Saturday, April 30, 2011
Getting away from Ciudad Valles, San Luis Potosí, allowed María Hernández and Teresa Ramírez to spend at least a few days without hearing the gunfights that now form part of the daily soundtrack in the region where they live.
For them, this vacation in Semana Santa turned into an opportunity to avoid hearing news of kidnappings of neighbors, of acquaintances, of friends. They got away from Ciudad Valles to take a break from that violence that immersed itself in their daily lives for the past couple of years.
These beliefs have been maintained by the new generation of drug traffickers, but they are also developing new beliefes, such as their love of the American character "Scarface", who in the movie was the principal cocaine trafficker in the Florida and in him they see a model to follow, Almonte explained.Except for that part where the Bolivian gives him a shotgun blast to the midsection from close range. That part kind of sucked, and is not to be scrupulously followed.
"I think an important important point that I'd like to emphasize is that the agents and investigators must be careful and not assume that every person that has one of these types of images is in reality a drug trafficker," the agent said.I strenuously object to Almonte's caution. I think that every person who has ever enjoyed Scarface or has an image of Jesús Malverde or la Santa Muerte on their person is as dangerous as Pablo Escobar.
Friday, April 29, 2011
When the Los Zetas drug cartel offered to re-paint the prison chapel here, chaplain Robert Coogan declined the offer because the leaking roof would ruin the paint job anyway.
So the Zetas inmates fixed the roof, then painted the chapel, in one day.
"I asked (the leader) why you're not a politician," said Coogan, a New York native and Catholic priest. "He said, 'I like things done quickly.'"
The Zetas have the run of the prison in this industrial city 190 miles southwest of Lardeo, Texas, in what is known as autogobierno or self-rule. It dates back decades and forms of it exist in correctional facilities the world over.
But self-rule has become more of a problem in Mexico recently as prison populations swell with suspects detained in the ongoing crackdown on organized crime and the country's drug cartels seize power behind bars.
Odd that there is so much of this around Vázquez Mota, but not so much with regard to other preseidenciables like Santiago Creel, Alonso Lujambio, and Ernesto Cordero, all of whom have rather important jobs as well. I wonder if the anonymous complaining is a product of special resentment for Vázquez Mota, or if she's doing more electoral legwork than the others. With regard to Senator Creel and Education Secretary Lujambio, you could argue that she has a more vital post and her giving a half-arsed effort will be more conspicuous, but I don't think that holds as much for Finance Minister Cordero.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Calderón's government recently said that 30,000 people had been arrested for nacro-related crimes during his term. That would indicate that just 4 percent or so involved in the drug trade are minors. That seemed a bit low to me, but it is inline with the proportion of minors among those killed in drug-related crimes.
The Mexican home has been transformed. In 1990, one in five dwellings had a bare-earth floor. Now only 6% do. Virtually all have electricity, whereas 20 years ago one in ten went without. A tenth still lack sewerage, but this is better than the figure of one in three in 1990.
More interesting still is what Mexicans put in those homes. More houses have televisions (93%) than fridges (82%) or showers (65%). In a hot country with dreadful television this is curious. Communications habits are interesting too: despite some of the world’s highest charges, two thirds of Mexicans have a mobile phone—though only four out of ten have a landline.
Television is awful? How dare he?! This is the country that brought Rubí to life! He should be deported ASAP.
I do not understand why everyone playing against them (Barcelona) in the Champions League ends with ten men, Arsenal, Chelsea... It is not an excuse but playing against ten is very different to playing with 11.'It's not an excuse, but allow me to excuse our loss. And:
We controlled the game at 11 versus 11 but we conceded two goals when we were down to ten. Every year is the same and I do not understand. The truth is that getting through the tie is now very difficult, but in football anything can happen.They controlled the action 11 versus 11 for portions of the first half of the Copa final. That is all. And:
I wish I had the chance as Messi did to play against 10 because then everything is so much easier.And, of course, Mourinho:
Gah, what a pair of whiners. If you willingly concede 70 percent of possession, you will be tackling more. More tackles overall means more card-inducing tackles. If you do that enough, eventually you will get burned. They didn't get burned in the Copa del Rey, despite Pepe's studs-up tackle to the junk (at least, I think it was Pepe), and Alonso's takedown from behind on Messi. It goes both ways. As far as last year, Mourinho got by them with Inter thanks to a goal being disallowed by a questionable handball in the vuelta. Plus, Inter was offside on one of its goals in its 3-1 win in the first leg. Inter played great, the slap on Busquets was not worthy of a red, and Piqué might have been offsides on his goal, but there was certainly an element of luck to Inter's win. There usually is in close games; moaning about afterward when the luck doesn't go your way is just lame.
"I just have one question: Why?,'' he added. ''Why Ovrebo [Chelsea vs. Barcelona referee in 2007 semi-final], Busacca [Barcelona vs. Arsenal in this year's Champions League], Stark? In each semi-final it is the same. We are talking about an absolutely fantastic team. Why didn't Chelsea make the final? Why did Inter have to be saved by a miracle?
''Congratulations to Barcelona. But I just do not understand why Barcelona always receive the help of the referee. All my life I will be asking myself this question, and one day I hope to receive an answer.
''I am not too sad, I have a great family. But I don't understand why Barcelona have this power. It happened two years ago to Chelsea (in the 2009 semi-finals), almost to my Inter last year, and also to Arsenal this year.
''Why do the opponents of Barcelona always have a man sent off? Where does this power come from? Maybe it is to give more publicity to UNICEF, maybe because of the power of (Spanish federation president Jose Angel) Villar in UEFA.''
