Thursday, June 30, 2011

Changes in Gordillo's Empire

Elba Esther Gordillo's daughter and former personal secretary have been given the top two positions in Nueva Alianza, which is kind of like the OWN of Mexican politics.

Carlos Loret notes that the new number two at the SNTE comes a bit further from Gordillo's personal circle than expected:

Withouth getting the attention that perhaps it deserved, a few days ago the controversial Elba Esther Gordillo named Juan Díaz has her number two in the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, economically, politically, and numerically the most powerful union in Latin America.

For all [of her family members and inner circle of loyalists] there will be political space, because the expanse of positions that she controls is very large --SNTE, her own party, alliances with other parties, federal and local governments-- but the key is Díaz's position. Juan Díaz is described as serious, intelligence, fiercely loyal to Gordillo, severe, terse, made in the union.
Sounds like a hell of a fun guy.

Plus, while we're on the topic, Gordillo addressed her 2006 alliance with Calderón:
Elba Esther Gordillo, "leader for life" of the SNTE teachers union and de facto head of the PANAL party, was unusually frank about her political dealings in a press conference yesterday, where she confirmed that she made a pact with then-candidate Felipe Calderón for the PANAL party to vote for the PAN candidate, in exchange for getting to pick the head of the ISSSTE social security institute for state workers, the National lottery, and the executive of the National system of public security (SNSP).

Her son-in-law Fernando González Sánchez was also made subsecretary of education, though she didn't mention him.

And why Calderón? Here as well Gordillo was honest: He was the only one responding to her. To recall, she had been kicked out of the PRI, so no negotiation was possible there, and AMLO refused to even sit down with her to make a deal.
I believe Ricardo Raphael's version holds that AMLO told one of her representatives that he didn't sit down with mafiosos.

Back-Breaking Fine

So the Mexico State electoral authority imposed a fine of $2,000 on Ávila for his transgressions. That's hilarious. The suggestion I made about fining candidates with time off of future campaigns only works if there is actually some interest in punishing the guilty party, which clearly was not the case here.

Ebrard's Plans for Mexico State

From Bajo Reserva:
Marcelo Ebrard's circle of advisors has a scenario for the Sunday election in the State of Mexico: the DF mayor throws all his support behind the candidate of the left, Alejandro Encinas, well aware of the small possibility he has of scoring an electoral triumph. Nevertheless, the positive angle is that the difference in votes between don Alejandro and the PRI candidate, Eruviel Ávila, is as small as possible, and manageable, and that the perredista is above the PAN's candidate, Luis Felipe Bravo Mena. What's the plan? Ebrard's strategists consider it necessary to generate the perception that the fight for the presidency is between PRD and the PRI, with the PAN having no shot to remain in Los Pinos. That way, the panistas that don't want the PRI to return will transfer their vote to the PRE in 2012.
I'm skeptical as to whether that play really helps the PRD all that much. Even after years of alliances, I would think a strong PAN candidate would take more votes away from Peña Nieto than Ebrard. I guess the question is whether most voters define their vote according to PRI vs non-PRI; I suspect that they don't.

But regardless, none of this helps Ebrard with getting by AMLO.

Bad Eruviel

The PRI candidate for Mexico State has been found guilty of campaign shenanigans:
The Electoral Tribunal of the Judicial Branch of the Federation found that the candidate for the "United for You" coalition, the priísta Eruviel Ávila, committed two campaign acts before he was permitted to, for which only an economic sanction is contemplated.
Such retroactive fines don't really serve as a disincentive against electoral shenanigans. Does anyone looking back on 2006 deny that Fox's violations were well worth the penalty? With the presidency at stake, would anyone's behavior be modified by having to pay a few millions dollars several years later? The problem is that money isn't a scarce enough commodity to discourage campaigning malfeasance, and electoral authorities don't want to wade into the hornets' nest of invalidating results. Understandably so--determining the threshold of violations at which an election should be nullified would be nightmare. Fox violated the electoral laws, but to such a degree that Calderón's victory wasn't legitimate? I don't know how you begin to approach that.

