal division that will inevitably result in its rupture.

And, as always, read Aguachile for anything having to do with the Mexican left.

Moreira's Metamorphosis

Humerto Moreira recently made news for a call to the PAN and PRD to join him combating poverty, and a proposal for more Federal Police and army troops to combat organized crime along the southern border. Both of these statements, which are eminently uncontroversial, were made without insult and potshots.

It's rather odd the change in Moreira from his first weeks after being awarded the position, when he was barking like a boxing promoter, to now, when he's all statesmanlike. I'm not sure if it was just the two gubernatorial losses that chastened him or if someone from the party told him to bring it down a notch, but it's been night and day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In Case You Are Wondering

The global drug trade was valued at $320 billion by the UN. Although you sometimes see people use $600 billion for the same stat, so I don't know what you can really draw from it other than, It's a load.

On Mexico's Hot Money Problems

For anyone interested in currency issues and the details of the 1994-95 crisis, this article by Manuel Perez-Rocha about the recent influx of portfolio cash is interesting:
In the first three quarters of 2010, $27.1 billion of portfolio investment poured into Mexico, up from $7.9 billion during the same period in 2009. This “hot money” flow is five times more than what Mexico received in net foreign direct investment. Although the Bank of Mexico hasn’t published the figures for the fourth quarter of 2010, there are reports of more than $45 billion pouring into the stock exchange and to buy government bonds since the beginning of last year’s final quarter. Both Bank of Mexico and World Bank officials have expressed concern that these flows could suddenly reverse course.

Emerging markets as a whole have become hot money magnets, due to their faster growth and higher interest rates relative to those in the United States or Europe. But Mexico is particularly vulnerable for two inter-related reasons.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Mexican government is severely restricted in its authority to use capital controls, a policy tool many other governments are using to manage hot money flows. For example, Brazil and India have opted to restrict inflows of hot money through fiscal schemes. Also, Mexico’s economy is highly dependent on exports to the United States, a dependency that NAFTA has intensified. If hot money continues to drive up the value of the peso, these exports will be less competitive.

Diagnosing the Left's Problems

After mentioning the evolution of other nation's leftist parties, Leonardo Curzio writes:
The left is arrogant not because it is powerful, as with the PAN and the PRI, but rather because it doesn't believe in self-criticism and it distrusts outside voices that point to weaknesses. It adopts a sort of (self-conferred) moral superiority because they defend a vague gospel of defense of the least fortunate and from that position they give themselves the luxury of suspicion of all those who don't applaud them. They are so arrogant that they give themselves the right to ignore what is happening in the world and defend fossilized dictatorships or lost causes. Like Olympians, they can do without debate following the crisis in 2008 and continue defending state monopolies with all the outrage of those who defend the temple of sovereignty and at the same time don't trust the government in the role of issuer of identity cards.
He also knocks the PRD for bouncing between playing by the institutional rules and embracing extralegal actions.

Pearls from Juanito

The ongoing coming-out party of Juanito, the eccentric temporary borough chief in Iztapalapa acting on the orders of AMLO who wished in vain to become the permanent borough chief acting of his own will, as a priísta delivered a couple of memorable lines in this piece:
I'm not looking for any position next year, what I want is to recover Iztapalapa because they made me sign a leave of absence through the kidnapping of my sisters.
[T]he mafia of Andrés Manuel López Obrador that pushed Clara Brugada and Marcelo Ebrard, which also belongs to the PRD and the PT, is who has mocked of the Mexican people.
That last bit sounds not entirely unlike his old patron, though of course with the roles somewhat reversed.

Where Chapo Roams

Tabasco Governor Andrés Granier says that Chapo operates in his state, which is a bit odd, because you don't usually see much about Sinaloa people in the southeastern part of the nation. Though with all the turmoil in recent years, including the fighting between the groups that you usually do see in that part of the country (the Gulf and the Zetas), it wouldn't be a shocker if others moved in.

Monday, March 21, 2011

AMLO's New Program

He released a new 50-point plan for Mexico yesterday, sparking the following reaction from Ciro Gómez Leyva:
Of course Felipe Calderón's war against crime had to be classified as "stupid", but he took care to talk about a gradual withdrawal of the army and the marines. Of course he proposed a change of the political economy, but what he proposed was a "welfare state". Of course he criticized the media, but not with the ire that is his custom. And he promised television for Carlos Slim and mobile phone access for Televisa.

It could be said that he played to his audience as always: shots at Elba Esther Gordillo, "we will clean the government of corruption", "we will lower the price of gas"...But I am fixed on the phrases that demonstrate the difference. It was no longer "first the poor" but rather, "everyone will be taken care of, everyone will be respected, but preference will be given to the poor and the disenfranchised".

López Obrador is serious. He knows that speaking only to his most loyal, he won't get very far.