[Break]I have already won two Champions Leagues, and I won them on the pitch, with two teams that weren't Barcelona. I won one with Porto, a small team from a weaker league. And I won another with Inter, sweating and fighting hard.
''Josep Guardiola is a fantastic football coach, but the Champions League he won was an embarrassment because of what happened at Stamford Bridge - it was a scandal. And if he wins it this year, he will win after the scandal at the Bernabeu. Let's hope he gets the chance to win a clean Champions League (in future), without scandals.
However, the Chamber of Deputies has to approve the political reform, an even which has been called "highly unlikely". This divide between the two houses of Congress, which mimics the split between PRI leaders Enrique Peña Nieto and Manlio Fabio Beltrones, was always pointed to as the foremost proximate barrier to reform, so all of the excitement over the reform over the past few days seems a bit overstated.
After a week of investigation, the governor of Nuevo León, Rodrigo Medina, reported that seven soldiers assigned to the State Support Forces are under arraigo for the death of Jorge Otilio Cantú Cantú, a citizen who died April 18 in an apparent crossfire, in Monterrey.I am a bit skeptical that this marks a major shift (and it's also not clear that the soldiers acted inappropriately); this is more like the exception that proves the rule. The only cases I'm aware of in which military personnel have been judged in civilian court have had unusual circumstances like this one.
The executive referred on various occasions to the arraigados as police, although he later specified that they are..."of military origin".
Medina de la Cruz said that the soldiers could be judged in federal court, but at this moment they are at the disposition of the local authorities, waiting to be processed.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Sincerest condolences to the Valdés family.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
You see this pattern a lot in Mexico: a public security issue reaches critical mass, and all of a sudden, the not entirely competent institutions snap into action and seem much more competent, for a little while. (Here's Jorge Chabat making a similar point in 2008.) That leads to a couple of questions, all of them related to the most obvious: Why can't they always operate like that? What can Mexico and Mexicans do to lower that threshold for when institutions start taking a given issue seriously? Another way of looking at it: why was it this latest incident in San Fernando, and not the massacre of 72 migrants last summer, that triggered the intensified response? What changes about the incentives up and down the chain of command when there is a sudden rush of attention on a given topic? What can be done to lengthen or institutionalize the "This is serious" mindset? Are all of these really legitimate operations, or are they just some species of montaje?
In 1991, the city had an astronomical 381 homicides per 100,000 residents (by contrast, the murder rate in Ciudad Juárez, the bloody epicenter of Mexico's drug war, was only half that last year). But today Medellín has, incredibly, become as safe as Washington.But by their accounting, that's a murder rate of roughly 80 per 100,000 people; that's really violent! (That's also not nearly as safe as Washington, which had a murder rate of just over 20 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010. Not sure where that assertion came from.) I wonder if the mistake in this approach is assuming that the Medellín of the early 1990s was in some sense the natural state of the city, and anything better than that indicates some sort of success. If so, I disagree. Escobar's Medellín was an anomaly of violence. It may be better than that now, but we're talking about a city in which almost 3,000 people were killed in 2009 (good enough for a murder rate well above 100), which in 2010 was one of the three most violent cities in a particularly violent country. The city is certainly worth examining and there are surely some lessons to be gleaned, but the "miracle" label is plainly ill-fitting.
The harder lesson here, however, is that there are no quick fixes in a drug war, and two steps forward are often followed by one step back. After bottoming out in 2007, Medellín's homicide rate has since doubled (though it is still one-fifth of what it was at the city's early-1990s nadir).
As far as Mexico, a couple of points: First, Juárez had 3,951 murders in 2010, according to state authorities. It's hard to pin down an exact murder rate because it's hard to pin down an exact population, but with 1.3 million (a common, pre-violence-induced exodus figure), that would be roughly 300 per 100,000 residents, which is to say, well above the figure of 190 alluded to in the article.
Second, the prescriptions:
That said, there are useful lessons Mexico can draw from the Medellín miracle. Like Colombia in the 1990s, Mexico is vastly underpoliced and has a weak judiciary, problems that can be solved in time with sufficient resources and will. But Colombia's drug war shows that the battle will not be won by military force alone. The government needs to bolster its legitimacy by offering people alternatives to crime and violence, as well as a renewed commitment to public services -- something Medellín's metro, its starkly beautiful new buildings, and civilized public spaces now do.As indicated above, Medellín's miracle really isn't one. Nuevo León, for instance, would have to get a lot more violent to follow Medellín's miraculous path. Furthermore, Mexico is not, at least according to some sources, underpoliced; it's problem is competency of police forces, not the quantity of officers. I completely agree that Mexico needs a more effective judicial system and better police, but I don't see what special insight Colombia provides as a model in that regard. Every country could use a more effective judiciary and better police.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Even ignoring that potentially gruesome end, I can't imagine Mexican traffickers are jumping over each other to go to Malaysia. I wonder how it gets decided who are the unlucky ducks who get sent halfway across the world to risk a caning or a hanging to set up links in Asia. Do the draw straws? Is it the guy whose girlfriend caught Chapo's eye?
Now, the bad news: as is typically the case in Mexico, good employment numbers are submarined by inconvenient facts about the quality of the jobs. The average salary in Mexico is just 246 pesos a day, which is roughly $20. Most of the new jobs pay between 3,000 and 7,000 pesos a month, according to an independent firm, a salary at which ends struggle to meet. More on that here:
Plus, according to economist Jesús Sánchez Arciniega, Mexico needs 1.3 million new jobs a year to feed the labor market, so we're not quite there yet, positive numbers from the first quarter notwithstanding.
Trabajando.com also said that salaries are falling behind and Mexicans' buying power has become more precarious in recent years.