But there is a scarce commodity that electoral authorities are ignoring: time. With campaigns of just 45 days, why not chop a week or two off of the PRI's next gubernatorial election? Or, if the decision comes in early enough, why not make Ávila sit for a week during the campaign? That would likely modify candidates' behavior.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On the Election

I have a piece on Sunday's elections in Mexico State for World Politics Review. You need a subscription to read it, which is a good excuse to subscribe and then look forward to a HUGE write-off on your taxes, assuming this is a legitimate professional purchase. In case you aren't planning on subscribing, the gist is that Peña Nieto comes out stronger with the Ávila victory, and while there is a lot of time remaining, the most likely result for 2012 will be a repeat: a bumbling PAN, a divided PRD, and triumphant PRI.

Chango Bounce

Following the arrest of Familia boss José de Jesús Méndez, BGC has a poll showing greater support for Calderón's crime policies: 63 percent agree with Calderón's organized crime strategy, which is up from 48 percent less than two weeks ago, during the Sicilia's Caravan for Peace, and 45 percent say that the government is having a lot of success, which is up from 27 percent. Many numbers are still quite negative, however: 39 percent say that the government has control over the situation, which may be a eight-point boost, but is still far less than the 55 percent who think that the government has been overwhelmed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another Scandal

A few weeks after five Mexicans were suspended the version of from the Tri that eventually won the Gold Cup, eight more have now been tossed from the team set to compete at the Copa América for partying with prostitutes. Among the group were Jonathan Dos Santos, the Barça midfielder and younger brother of Giovani, and Marco Fabián, whose performances at Chivas I grew to like these past two seasons. This follows another prostitutes-and-el-Tri incident last fall, about which point I wrote:
A Mexico fan could choose to be disappointed by the suspension from the Tri of promising youngsters Efraín Juárez and Carlos Vela. After all, it is a shame that they won't be able to continue developing with the rest of the green-shirts, and the reason for the suspension -- a prostitute- and transvestite-filled post-game bash following the victory over Colombia on September 7-- is a bit embarrassing.

But I think we have to see things as half full here. While generally criminal and likely immoral, mishaps with prostitutes are a rite of passage into the elite levels of soccer. Vela and Juárez are heading down a path previously tread by the likes of Wayne Rooney, Frank Ribery, Ronaldo (the good one), and many other greats. Trophies are sure to follow.
Wouldn't you know it, they won the Gold Cup. Though I don't think the Tri's C-minus squad will repeat the trick in Argentina.

Calderón's Explanation

Leo Zuckermann doesn't like Calderón's linking the rise in violence to a growing retail drug market:
Furthermore, if the president's hypothesis was true, violence in Mexico would be concentrated in the principal markets for drugs which, by definition, are the great cities where there are the most consumers. That is where they would be fighting for the plazas. In Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Puebla. But no. According to the stats from the government itself, the 10 most violent municipalities, where there have been the most murders linked to organized crime in this administration, are Juárez, Culiacán, Tijuana, Chihuahua, Acapulco, Gómez Palacio, Torreón, Mazatlán, Nogales and Durango. What do these cities have in common? They are fundamental for the production and distribution of drugs, for precursor inputs as well as the final product, that go from Mexico to the US.

I agree with the president that the state doesn't generate the violence. But I don't agree with his narrative that the violence has increased because of a change in the narco business model. I still believe that the big business is --and will continue to be for many years-- exportation to the US. It doesn't make sense, in that sense, that so much violence is being generated by such a small market like Mexico's.
I do agree that the Mexican retail drug market is not the driving factor for violence in the country, but it seems to be a factor. And I also think that there is a lot of evidence that the narcos' business model has changed, hence the steep rise in kidnapping and extortion.

Monday, June 27, 2011


I thought it was interesting that the Federal Police report referred to the Familia as a terrorist group; the term is obviously loaded, but in as far as it applies in Mexico, you can find better examples. When it comes to either targeting civilians or orchestrating big explosions so as to sow terror, the Zetas, the Sinaloa-affiliated gang in Gómez Palacio, and La Línea all seem like better fits. And even then, I wouldn't term them as terrorist groups; the lion's share of the mayhem inflicted by all of the traffickers has nothing to do with terrorism.

In any event, it was nice see the Federal Police releasing reports about security issues. You really don't see much of that from most of the Mexican agencies, compared to the endless sea of new reports from all the American governmental agencies and their affiliated organizations.

