Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On Cordero's Unveiling

Leo Zuckermann has some comments on the Cordero candidacy:

There are some very important days ahead for the recently "unveiled". He will have to make his "society debut". Make himself known quickly and convince people that he can be a viable candidate to compete against Peña Nieto and López Obrador who will be on the ballot the next presidential election. The first people he must convince, of course, are his fellow panistas who are the ones who will ultimately choose, as they did six years ago, their presidential candidate.

At this point the question is who will compete with Cordero inside the PAN. I don't see Creel or Vázquez Mota renouncing their aspirations for 2012. The question is, now that Cordero has been unveiled, which demonstrates that he has the support of many figures in the PAN, what will the other calderonista candidates (Lozano and Lujambio) do: will they bail out of the race so as to hop on the Cordero bandwagon or will they continue in the race?

Disunity Is Not the Biggest Problem

Carlos Loret de Mola says that, after a divided PAN's failure to unite behind a gubernatorial candidate in Aguascalientes and subsequent loss of a state it had governed for 12 years, the party should be very careful to make sure that the competing ambitions of José Ángel Córdova and Miguel Márquez don't ruin any chance of holding on to Guanajuato, a longtime PAN stronghold.

There's some truth to that, but I think a lesson of the last couple of years in Mexico is that candidates matter. To take but two examples (and there are many more) the PRI was punished for ignoring Ángel Aguirre in Guerrero, while it will be rewarded for tabbing Ávila instead of Alfredo del Mazo in Mexico State. It would be a mistake for the PAN, especially with the Yunque not being an ascendant movement, to think that embracing a weaker candidate (Márquez) for the sake of unity is a recipe for success.

Mexico State Race Growing Less Interesting

Despite the historic reunion of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Alejandro Encinas' campaign kickoff event, the latter's candidacy for the Mexico State governor's post has not taken off. Indeed, two weeks in, Eruviel Ávila's lead has grown from its initial spread of almost 30 points to an advantage of just over 30 points. One can only imagine how well he'd be doing if he had 10,000 pledges instead of a mere 6,000.

Friday, May 27, 2011

No One Liked It

El Universal reports that, whatever the merits of shows portraying federales as good guys, El Equipo wasn't the program to make the open pop culture toward to the archetype of the good guy government agent: the show's ratings rarely made it much above half of what a typical novela would earn in its slot.

Unconvincing

Ravi Ubha's five reasons that Man Utd. will come away as champs on Saturday include the eight or so minutes that Man Utd dominated play in 2009 (never mind the 82 that Barça beat the pants off of Ronaldo and co.), Barça giving up a single headed goal (to Ronaldo in the King's Cup final, with both teams gassed in the 103rd minute), Van der Sar being better than Valdez (very disputable, and probably irrelevant as both of them are good enough that goalie play will not likely be the difference maker), the availability of Darren Fletcher (who is, what, their seventh-most influential player?), and the site of the game: London's Wembley, where the largest contingent may well be Man Utd-hating Englishmen.

Manchester may well beat Barça, though I doubt it, and that's not a convincing case in any event.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chapo in Argentina

Argentine media outlets are reporting that Chapo Guzmán lived in the South American nation during 2010, before leaving for other neighboring nations and Europe after being alerted that the DEA was on his trail. He is also said to have built up his smuggling contacts within Argentina, using poor neighborhoods in the interior part of the country to launder money.

Comments from Sicilia

Javier Sicilia reacted to the news that his son's killers had been caught with gratitude for the Federal Police (through his lawyer) and a plea to speak with the men (through his own mouth).

Sicilia also recently said, "We seek arms with which to pressure the politicians". I don't agree with a lot of his diagnoses regarding what is ailing the Mexican state, but I wish him luck on this point. This ability to continually affect policy-makers' decisions, and not just provoke a flurry of high-minded commentary, is the area in which pretty much all of the civic protest movements have fizzled out. And if you are looking for arms in a democracy, the obvious one is votes, which means turning civic protest movements into grass-roots interest groups, a la the Christian Right, and working to try to direct members' votes to one candidate or another. I get the sense that a lot of the civic movements like being above the political fray (one illustration is the frequent complaining about the partidocracia, which glosses over the fact that modern democracies need political parties to function), but it's hard to change policies without leaping in.

Against Agustín

Rogelio Ramírez de la O thinks sending Carstens to the IMF would be a bad idea:
The Mexican government is mistaken thinking that the designation of the director of the Fund should be for merit, because it's not an issue of merit, but rather economic and geopolitical support to overcome the global economic crisis. Unless you want to run the risk of a new director that can't secure the support of the large economies to overcome a crisis, such as Europe, this should be a political and not a technical decision.
That's certainly a fair argument, but it's worth mentioning that the argument about winning over the support of the major nations could be a perennial case against taking the leadership away from Europe. If the developing nations are to play a larger role in running the IMF, that argument will need to be ignored at some point. Though with so many European nations in financial trouble, perhaps now is not the ideal time.

Potential Problem for Peña Nieto

Jorge Chabat thinks that Peña Nieto's ho-hum efforts to improve the quality of the State of Mexico's police will bite him in the presidential race:
The battle for the presidency is just beginning and surely we will see a lot of back and forth from the candidates. Nevertheless, the issue of security is inevitable and there Peña Nieto has a hole the size of Sumidero Canyon. Th fact that he hasn't finished the process of police certification will be without a doubt one of the topics of the campaign, as Luis Felipe Bravo Mena demonstrated in the debate that he had with Alejandro Encinas and Eruviel Ávila on Denise Maerker's program. And there Peña Nieto had better have a good explanation. Any other way, the public image he has constructed of a politician that fulfills his pledges will collapse like a house of cards.
I hope he's right, but I'm not so sure; high-profile, conspicuous evidence of Peña Nieto's governing shortcomings have been plainly evident for years, yet he remains hugely popular. I don't know that the somewhat ephemeral issue of police certification will be a difference maker.

Mourinho's Empire Consolidated

With Valdano out in Real Madrid and the Special One in control of everything from player selection to the tunes low-level staff may whistle on their way to the bathroom, now seems a good time to remember that much-maligned Manuel Pellegrini's Real, despite the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo for several weeks, outperformed Mourinho's in La Liga in 2009-10.

Here's to a sweep of the Clasicos for Barça and an early exit from the Champions League for Real in 2011. Plus, another embarrassing meltdown or six.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Discouraging Criminal-Justice Careers

UNAM rector José Narro was not interested in a program to encourage students from the system's high schools to join the Federal Police:
The rector dismissed that in a circumstance like the current one, options for young people lie within the Federal Police.

He revealed that UNAM would not sign any agreements with the Secretariat of Public Security headed by Genaro García Luna, so that youths graduating from high school join the ranks of the Federal Police and carry out activities of intelligence or police work.

"We have decided to simply say 'No thanks' to this type of situation", he said.
Narro didn't go into much depth and the wisdom of his decision depends to a large degree on the specifics of the program, but this knee-jerk rejection of government security as a calling, if indeed that was what was behind it, is unfortunate. UNAM's high school students are presumably a sharp bunch; Mexico's security agencies are in need of sharp and uncorrupted people. The complementarity is obvious, as are the stakes, given Mexico's security problems. Whatever anyone thinks of Calderón and García Luna, an improved Federal Police is a big part of any solution to Mexico's current difficulties, and it's not going to get any better without encouraging talented people to join.

One obvious American parallel was the Ivy League's ROTC ban, which was evidently a fiction, but even if it were real, the big difference is that the US military is not quite so starved of talent as are Mexican security agencies.

El Negro Radilla Arrested

Jesús Radilla, the alleged killer of Juan Francisco Sicilia and his buddies in March, has been arrested along with two accomplices.

It has been a rough run for the South Pacific gangsters in Cuernavaca, so much so that other gangs are running from alliances with them, and one wonders if they will survive the Sicilia killing. Once more, Mexico's authorities demonstrate that the are capable of performing quite well as long as there is a bit of attention and pressure on them; so how do we duplicate that all of the time?

Traitor!

OECD boss José Ángel Gurría, evidently keen on remaining the only Mexican at the head of a major international organization, has thrown his support behind Christine Lagarde for the IMF's top job. That doesn't quite put him alongside Huerta in the annals of Mexican villains, but kind of a surprise.