"The majority of Mexicans are in a range of one to two minimum salaries [somewhere between 50 and 120 pesos a day], this has grown in the past year, and approximately 20 percent of the working population earns somewhere from two to three minimum salaries", said Margarita Chico, director of Trabajando.com México.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
[The training] isn't enough and it's never going to be enough because technology is advancing. We were students of chalk and poster-board. Of giving the class with a drawing, if you knew how to draw. We weren't born with computers. The first project was the classroom with media, and we didn't know how, we didn't want to touch them because we thought we would break them.The teacher in question says he eventually learned how to use the equipment, motivated primarily by the desire to not be seen as a "caveman" by the students.
Friday, April 22, 2011
It's odd how Mexicans by and large take Semana Santa much more seriously than do even Catholic Americans, but that the festivities largely don't extend to Easter. There is no Easter bunny, no Easter baskets, and, at least in my experience, there was never much of an Easter dinner, but the recreation of the Passion is on national TV and on the front page of national newspapers every Good Friday. (See above.)
Also, recent polling from Inegi shows that 84 percent of Mexicans identify as Catholics, while 4.6 do not practice a religion. The latter number has been steadily declining for decades (the figure was 96.4 in 1960), while the latter has jumped by more than 50 percent since 2000.
His argument is simple: insofar as the government has arrested or killed capos, the cartels have fragmented and more organizations have appeared; this, in turn, have caused a greater amount of violence in the cities.Interesting stuff, but that last part doesn't make sense. Stopping the flow of drugs makes violence go up, but stopping the flow of money doesn't? Money is essentially the end state of those drugs; anyone willing to kill for a stopped shipment of meth would surely be willing to kill from an equivalent seizure of profits.
In 2006 there were six cartels. In 2010, there were already 12, smaller and with less access to the transfer of drugs to the US. This obligated them to traffic here in Mexico, aside from kidnapping and extorting. To this we have to add the institutional weakness of the states and municipalities to attack this phenomenon.
It seems incredible but precisely what the Calderón government shows off as grand successes in this war is what produces the violence. The graphics of Guerrero are eloquent: homicides grow when the government seizes great quantities of drugs or when cartel leaders are arrested/killed. The number compiled by Guerrero demonstrate, in contrast, that the violence lowers when the arrests are of leaders of hit men and with seizures of guns or money.
Freedom of expression and criticism of the government or other institutions is valued if it coincides with their perceptions or preferences. In contrast, this same respect for freedom changes if criticisms are made against institutions or even ideological currents that one sympathizes with. If we take the argument to the extreme, we could say that the motto for this group of citizens is: "freedom of expression is great as long as it is used to say whatever confirms my beliefs and preferences".
Some of this has been evident in some of the criticisms of the Agreement for the Informative Coverage of Violence [Iniciativa México], which seem more motivated by the people and the institutions that signed than by the content of the agreement and above all by the possibility of demanding all of us signees to abide by the provisions. It must not be that we demand certain things and that when they are done (with those with whom we disagree) then we criticize these same things. In consequence, it is clear that the freedom of expression and its merits will always be with those who are on my side and never those opposed. But as Arafat said, peace is made not with friends but with enemies. The great compromises that change a country are achieved when different sensibilities and editorial lines agree that it is prudent to follow new paths for the coverage of topics related to public insecurity.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Senator Beltrones proposed the fiscal and political reforms to position himself as the Mexican politician of ideas; the one who is thinking about the serious issues of the country; the one who is proposing the urgent reforms; the one who sent the agenda. But, from the other side of the party, we have Enrique Peña Nieto with a more pragmatic posture with an electoral viewpoints. The strategy of the Mexico State governor, who controls the PRI caucus in the Chamber of Deputies, is to make no move that can put into danger the election his state, and later the presidential race. "Don't make waves", seems to be the motto of Peña Nieto, the precandidate for the presidency who is ahead in the polls.I don't think there's any doubt about that last part. What's more worrying is the possibility that it's not a product of this PRI and these candidates jockeying for position, but rather an extremely long presidency with no second term and a three-party political system. These are, of course, rather more enduring features of the Mexican political system than Peña Nieto v. Beltrones. We've only had two full presidencies in the democratic era, but, assuming Zuckermann's prediction is right, in neither case has the Congress done much of anything in the final two years of the administration.
There are those that think this strategy of gridlock could cost the PRI votes next year. That could be. But the opposite could also be true, which is to say, that in these circumstances passing a fiscal, labor, or political reform carries with it the risk of affecting powerful interests that could hold it against the PRI in the coming elections. I think that, at the end of the day, Peña Nieto's strategy will be imposed on the PRI, and from here to the presidential elections, there won't be any important legislative reforms.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
For instance, according to August reports using figures from Mexico's Secretariat of Defense (SEDENA), 191 soldiers and marines had been killed in operations against drug traffickers during Calderon's time in office. In October 2010, however, SEDENA offered a figure of 111 soldiers killed from January 2007 through July 2010. Interestingly, the same figure of 111 soldiers killed appeared as well in reports from July 2009.It's hard to avoid one of two conclusions, neither of which is very comforting: either the government is lying or they don't have a very good idea of the circumstances in which their soldiers are dying.
Furthermore, according to the book "Politics in Mexico: The Democratic Consolidation" by Roderic Ai Camp and also based on an IFAI request of SEDENA, 55 soldiers were killed during the first three years of the Vicente Fox administration. While not entirely inconsistent with the military's most recent report, such a large proportion of dead soldiers – 39 percent of the 132 reported most recently-- coming from just the first half of the Fox administration, coupled with the much heavier reliance on the military under Calderon, is an unlikely proposition.