Emblematic Finish

Eruviel Ávila finished his campaign in Mexico State with Elba Esther Gordillo's daughter at his side, imploring the masses not to blame teachers for the nation's educational difficulties. Given that, maybe he referred not to los maestros, but rather La Maestra.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


A couple of interesting notes this week. First, from Aguachile:
In Nayarit, the PRD is not running in alliance with the PAN. Its candidate, Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo, has been a man of the left his entire life, never a priísta, and rejected the suggestion he would decline in favor of PAN's candidate, Martha Elena García.

Yet AMLO, rather than backing the PRD candidate, travels to Nayarit to back Nayar Marroquín, candidate of PT and Convergencia. Not only is it a completely useless undertaking - his vote intention is minimal - but he will also take votes from the PRD candidate. So why is AMLO, a former party president and the PRD's 2006 candidate, doing this? This time there is absolutely no excuse, as in the past, where he opposed PAN-PRD alliance candidates.

This is the true face of AMLO showing: A man who have absolutely no compunction about betraying his old party, as long as it benefits his own, highly personalistic project.
Second, from Bajo Reserva, AMLO says with regard to the pact of leftist unity with Ebrard that polls are "nonsense", which led Ebrard to comment that the deal must be honored. Bajo Reserva speculates that, as with governmental institutions in 2006, he will send the agreement with Ebrard to the diablo. Whatever the case, I would bet a lot of money for a very small return that AMLO will be a candidate next year, regardless of the agreement. The only question is whether the left is divided or not, but either way, he's not winning, nor is Ebrard.

If you had told me in spring of 2007 that AMLO would still be such a relevant figure in the 2012 election, I don't think I would have believed you.

El Tri Improving

I have a piece about great expectations for Chicharito and the rest el Tri's golden generation in Run of Play. Read it and be blown away! Or just mildly entertained, whichever you prefer.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I agree with Aguachile and El Universal that the Calderón-Sicilia dialogue is an encouraging episode, and they both deserve a lot of credit for forgoing some of the knee-jerk dismissals that each side tends to employ in consideration of the other.

Peña Nieto's Policy Rollout

Via Bajo Reserva, I'll be paying attention to this with great interest:
From the State of Mexico, the whispers are floating: as of July 3, when the state has a governor-elect, the outgoing governor, Enrique Peña Nieto, will transform his political role and his discourse, so as to offer more pronouncements on the national agenda. He has explained to his inner circle that he will have a growing process focusing on a new public persona following the handover of his post, on September 15.
It goes on to say that in private, Peña Nieto has intimated that he is opposed to legislative reelection.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

AMLO after Ávila's Win

Leo Zuckermann with a sharp take on the aftermath of Mexico State for AMLO:
Will anyone from the left hold AMLO accountable for this error? No. Because some continue adoring him and others, who are aware of this fervor, are afraid to confront him. In the polls, Marcelo Ebrard doesn't even tickle him among the left. AMLO is the favorite. And that's why no one will hold him accountable when things go badly for the left in the State of Mexico. Furthermore, there will always be the tactic of denying the loss ("what happened is the mafia that controls the country robbed us again, blah, blah, blah") or admitting that they lost but with the pride of not having allied with "the mafiosos of the PAN that are the same as the PRI".

What's true is that, after having blocked the alliance, after having imposed Alejandro Encinas as the candidate of the left for the governorship, AMLO practically disappeared from Mexico State territory. Yesterday Carlos Puig asked him if he had abandoned Encinas. He responded that he had covered the state with the candidate: "Alejandro is conducting a very good campaign, there is a lot of citizen participation, they are supporting him to the degree that he is very well accompanied...I don't have the least doubt that he will become governor."

I don't think so, because the say that he won't. In the best of cases, Encinas will occupy a distant second place. And the left, far from holding AMLO accountable for his error, will proceed to anoint him as their candidate.

On Unemployment and Calderón's Economic Policy

From Rogelio Ramírez de la O:
It's possible that with the rise in output toward the end of 2010 and in 2011, employment continues to recover. But the main portion of the recovery from the drop of 2009 has already happened, and in the future it will grow at more modest rates.