Excited about Wayne

I count five articles from today's El Universal regarding the new American ambassador to Mexico. My favorite is about his passion for rock music, which includes this wonderful sentence:
It's one of the most unique aspects of Early Anthony Wayne, the designated US ambassador for Mexico, has of pursuing one of his great passions, rock music, once his professional chores, to which he gives his body and soul, give him a chance.
Also, for the record, he was never Pascual's deputy, as I mistakenly said this weekend. I misread the note from Bajo Reserva. Apologies.

Alleviating Ennui

According to a new survey, one-tenth of the Mexican labor market suffers from extreme boredom.

This is further evidence of a static, hidebound labor market. If all these people are bored, and Mexican entrepreneurs are always looking for new talent in the drug trafficking industry where presumably no one suffers from boredom, extreme or otherwise, well, the obstacles to the free movement of labor need to be identified and removed promptly. There is no reason today's bored office rat shouldn't be tomorrow's agent-bribing, pistol-toting, border-jumping mule-runner.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Theory Behind the Durango Bodies

I'd missed this report from the AP a couple of days ago:
The Sinaloa cartel had seemed immune to the kind of missteps, mindless violence and internal power struggles that have plagued other drug gangs, to the extent that most Mexicans believed the Sinaloa cartel was either exceedingly sophisticated or in cahoots with the government.

But the portrait now emerging from the 219 corpses is of a cartel that is riven by internal cracks, according to the official.

In recent months, at least two local groups sought to break off from Sinaloa and control the drug shipment routes through Durango for themselves, the official said. A third group, known as the "M's," remained loyal to Sinaloa boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who has been named one of the richest and most influential people in the world by Forbes magazine, with a fortune of more than $1 billion.

A leading member of the "M's" and the fourth-highest ranking Sinaloa operator in Durango, Bernabe Monje Silva, was arrested by federal police on March 27 and led police to the grave sites, the police official said.
It goes along with recent reports of Los M's and Gente Nueva fighting in Durango.

[Obligatory point: Forbes saying Chapo has $1 billion is no more trustworthy than me saying it, or the clerk at your local McDonalds saying it.]

US Diplomats on Peña Nieto. Ouch.

Via Aguachile, the US government offers some pointed and basically correct opinions of Enrique Peña Nieto:
For critics of Mexico State's governor and likely 2012 PRI presidential candidate, the most recent Wikileaks revelations from La Jornada on the subject of Enrique Peña Nieto are pure gold. This is what the U.S. embassy thinks of him [from Spanish, not from the orginal]:
"Godson of ex president Carlos Salinas"
"Cut from the same cloth as the old PRI"
"Made in the same mold of the stale Mexico State PRI, he is not exactly recognized for his transparency when it comes to friends and allies"
And also,
"pays pollster companies to make them give results favorable to him"
One cable, in an absolutely marvelous reference, calls Mexico State a "Potemkin Village."
It's not a huge surprise nor is it an original observation, but the US diplomats have come across as a pretty sharp bunch in most of what I've read from WikiLeaks.

The Case against Institutions

Institutional improvement is the wrong approach, says Stratfor:
Certainly, the Mexican government has aggressively pursued police reform for many years now, with very little success. Indeed, it was the lack of a trustworthy law enforcement apparatus that led the Calderon government to turn to the military to counter the power of the Mexican cartels. This lack of reliable law enforcement has also led Calderon to aggressively pursue police reform. This reform effort has included unifying the federal police agencies and consolidating municipal police departments (which have arguably been the most corrupt institutions in Mexico) into unified state police commands, under which officers are subjected to better screening, oversight and accountability. Already, however, there have been numerous instances of these “new and improved” federal- and state-level police officers being arrested for corruption.

This illustrates the fact that Mexico’s ills go far deeper than just corrupt institutions. Because of this, revamping the institutions will not result in any meaningful change, and the revamped institutions will soon be corrupted like the ones they replaced. This fact should have been readily apparent; the institutional approach has been tried in the region before and has failed.

Perhaps the best example of this failure was the “untouchable and incorruptible” Department of Anti-Narcotics Operations, known by its Spanish acronym DOAN, which was created in Guatemala in the mid-1990s. The DOAN was almost purely a creation of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The concept behind the creation of the DOAN was that corruption existed within the Guatemalan police institutions because the police were undertrained, underpaid and underequipped. It was believed that if police recruits were carefully screened, properly trained, well paid and adequately equipped, they would not be susceptible to the corruption that plagued the other police institutions in the country. So the U.S. government hand-picked the recruits, thoroughly trained them, paid them generously and provided them with brand-new uniforms and equipment. However, the result was not what the U.S. government expected. By 2002, the “untouchable” DOAN had to be disbanded because it had essentially become a drug trafficking organization itself and was involved in torturing and killing competitors and stealing their shipments of narcotics.

The example of the Guatemalan DOAN (and of more recent Mexican police reform efforts) demonstrates that even a competent, well-paid and well-equipped police institution cannot stand alone within a culture that is not prepared to support it and keep it clean.

I agree with a lot of this, but I think the author's basic conclusion from it is wrong. He says DOAN and Mexico's problems show that institution-building is a fool's errand, but the lesson from DOAN is that building effective institutions is extremely hard, that we should expect setbacks, and that the US cannot build a bunch of FBI replicas simply dropping a bunch of dollars from afar. To avoid trying to build more honest and competent crime-fighting agencies just because because they may not remain 100 percent clean strikes me as a cop-out.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Calderón's Pick?

Bajo Reserva suspects that Ernesto Cordero isn't really Calderón's pick to be president. The reasons seem to be that he's just not a forceful personality, and he's not winning anyone over as he meets with businessmen and politicians, ostensibly to build the ties that would help lift him to the nomination. They report that there is evidently growing speculation that the Calderón's real pick is waiting in the wings, and will step forward at some point. That seems unlikely to me; what would Calderón possibly have to gain by using Cordero as a decoy and giving everyone else a jump on his true candidate. More likely, it seems, Cordero just hasn't set the world on fire.

Carstens' Hat Is in the Ring

Agustín Carstens seems to have formally (as these things go) declared himself in the running for the top job at the IMF, saying, appropriately enough:
I think I have the merits to take the position of director general of the IMF.
The boomlet pushing Carstens seems to be growing, especially with Kemal Dervis dropping out. Simon Johnson (among various others) mentioned him as a possibility last week. It remains to be seen if Europe will surrender control over the post, but hopefully it will, in which case Carstens looks like a good bet. At that point, Mexico would have the top position at the OECD and the IMF at the same time. World domination: inevitable.

Governmental Silliness

One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry:
The mayor of Navolato, Evelio Plata Insulza, announced that he will propose the prohibition of miniskirts, as a way of reducing the number of unwanted teenage pregnancies.
Even if you aren't a fan of the miniskirt, you'd have to be close to brain dead to think that there's a corner of Sinaloa where there aren't much more important challenges for governments to occupy themselves with. However, Plata's is not the stupidest reason to oppose the miniskirt ever concocted in Sinaloa. This is:
In 2009, the rector of the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa, Héctor Melesio Cuen Ojeda, believed that the increase in violence in Culiacán could be slowed by prohibiting female students in the foremost institute of higher learning in the state from using miniskirts.
If only The Onion existed in Mexico: "Mayor prohibits women from having legs".

Tough Sell

Santiago Creel, one of the best known panistas in Mexico for more than a decade now, says he is the candidate of change. He definitely is not one of Calderón's inner circle, but it's hard to see that argument sticking among the average voters. Especially with the relative absence of policy hot buttons in Mexico.

Asymmetric Admiration

Ana María Salazar seems to be writing about El Equipo, though she never mentions it:
Everybody seems to know the marines, and some fanatics even know their motto: semper fidelis. How many Mexicans know what Cisen is? But, of course, there are few Mexicans who don't know what the CIA or DEA is.

But what abut the Mexicans who on a daily basis train and risk their lives on missions as dangerous, though not as glamorous, as those of their neighbors to the north?

The lack of awareness of the common citizen coupled with the cumulative effect of the negative news --much of it, sadly, true-- about the security and defense forces, are the only points of reference for them. We don't know who it is who watches over us, but we admire those who maintain the security in the US.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pascual's Replacement

According to Bajo Reserva, the next US ambassador to Mexico will be Earl Anthony Wayne, a career diplomat specializing in energy and economic issues.