In the official version, a criminal group opposed to the group of El Chemis, detained him, punched, then told the authorities. Perhaps things occurred in that way, perhaps they are telling the truth. But instead of giving the news, the army came out to show off the trophy. The pressure of the Sicilia case weighed more than respect for a human being, even the most miserable of humans.It's also kind of an odd case on which to focus indignation for the army's lack of respect for the suspects, given the much more alarming cases documented elsewhere.
Showing off a tortured guy justifies the methods and forms of the criminals. Who cares if they have mistreated him, if the essential thing was to show him defeated and humiliated. If the essential thing was to demonstrate efficiency and power.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
The unity among the PRI higher-ups hides holes that threaten to reach dangerous depths. There's the cold relationship between senatorial boss Manlio Fabio Beltrones and Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, adopted as the swordsman by party leader Humberto Moreira and Governor Enrique Peña Nieto. More evidence comes from the worsening results of the deputy leader of the PRI, Francisco Rojas, who couldn't untangle the labor reform that heads his list of priorities in the present session.Of course, intra-party squabbling is normal, and this doesn't anything particularly noteworthy yet, at least in terms of PRI disunity having an impact on 2012. Here, the overwhelming electoral advantage of Peña Nieto has also turned into a broader advantage, in that it appears so insurmountable that the party may well avoid the broken plates inevitable from various powerful figures doggedly chasing a contestable nomination.
The price of service as a percentage of per capita income is certainly higher than in the US, which certainly inhibits internet penetration, but that's a much more complicated problem than just the high cost of service.
Also, more mass graves have been found in Santa Catarina, Nuevo León.
In a strong criticism, the honorary president of Madrid said the merengue club played like a "mouse" against the "lion" that was Barcelona.
"I like and admire the great dominance over the game that Barcelona has", commented Di Stefano, who is 84. "Football isn't watched with the eyes, but rather with the soul. They treat the ball with respect, adoration, almost spoiling it. Watching this team in action is a delight for everyone."
Monday, April 18, 2011
When an arms dealer is urging more caution with regard to arms traffic than the agency specifically charged with combating it, something is very wrong.
An Arizona gun dealer pressed by federal agents to continue selling weapons to suspected straw buyers for Mexican cartels repeatedly sought assurances from prosecutors and law enforcement that the government would not let the guns cross into Mexico or be used against U.S. border agents, according to evidence gathered by Senate investigators.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and federal prosecutors assured the dealer in e-mails that they were “continually monitoring the suspects” who ended up buying more than 1,700 guns in 2009 and 2010 with the government’s knowledge as part of a controversial investigation code-named Operation Fast and Furious, the e-mails show.
But the government’s promises, detailed in emails obtained the Center for Public Integrity, turned out to be hollow. In fact, almost 800 of the weapons turned up after they were used in crimes, collected during arrests or seized through other law enforcement operations, including 195 in Mexico alone. Two weapons traced to the Fast and Furious operation were recovered near the scene of a murdered Border Patrol agent – an outcome that the firearms dealer specifically feared, according to the e-mails.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Also, GolTV has a promotion for the Copa el Rey final (sorry, I can't find it online) based on the November crush job that is simply the finest piece of narrative ever to appear on American television, after The Wire and The Sopranos. I can't do it justice by describing it, but it has black and white footage and overly dramatic music and makes me want to challenge everyone in my apartment complex to an arm-wrestling contest whenever I watch after more than two coffees/beers. (The only person who ever responds --my wife-- declines the challenge.) It's just awesome; it's worth watching a soccer game on GolTV even if you don't speak Spanish or like soccer.
Off for the weekend!
The interesting part of this issue isn't that Señor Andrés Manuel López Obrador is authoritarian, dishonest, and associates with thugs (there are other politicians like that). What is striking is that his followers are with him precisely because of that. Although it seems unbelievable, those who support him insist that he can change this country thanks to his moral superiority.
This is surely an issue for further study. The reason for many thousands of people closely following and celebrating an autocrat and a self-mythologizer as a leader, arguing that moral superiority, deserves a deep investigation. How they manage to reconcile the supposed democratic character of the leader with his authoritarian actions, how they can believe in the affirmations of a demonstrated liar, how they can think a person who has been demonstrated a person very close to corruption will confront corruption, those are all great mysteries.
The hypothesis that best explains this phenomenon, it seems to me, is the conversation of the señor López Obrador in a "mythic hero" on the part of his followers. For them, it's not important what he does, but rather what he represents, and therefore his actions aren't evaluated on their own terms, but rather with respect to utopia, which in this case is a sort of recovery of revolutionary national in the abstract. And because his actions don't make sense on the merits, they are not bound by legality. That's why the señor López Obrador and his followers live on the margin of the law: they block roads, they impede Congressional sessions, they publicize the image of their leader despite the spirit of the electoral law. Nothing matters, because the reality is irrelevent, the only thing that exists is the utopia.
Also, the SME says it has an agreement with Alejandro Encinas and AMLO for Mexico State and the presidency in 2012. If they win, SME boss Martín Esparza says, they will revive LyFC. This should make even a de facto agreement with the PAN a little trickier in Mexico State. It also provides another piece of evidence of how it is that PAN leaders think that winning by piggy-backing on Encinas than losing with their own candidate, along with Encinas, to Eruviel Ávila. There is just a huge gap between the goals, philosophy, and political ideals of Encinas et al on one hand, and the PAN on the others.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Also, 16 local cops have been detained for allegedly protecting the Zetas who are believed to be responsible for the massacres.
For what it's worth, the most notorious money-launderers in Torreón, at least according to the word on the street, were also really successful businesses, especially nightclubs and car dealerships. There were a couple that were always empty yet stayed open for years, but more common were the ones that would have made money with or without the dirty cash flowing through. I can only imagine the huge volume of legitimate sales makes it harder to identify a place as a money-laundry.