Given that, the ample figure of unemployment and underemployment that reached 26 percent of the population deemed economically active won't fall but gradually. And it won't drop much, because before the crisis it was high, which is to say, 22 percent.

This is a topic that shouldn't be forgotten when judging the results of the government in responding to the crisis that began in 2008. Its fiscal as well as monetary policy, as a governmental priority, bet on stability and not employment or economic growth.

Every political decision implies favoring some priorities and ignoring others, because it's not possible to cover every objective at once. That's why selecting one priority has costs. In particular, Congress must ask itself if the simplification from the government that it presents as its political economy is explicit regarding its effects on employment and if these are tolerable. Especially because even with the economic bounce of 2010, unemployment and underemployment continued to rise and it's not clear how they will fall.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wide Range

The American firm No Money Laundering says that a figure between 2 and 5 percent of Mexico's GDP is laundered each year. Such vague figures are common in drug industry stats, but we should take a second and reflect: that's a huge range! If all you can tell me about that the value of something is that it's between $20 and $50 billion, then you aren't really telling me much of anything, other than that it is huge, which I already knew. Again, No Money Laundering is by no means a particularly egregious offender; the NDIC estimates that the drug trade brings between $18 and $39 billion into Mexico.

Mexico State Still Ávila's to Lose

Heading into the final debate before next Sunday's election, Eruviel Ávila's lead is growing, according to El Universal: they give him 59 percent of the electorate, a five-point bump from last month. His lead has grown from 29 points to 32. All signs point to a big win, even if Bravo Meno bails and tries to shift his support to Encinas.

All of this has me thinking: how bad would Ávila have to screw up tonight's debate to lose the race? What is the worst thing he could say and still win? I bet he could express support for Gustavo Díaz Ordaz's presidency without losing. He might be able to mention his wealthy compas in the mountains of Sinaloa and still squeeze by. If he congratulates the US soccer team on their victory over Panama and wishes them good luck on Saturday night? That might be a bridge too far.

Another Responsible Party in the Hank Case

Jorge Fernández Menéndez, channeling someone in the PGR, the army, or Los Pinos, marvels at how the Interior Secretary has escaped criticism:
Missing in all of this is the principal protagonist, Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora. You cannot imagine that an operation of this magnitude has been carried out in Baja California, his turg and where he has innumerable connections, without his being informed of it, in addition to the fact that being at the very least informed is his obligation as the interior secretary. What's more, we are told that this weekend Secretary Blake was in his state. In any event, the political decision for an operation of this type is made in the interior secretary's offices. From there the security forces must be coordinated, including the ministerio público. From there, various sources say, came the order, when it was evident that the case was falling apart, to pull out the card of the protected witness and the murder of the son's girlfriend, despite being obvious and untimely. And now he should show his face and assume responsibility. Because until now those who appear the only guilty parties are the army, the PGR, and the presidency: three institutions central to the state that are seriously damaged so that an official doesn't assume his personal responsibility.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

El Chango Arrested

José de Jesús Méndez, the leader of the portion of La Familia still calling itself La Familia, has been arrested in Cosío, Aguascalientes, by the Federal Police. This comes after a particularly violent weekend in Michoacán and ongoing fighting between Méndez's group and the Caballeros Templarios, who are led by La Tuta, for the past several months. Usually arrests of capos lead to more violence, but given that context, this might actually settle things down in Michoacán.

Murdered Journalist

What a shame:
The Veracruz journalist Miguel Ángel López Velasco, known as Milo Vela, was murdered in the morning today along with his wife and child inside their home in the port of Veracruz.

The state government confirmed the murder of the columnist and journalist from the newspaper "Notiver", which had one of the highest circulations in the region and specialized in topics related to security and drug trafficking.
No word yet on those responsible, though Veracruz is primarily Zeta territory.

Unintended Consequences

Jorge Hank Rhon appears to be using his arrest and release as a springboard to a campaign for governor of Baja California Norte in 2013. In 2007, in much less favorable circumstances for the PRI, he lost a close race for the post to José Guadalupe Osuna Millán. So this arrest really worked out well for the government.