Miserly with the Military

One of the points regarding security that I seem to be hearing with growing frequency is that Mexico simply doesn't spend nearly enough to be serious about improving its crime-fighting institutions. This figure certainly furthers that argument: according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Mexico has the lowest military spending as a proportion of GDP in all of Latin America. Chile, for instance, spends roughly eight times per capita what Mexico does on the armed forces, Colombia almost five times, Brazil more than three times. If there was a stronger Federal Police taking the lead in Mexico, if the government wasn't relying so heavily on the military, that wouldn't be a problem. But to ask the military to do more with less is just a recipe for ineffectiveness, regardless of your opinion of the wisdom and legality of using the military to start with.

Update: Noel Maurer had a lot more on this in November.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Juárez Safer, More Heroic

Ahead of a trip to Juárez in which the border city was, rather oddly, to be given the ceremonial title of Ciudad Heroica, Calderón announced on Twitter that murders have dropped from 11 a day to four a day inside city limits. He also said that the Federal Police strategies were behind the drop.

This illustrates a couple of points: Twitter is probably not the best venue for policy announcements that require some detailed explanations, and Mexican authorities have never invested sufficient energy in debating and explaining the security tactics and strategies from one city to the next. Assuming Calderón is right in attributing the drop to the Federal Police (which he probably isn't), the obvious question what are they doing differently? Why are they succeeding while the army failed? And, of course, how can that success be repeated elsewhere? These are obvious questions; if the Federal Police truly is responsible, then there should be good answers to them. The Federal Police announced in November a security plan based on "islands of security", which seemed a lot like some of the urban COIN tactics employed in Iraq. Was that the reason for the drop in murders? Whatever the case, more info please!!

The difference between the coverage of Mexican insecurity and Iraq a few years ago is reall striking. Five years ago (give or take) newspapers and TV shows and policy journals and government press conferences went into great detail about the successes in Tall Afar, the failures in Anbar, the Clear-Hold-Build, the intricacies of FM 3-24, et cetera. There was a broad, government-led, media-supported effort to make sense of the security challenges and to find a way forward based on applying different tactics and learning from our mistakes. In Mexico, in contrast, Calderón just seems to be interested in blindly putting out fires where he might. That may be an unfair characterization, but he enables it by limiting his analysis of the situation to 140 characters at a time.

Arms Seizures

According to the secretary of defense, the number of arms confiscations in Mexico has leaped by 1,603 percent since 2007, from 5,216 to more than 83,000 in 2010. The states with the highest number of seizures are Baja California, Michoacán, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas.

Friday, May 20, 2011

PAN Missteps

Jorge Fernández Menéndez says the the rollout of Luis Felipe Bravo Mena's campaign for governor in Mexico State left a lot to be desired:
For some strange reason, the team of Luis Felipe Bravo Mena didn't want to begin midnight on Monday, as Eruivel did, nor did they want a demonstration of partisan support, like Encinas. In the PAN they decided that they wouldn't do virtually anything. To start, they had an event in the morning where Santiago Creel appeared (and where they suggested to the senator that he not speak), with a formal beginning to the campaign later, in the Mazahua zone. Josefina Vázquez Mota, who has support above all in those indigenous groups, was there, but the party leadership was not. Why? Because the president of the PAN, Gustavo Madero, had called a meeting of the Executive Committee that afternoon in the party offices in DF and it didn't seem a good idea to change the date of the meeting or, better yet, make it a party of the event for the kickoff of his candidate's campaign in Mexico State. Not a single national leader of the PAN went to the event.

[Break]

It will be difficult for the PAN or the PRD to catch up with Eruviel, but conducting a good campaign in Mexico State is vital, first, for the internal campaigns of the parties (and the perredista aspirants have understood this very well and the majority of the panistas have ignored it) and second, it is a key election for positioning ahead of 2012. And maybe in the PAN, above all, they have other worries, but the Edomex campaign doesn't seem to be on their radarm and thy descided to start without their party leader, without their national leaders, and without their precandidates for the presidency. Maybe they think they have a 30-point advantage to conserve until July 3.
They don't, of course. The PAN really feels rudderless right now. They are probably in better shape than the PRD, but at least in the latter party, there is a fight between two extremes for control of the party, and when and if a winner is decisively determined, the party can begin to rebuild itself as a coherent national force. Right now, no one seems to be struggling for control of the PAN; it just seems like it is slogging along.

Bad Sign for Marcelo

Dealing with interview questions asking Marcelo Ebrard what he will do if he loses the nomination are perhaps not a sign of imminent electoral doom, but I don't see anyone asking Peña Nieto the same thing. In any event, Ebrard said he would not run for a post in the Senate if AMLO comes out on top. I hope that's just bluster; circumstances don't appear to be lining up for Ebrard in 2012, but he's a young guy, and they certainly could in 2018, especially if he remains relevant in the interim.

No Thanks

San Fernando's mayor says that militarizing his town is unnecessary:
"There is no reason to go so far; there is insecurity in San Fernando, but other cities in Tamaulipas and the country also suffer from it", he said.

He revealed that there is fear and threats that crops are stolen; nevertheless, nothing has happened, which is why he dismisses the [arrival of the army] as unviable, above all in his municipality.

He said he had confidence in the actions carried out by the governor regarding security, emphasizing that there exists a commitment to offer protection and vigilance as was the case during Holy Week.

"Security will be reinforced, and Governor Egidio Torre alread said that, there will be a security deployment, but to go to the extent of militarizing the warehouses is not an option," said Mayor Tomás Gloria Requena.
Such a response is rather unusual; usually when local authorities are overwhelmed, the first thing they do is request as many federal troops as the government can send. In this case, it's also ridiculous; the mayor is not saying military deployments are ineffective, which would be worth debating, but is saying insecurity in San Fernando, site of two mass discoveries of cadavers in less than eight months, isn't that bad. If San Fernando hasn't reached the threshold of chaos necessary to make a federal troop deployment a good idea, God help the cities that have.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Different Responses to Different Massacres

Presumably in response to the mass graves found outside the state capital, 100 marines have deployed to Durango.

Mexico has long had a problem with its security policy being determined in large part by media attention, something that always struck me the ignorance of the worsening situation when I lived in Torreón. This seems a pretty good example of the same phenomenon. Because the mass graves in San Fernando were discovered first, because the murders were allegedly perpetrated by an identifiable villain, and because they formed a story of inexplicable cruelty, Tamaulipas announced the creation of three new military bases and the deployment of more than 500 soldiers (not sure of the exact number, because the train deployment didn't include any numbers on the number of troops). But more bodies were discovered in Durango than in Tamaulipas, and the number of murders has recently been comparable, despite Durango having just over half the population that Tamaulipas does. Perhaps there is another explanation for the disproportionate responses beyond the discrepancy in media attention, but I can't think of one, and that's not a good way to make policy.

No Better Way to Celebrate Mexico's Day of the Teacher than Talking about the World's Best Teacher

Like a slug toward a bowl of beer, Elba Esther Gordillo has been drawn into the limelight by the coming elections, none more so than Mexico State's:
Profesor Elba Esther Gordillo has been stirring the pot in the context of the electoral battle in Mexico State and the presidential succession. For several weeks she has been active. First in the conference of the teachers union. Later in an interview, published in this newspaper, in which she criticized the labor policy of Calderón's government. On the celebration of Day of the Teacher, the president proposed to Doña Elba Esther to work together in the universal evaluation of teachers. The union leader has been increasingly active. She is back in the midst of the electoral battle.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Federales as the Good Guys

Televisa has a new show out about the life of a Federal Police officer called El Equipo. I haven’t seen the show, but I suspect that, in keeping with telenovela norms, it has all the subtlety of a pro wrestling match. That (I presume), coupled with the openly pro-government take, has led to reactions like the following, from Jenaro Villamil:
The slogan of the telenovela El Equipo leaves no doubt as to its being a production that documents the heroic version of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and Genaro García Luna himself want to prevail regarding the war against organized crime: “they know that good defeats evil”.
The benefit of this show isn’t that it promotes Calderón’s view of the war on drugs, but rather that it shows the government as the good guys, unequivocally. I can’t think of a single recent show or movie that has come down as pro-government --not pro-Calderón, but pro-government in the abstract. I can think of dozens where the government’s corruption was a central feature of the plot. The small and big screen’s treatment of the government doesn’t get any better than agnostic. El Equipo may be a bunch of nonsense propaganda as a dramatic work (though hopefully not), but the widespread sense that government can be a force for good, even on security matters, is missing in Mexico, and TV and movies can do a lot to address that.