At the Mexican port of Lázaro Cárdenas, containers arrive from China laden with toys and electronics. Some never make it into the hands of customers: they are dumped as worthless merchandise. Their value, instead, lies in a simple bill of sale that allows the buyers – drug trafficking organizations and organized crime syndicates – to launder billions of funds through seemingly legitimate trade.
Drug-related money laundering conjures up images of plastic-wrapped bundles of $20 or $100 bills stashed in car tires and dashboards, or hauled across the U.S.-Mexico border in semi-trailers. It includes tales of storied banks moving billions in sophisticated operations and entangles Western Union and other money transfer companies in the flow of profits south. Some worry that prepaid cards or even “virtual worlds” will be the new avenues for illegally moving billions and billions of dollars.
But trade-based money laundering is likely where the real money is. Less understood and perhaps more pernicious, this includes the stereotypical restaurant that never seems to serve any customers, except for a few toughs at the back table, but “rakes in” profits. But it is much more than that. It can involve jewelry stores, textile factories, travel agencies, or car dealerships. Any type of trade across borders is a potential opportunity for nefarious transactions, buried among the billions of legal ones.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
- While the audience was probably more interested in the drugs and politics issues, it was the systemic criticisms that Dresser clearly cares most about. She said the power brokers in Mexico, the corporations, unions and political parties, have blocked reforms that are necessary for democracy. She said the PAN, instead of reforming the problems the PRI created in the Mexican system, had become a "less effective version of the PRI." She said Mexico's political reforms in the 1990's had created rotation and competition among the political parties but failed to make them representative or accountable to the population.
- Dresser indicated that Mexico needs a progressive movement to break up the power structures similar to the era President Teddy Roosevelt in the US.
However, I think the bolded sentence from the first point couldn't be more incorrect. It's a comment that gets made with great frequency. As a bit of hyperbole, it's harmless, but as a serious analysis, it is simplistic and flawed. Mexico had a self-imposed financial crisis every five years or so under the PRI, as of the 1970s. The PRI massacred hundreds of protesting citizens in 1968. The PRI mastered electoral fraud, and demonstrated their mastery on a regular basis. The PRI launched a campaign of murder against the leftist opposition when the PRD was formed, in which resulted in hundreds of dead activists.
It's fair to say that the PAN hasn't gone far enough to dismantle the PRI's governing structures, but that's very different from saying the Calderón and Fox, for all their flaws, have been worse than an authoritarian regime that clung to power for 70 years. Mexico has not reached its potential over the past decade, but if you value democracy, competent macroeconomic policies, and some semblance of liberalism (i.e. the federal government not systematically killing its constituents*), the PAN presidencies have been significantly better. There is a danger once you get a bit of distance from an authoritarian regime to remember it in a far more benign light than it deserves. This should be resisted as much as possible. Cheapening the awful legacy of authoritarian regimes makes it easier for such policies to resurface.
*The deaths from organized crime complicate this assertion a tad. The big difference in my eyes is that the deaths at the hands of government agents related to organized crime are not the product of Los Pinos (at least, not as far as we know), but rather local officials and incompetence. Under the PRI, the highest levels of the executive orchestrated mass murder. This is a bit of a simplification, but it's like the difference between weakness and evil. The results may look similar at times, but the latter is morally worse and more dangerous.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Mexico drug war's latest victim: the limeImmediately, skeptical brains should wonder: a four-fold increase in price because of a long-existing mafia problem? Hmmm. As it turns out, here's the most robust piece of statistical support for the initial assertion, which appears in the lead sentence:
The lime, a staple of Mexico's taco culture, quadrupled in price to almost $4 a kilo (2.2 pounds) in December and January, with drug traffickers blamed for meddling in the supply chain.
Tania Tamayo's family of farmers coughs up 800 pesos ($66) to local drug traffickers for every truckload of limes they ship from the violent state of Michoacán, which supplies most of Mexico's lime market in the winter months.I don't how many kilos of limes constitute a truckload, but I will offer the very conservative estimate of 500. Even if the entire burden of the extortion was passed off to the consumer (unlikely, though demand elasticity is like quite low, because what else are you going to out on your tacos?), the price of limes in that truck would not move more than a couple of pesos as a result. You'd need truckloads of roughly 20 kilos for such a tax to provoke such a drastic increase. In other words, the thesis presented in the headline seems to be crap, though it's more exciting than information about this year's crop yields.
Here's another "supporting" quote from a Mexican official:
"There are security costs that companies have had to absorb," acknowledges Beatriz Léycegui, deputy minister at Mexico's Economy Ministry.Unfortunately for the strength of the piece, this quote doesn't say anything like the piece's thesis is, i.e. that insecurity has caused the price of limes to quadruple in Mexico City. Yes, insecurity imposes costs on businesses in Mexico. That is a well known and relatively banal point. That doesn't mean it causes basic commodities to quadruple in price.
Insecurity imposes a hell of a cost on the society, in ways both and measurable and hidden. But it is not the entire country, and it doesn't cause everything. Stories like these, which are probably just a function of people scrambling for new ways to cover a big story that doesn't have that many new angles, are doubly misleading, because they not only make the problem seem bigger than it is, they also distract us from the actual symptoms and the ways to combat them.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
More than 200 people have been found in mass graves in two different episodes in less than a year. The first time, the victims were migrants; the second, they were pulled off of commuter buses traveling through the region. The same group, the Zetas, was behind both of them.