Encinas: Oh So Alone

Ciro Gómez wonders why, after all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the kickoff of Alejandro Encinas' campaign, all of the many forces of the PRD, including AMLO, have basically abandoned him. His best explanation is that with a 30-point hole from the get-go, no one wanted to associated themselves with an obviously losing effort.

AMLO, Ebrard, and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas will be with him to close the campaign, however.

Monday, June 20, 2011

One Explanation for the Hank Case

Aguachile beat me to it, but Jorge Zepeda had a characteristically interesting column on the Hank case (which fell apart because Hank had videotape contradicting the army's version of the arrest) this weekend:
Jorge Zepeda Patterson, a usually well-informed and reasoned columnist (and academic), proposes two hypotheses why the army launched the raid against Jorge Hank Rhon. Both assumes that the army acted on its own, yet one is considerably more sinister than the other.

1) The army was convinced of Hank's guilt, and launched the operation to catch a bad guy, with the intent also to shore up its increasingly tattered image (particularly compared to La Marina).
2) The army intentionally set out to bungle the operation, a la the Michoacanazo, in order to discredit the PGR, PAN, and President Calderón.

Definitely among the more interesting speculations around the botched operation - though exactly that, speculations.
Zepeda Patterson also mentions that the army has it out for Marisela Morales, partly because she's a woman. When Calderón decided to lean more heavily on the army, the push-back typically focused on the potential for human rights abuses and the danger of corruption in what had become one of Mexico's more honest institutions. These were, not coincidentally, the most immediate negative consequences. But, as I probably did not give enough attention to at the time, having the army involved in such a politically sensitive issue sowed the seeds for deeper conflicts regarding its role, which, according to Zepeda's version of events, are manifesting themselves in the Hank case.

Problems on Both Sides of the Border

Given Mexico's problems in vetting its police offices, I thought this nugget in a Houston Chronicle piece about corruption in the Border Patrol was interesting:
Only 22 percent of new hires are subjected to lie detector tests amid expanding enlistments and shortages of polygraph specialists. The agency is expanding the number of polygraphers from 35 to 52, but it will be at least 2013 before it can polygraph all new hires.

Efforts also lag in identifying compromised law enforcement officers already within the ranks. An estimated 60 percent of veteran law enforcement officers initially fail periodic lie detector tests required every five years to verify honesty and backgrounds, officials said. Nearly 15,200 officers who have failed the routine polygraphs await follow-up background checks.

Of course, the US doesn't have the levels of corruption that Mexico does, neither in the Border Patrol nor in any other federal agency, so it's not quite the same. In the US, it's as though the entire agency structure tilts toward honesty, so removing one barrier to corruption doesn't have such a big impact. In Mexico, many agencies naturally tilt toward corruption, and the hope is that the vetting programs can help push the agencies toward a more honest paradigm. Which is a bit more ambitious and significant.

Cordero/PAN Candidate Polling

BGC picked Mexicans' brains on the topic of Ernesto Cordero, and found that he a) is not well known; b) has grown much less popular in the past few months; and c) people really disagree with his assessment that Mexico is no longer a poor country. Of course, people in this case are wrong, and they contradict themselves: 53 percent totally agree that Mexico is a middle-income nation with a severe problem of poverty, while 83 percent totally reject Cordero's assertion that Mexico is no longer a poor country. Despite these two beliefs being mutually exclusive, at least 36 percent evidently hold both positions simultaneously. The proportion of the confused jumps to 61 percent when you include people who somewhat agree/disagree with the two statements. But the more important lesson for Cordero is to avoid making comments that make him seem out of touch, even if they are true, for as long as he is campaigning for the presidency.

In any event, while Cordero seems stuck in neutral, Josefina Vázquez Mota has a good piece of news from this poll: for the first time since BGC has been asking, she outpolled Santiago Creel and the rest of the field, with 41 percent preferring her as the candidate.