Of course, I also firmly believe there is a role for narrative that seeks to depict the other side, and I don’t see it as an apology for criminality.

Silly Governance in Sinaloa

This is just a total game-change in Sinaloan security:
The governor of Sinaloa, Mario López Valdez, decreed a reform in the standards of inspection and regulation of alcohol licensing in which the broadcast of songs that discuss organized crime and concerts of artists from that realm will be prohibited in bars, cantinas, nighclubs, and banquet halls.

The establishments that do not follow this criteria will lose their permits and licenses for the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Banning narcocorridos necessarily imposes a cost on the society in terms of free expression. That could be justified in certain circumstances, but what is the threat to society that is being addressed here? How is the combat of organized crimes being advanced in any meaningful way by the prohibition of narcocorridos? This all negative, no positive. Malova is presumably just doing it for political rather than policy reasons, but it's stupid policy nonetheless.

From the Department of Who Gives a F---?!

The image below was the third story from the top on the home page of El Universal, one of Mexico's premier dailies, earlier today:

Today in Dirty Police

Sixty-four cadets in Monterrey were tossed from the program for failing their vetting tests, while at least 150 cops in Torreón, which has had its fair share of police problems in the past, will be fired in the coming days for failing the same. The regular appearance of such news stories in at least one sense good news, because it means that the government is seeking to alter the incentive structure that leads cops to work for criminals. But testing the police force and firing the offenders is just one part of the equation; I wonder what local governments have done to improve the caliber of recruits and to protect those cops who work with criminals because they worry they will get killed if they don't.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jesús Corona's Lack of Learning and Its Consequences

Cruz Azul keeper Jesús Corona is believed by many to be Mexico's best active goalie, yet the guy has a bit of a problem with violence. Beating the hell out of a guy in a street fight last year basically cost him his chance to be on a World Cup team for whom he probably would have started. Bummer. He later said that being tossed from the team was a good lesson that would serve him well in the long run.

With Javier Aguirre replaced by Chepo de la Torre as the boss of the Tri and with the Gold Cup set to start later this summer, Corona was poised for a comeback. He was named to the final squad and again looked like a decent bet to be the starter (though not as much as last year, when Ochoa was beset by a bad case of the yips). Then he did this on Sunday, in the semifinals of La Liguilla, with his team moments way from elimination at the hands of Morelia.



Now he's off the team again, with de la Torre saying:
"The athletic part is important, very important, lifting trophies, winning cups, but the example for the fans, for the young people also is..."
Breaking out the role model stick. Ouch. The president also got into the act, saying with regard to climate change,
"The earth can also heat up, just like Cruz Azul-Morelia".
Calderón make funny!

Another IMF Rumor Involving a Mexican

Ernesto Zedillo's name is also being kicked around as a potential replacement to Dominique Straus-Kahn at the IMF. I would love to see the reaction from Salinas, who used to harbor ambitions for a post like that (he had his eye on the WTO, I believe), to that. The developing world, of course, has long complained about the West's monopoly over the IMF and World Bank leadership. There's really no good reason for it in 2011, if there ever was. It would be nice for that historic step to be taken without the cloud of sexual assault glowering down, but oh well.

About the March

Excélsior published a poll yesterday about the May 8 march and insecurity more generally. Regarding the latter, 59 percent expressed approval of Calderón's security policies, which is down a great deal from a couple of years ago (approval stood at 73 percent in 2008), but up a point from January. The number of people saying that confronting organized crime is one of Calderón's biggest achievements and that he is containing the phenomenon has plummeted since May 2009 (evidently the last time the question was asked), from 38 to 18 percent. Forty-seven percent said that Calderón's initial strategy was hurried and didn't consider the consequences, while 46 percent said that the issue is merely the inevitable resistance from criminal groups.

With regard to the march, 52 percent said that García Luna's removal would resolve nothing and would only favor criminal groups, while 35 percent said it was the only way to fix the strategy. Sixty-four percent said that the march have little or no effect on Calderón's policies, while 35 percent said that will have a significant impact. Furthermore, just 59 percent of those polled knew of the march, compared to 77 percent who knew of the Iluminemos México protests in 2008.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Polls, Polls

Buendía y Laredo and Mitofsky have new polls out on the presidential possibilities. As far as the former survey, Enrique Peña Nieto wins in a wash against any of the possible combination of candidates. The closest anyone gets to him is 33 points, courtesy of AMLO, with Alonso Lujambio coming in third. Paredes, in their projections, also sweeps all of the races, though by less overwhelming margins (including just 12 points when paired with Santiago Creel). The PRI is also improving in voter identification and on the generic party ballot. The only priísta with bad news is Manlio Fabio Beltrones, who loses each of the races they poll, though narrowly. (Does it strike anyone else that if no one was actually polled and Peña Nieto was asked to write the results to the poll himself, they probably would have come out the exact same way?)

Mitofsky has the PAN down to a two-horse race, with Creel slightly ahead of Josefina Vázquez among the population at large, and 14 points up among panistas. In the PRD, AMLO has a 55-point lead among the party faithful, a two-point lead among the rest. And Peña Nieto is more than 80 points up on Beltrones among the PRI, with the lead shrinking to a nail-biting 50 points among the whole sample. As is the case for virtually everyone, Mitofsky has the PRI as the most popular party, but unlike Buendía y Laredo's, this poll shows the good opinion of the PRI declining in recent months.

Silly Comparison

Caldrerón's comparison of himself to Winston Churchill, which is about as ahistorical and silly as you can get without involving the Nazis, is rightfully drawing a bit of criticism. Jorge Zepeda Patterson says that not only is it a silly analogy on its merits, but it also represents a pattern of thinking that is holding the PAN back ahead of the 2012 elections:
I don't think Mexicans are willing to buy the chance of another panista administration with a narrative that asks them to overcome the "blood and tears" to save the country. Calderón is not Churchill, nor do our fearsome but flamboyant gunmen resemble the German Wehrmacht, with their Panzer divisions and V rockets...

With his obsession with the war against drugs, Calderón reduces the possibilities of his party coming together behind a candidate and constructing an attractive campaign discourse. Maybe the president believes that the best bet for the PAN remaining in power resides in convincing the PRI that if the PRI arrives to Los Pinos it will negotiate with the drug gangs. I suppose he has his polls, but every now and then I ask myself if that propaganda helps the PRI. I suppose that there are a good number of Mexicans who, without saying it aloud, would support some type of agreement with the cartels.

The problem with these comparisons is that eventually they catch up to you. Churchill helped direct an alliance that defeated the Nazis. It's now evident how Calderón is going to defeat the narcos.

Rumor Mill

Excélsior reports that Agustín Carstens may be tabbed to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF boss who stands accused of sexually assaulting a maid at a New York hotel.

Most Irritating Habit in Mexican Politics, Revisited

Eruviel Ávila kicked off his campaign in Mexico State yesterday with just ten of 6,000 promised commitments for Mexicans. Six thousand?!?! How could all or even most of those possibly be worthwhile? The ten that he did mention include a nice mix of gaudy building projects (a new train) and pledges that straddle the line separating vague from meaningless (combat poverty and inequality, support women in Mexico State, because "they are talented, committed, and hardworking"). He also promised to give parents money for their kids' school supplies, eliminate the tenencia car tax and the IETU alternative minimum tax, and double the budget for security.

Five thousand, nine hundred ninety pledges to go.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Explaining Calderón's Failures

Matt Yglesias on Latin America's problems:

Even a model libertarian state requires the existence of the ultimate “big government” program—a bunch of dudes with guns authorized to threaten to shoot people who don’t agree to be handcuffed and imprisoned. And this program needs to work well. Which is difficult to do if you have a force of poorly paid and poorly trained cops dependent on corruption to make a living. As Mark Kleiman explains, you can easily get stuck in a bad equilibrium:

Also not news, but something I hadn’t reflected on: the “neoliberal”/IMF/Washington Consensus emphasis on reducing taxes and public spending made the problem – already bad enough – worse, and almost impossible to fix. One reason the Colombian security/rule of law situation has gotten better (which is not to say good) is a special tax levy on high incomes dedicated for the use of the security services. The back story on that tax, according to Zedillo, is that Bill Clinton went to Bogota in 1999, met with a bunch of rich folks, and told them that if they wanted security they’d have to pay for it. Apparently they agreed, and basically volunteered the tax increase.