That's why, I believe, he spoke yesterday like he hasn't in more than seven years.
I suppose there are two big questions regarding the AMLO candidacy: Will, as Gómez suspects, AMLO refrain from accompanying a relatively moderate program with way-too-strident framing of said program? And, assuming he does, will the public that was irritated by and unsupportive of his reaction to the 2006 loss be willing to give him another shake? Even if the answer to the first is yes, which I don't take as a given, I suspect that the answer to the second will be no.

A Respectful Ambassador

Humberto Moreira and Gustavo Madero both said that they want Carlos Pascual's replacement to be respectful of Mexico, although I imagine that, more than anything, they want him to be discreet. Here's Madero:
[What's needed is] trust and collaboration on both sides, so better terms of exchange can be established so that there is effective collaboration between the two nations. That's fundamental, a person that generates this level of certainty and trust.
We see the decision that he took, to resign, as a positive, and which for us gives us hope that a new ambassador can generate a new era, a new spirit of collaboration and understanding.

PRD Results

Alemán was off by one: Jesús Zambrano is indeed the new president of the party, but Dolores Padierna, and not Armando Ríos, is the secretary general. The new leadership has a mandate to not enter into an alliance with the PAN in 2012, but 2011 is an open question, which makes you wonder if the group elected yesterday will still be in place eight months from now.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Next Big Electoral Landmark

Once the PRD election gets finalized, March 27 becomes the next big day: the PRI in Mexico State determines if Huizquilhucan Mayor Alfredo del Mazo or Ecatepec Mayor Eruviel Ávila will lead the charge to succeed Enrique Peña Nieto one week from today.

This Year's Targets?

The bosses of the jails in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas and Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán were both killed last week, the former stabbed by an inmate while inside her jail. It's too early to call it a trend, but something worth keeping an eye on.

As far as one of last year's most unfortunate criminal trends, three mayors were killed in the first two weeks of 2011 (following 14 last year), but as far as I know, none since.

On the PRD Elections

Analysis from Ricardo Alemán:
As of 10 pm last night, there was still no white smoke from the PRD. Nevertheless, everything pointed to a confirmation of Jesús Zambrano as the new president, and Armando Ríos Piter as the new secretary general.

Despite that, Señora Dolores Padierna continued in action, struggling to insert herself into the new leadership of the party.

The odd thing is that while everyone was talking about breakups, exists from the PRD, divisions and splits, the cynical René Bejarano was already again tabbed as a perredista, despite being tossed out for being a thief.

Who allowed the shameless René Bejarano to return to the PRD? Yes, the very same that talk about fractures, about splits, about Marcelo Ebrard's staying with the party implying the party's breakup.


For now, we can confirm that Jesús Zambrano will be the new president, and very probably the new secretary general will be Armando Ríos Piter, Marcelo's man.

In other words, Marcelo is taking control of the PRD, and leaving AMLO without allies and on the outside. How about that?

Mexicans' Opinions on the Drones

I'd be interested to see what polls demonstrate about the Mexican public's views of American drones. I've thus far seen none, but I imagine some will come bounding into view over the next week. Previous polls give you reason to suspect both widespread approval and overwhelming condemnation. For instance, just last week, 70 percent of Mexicans expressed disapproval of American agents carrying weapons on Mexican soil. (A plurality --49 percent-- also labeled Calderón's dealings with the US as excellent or good, though that number has been dropping.) Yet the key issue seems to be the weapons rather than the mere presence of Americans; a year ago, 63 percent told the same pollster that they approved of American agents operating on Mexican soil for security tasks. And, for what it's worth, in 2004, an investigation by CIDE and a number of other groups found that 63 percent of Mexicans expressed approval of the presence of American agents in Mexican ports of entry to prevent the arrival of terrorists.

American Agents in Mexico

The AP has some info:
The U.S. agents generally provide intelligence and training, while Mexicans do the hands-on work. Neither side will say exactly how many agents are in Mexico, citing security concerns, but the Associated Press was able to identify several hundred using the Freedom of Information Act, federal budget requests, government audits, Congressional testimony and agency accountability reports.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has the largest U.S. presence in the drug war, with more than 60 agents in Mexico. Then there are 40 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, 20 Marshal Service deputies, 18 Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, and dozens more working for the FBI, Citizen and Immigration Service, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, Coast Guard and Transportation Safety Agency.

The State Department's Narcotics Affairs Section staff alone jumped from 19 to 69 in the past three years, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The report is also getting some attention in Mexico. I'm not sure how it compares to other peacetime presences of American officials, but I can only imagine the number is pretty substantial, relatively speaking. At the same time, some undetermined fraction of a couple hundred seems like unlikely to have much impact as far as training Mexican troops.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pascual Is Out

Calderón got what he wanted: the US ambassador to Mexico resigned earlier today.