[A]lthough there certainly are ample amounts of Mexican drugs in Los Angeles, and surely there are a handful of representatives of some of the most powerful gangs in Mexico, the context in which this is presented is quite misleading. When you talk about seven different Mexican drug gangs fighting it out for control of a city, the images that are called to mind are of car-bombs or mass executions. Yet, there is absolutely no reason to think that LA officials should spend much of their day worrying about that eventuality. Furthermore, any global smuggling network, a label that includes the suppliers of a huge quantity of drugs consumed in the US, will necessarily have to include local distributors. They, in turn, must have a relationship with the foreign suppliers. While these foreign suppliers often have deservedly scary reputations, their linking up with American street gangs to distribute their merchandise does not mean that the Mexican drug wars are going to be fought out on the streets of LA, or any other city. Until we have evidence of something more sinister, all that the people in the article are describing is a black-market supply chain, not the mass invasion of Los Angeles by Mexican drug thugs.That's not to say that there are no dangerous Mexican smugglers in the US, but I would stake my life savings (or, even more riskily, the couch I am perched upon) on the fact that Mexican gangs do not control criminal activity or even retail drug sales in 230 American cities. Indeed, I'd be shocked if they controlled even a single American city to anything like the degree that they do Torreón or Matamoros.
There is always going to be tendency of experts on any given ill to lose sight of the forest and overstate the size of the threat. This is made far worse because of budgetary incentives: the department that succeeds in trumping up the potential danger of the threat is rewarded with a bigger budget.
Taking this and the previous post in tandem, it has been a bad day for clear-headed thinking on the part of American officials.
Sandwiched between those two remarks was the assertion that the biggest difference between Mexico and Colombia from 20 years ago is that the former is more violent. For the record, homicide rates in Colombia in the 1990s were several times what they are today in Mexico. Indeed murder rates in Colombia today are greater than what they are in Mexico. So I guess we shouldn't look for any progress coming from Rep. Granger.
Minutes later, she also refers to the Meredith Initiative, according to the transcript, although it seemed like just a case of stumbling over a foreign word rather than ignorance. Less tolerably, she brought up the Mérida Initiative to support her affirmative answer to a question about whether Congress had given Janet Napolitano all the funding she needs to ensure border safety. This is odd because Napolitano heads an American cabinet agency and doesn't get her money from foreign aid packages. It's also odd because the Mérida Initiative funding has been reduced significantly since it was originally passed.
I don't expect a Congressman to have a detailed knowledge of all foreign countries, but Mexico is an important one, and those pieces of info --the name and status of our four-year-old aid package and the level of violence relative to other nations-- are two of the first questions you should be asking about it. If you can't get that right, well, you should keep any comments on Mexico restricted to private conversations. Also, you probably shouldn't be chairing subcommittees that have anything to with Mexican security.
Furthermore, when asked what the solution was, she had zero suggestions.
Monday, April 11, 2011
What is most striking is that the letter from Sicilia, stemming from the lamentable murder of his son and various others, is that it is directed to "politicians and criminals", perhaps because the author assumes that the action of the politicians is not sufficient. Perhaps for the same reason the Diario de Juárez a few months ago made its public call to the criminals so that they would tell them what they wanted so as to stop killing their reporters. In other words, the society intuits that the state is no longer a trustworthy interlocutor and that you have to talk with the criminals, to see if the situation improves that way. That tells us the size of the crisis in the country. The only interlocutor should be the state.And:
What is needed is to channel the discontent to more concrete steps. The disaffection with the political system should carry us to establish mechanisms for accountability and carrots and sticks for the political class, such as the possibility of the immediate reelection. That is a concrete proposal. Along those lines, the protests against violence should concentrate on improving the Mexican state: pressing so that all the police in the country are certified, so that the judicial reform is implemented, so that protocols are established for the use force for all the force tasked with combating organized crime and therefore human rights abuses are avoided.This last bit is what is most flawed with the recent demonstrations. Part of this is just a function of the problem: many protest-inducing issues (second-class citizenship of African-Americans, the recent Mubarak protests) have relatively simple solutions. Crime in Mexico, unfortunately, does not, so using the anger to engineer a specific response is tough. But it's also a function of this particular spate of demonstrations. I have criticized the agreement that eventually resulted from Iluminemos México for a similar though not as severe ignorance of concrete goals, but the fact that the leaders actually had something approaching a policy change in mind is admirable. In contrast, this latest wave seems much more a roar in a vacuum. The emotion is genuine and justified, but is likely to be more limited in its impact.
Protests have to be anchored to concrete measures. Only then will the ire and indignation of the citizens not evaporate...
Just after Christmas, drug hitmen rolled into the isolated village of Tierras Coloradas and burned it down, leaving more than 150 people, mostly children, homeless in the raw mountain winter.It strikes me that it can be hard to pin down categories regarding displacement and flight from crime. If you are told to leave town or you'll be killed and you subsequently do so, you are clearly displaced (and smart). If you leave town without being told to do so but to escape extortion, I imagine that qualifies as fleeing crime. But the line gets a little fuzzy further down that slope. Suppose you receive a job offer in another town, the job is a bit better than your present one and the city is a bit safer. You decide to move in part because of the crime, but even if the cities were the same in terms of security, the move would still be a coin flip. In this case, crime played a role in your thinking, but at the same time it didn't quite drive you out of your town. Did you flee? Probably not, but you can see how the definitions aren't crystal clear.
The residents, Tepehuan Indians who speak Spanish as a second language and have no electricity or running water, had already fled into the woods, sleeping under trees or hiding in caves after a raid by a feared drug gang on December 26.
In the northern states of Durango, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas, cartels fighting for control of lucrative smuggling routes to the United States have threatened entire towns with ultimatums to flee or be killed.
No official numbers exist, but the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, or IDMC, estimates 115,000 people have been displaced by Mexico's drug violence.