But when Zedillo at about the same time (when he was President of Mexico) talked to Mexican “civil society” groups that were complaining about lawlessness, and told them “The taxes you don’t pay are the security you don’t have,” he got nowhere. “Right away, I lost eye contact,” he said. Prosperous Mexicans would rather hire private “security firms” to protect their children from kidnapping, without too much concern about that fact that some of those firms maintain demand for the service by kidnapping the children of non-clients.

This is in part a “policy problem.” But I think it’s also pretty clearly to an extent a problem of public ethics and public morals. In societies with a decent level of public spiritedness, social solidarity, and moral responsibility, elites concerned about public safety respond by trying to improve pubic safety. For the past 15 years or so, Colombian elites have, among other things, sincerely wanted their country to work better and it’s paid off.

The limits of the Colombia comparison notwithstanding, I think the multiple equilibria model offers some insight into Mexico's vicious cycle of low tax revenue begetting poor public service begetting unwillingness to pay higher taxes begetting further deterioration in public security, et cetera, and Calderón's inability to do much about it. In development economics, the way to get over a bad equilibrium is a "big push", in which you address the host of issues collectively preventing higher growth and a better equilibrium at the same time, and eventually the vicious cycle is replaced by a self-perpetuating virtuous cycle. Attacking the different issues piecemeal, in contrast, is not enough to get out of the bad equilibrium trap, nothing changes, and the individual efforts are wasted.

This would suggest that Calderón, upon arriving to office, should have prepared to simultaneously address the many challenges allowing organized crime to flourish by establishing a broader political consensus and giving his government the tools to take them all on. Instead, he has addressed the various challenges one by one, almost haphazardly. (This is similar to a common critique of Calderón, though it is not often phrased in such language.) For instance, he called the army out of the barracks ten days after arriving in office, but he didn't pass a tax reform until 2008 (an inadequate one at that), and he didn't directly call on businesses to pay more until late 2009, almost three years after he arrived. Granted, attacking every element of organized crime at once simply wasn't politically feasible for Calderón in December 2006, which is where the model falls apart a bit as a real-life prescription, but it does help explain why Calderón's many piecemeal efforts have had such little visible impact.

Political Violence in Oaxaca

This is awful:
An armed group ambushed and murdered nine indigenous people and wounded ten more in the city of Santiago Choapam, Oaxaca --in the region bordering Veracruz-- informed the secretary of public security of the state, Marco Tulip López Escamilla. The cause, according to some of those affected, was a post-electoral conflict about which the authorities had already been alerted.

The group of people that was attacked on the highway was on its way to the municipal center where they were to join an assembly in which officials from the State Electoral Institute and the Oaxaca Citizen Participation were to install the Municipal Electoral Council, which would dictate the rules for extraordinary elections, because those from last year will annulled after the Federal Electoral Tribunal determied that various political rights violations had been committed.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Calderón with Charlie Rose



Calderón appeared on Charlie Rose the other night. I haven't watched the full thing there, but at some point, Calderón used Colombia as an explanation of why he expected the levels of violence to go down soon. This was wrongheaded for a number of related reasons. A) Colombia is not a good model for Mexico for a million different reasons; B) Using such a crude cause and effect --i.e. after ten years of trying hard, Colombia reduced violence; we've been trying super-hard for five years, so a similar reduction is just around the corner-- practically requires you to overlook variables that have a significant impact on security; C) We can't really know how gangs will react to government strategies; even if the strategy is wisely plotted and wildly successful (neither of which would you be likely to say about Calderón's), the gangs may decide to keep on killing people. There is only so much the government can do to engineer drops in the murder rate, so Calderón's comment reflects hope and faith more than anything.

The Importance of Reliable Numbers

Macario Schettino says that Mexico's relatively recently developed capacity to measure progress or lack thereof in a number of different areas --crime, growth, education, et cetera-- is one of the major achievements of the nation's modern history:
Although part of the explanation for why today we have information has to do with technology, undoubtedly the principal reason isn't that, but rather the disappearance of the authoritarian regime. Thanks to that, with all of the deficiencies that are holding us back, we have information about what is happening in Mexico, and part of that comes from the society itself and not official sources. Better still, there are now legal procedures for information and transparency, and an organism, the IFAI, that allows us to force the (federal) authorities to inform us. It is not a perfect law, nor is the IFAI perfect. Nothing is. But the change that we have achieves is no slouch.

[Break]

To confront these groups, information is fundamental, and for that you have to appreciate how much we have advanced, and make an effort to achieve what still remains: fiscal information, management of public money in the unions, in the campesino centers and in the universities, transparency in the media outlets, to name a few.
We take reliable numbers for granted on any number of different subjects, from industrial output to those killed by organized crime. It's really weird to think that not so long ago, much of that didn't exist.

Peña Nieto in Washington

During a visit by the governor of Mexico State to Washington, Rep. Henry Cuellar said the following:
I don't stick my news into Mexican politics. But in my opinion, and I am good at predicting, the next president will be [Cuellar points at Peña Nieto].
Only a politician could think that predicting Peña Nieto's election makes him good at predicting. Anyone with access to an opinion poll and eyes can see that he's the odds-on favorite. Cuellar at last year's Thanksgiving meal:
Family! I think, and I remind you that I'm good at predicting, that this turkey will taste like turkey. [Eats] It does! See how smart I am?
Peña Nieto also complained that someone was engineering a smear campaign against the PRI outside of Mexico, impugning their honesty in fighting organized crime:
I couldn't say who is responsible for this campaign. But someone has because what is very clear is that, when we have been with congressmen, someone has sowed this doubt, this suspicion [of possible pacts between the PRI and the drug cartels]", said Peña Nieto.
Peña Nieto seemed to want to say Calderón responsible, and he may well be badmouthing the PRI across the country. But Peña Nieto should also recognize the role of history in sowing "this suspicion".

Arrest in Jalisco

The successor to Nacho Coronel as Chapo's man in Jalisco, Martín Beltrán Coronel, was arrested this week in Zapopan. Beltrán Coronel was said to exert control over members of both La Resistenia and Jalisco Cartel, which is a bit odd because the two groups have been fighting in the region.

Calderón in the US, Part 2: On Slim

(First, thanks to Blogger for finally fixing their problems.)

Calderón toots his own horn:
I respect Slim, or any Mexican business. But, at the same time, I am the authority and I must regulate the market to avoid monopolistic practices.
All of the anti-monopoly, pro-competition stuff passed over the last several weeks could well turn into the Calderón era's most significant advance (and not all of it is his doing, as the quote seems to indicate), provided that the regulatory advances aren't washed away by a future of administration. And given how many other things the administration has focused on, both in rhetoric and in practice , it feels almost as though it were an afterthought.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Calderón in the US, Part 1: Iraq as a Model for Mexico

Calderón has had a number of interesting things to say about a number of different topics (which is in and of itself interesting, because in the past he has focused like a laser on insecurity) during his trip to the US. The first I'd like to mention is his rejection of the Iraq-Mexico comparison:
No, it has nothing to do with Iraq, and sending soldiers over there, hundreds of miles away to fight for a cause that has this or that justification. This is our land, our people, these are our families and our duty is to defend them.
Hear hear. You see the comparison made for two basic rhetorical reasons: 1) to tar Calderón with W'ism, and 2) to point out that more Mexicans have been killed in Calderón's term than Americans in Iraq. As far as the second point, that's true enough, but more Americans are killed in violent acts in the US than soldiers have been killed in Iraq as well. The reason, of course, is that there have not been more than 150,000 or so Americans troops in Iraq since the immediate aftermath of the invasion, but there are 110 million Mexicans and 300 million Americans. I don't believe anyone would argue that it's safer to have been a soldier with three tours in Baghdad over the past seven years than a Mexican in Querétaro. Furthermore, if you consider all of the dead in Iraq, and not just the American troops, the number of killings in Iraq is far, far greater since 2003 than in Mexico.