Electoral Rumors and Last-Minute Alliances

Bajo Reserva says that speculation is flying that Luis Felipe Bravo Mena in Mexico State and Guadalupe Acosta in Nayarit will both step aside, so as to channel the non-PRI votes behind Alejandro Encinas and Martha Elena García, respectively. Bravo Mena's stepping aside will not likely be enough to the EdoMex race competitive (Eruviel Ávila has been polling at above 50 percent for a while), but Acosta dropping out probably puts Roberto Sandoval's lead into play.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Legalization's Complications

At the NY Times, Silvia Longmire argues that marijuana legalization wouldn't be the end of the Mexican gangs. I've made a similar case in recent months (albeit for much smaller platforms). If anything, I think Longmire understates the case, because she says that weed represents 60 percent of Mexican gangs' profits, which is a bit dated now, given the Rand report from last year. Personally, I think marijuana legalization is a no-brainer, but not so much for the underworld impact as for the fact that it is less dangerous than hard liquor. In any event, her argument that the gangs' recent expansion into extortion, kidnapping, oil theft, et cetera, has complicated the calculus regarding legalization is something I heartily agree with.

Odd Reason to Support Carstens

Via Sebastian Mallaby:
Despite its record of financial crises, Mexico now enjoys low inflation, a strong budget position, and robust economic growth. Perhaps Carstens, its leading economic technocrat, has some lessons to teach Europe.
The inflation portion is certainly true. But given that Mexico hasn't had a financial crisis since 1994, that reference is a bit dated with regard to Carstens. And the nation faces some serious long-term budgetary problems, stemming from a weak tax base and declining oil revenues, even if the fiscal situation isn't too problematic right now. But most odd is using economic growth as an argument for Carstens and Mexiconomics: 2010 notwithstanding, the nation's growth rate has been a disappointment for basically the entire century:

For a middle-income nation seeking to become a wealthy nation, a decade's worth of growth that doesn't top 2 percent except during recoveries from historic crises is not something to be celebrated.

The Semantic Debate Regarding "Cartel" in Mexico

El Univeral has a piece regarding Shannon O'Neil's view that we should avoid using the word "cartel" to describe Mexican smugglers. (I agree.) She favors TCO or DTO, which I think is a bit cumbersome; I'd prefer just gang or crew or syndicate, which is smoother and also gives a good sense of the fluid nature of relationships within organized crime.

It's hard to make that switch, however, as long as the groups themselves are calling themselves "cartels". Not all of them do (La Línea, Los Zetas, et cetera), but many do, and it's going to be nearly impossible to eliminate "cartel" from popular usage when arguably the most important group calls itself the Sinaloa Cartel.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Black Holes in Local Governance

Earlier this week, El Universal took a look at the transparency mechanisms in place in various municipalities around the nation, and came away with some interesting conclusions. Among them: PAN- and PRD-run cities tend to be less transparent than average, cities governed by lady mayors are more transparent, and Guerrero, Quintana Roo, Chiapas, Veracruz, and Puebla are some of the least transparent states.

Mexico's Unsuitability

Last week, Rogelio Ramírez de la O said that Mexico (and by extension Carstens) isn't a suitable leader for the emerging world because of its recently policy focus:
But Mexico, in this sense, is different from the majority of emerging markets, because it gives a greater value to stability. That's why it is very difficult to argue that it can represent them as a group in international financial agencies. If Mexico does not win their support to represent them in the IMF, it shouldn't be seen as a rejection of the country, but rather as a difference, a fundamental one, in focus.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hard to Find a Man More Deserving of Incarceration

The alleged author of the murder of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas last year, and evidently a driving force behind the Zetas' policy of abducting busloads of passengers, has been captured. Edgar Huerta Montiel was the boss of Martin Omar Estrada, who had been blamed for the nearly 200 bodies found in San Fernando this year, which were not related to the migrant massacre of last August. Huerta Montiel says there may be up to 600 bodies in San Fernando.

The Real Winner Is Nepotism

Humberto Moreira's brother Rubén has a 42-point lead over Guillermo Anaya in Coahuila.

And This Is a "Words and Opinions" Blog

Off the Ball makes the point that the "sex and alcohol party" that has Messi in a bit of a scandal in Argentina is silly, because the label is redundant: it is a rare party indeed of single twenty-somethings that doesn't feature a bit of both. In any event, Messi's response was pretty hilarious:
We just danced and then we played some PlayStation.
I never thought being the world's premier athlete so resembled my freshman year of high school.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Popularity of Mexican Sports

Years ago, I had a discussion in comments with Noel Maurer about the relative popularity of different sports. He thought baseball was more popular than I did, and the whole thing got rather heated; we were on the verge of a knife fight until Jim Brown stepped in with one of his famous mediations, and we agreed to wait for a poll to settle the argument.* Well, here is just such a poll from Mitofsky. Turns out, as a proportion of the total population that likes watching and/or follows a given sport, the order goes: soccer, boxing, baseball, basketball, American football, and golf. I'd say that order makes me wrong in the initial dispute.