Another 115,000 or more have fled and slipped into the United States, IDMC says. Some leave and then move back, creating a floating population that is hard to track.
Pace and explosiveness can launch a player into a team, but their gifts can blight in the long run. If you're a very good player, and you happen to have pace, then you can become a great. If you're a quick player and nothing more than that, then when your spark goes and you can't change, you can jog on.Adjusting to the imitations imposed by age is an issue in virtually every human pursuit, but basketball seems the other sport where this is a particularly huge challenge. Some guys, namely Jordan with his fadeaway jumper, are differently though equally dominant when their physical skills begin to go. Others --Iverson comes to mind, but there's surely a better example-- can't make the switch so successfully, and their impact drops in direct proportion to their athletic prowess.
Zinedine Zidane wasn't slow at the start of career, but always clearly better than his pace would suggest. John Sheridan was a flair player without speed before the Premier League became a global product. Andres Iniesta is no slouch, but his genius resides in his head rather than his muscles.
As impressive are the players who start a career off the back of blistering pace, and remain at the top until they retire. This might also be the hardest career to build - any player can be born with pace, but few become vital to a team in their thirties.
Ryan Giggs is celebrated for maintaining a career at Manchester United, praised for transforming himself from greyhound in the '90s to grey and vital in the next decade. A visceral player before the turn of the millennium, he then became more intelligent, effective and consistent.
Also, Sicilia issued a statement directed at the drug gangs:
Return to your honor codes, I want you to tell us if you are willing to respect us as a population; if you are not going to kill us, you are not going to screw with us, you are not going to sow terror in the nation, you are not going to kill our children. Let us not in a decent way, if you like with mantas, but not with corpses, through networks on the web, with calls to the press, however you want, but let us know if you are willing, as we ask the army to protect us.This could be interesting, because many gangs have not been entirely unresponsive to public shaming. That's why many of the mantas seek to shift blame for particularly provocative crimes to other groups. And eventually, if Mexico is to become safer, the gangs will have to adopt a more defensive MO with regard to the society at large, much like what Sicilia is laying out here. However, it seems unlikely that there will be a sudden shift on the part of organized crime. While individual gangs do seem to pay attention to public opinion in spurts, in the long term, the industry as a whole seems largely immune to public scorn. I suspect it won't be a sudden decision on the part of the underworld, which is far to diverse to make collective decisions about behavioral norms, that drives the change in the criminal behavior, but rather a gradual shift over many years.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
It is said that the work of the military has to do with national security and not public security; it's true, but it also omits that a long time ago public security flooded the banks and turned into an issue of national security, which is to say, a threat to the institutions of the republic.
Some argue that the soldiers are poorly trained to play the role of police, but they forget that the police are even worse; not only that, but many commanders and police personnel are in the service of the cartels. Is it necessary to refresh the memory? In the attack on Minerva Bautista, then the secretary of public security in Michoacán, the commanders remained impassive despite the calls for support, awaiting the death of their superior; recently, in Monterrey, two criminals recovered the body of a murdered man, before the inaction of the municipal police; in one out of every two documented cases of kidnapping, an active or retired police officer is involved...
Do we want to leave public security in their hands? Returning the soldiers to the barracks implies surrendering space to the criminals that today kidnap, extort, smuggle people and murder not only their enemies, but people who have nothing to do with their criminal business.
The Federal Police --the seed of a professional police force-- has just 34,000 agents, roughly 10 percent of the officers that make up the local and state police. This implies that, even while maintaining programs of renovation, recruiting, and technical training, there won't be results in the short term. Much less when you take into account this disturbing fact: the resistance of the majority of the state governors to the "certification" of their commanders, which is to say, submitting them to controls of honesty.I don't share the idea of returning the soldiers to their barracks. Their presence in the cities, highways, and rural areas isn't the whim of the politicians, but rather a necessity of the state before the existence of criminal power. But this doesn't mean handing them a blank check. We are obligated to demand that the armed forces put into practice very rigorous mechanisms and protocols so that the conduct of soldiers and marines in security tasks abides by the most scrupulous respect for human rights. The integrity of the armed forces demands a robust effort on this issue.
Update: More here from Aguachile.
Friday, April 8, 2011
A sea change has occurred in Mexican public opinion. The people have turned definitively against the use of the Mexican Army to combat against drug traffickers. The cry from every city square yesterday was for the Army to return to its barracks and go back to doing the job it was formed to do; protect Mexico from foreign invasion and provide human aid relief in case of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Since President Felipe Calderón unleashed the Armed Forces, four years ago, to combat drug trafficking organizations, the violence between it and the competing narco organizations has led to a daily body count, widespread human rights abuses against civilians, and more than 40,000 deaths, so many of them of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire and used by all sides in the armed conflict that still has no winners, that never will have any winner.Giordano was there, and I wasn't. Plus, he lives in Mexico (I think), and I've been in the US since late July. So he's got that going for him. Nonetheless, I am skeptical of the sea change hypothesis. One reason is that the protests weren't actually that large. The marches this week managed to pull together 8,000 or 10,000 people in Mexico City, another 10,000 in Morelos, and lower numbers in many other cities. In contrast, the Iluminemos México march in 2008 had hundreds of thousands of marchers in Mexico City alone, and tens of thousands in other cities (indeed, in other countries). Some 250,000 marched against insecurity in Mexico City 2004. With the recent march being a less attended repetition of previous events, which also failed to be definitive turning points, it's hard to see why this one specifically is going to mark a change in direction.