With regard to the implicit Bush-Calderón comparison, I just don't see it at all, even if you really dislike Calderón. Bush invaded a foreign nation on a false pretext, upsetting what was essentially a stable situation, precipitating the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and sparking a major international rift. Calderón, in the least charitable telling, made a pressing domestic problem much worse with an ill-advised approach. A key distinction there is domestic versus foreign, as Calderón notes, but the scale of violence and the danger to international stability as a result of Calderón's combat of organized crime are both also far less than what resulted from the Iraq invasion. Furthermore, the prescriptions resulting from the comparison are incoherent; the US, you could argue, should pull out of Iraq, but how does Mexico pull out of Mexico? In other words, this is an absurd comparison that trivializes the blunder that was the invasion in 2003 and offers little insight in how to proceed, neither in Iraq nor in Mexico.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Margarita's Future

There's has been a lot of chatter about the political future of first lady Margarita Zavala, who is probably the nation's most popular panista. Felipe Calderón told Ana de la Reguera (yes, the same one who starred opposite Jack Black in Nacho Libre) in an interview for Quién that she would be interested in running for office again, but not right now. Earlier today, PAN President Gustavo Madero referred to her as a "great asset for the PAN", and pointedly did not dismiss the idea that she would be a candidate. The possibility of her running was also broached in the lead item from Bajo Reserva earlier this week, though basically just in reference to the Quién piece.

More Bodies, More Mass Graves

Milenio is reporting that four mass graves have been found in Linares, Nuevo León, one state over from San Fernando, Tamaulipas. No word on how many bodies might be inside of them.

Also, the death toll in Durango continues to tick upward: with the discovery of five bodies earlier this week, the number presently stands at 190. Without a lot of fanfare, more bodies have been discovered in Durango now than in San Fernando.

Poor Headline

NPR has an article on Sunday's protests titled, "Following Arab world's lead, Mexicans rise up".

This is a poor comparison from the headline writer, for a number of different reasons. 1) Calderón isn't a dictator; 2) No one was asking for Calderón to leave office or the country; 3) Such marches have happened several times in the past without any Arab Spring to motivate them; 4) The spark for the protests --the murder of Javier Sicilia's son-- has no good corollary in the Arab world's recent turmoil; 5) The issue is not political opening, but rather the levels of violence in Mexico.

The article, written by Ioan Grillo, who is about as reliable a reporter on Mexico as there is, is much more circumspect; regarding the comparison inspiring the headline, he has only three short paragraphs (out of 23 total) that include any reference to the Middle East, one of them a quote. This is not the first time an NPR headline has put too fine a point, and in the processed totally mucked up, a more nuanced article.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bribes in Mexico

From Excélsior, under the headline "The bribe as national sport: it cost 32 billion pesos in 2010":
The average bribe was 165 pesos and as of three years ago it was 138. In the poorest households, corruption is a regressive tax, because it signifies up to 33 percent of their expenses.

The worst entities in terms of corruption until last year were DF, followed by the State of Mexico, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Tabasco, Colima, Jalisco and Tlaxcala...
These are the two introductory paragraphs for the story, which make it rather odd. Especially the first sentence; I willfully ignore you, context! Anyway, the most memorable portion of the piece came a few paragraphs later:
The case of Tamaulipas was striking, in which Transparency Mexico could not carry out the surveys regarding 35 government services because upon knocking on the doors of the citizens, they refused to open the door because of the insecurity.
Of course, for all I know the local rep knocked on three doors in a single neighborhood right after a gunfight.

Investigations into the Migrant Kidnappings

From Milenio, more info on the 120 migrants rescued in Reynosa over the past several weeks:
Central Americans kidnapped for various days in April and then rescued by Mexican army personnel in Tamaulipas accused agents from the National Institute of Migration as those the persons that took them off of the bus in which they traveled and then turned them over to a cell from the Gulf Cartel...
This is not new information, but it's interesting that the Gulf was behind this and not the Zetas. For a long time, human trafficking has been associated much more with the latter group.

For the record, Inami was always a terrific agency for me, very helpful and courteous. Evidently, the entire organization does not share the Torreón office's approach to their work.

Shocker: García Luna Not Getting Fired

Calderón also declined to die, as some marchers had demanded. The president did, however, agree to meet them halfway via a dialogue with the marchers.

Eruviel's Lead: Still Huge

As was the case with Milenio, El Universal has the PRI candidate to succeed Enrique Peña Nieto with a 30-point lead: he has 54 percent of the intended votes, Alejandro Encinas has 25 percent, and Luis Felipe Bravo Mena has 21 percent.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Steps in the Right Direction

Macario Schettino, whose impressions of the Mexican political economy are not usually optimistic, is excited about the last few weeks:
In recent weeks, in an unusual way, three decisions that place on the right path occurred. First, the Commission for Economic Competition, Cofeco, decided to impose an extraordinary fine on Telcel, for relapsing into monopolistic practices. It's a fine of almost 12 billion pesos, and that does hurt. The same week, the Supreme Court decided that when there are objections to a decision from the Federal Telecommunications Commission, Cofetel, with respect to the price of interconnectivity, the judges cannot decree a suspension. The objection can be analyzed, but the price from Cofetel proceeds immediately. Finally, at the end of its legislative session, Congress approved changes to the Law of Economic Competition that allows Cofeco, in future findings, can fine companies up to 10 percent of their revenue (which is to say, normal fines as large as the one we mentioned), and even jail for repeat offender companies.

The impact of these decisions will be very deep. In just this week, from Monday to yesterday, Thursday, América Móvil (Telcel) lost 10 percent of its value, and dragged the entire stock market down with it. And that's just the beginning: what these measures imply, basically from today on, is that that business will no longer capture economic rents from users of cell phones, and will reduce their earnings to what is normal from these markets across the world. As a reference, the three companies with the largest revenues in the cell phone market in the world are the Chinese company, Telcel and Telefónica. The first in an authoritarian country; the other two, in Latin America, still prisoner to the rules of 20th century authoritarianism.

Now we need to move on to other markets: telecommunication, health services, pharmacies (especially distributors), and services supplying a good number of products controlled by very few intermediaries, if not only one.

You probably haven't perceived the importance of these weeks. You should, they are historic.

Slim on Insecurity: Keep Investing!

From this weekend:
The problem of drug trafficking in Mexico should not impede businessmen from investing, said Carlos Slim Helú, who said that investment is the key to development in Latin America.

"Regardless of what is going on, whoever doesn't invest will fall behind. With countries, when there is a climate of passing through difficult moments of one type or another, whoever slows their investing falls back. This type of situation must not block continued investments, and the case of Mexico is no exception", the magnate said.

Calderón Approval

Buendía y Laredo's new quarterly poll shows Felipe Calderón at 54 percent approval, a slight rebound from the 52 percent the same poll measured in February, which was the low point for the president.

The poll also includes some comparisons between Calderón and his predecessors. Overall, 48 percent say that Calderón is as good as or better than his predecessors, while the same number say that he is as bad as or worse than Fox, Zedillo, and the rest. Much of this lack of enthusiasm, however, reflects an ongoing disillusionment with all Mexico presidents rather than the feeling that Calderón is a political ill without precedent. Among perredistas, the most critical group, only 26 percent say he is worse than his predecessors, while 36 percent say just as bad as the rest. Among panistas, those figures are 3 and 15, respectively; among priístas, 17 and 35. Among independents, 42 percent say that he is as bad as his predecessors, while 15 percent say he is worse.

Photographic Review of the March

Some great snapshots of yesterday's festivities by Michael Lettieri can be found here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Protest Recap

The big climax of today's march in Mexico City seems to have been calls for Genaro García Luna to resign. Sicilia said, "I want to request the resignation of the secretary of public security, we want a message from the president saying that he did hear us". That's fair enough, though I doubt the request will go anywhere. Then Sicilia said, "We are also seeking this resignation to impede more deaths". This points to a basic problem underlying this latest bout of protesting: whether or not you think García Luna should go, his removal would not do much to alter the calculus leading gangs to kill each other today, which is to say, it would not make Mexico a safer country.

The Mexico City government says that some 65,000 people participated. That is certainly a significant gathering, but is a significantly lesser number than those we have seen for previous marches, which makes you wonder why. I can think of three possible factors: Mexicans are losing patience with marching, as the don't see it leading to any significant change; the group that set this march up did not do as a good job in organizing the protest; and the more politicized nature of this march turned off many who otherwise would have come.