Calderón's Parallel Life

What can you make of this:
If I hadn't become a politician, I would probably have become a journalist, which I also enjoy, it's a profession that I respect.
The logical response is, If you respect journalism so much, why don't you do something about the murders and intimidation of the press. But then, politicians have been killed in greater numbers than journalists under Calderón (I think), and the federal government hasn't a tremendous amount to cut down on those killings, either.

Ideas for Improving Mexico

Alonso Lujambio says that the TV and telenovelas can be a good educational tool. Correct! If only I had been given Rubí to watch in high school instead of Destinos, which was waaaaaaaaay too tame to hold a 16-year-old's attention for more than 15 seconds, I would have learned Spanish long before heading to Mexico. The scene where Sonia dies is awesome too, but you can't embed it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

You, Sir, Were a Pacter First!

Jesús Ortega says that AMLO, mortal enemy of any PRD-PAN pact, wanted to pact with the PAN in 2000, when Cuauthémoc Cárdenas ended up finishing a distant third to Fox and Francisco Labastida, and el Peje won Mexico City. I don't remember having read that before, and, since it was phrased rather vaguely, it could mean a number of different things. It's also kind of odd that Ortega waited until now, after months and months of abuse for the alliances, to respond with such an obvious comeback. Whatever the story, I am looking forward to AMLO's response, from the standpoint of enjoying a good donnybrook.

Modern Mexico and Post-Franco Spain

Jorge Chabat employed a clever historical example to explain the disappointment with the past 11 years in Mexico:
After the end of Francisco Franco's regime, there was a popular joke in Spain to say that everything was better "against Franco". The irony suggested that there was a sector of the opposition to Franco that simply couldn't get used to the new rules of democracy and that at the end of the day what they best knew how to do, after 36 years of Franquismo, was to be in the opposition.


On the one hand, it's evident that the PAN could not manage to conduct the democratic transition nimbly nor has it been able to dismantle the perverse incentives that, still today, continue to make it more profitable to behave as if the old regime's rules were in place rather than the democratic rules. On the other, the left also has not been able to come completely into the democratic discussion. It continues to think that it's enemy is the "right" and not authoritarian methods of exercising power. In that sense, the democratic transition has not managed to move the axes of political discussion: these continue to be right versus left, Mexican versus foreigner, state versus private initiative, church versus state, rich versus poor.
I also think it bears mentioning that inflated hopes from the general public, which you could take as the implication of the post-Franco joke, were also a major driver of this sensation. Look at those axes he names once more once more, and tell me if the US has managed to permanently resolve any of those. To expect democracy to succeed where authoritarianism failed on basic and perennial tensions in public life is to expect far too much of it. Related to that, I'd say that the disappointment with Fox and Calderón specifically and democracy generally is justifiable, but it is so often out of proportion. Disappointment with government is just a byproduct of being governed, but the sense you get from a lot of Mexican commentary is that they are being uniquely wronged by their governing class, which is not true.

Business Spat of the Year

The Financial Times had a helpful rundown of the issues behind Telmex vs. Televisa earlier this week:
Tensions began rising last month when Telmex, the fixed-line telephone company controlled by Carlos Slim, the billionaire media mogul, said it would not place an estimated $100m in advertising this year with Televisa, Mexico’s largest broadcaster and the world’s biggest Spanish-speaking media company. A few days later, Telmex also broke off negotiations with TV Azteca, the country’s second television network.

Each company has its own version of the hostilities. But, at heart, the reason for the brawl lies with “convergence” – the process whereby it is now possible to bundle video, voice and data into one service and transmit it to consumers down a single line.

“Convergence has brought these groups into closer competition with each other than ever before,” says Mr Piedras.

Televisa and TV Azteca have made significant inroads into Mexico’s telecommunications market, which was once almost the exclusive domain of Mr Slim. They complain that Telcel, Mr Slim’s mobile phone operator, and Telmex, which accounts for about 75 per cent of all fixed telephone lines in the country, overcharge for connecting to their networks. The result, they say, is stifled competition and higher costs for consumers.

On Wednesday, in a sign of mounting aggression, 25 of Telmex’s competitors, including the sister companies of Televisa and TV Azteca, filed a complaint with Mexico’s antitrust commission formally accusing Mr Slim of “monopolistic practices”.
And Bloomberg reports on a preliminary regulatory ruling in the ongoing dispute:
Mexican regulators said America Movil SAB [parent company of Telmex], the largest wireless carrier in the Americas, must cut the fees it charges a land-line rival by more than half, a decision that may set a precedent in a dispute over interconnection fees.

America Movil should charge 39 centavos (3.2 cents) per minute this year to connect calls coming from the network of fixed-line carrier Alestra SA, the five-member board of Mexico’s Federal Telecommunications Commission ruled unanimously yesterday. That compared with the 95-centavo rate America Movil has proposed and charges some of Alestra’s competitors.

“The resolution is relevant because it establishes a precedent leading to the creation of public policies for the application of interconnection fees that promote competition between operators,” said NII Holdings Inc., a wireless provider that operates as Nextel in Mexico, in an e-mailed statement yesterday after the decision.