Second, the polls don't yet support the notion. A September poll from BGC had 88 percent supporting a strong anti-drug policy. Mitofsky showed 74 percent in favor of the army being deployed in domestic police tasks last April. Pew had 80 percent responding in the affirmative to the same question in an August report from the Global Attitudes Project. If this march really was the turning point, of course, it will take a while to show up in polls, which we should keep an eye on. However, support for the army in the streets would have to fall a long way to support the hypothesis that the public is together calling for the immediate return of the troops to the barracks. However, one poll that might offer a hint of growing hostility: Mitofksy's approval rating for Calderón, which had been mostly stable for the last few months, dipped below 50 percent for the first time in his presidency in March.
Lastly, I haven't seen much change on the opinion pages. It seems like everyone has the same opinion they did a week ago, with the opposition to Calderón concentrated among the same voices it was previously. While this an imperfect barometer, you'd expect some big-time centrists, a la Cronkite with Vietnam, to get swept along with the tide of opposition.
Calderón's comment yesterday that since no one can suggest a better strategy, he will continue with his own, is a pretty good reflection of that. Of course, there have been suggestions of specific policy adjustments to Calderón's policy over the past four years (here's mine), but the calls to "end the war" and the like have been much more common, and they don't amount to a sustainable strategic alternative so much as a series of mottos, which makes it easier to Calderón to get away with comments like the above.
Feelings have nothing to do with feelings between nations. What we have to focus on here are the national interests and when I eventually go, I will go recognizing that the two countries have, want to, and will continue to continue putting the national interests of Mexico and United States above [feelings]. That's what we must focus on so as to serve the interests of the citizens in both nations.He then cut the interview short with tears rolling down his cheeks.
There is where it gets very complicated to follow Sicilia [and his proposal to forge a peace pact with the capos]. I don't see how or in what way the Mexico state could pact an end to the violence. Would all the big capos have to be seated around a table and sign a sort of contract or agreement of good faith? Who would participate: el Chapo, el Mayo, el Lazca? Their representatives, their chief hit men? Would the agreement take into account the bands of kidnappers and those who charge extortion in many cities in the North of the country?And beyond the unseemliness of it, how is it workable? More on that topic from me, here.
There is no doubt that the President Calderón deserves to be questioned for the scale of violence in recent years and that we must always have the wisdom to change direction when the one we are on is not taking us to desirable results, but the idea that the state pact with criminals seems to me an unacceptable capitulation.
How do you explain it to the victims of their crimes? How would those who have seen their children kidnapped feel when they see the secretary of public security at the table with the chief of a band or a dangerous hit man? Is that the image we want to project about the future of the country?
Thursday, April 7, 2011
At the end of his column the journalist asks me a question: "And after the marches, what do we do then?" I will answer. Direct our efforts toward the full democratization of the electronic media outlets so as to assure the public presence of the great plurality of voices and perspectives that characterize our society. The indignation of those that marched this Wednesday isn't directed only at the government, the parties, and the criminals, but also at the great media oligopolies that have us sick of so much lying and disinformation.Here was a pretty good chance for one of Calderón's more prominent critics to do offer a more pointed criticism, and I'm not really sure what specifically Ackerman is proposing here. Nor am I sure why he thought the answer to the question lies primarily with changing the media. At the risk of painting with too broad a brush, it's striking that Calderón's more strident adversaries often don't offer much in the way of specific policy alternatives. And it's not for lack of opportunity--there's plenty of stuff that should be changed in Calderón's approach. But for whatever reason, the preferred terrain is the simplicity of "Calderón's war" and the like. That's a useful line of political attack, but it dominates the opposition narrative way too much. It's too much bludgeon, not enough scalpel. Insofar as a loyal opposition can moderate the worst tendencies of the government, the incessant broadsides, which are pretty easy to tune out, instead of specific complaints, which are less so, are counterproductive from a policy standpoint.
Also, Ackerman, continuing his habitual lack of proportion, referred to Iniciativa México as "totalitarian" the other day. You can read a straight-ahead take on the agreement here; you tell me if you see Stalin lurking between the lines.
I suppose that the idea is that such a result will be very rare, and the threat to deport adults born in the US will more than anything serve as a deterrent. However, the deterrent would have to be exercised to be credible. Furthermore, to be useful on its own terms, it would have to disincentive something presently motivating immigrants to come to the US; I'm pretty skeptical that anything beyond a very small minority of the undocumented population in the US was motivated by the desire to come to the US, have babies, and use them as a way to stick around legally. Most people don't think that far in advance.
Update: El Universal says his name is Luis Alberto Salazar, not José Luis as Excélsior had said. Both agree that his nom de narco is El Bolas.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
But how is it possible that in the exact same town as the worst massacre in recent memory in Mexico, the level of governmental attention is such that what might be the second worst massacre occurs barely six months later? You would hope that the response to the initial episode would at the very least be sufficient to make the criminal groups change up their operations a bit, if not discontinue mass killings altogether. This crime makes it seem as though, following the August killings, business continued basically unchanged.
Young adult Mexican migrants in the United States are much more likely to suffer depression and anxiety disorders than family members of migrants who remain in Mexico, a new study finds.
Researchers compared the mental health of 259 male and 295 female migrants in the United States with 904 male and 1,615 female non-migrants in Mexico.
"After arrival in the United States, migrants had a significantly higher risk for first onset of any depressive or anxiety disorder than did non-migrant family members of migrants in Mexico," Joshua Breslau, of the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, and colleagues, wrote in a journal news release.
However, this increased risk was limited to those aged 18 to 35, with the greatest risk among those aged 18 to 25.
"The finding that migrants are at a higher risk for onset of depressive and anxiety disorders after migration compared with family members of migrants who remained in Mexico provides the first direct evidence that experiences as a migrant might lead to the onset of clinically significant mental health problems in this population," the researchers wrote.