Marching

Javier Sicilia's March for Peace is making its way toward the Zócalo in Mexico City. In speeches ahead of their arrival, Sicilia called for the demilitarization of the war on drugs, though "not overnight."

He also dismissed the potential of all of the likely presidential candidates from any party to address Mexico's problems. Instead, he called for them to stand aside in favor of a citizen candidate. ("Not me, of course", he added.) That will certainly not happen, and I think the leaders of such protests would do better to try to make the political class more responsive rather than searching for ways to bypass it altogether.

Chapo as Gangsta Rap Inspiration

The most famous picture of Mexico's most famous drug lord (and the world's most wanted man?) graces the cover of a new album by Tony Yayo, one of the founders of G-Unit. They must be dancing in the streets of Badiraguato in celebration.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

An Island of Sanity amid an Ocean of Self-Pity

Ramón Calderón, former president of Real Madrid:
"Big clubs should not blame the referee for their mistakes or their defeats," said Calderon.

"We invested £400m in the last two years to be a very important and strong team so if you lose you cannot blame injuries, bad luck, referees or nothing. If you lose you have to congratulate the rival and that is all.

AMLO Agrees

In an exceedingly amiable statement, AMLO agreed to Ebrard's proposal that the pair participate in two debates this October, followed by a national consultation in November to determine who is the presidential candidate in 2012. The friendly tone notwithstanding, the stumbling block of who gets to participate in the consultation --which is vitally important because Ebrard is more popular among the population at large, while AMLO is more popular among members of leftist parties-- has gone nowhere.

When the debates roll around, I will be fascinated to see how Ebrard approaches their differences. I hope he is aggressive in pointing out that no one can question his basic commitment to democracy, nor his commitment to social liberalism.

More from the Hand with Eyes

Fourteen police in Huixquilucan have been questioned about protecting the Hand with Eyes, the brilliantly named gang* that announced itself with a decapitated head in Naucalpan, Mexico State and accompanying note two months ago. The mayor of Huixquilucan is none other than Alfredo del Mazo, who was almost the PRI candidate to succeed his cousin and pal Enrique Peña Nieto as governor of the state. Officials say that del Mazo initiated the investigation with a request to the state government, and they seem to be bending over backwards to deny that he personally has anything to do with the gang.

*I don't want to trivialize the existence of a horrible group, but credit where due: really cool name.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Points for Calderón

Whenever Elba Esther Gordillo attacks someone, I pretty much always come out liking that person better. Today's example: Felipe Calderón, about whose government Gordillo said that there were "differences." The reason for the differences, she said, was its treatment of the SME, which she called "flagrantly illegal." This is a telling example of Gordillo's role in Mexico; you'd expect an educational leader to frame her analysis of the government's performance within the context of education, but Gordillo is plainly most concerned with her power, which comes from the members of her union and its allies, and has little to do with her ostensible reason for being.

Better in Juárez?

Chihuahua Governor César Duarte says that the number of murders in Juárez declined by 60 percent to 168 in April (read: still a ton). The other monthly totals are 222 killings in January, 229 in February, and 183 in March. On the year, that gives Juárez 802 murders, which is a pace of 2,400. That would be a huge decline from last year's 3,900 or so. However, the figures always seem to get revised upward retroactively, so we can't count chickens just yet.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Plaudits for Hernández

Soccernet calls him the year's top signing in the EPL:
Whenever Sir Alex Ferguson next suggests there is no value in the transfer market, a short but pertinent response is available: Javier Hernandez. The £6 million Mexican has had a thrilling impact in his first season in England, displacing the Premier League's top scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, in the team, reinvigorating Wayne Rooney and scoring 19 goals with displays of exemplary finishing. His predatory instinct and raw pace make him probably Ferguson's best buy since Nemanja Vidic and, with his habit of scoring late goals and striking on the big occasion, he already seems a quintessential Manchester United player.
Chicharito is also surely celebrating the 3-1 victory of his old team Chivas in the opening leg of the first round of Mexico's Liguilla, despite their making the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.

Sentences You'd Like to Have Back

From Leonardo Curzio's Monday column, presumably written days earlier, about the debate over the national security laws and the dangers of overreacting to the security threat in Mexico:
Spain managed to arrest (with all the legal guarantees) the cell responsible for March 11 and the US continues without any leads regarding Bin Laden.
For a number of different reasons, it was not a good comparison regardless of the news from Pakistan, but it of course became much less apt on Sunday night.

I did agree with the intro to the column and the point about the lack of balance in the debate:
Rarely have I felt such a sensation of loss as I have in recent days. The discussion about the National Security Law took place without clear positions on the part of the institutional actors (the federal government), with versions of the law that circulated without attribution to any commission in particular and with an apocalyptic chorus that was launching warnings about the risks of a state inspired by Pinochet being installed surreptitiously: what a mess! The issue is too serious for everyone, in the most typical national style, to try to benefit politically.
Personally, I think Calderón should have done a lot more to take the issue out of the realm of politics upon his arrival. He opted instead to send troops to Michoacán as quickly as possible. While you can't directly blame him for all the discord over security policy, he is to a certain degree reaping the whirlwind.

Poor Formulation

Alejandro Poiré, the spokesman of Calderón's security cabinet, says that "Without reforms to the security laws, the violence will not cease."

This assertion, while unprovable, seems wrong to me (even beyond the obvious point that criminal violence will never cease). The violence in Mexico obeys a logic that is only tangentially related to government policy. It could be that the reforms that Calderón seeks, even if they are eminently logical, apply pressure to a lever within the industry that we can't perceive, and then lead to a spike in violence in, say, the heavily populated suburbs of Mexico City. Alternatively, the violence could dip next month without any new reforms. It's impossible to accurately predict the many ramifications of policy changes on a hidden industry. That's not to say that reforms shouldn't be pursued, but the government should try to separate the merit of the reforms from their immediate impact on the levels of violence, both in order to remove the debate from the daily point-scoring of partisan politics, as well as to avoid the reforms being discarded when they fail to deliver on his unrealistic promises.

Mexico Easing Away from Dollar Reserves

From FT.com:
The central bank of Mexico bought nearly 100 tonnes of gold in February and March, the latest emerging market country to turn to bullion as a means of diversifying away from the faltering dollar.

The purchase is one of the largest by a central bank in recent history. The gold, worth $4.6bn at current prices, is equivalent to about 3.5 per cent of annual mined output.

The central bank has not been publicly announced the move, but has reported it both on its own balance sheet, posted online, and to the International Monetary Fund’s statistics on international reserves.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Holder Responds to Congressional Inquiries on Fast and Furious

From the Center of Public Integrity's new iWatch News site:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder clashed heatedly with California Republican Darrell Issa Tuesday as a House hearing raised questions about whether a federal gun trafficking probe that ultimately allowed U.S. - bought guns to reach Mexican cartels might bear some responsibility for the deaths of U.S. agents.

[Break]

After the controversy over Fast and Furious first erupted, Holder announced that the Justice Department as a matter of policy does not allow guns to be smuggled into Mexico. And in a letter sent Monday to Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Holder said, “It remains our understanding that ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious did not knowingly permit straw buyers to take guns into Mexico.”

But in a letter responding to Holder yesterday, Issa and Grassley said recent interviews with ATF agents in the Phoenix office contradict Holder’s assertion. Their letter said that according to these ATF agents, “there was a specific strategy implemented to not ‘make every effort’ but rather to avoid interdicting weapons in hopes of making a larger case against higher-ups in the trafficking organization.”

This is pathetic. Holder is either lying or has himself fallen for such an obvious lie that you question his fitness for high office. (I'd guess it's column A.) That formulation --"It remains our understanding that ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious did not knowingly permit straw buyers to take guns into Mexico"-- is almost a parody of public-servant dissembling. Holder later got all emotional when Issa said the Justice Department was guilty of contributing to the killings of American agents; that may have been an unfair shot, but the ATF knew that the weapons weren't going to be decorating mantles, and they had the knowledge and legal authority to stop the 1,700 guns from heading over the border.