Competing Takes

Milenio: SRE: for national security, drone flights from the US

Excélsior: SRE did know about Fast and Furious

El Universal: SRE accused of ceding sovereignty

Calderón as Charlie Sheen

Leo Zuckermann, who has long been outspoken about the need to view elections from the standpoint of the strength of the individual candidates, says that the vague comments from the president about the PAN supporting a non-panista in 2012 were all about finding a winning option.

The Coming PRD Leadership

This weekend, the PRD decides on Jesús Ortega's successor, with the possibilities being Ortega ally Jesús Zambrano and Dolores Padierna, who is more friendly to AMLO. Another candidate, Armando Ríos, was pushed by Marcelo Ebrard as a compromise candidate, but El Universal says he is probably going to drop out. Predictably, the election is coming amid worries about a rupture splitting the party, which has been a steady drumbeat in any PRD debate since 2007 or so. More concretely, the winner will go a long way to determine whether or not there will be alliances with the PAN in the years to come, with Padierna representing the anti-alliance faction, and Zambrano the pros.

A Surge in Arms Trafficker Arrests

The Brownsville Herald on the arrest of an alleged gun trafficker:
Federal agents arrested a Pharr man who told investigators he recruited about 25 people to buy as many as 100 guns that landed in the hands of the Gulf Cartel.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers arrested Francisco Ramirez Jr. on Tuesday at the Anzalduas International Bridge.

Ramirez, 20, had been the target of an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives since the summer of 2010, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in McAllen.

Five co-conspirators — whose names were not disclosed in court documents — told ATF agents last year that Ramirez recruited and paid them to buy guns.
This marks at least the third arrest for trafficking guns to Mexico in the past two weeks. Good news, though I don't think think we should see Mexico's salvation as lying in these sorts of actions.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Crime Stories

A car bomb exploded in front of a local police station in Ciudad Victoria on Tuesday, injuring five. The only car bomb that has gotten a great deal of press in recent years was the one in Juárez last summer, but the tactic has been used with some regularity since.

Also, the newly formed Knights Templar are officially in business: they killed two people outside of Morelia earlier today.

Espinosa on Fast and Furious

Mexico foreign secretary testified today that her government was warned about the program, but only insofar as it would be applied in the US. According to Milenio, she indicated that they were not made aware that the arms would be allowed to go to Mexico, although they would have had to realize that such a result was at least possible.

She also addressed the drone program with the justification that "this has allowed us to use technology and intelligence to combat organized crime without endangering the lives of Mexican military and police personnel", in the newspaper's phrasing.

More on the Drones

The American drones flying in Mexico have been doing so since 2009, according to El Universal, and not just in response to the killing of Jaime Zapata, as the original Times piece indicated. Patricia Espinosa has an appearance before the Senate today where she will likely get treated like one of the edibles at a carne asada. I think the best argument would be to point to results, assuming there are some and you don't compromise future operations by doing so. Something along the lines of, "Yeah, pinches gringos are nosy as can be, but we caught Beltrán Leyva and Tony Tormenta and Nacho Coronel thanks to this program", would make for a powerful argument.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Future of the PRD and the Alliances

Jesús Zambrano wants to succeed his fellow Chucho Jesús Ortega as the president of the PRD, which many take as a sign that the alliances with the PAN will continue beyond 2011. But not in 2012; both Ortega and the PAN's Gustavo Madero were adamant in a recent appearance with PRI boss Humberto Moreira that there would be no presidential alliance. They also said that the alliances are only to eliminate the last vestiges of the PRI's authoritarian nationalism, a claim that holds up in some states where an alliance was used (Puebla and Oaxaca) better than others (Guerrero). But while the alliances are often opportunistic, a PAN-PRD partnership at the presidential level would be absurd.

Never Before Has a Headline Done a Better Job Merging the Bizarre with the Patently Stupid

Courtesy of Milenio:
Backstreet Boys in Mexico, but moved by Japan's pain

The People Who Run Soccer

This rule under these circumstances makes about as much sense as a refusal to consider goal-line cameras:
Real Madrid and Lyon have been told they will not be allowed to wear t-shirts wishing Barcelona defender Eric Abidal well before their Champions League tie at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Abidal was found to have a tumour on his liver earlier in the week and he will have surgery to remove this, with the procedure now brought forward to Thursday.

The two clubs had appealed to UEFA to relax a rule which forbids any emotional slogans being worn on clothes at Champions League games. But European football's governing body refused to make an exception.

The Distance between Calderón and Pascual

Via Bajo Reserva:
In the world of diplomacy there are absences that demonstrate the level of diplomatic relations. This is the case of Washington's ambassador, Carlos Pascual, who didn't show up to an event of great importance for bilateral trade. The diplomat didn't arrive for the inauguration of the annual conference of the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, an event that was led last night by Felipe Calderón. Until Monday morning, the representative of the American government was named as a participant, but he instead chose to travel to Juárez to meet with the priísta mayor, Héctor Murguía. Don Carlos said he would continue supporting the border city. The question is, who will continue supporting him, after being severely criticized by Calderón?
I wonder what would have happened if Calderón hadn't made a public stink about it. As it stands now, evidently Pascual is totally isolated and unable to carry out a major part of his job responsibilities, yet backed into a corner, the Obama administration can't remove him now. However, had the same scenario played out without Calderón's angry interviews and the leaks to the press, the Obama could perhaps remove him without much fuss. The counter to that would be that Calderón knew all this ahead of time, and didn't want Pascual removed so much as he wanted a whipping boy, but I don't know how convincing I find that. It's not like having Pascual to kick around --or, more precisely, to ignore-- has made the rest of his job much easier. Although perhaps there was a constituency on his cabinet (i.e. Guillermo Galván Galván) arguing for Calderón to take firmer public line, and whether Pascual stays or goes is merely incidental.

Up in the Sky

American drones are flying in Mexico, searching for info on organized crime. I second Boz's comment on the matter:
The Pentagon began flying high-altitude, unarmed drones over Mexican skies last month, American military officials said, in hopes of collecting information to turn over to Mexican law enforcement agencies. Other administration officials said a Homeland Security drone helped Mexican authorities find several suspects linked to the Feb. 15 killing of Jaime Zapata, a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.

President Obama and his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderón, formally agreed to continue the surveillance flights during a White House meeting on March 3. The American assistance has been kept secret because of legal restrictions in Mexico and the heated political sensitivities there about sovereignty, the officials said.
The US insists that everything done with the drones is under the request and direction of the Mexican government. That might (maybe) make it constitutional. However, that's not going to stop certain sectors within Mexican politics from being very angry about this issue.

Though it appears easier at first, keeping operations like this quiet due to political sensitivities is the wrong attitude to have. If we regard Mexico as an equal partner and a democracy, then they should be having this debate about US military assistance openly and transparently. I realize it's not going to be a fun debate to have in the Mexican Congress and media and that it could lead to the end of these sorts of operations, but Calderon's political comfort is not an operational security requirement.
I would also add that, while the political fight would probably be unseemly and maybe unsuccessful, I think American officials often overstate the degree to which stuff like this would spark popular outrage, rather than preening anger from hay-making politicians.

Fiscal Problems

Americas Quarterly has a concise summary of Mexico's perennial fiscal dilemmas, but I think it gets this wrong:
Mexico’s reliance on deficit spending to fund environmental, social and income redistribution programs is a rising concern for its long-term fiscal situation. This is a challenge compounded by its historic reliance on declining oil tax revenue and the need for a structural fiscal reform.

Without it, federal government debt will increase and future generations of Mexicans will be the ones to pay for it.

This may just come from having an American upbringing, but I don't think Mexico's deficit spending per se is particularly worrying. Indeed, the examples the author uses to demonstrate that mortgaging of the future--$4 billion in loans from the World Bank and the IADB for Seguro Popular and Oportunidades, likely on favorable terms--amount to less than half a percentage of the nation's GDP. That's change in the couch cushions, at least compared to the trillions of US debt in Chinese hands. And Mexico's response to the 2009 recession was characterized by an overly cautious approach to incurring debt. The real problem isn't the spending on social programs, but the weak tax base. That may be the other side of the same coin, so why split hairs? Because when you start with the lack of domestic financing for pro-poor policies as the foremost fiscal problem, it follows that the fix that you are most interested in is generalizing the VAT:

[W]hat is apparent is that the rejection of a tax reform for the sake of the poor today may increase the tax burden of the poor tomorrow.

In a country where even the right-leaning president has complained that the biggest companies typically fork over less than 2 percent of profits in taxes, that strikes me as the wrong approach.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oil Contracts Up for Bidding

The announcement that Pemex would begin taking bids on service contracts a few weeks ago came and went without much fanfare, but the success of this provision will go a long way to determining if the oil reform was utterly worthless or just falls way, way short of what was needed. Here's more:
State oil company Pemex announced on Tuesday the first "integrated" exploration and production contracts, which allow greater private involvement in the tightly controlled sector.

Petroleos Mexicanos is offering six fields in three areas that produced lots of oil in the 1960s but have been largely ignored since then.

The company said the fields in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco currently produce about 13,000 barrels per day but could yield as much as 50,000 with the right technology.

They have probable reserves of about 200 million barrels of crude equivalent, according to the company.

So-called integrated contracts — under which companies take responsibility for a broad range of services and are paid at least in part based on performance — were approved in October 2008 after a heated debate and protests by Mexicans worried about ceding control over an important symbol of national sovereignty.