Response to the Lack of Press Freedom

In response to the recent news that Freedom House had downgraded Mexico's designation of press freedom to Not Free, El Universal writes:
A country without a free press is a country without democracy. When there are extralegal forces capable of silencing journalists and media outlets, it means that the society has had its voiced silence by criminals and shadowy interests, and that therefore the free dissemination and exchange of ideas is impossible. Any control over journalism is contrary to the fundamental liberties of mankind.

The debate today centers on how to protect the integrity of journalists and their organizations. This requires that the state is the true guarantor of security to all of its inhabitants, including those in mass communications. This begins with a policy of zero tolerance toward aggression against the press, from veiled threats from criminals to the not-at-all-subtle aggressions from officials at all levels of government who see threatened their corrupt doings or businesses conducted with the assistance of power.

Journalistic companies must also develop their own codes of protection and industry unity that, independent of the natural competition between media outlets, helps to prevent freedom being shipwrecked among threats and uncertainty.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ebrard on Why He Is Better than López Obrador

At a speech before students and faculty at ITAM:
"It seems to me that we will have to convince, we will have to be inclusive with regard to the middle classes, to a good part of the business class in the country and that we must think less about who has moral superiority and more about who need to lead the country", he said.

In that same sense he said that his proposal is to carry out a consultation open to the entire population to see who will be the PRD candidate in the 2012 contest.

"Hopefully we can keep the agreement to have just one procedure and ultimately take into account a good part of the country that isn't a member of any party in order to have a decision."
As far as that last part, I like Ebrard about a billion times better than I do AMLO, and I agree that he'd be a far better candidate than AMLO, but this last part is a transparent attempt to get by the latter's seemingly insurmountable level of support among the left. And also an illogical one; why should everyone --panistas, priístas, fascists, narcos, et cetera-- be entitled to a say in whom the party nominates? Party members are completely capable of taking electability into account.

This also shows that the ties binding the AMLO-Ebrard agreement together are quite thin. They both have a reasonable claim to the language of the agreement --being the candidate in a better position when the time comes to make the choice-- and unless one of them steps aside to defuse the conflict, it's hard to see it not bursting.

Morales' Replacement

I mentioned the absence of a Siedo boss yesterday, but no sooner had I hit "publish post" that the replacement for new Attorney General and ex-Siedo chief Marisela Morales had been announced: Patricia Bugarin Gutiérrez, a longtime official in the PGR and the Secretariat of Public Security. Two of the six or so most important security posts in the government are now occupied by women.

Who Cares if the PRI Wins?

Felipe Calderón, interviewed by Joaquín López Dóriga last night:
“You have to distinguish. I am absolutely not worried about losing power, because that's precisely, when the citizens decide it, the key to democracy: may the citizens determine who wins.

"What would always worry me is not the changeovers or not of parties, whether one stays or another comes in. What would be worrying is the return of authoritarian and unfair practices that did a great deal of damage to Mexican democracy, and that can come back, because we have to look at the world, countries that have become democracies suddenly suffer authoritarian slips and in Mexico that is what we must avoid."

In a television interview with Joaquín López-Dóriga, upon being asked if unlike Vicente Fox, who removed the PRI from Los Pinos, he is worried about going into history as the man that returned that party to the presidency, the executive responded: "That is not an issue of concern for me, who wins or not, in terms of the party, I repeat, my worry is in political terms. What is the democratic quality of Mexico? For that reason, of course, I celebrated when the political reform initiative that I presented, finally, has been partially approved by the Senate".
Though not approved in the Chamber of Deputies, which must make the celebration a subdued one.

Anyway, I think that's an appropriate outlook on the return of the PRI. Hopefully, the lack of hysteria will persist even if Peña Nieto wins.

The Final Clásico



Hopefully, we have no diving, no racist epithets perhaps being tossed about by either team, and another goal from Messi as brilliant as the one above. More from Brian Phillips here.

With regard to Busquets and Marcelo, I've watched the video a number of times and it just doesn't seem like he's saying "Mono" to me. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but his mouth doesn't seem to form the "n". Also, he seems to bend his lips in such a way that suggests a dipthong. Plus, it's weird that Real waited a week to launch the accusation; you'd think Marcelo would have said something after the next game. Furthermore, in Mexico "mono" wouldn't be the insult; you'd be more likely to say "chango" if you wanted to be a racist. (Maybe it's different in the Old World, though.)

Then again, Barça's been awfully quiet about it, and Busquets definitely looks like he's saying something inappropriate, so who knows.

Confusion

Plastic factory/novela actress/sparsely attended concert-giver/pinup gal Ninel Conde had the following reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden on Twitter:
I regret the death of President Barack Osama, my condolences to the United States.
Sucks for her, but personally I'm glad someone made a bigger gaffe than I did on this.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Crime Polling

El Universal just released a new crime poll, which had a number of interesting findings: 63 percent agree with Calderón's call to say Ya basta!, or, Enough already! to organized crime. At the same time, 28 percent of those polled said his government is responsible for the violence, compared to only 24 who blamed the criminal groups themselves. Sixty-two percent said that the drug dealers are winning the fight against organized crime, while just 21 percent said Calderón's government is. Those numbers were 50 and 32 percent, respectively, in January of 2010.

At the same time, 80 percent expressed support for the army being deployed on the streets, while 86 percent said the army should support the fight against drug trafficking. Despite the emergence of another anti-violence movement in recent weeks, the constituency for a radical and immediate change of direction doesn't seem to exist.

Embarrassing Close

I meant to mention this last week: the dueling mantas in San Lázaro ending last week's Congressional session were ridiculous.

AMLO Accuses

From Aguachile:
AMLO has said very little on the subject of the Mexican government's fight with the drug cartels, except for perhaps calling it "stupid." Yet in speech in Cuernavaca yesterday, he certainly used the topic to ramp up his discourse more than a few notches:
He accused the federal government, as well as state governments, of "colluding with organized crime."
As far as I can tell, this is a first.
This makes me wonder what we'll see from López Obrador if his campaign never gets close to being competitive. His antagonism in previous campaigns has been tempered somewhat by his success (though, of course, he's had his moments, such as the chachalaca that wouldn't quiet down). In 2012, he is less likely to come close to winning, is more suspicious of his adversaries because of 2006, and seems more messianic than in the past. It will be interesting to see how he handles it all.

The Pressing Business for Marisela Morales

Lots of missing underlings for Marisela Morales, Bajo Reserva says:
The new attorney general has a lot of work ahead. The chores are beginning to accumulate for Doña Marisela Morales, because there are very sensitive areas in the PGR that are lacking leaders. To start, SIEDO has been without a boss since she left them when she was promoted. Now there is no one in charge. After that, she must fund who can replace Admiral Wilfrido Robledo at the head of the Federal Ministerial Police. In addition, Juan Carlos Rincón Sánchez, the former leader of the Specialized Unit for Investigation of Fiscal and Financial Crimes, and Samuel Hernández de Alba, former head of the Specialized Unit for Investigation of Crimes Committed by Public Officials and against the Administration of Justice, have been removed from their posts for not passing their anti-corruption exams and their replacement is imminent.
It's interesting that the Hernández and Rincón incidents haven't been bigger pieces of news. Also, Specialized Unit for Investigation of Crimes Committed by Public Officials and against the Administration of Justice is the worst organizational name in history.

Fanning the Flames of Conspiracy: a Journalistic Dereliction of Duty

This image came from an Excélsior piece today. For anyone who doesn't speak Spanish, the subhead asks if the photo of bin Laden was a hoax. It offers no reason to think that it was, nor any reporting of any kind on the matter, just throws it out there. In the process, it encourages all of the people in comments who, for instance, say that bin Laden will pop up in Los Cabos momentarily.

Skepticism --on any and every issue, regardless of the logical justification-- is a significant defect in Mexican civic life. You see it everywhere. I met a fair amount of very educated people in Mexico who felt that the moon landing was a hoax. Lots of smart people were convinced that the government invented the swine flu scare out of thin air. I wrote about with regard to Zhenli Ye Gon and Jorge Hank Rhon here. That tendency is an understandable byproduct of 70 years of authoritarian rule, but it's also a reflex that should be resisted when there is zero evidence. As an institution dedicated to disseminating facts, Excélsior is precisely the sort of organization that should be leading the resistance; instead, they throw their lot in with the other side.

Update: Or maybe Excélsior's instincts were better than mine. See comments. [Red-faced...]