Mexico has used private contractors for decades, but financial arrangements have largely been restricted to fixed payments for a given service.
Excélsior reported that Spain's Repsol, Carlos Slim's Grupo Carso, Argentina's Tecpetrol, and Colombia's PetroSantander are among the interested groups, though who knows how deep their interest is. (Yes, I did sort of suggest that Carlos Slim is equal to a country in the previous sentence.)

Opinions on EdoMex and the Alliance

The one result that jumps right out from the CGE poll is that the PRI is polling 49 percent ahead of the election, while the PAN and PRD are each at just over 12. Before the candidates are even selected, such an advantage can only mean so much, but it's safe to say that the PAN and PRD would prefer not to be working out of a 24-point hole.

Other findings: of PAN voters, 46 percent said they would not vote for a PRD candidate who was heading a PAN-PRD alliance, compared to 43 who said they would. There was more openness on the other side, with only 29 percent of perredistas rejecting a PAN alliance candidate, compared to 64 percent who said they would vote for one.

Human Rights Ideals, Reality

Maureen Meyer reports on what is potentially a big step forward for human rights in Mexico: a new law passed by the Senate augments the power of the CNDH and their state offices, and reforms the Code of Military Justice.

At the same time, via Malcolm Beith, I saw this from the guy currently in charge of security in mi querida Torreón, retired General Bibiano Villa Castillo:
Villa Castillo: The other day we were sent out to kill six bastards and we killed them. What’s the problem?

Reporter: Were they Zetas or Chapos?

Villa Castillo: Zetas.

Reporter: How do you know? You don’t interrogate them, or even talk with them.

Villa Castillo: We found out because they had stolen some weapons from us and we found them there.

Reporter: There are laws, General. You decide who ought to live or die…Don’t you think that God decides that?

Villa Castillo: Well, yeah, but you have to give him a little help.

Reporter: If one of these guys were to approach you to talk…

Villa Castillo: I’d kill him right there. I’d fuck him myself.

Reporter: Kill, and ask questions later?

Villa Castillo: That’s how it ought to be. It’s a code of honor.
That's an interesting, by which I mean terrifying, honor code. It's amazing is that the prestige of the army hasn't suffered despite the five years of massive deployment, the accusations of abuse, and the number of officers running municipal police forces in this manner. It's also amazing that enough people in political power think that killing all potential adversaries is not only morally tolerable, but a sustainable method of improving security. Those six bastards he killed, what if two of them could have been flipped? What if they were fed up with their boss and wanted out of the group? Rather than asking him these questions, people above Villa Castillo have instead promoted him.

Monday, March 14, 2011

AMLO's Unwillingness to Learn

Buendía y Laredo estimate that AMLO has some 7.6 million supporters. That surely represents a significant following, more than likely enough to win the PRD nomination, but it alone falls far short of what will be required to win the general election. They also say that his best case scenario is 32 percent of the vote, equal to the figure they attribute to Ebrard.

Aguachile mentioned "political learning" in a recent post about AMLO, specifically with regard to his refusal to engage in it. Examples of this abound, such as his comparison of the PRI's return to Santa Anna:
If the PRI returns it will be the ruin of the country, because they will sell everything, they are capable of selling even the Palacio Nacional.
Very strong, though not atypical, stuff from AMLO. (Compare it for a second to the "peligro para México" that so irritated el Peje five years ago.) All of this demonstrates zero sense of proportion regarding his adversaries, and zero understanding of what his biggest drawback is to voters. Politicians who lose a tough race but want to continue their career have a couple of choices: they can attribute the loss to flaws their the candidacy, take the appropriate steps to address them, and appear before the electorate as with a brand new image; or they can chalk it up circumstances, and double down on the same old tactics. It's pretty clear what lessons AMLO took from 2006, and it's equally clear, at least to me, where that is going to take him.

Missing Context on Monterrey

This is from a Washington Post piece on Monterrey that ran last week:
Homicides in the city and the surrounding state of Nuevo Leon more than tripled last year, to 828, state prosecutors said, and January’s tally of 144 killings was the highest on record.
What the authors neglect to tell you is that there are some 4.6 million people in Nuevo León, and 828 killings amounts to a murder rate of 18 per 100,000. That's a relatively high number, but it's roughly equal to Tulsa's, less than Kansas City's, and about 1/15th of the corresponding figure for Juárez. It's not the sign of an area in which everyone risks their lives simply by living there.

A tripling of the murder rate, which promises to rise substantially again in 2011, is scary wherever you are, and the specific elements of the killings in Monterrey --i.e. police officers getting killed, running gun battles in the streets with assault rifles, et cetera-- makes it more worrying still. Plus, not everything can be measured in killings, and other elements of the drug war symptoms --extortion, kidnapping-- are making Monterrey far more dangerous than it used to be. But by offering the number of murders as evidence of chaos without the piece of context, the city comes across as a bigger, wealthier version of Juárez, which it is not.

More Military PR

It's great that the Mexican military has discovered the marvels of public relations, but it would be nice if the effort could be a carried off with a bit more subtlety. For instance, the way this story is written makes you cringe:
In the Secretariat of the Marines (Semar), only ten percent of the naval personnel that enter the Special Forces managed to remain in the High Impact Group that has as its mission carrying out search, capture, elimination, or localization missions against leaders of criminal organizations and drug traffickers.

Their training isn't easy nor is their lifestyle, because they constantly struggle against death. The members of this group--which is the most select of the naval elite--are men without faces, because otherwise their families would be in danger.

This class of marines trains around 14 hours a day. They lack a social life and, at most, every three or four months they visit their families. They are permanently concentrated on one simple objective: detaining those who harm citizens.
They also set up soup kitchens on their off-days and trail pixie dust everywhere they go.

More Impact of Presumed Guilty

Mexico City's PAN has proposed that all bids for public contracts be videotaped, as a check against corruption. This may just be posturing, and the impulse behind it may be temporary, but this is now two new pro-transparency proposals (Ebrard's announcement of videotaped trials being the other) stemming from Presumed Guilty, which is pretty remarkable. Hopefully the sentiment turns out to be more enduring.

Also, later today, the fate of the film will be decided.

Not News

Yesterday, Milenio had a front page piece titled, "In six years, the use of cocaine doubles and marijuana goes up 50 percent". The data fueling the piece came from the 2008 National Survey on Addiction, so we've known about if for almost three years at this point, and it's also rather dated (perhaps cocaine usage has spiked by another 400 percent since). It would be nice if we could retire that survey as a font of news stories. It is a valuable source of info, but then again, so is the dictionary, which likewise lacks newsworthy content.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hezbollah and Mexico

What to make of the recent reports of Hezbollah agents found in Mexico? Here's an opinion from Stratfor and Mother Jones:
As Scott Stewart at STRATFOR points out, it's very unlikely. Hezbollah, as Stewart rightly emphasizes, is no longer a young hothead looking to make a name for itself. Senior Hezbollah leaders are often "influential politicians and wealthy businessmen," Stewart writes. Hezbollah sees the US as a business office, not a foxhole. And besides, if Hezbollah did attack the US, it would make itself (and Iran) a military target. And after seeing the devastation in Iraq, that's likely not something it's pursuing. "Hezbollah could conduct attacks in the United States, but it would pay a terrible price for doing so, and it does not appear that it is willing to pay that price," Stewart writes. "Hezbollah leadership may be radical, but it is not irrational."

This is fortunate for us Americans, as Hezbollah is infinitely better equipped and better trained than al Qaeda and—according to this January CRS report (PDF)—the Mexican government's counterintelligence operations are underfunded and stretched thin by the Calderon's drug war. Hezbollah doesn't seem intent on waging war against the US from across the Mexican border. Instead, its mission seems to be to use the cartels' reign in Mexico to increase the year's profits and, more significantly, to leverage its presence in Mexico as a deterrent to US attacks on Iran.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Who Slammed Whom?

I can only imagine that when the pelicans tell the story, the subject and object are reversed:
On Aug. 10, a white pelican slammed into the nose of a Continental Express flight into Salt Lake City and shut down the captain's instrument panel.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dire Economic Straits for Chapo?

Forbes again placed Chapo Guzmán on its list of billionaires this year, with a cool $1 billion. That tidy sum is actually the same as in 2009 and 2010, which means that Chapo, for all his notoriety, has fallen upon hard times. With the Mexican economy growing at a 5.5 percent clip, and Americans bouncing back from the recession and snorting and smoking like it was Michael Irvin's house, shouldn't he able to increase his fortune? He hasn't even been able to keep pace with inflation; he's 9 percent poorer in real terms than he was when he first appeared on the list. Pathetic. The poorhouse surely awaits.

Alternatively, the evaluation could be bullshit.

Leyzaola in Juárez

Blustering Julián Leyzaola is back in charge of a municipal police force, now in Juárez. His previous stint in Tijuana was made sorta famous by William Finnegan's piece in The New Yorker. Murders dropped significantly under Leyzaola in 2009, which also contributed to his unusually high profile. However, whether or not the drop had much to do with Leyzaola and his tactics, which periodically bled into brutality, is an open question. Plus, violent crime bounced back last year, so Leyzaola's appearance in Juárez probably means little for public security in the city.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

More New Gangs, Now with Fantastic Names

I wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago about the spike in new drug gangs in Mexico, from the Resistance to the Independent Cartel of Acapulco. Here are a couple more for you: via Burro Hall, a new gang called La Mano con Ojos sent a heck of a brutal message in Naucalpan, Mexico State, while Zach Lindsey of Mexico Weekly sent me this article about Los Caballeros Templarios, who have announced their existence in Michoacán with a narcomanta. Both have indicated that they are a reaction against the evidently collapsing Familia Michoacana.

Both of these, you may have noticed, also seem to have taken some care in choosing their name; are marketing execs moonlighting for criminal groups?

More of Pascual on Calderón

This story can only further lower Carlos Pascual's popularity in Los Pinos:
"The opposition PRI is on the rise, carefully managing their unity in an effort to dominate the ten gubernatorial elections next year, and to avoid any error that could endanger their status as the leader in the presidential race of 2012," wrote Pascual, in a cable directed to the State Department of his country.

"The prospects for the PAN are grim and Calderón appears at times to be worried and insecure about the best way to reinforce the opportunities for his party. He is convinced that a dramatic success in the struggle against organized crime groups will give him a political boost, an argument that to a certain extent explains his interest in deepening our cooperation in the Mérida Initiative and increasing the fight along the border," he wrote.
Pretty good analysis, though.

Protectionist PRI Tendencies, Revealed

A silly proposal by PRI deputies to cut back on the number of foreign footballers playing for any team in La Liga Mexicana's first division serves as a nice reflection of the arguments against protectionism. The idea is that Mexican soccer would be supported through this measure, but exposure to a higher level of foreign talent forces the Mexicans to raise their game, just as the introduction of foreign businesses forces Mexican firms to improve efficiency in order to compete. Furthermore, one must consider the talent spillovers resulting from the free flow of players; Messi wouldn't be Messi had he spent the last ten years of his life with River Plate, and Oribe Peralta has likely picked up a thing or two playing with Christian Benítez and Darwin Quintero.

Of course, this argument actually works much better in soccer than in real life, because a few dozen footballers being forced out of the first division isn't much of a problem for the nation, while several million workers being dumped from businesses who are no longer competitive requires, on both a moral and political level, action from the government.

Taping Trials

Marcelo Ebrard's announcement that his government will implement a plan to videotape all criminal trials in the DF is a direct consequence of the reaction to Presumed Guilty. It's a costly measure --roughly $1 billion-- but anything that could help shine a little light into Mexico's criminal justice system is commendable. Hopefully, the effort to improve judicial transparency doesn't fade after Presumed Guilty drifts from the public consciousness.

For more about the movie and the censorship effort surrounding it, Joshua Frens-String, Richard Grabman, and Burro all have had interesting commentary.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Successors to Chávez Chávez and the Receivers of American Awards

Via the Mexico Institute, I see that SIEDO boss Marisela Morales received an award for courage from Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama yesterday, marking the International Day of the Woman. Bajo Reserva says that she's also one of the chief candidates to replace Arturo Chávez Chávez. I believe she'd be the first woman to hold the attorney general's post, although the reporters say that she faces competition from Juan Miguel Alcántara, who heads the National Public Security System.

The Relative Price of Newspapers in Mexico

I was surprised to see that the price of El Universal kicked around in the media over the last couple of days was merely $100 million. This is the paper of record in a nation of 110 million people. For comparison's sake, Carlos Slim bought just 6 percent of the NY Times for $120 million in 2008.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

AMLO to Washington

Evidently AMLO, perhaps trying to soften impressions of him as a fiery anti-American populist ahead of 2012, is planning a September trip to Washington, which I believe will be his first trip there. He will visit with Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, as well as some House leaders. I don't think this is a bad idea, but if it's all about overcoming el Peje's negatives for 2012, I think it misunderstands where the worries about him come from. It's not the vague sense that he might turn into Chávez, as was more the case in 2006, but the fact, demonstrated at great length, that his democratic instincts are wanting. Unfortunately for pejistas, I suspect that there's nothing to be done to alleviate that in the next 18 months, but I suppose we will see.

Things Are Different in Italy

Like Mexico, Italy's status as a pathway to a huge market for illegal drugs has helped fuel the growth of substantial criminal groups. Additionally, as with Mexico, Italy has a long tradition of criminal groups dominating life in many parts of the country. The fact that Italy, with its murder rate of less than 2 per 100,000 residents, faces nothing like the security threat from its gangs that Mexico does speaks to the importance of effective institutions, something that is pretty obvious, but, perhaps because that very obviousness, it is often overlooked by policy-makers and Mexico-watchers, in favor of treatises on the nature of Mexican gangs and hardware handouts and calls to Colombianize the fight. (In fairness, Shannon O'Neil wrote about the Mexican security through the lens of institutional improvement in summer 2009.)

According to some estimates, the 'Ndrangheta, which as the AP reports suffered a serious setback yesterday, have revenues of some $50 billion annually, which would give them economic power comparable, if not superior, to any of the Mexican gangs, yet no one from the group is comparable to Chapo Guzmán, and, from what I gather, the group is fundamentally defensive in a way that Mexican gangs are not. This suggests that reducing demand for American drugs and therefore revenue isn't a prerequisite for a safer Mexico. More effective criminal justice institutions are.