Given the poor showing of American football, it's interesting how much NFL action you find on the TV; if I remember correctly, you get at least five games a week with basic cable. I imagine that reflects a combination of wealthier fans and disproportionate popularity of football in the Mexico City area.

*Not actually true.

Reactions to Hank Rhon's Release

Ninety-six percent of respondents to an Imagen Radio online/call in poll said the former Tijuana mayor was released because "justice is for the rich", while just 4 percent said it was because he was innocent. Eighty-five percent did not buy the story, presumably put forward by his lawyers and accepted by the judge who released him, that the army had planted the weapons on him.

On Peña Nieto's Luck

Leo Zuckermann points us to a new profile of Enrique Peña Nieto that reveals that he had two children out of wedlock. (It's very odd that all the other biographies about him missed that detail.) That doesn't seem to have caused a scandal, for which I am grateful and, given both the desperation to knock him off his pedestal and the periodic descent into nonsense in Mexican politics, somewhat surprised. Anyway, after comparing him to Luis Miguel, Zuckermann writes:
In the story we also learn that Peña had two children outside of marriage, one which of died of cancer...But, outside of these two episodes [the death of his first wife being the other], everything else has been milk and honey in Peña Nieto's life. A guy who has been charmed in his personal and professional life.
Very lucky--just that unfortunate part about the death of his child and his wife. But just that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sedena Agrees with Me

The narco-tanks are not that big a deal, says the Mexican military. They called them a "desperate attempt" to protect their men from military attacks, as well as part of an effort to terrorize rivals. Those are two rather different goals, of course, though there may be a bit of truth to each.

Mexican Politics Descends Further

So now the ridiculous gambit of the EdoMex candidates has expanded: Enrique Peña Nieto says he'd be willing to take the test, but wonders, Would Calderón? Good question, Enrique! But why stop there: let's test every Mexican politician for alcohol in the blood and venereal disease! Meanwhile, Mexico's oil industry drifts ever closer to oblivion.

In happier drug-testing news, the five Mexican players tossed from the Gold Cup took a step toward clearing their names, after subsequent tests at UCLA came back negative.

On Coverage of Mexico

There have been a pair of compelling pieces on the unfairness of the mainstream coverage of Mexico in recent days. The first, via Boz, comes from Javier Garza Ramos, the editor of El Siglo de Torreón (Arriba Laguna!):
For years the absence of stories about how drugs are moved and traded inside the United States has sparked my curiosity. Ten years ago, while a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, I did a content analysis of how several American news outlets portrayed the war on drugs in Mexico and in the United States. I uncovered two main narratives. The one about Mexico focused on government corruption, the cartels’ structure, their control of local law enforcement, and the way they move drugs across the country. The narrative about the US dealt mostly with drug addiction and stories about prevention and rehabilitation programs.

I did not find a single story about how the drugs moved inside the United States, something that I found absurd, because people don’t buy the drugs off trucks at the border. I could not find one story detailing what happened after a drug shipment crossed the border, how those shipments were split, repackaged and transported from El Paso, Laredo, or San Diego to hundreds of American cities and into the hands of drug users. There wasn’t a word about the corridors used to move the drugs, or about the trucks or planes delivering them to the local dealers.

Garza doesn't settle on a good explanation for the disparity. I don't really know either. Part of it seems to be the fickleness of media narratives, which tend to feed on themselves: one great story in the Post about drugs in Mexico provokes a dozen more in other media outlets, each of which provokes ten more, et cetera. However, in the US, there is no such dynamic. I'd bet that in the late 1980s and early '90s, when the crack boom was at its height and everyone was worried about being randomly murdered by a nihilistic gang-member, the sorts of stories he mentions above were more common. Of course, that would also reflect the downturn in crime in the US, so it's not all fickleness.

The second piece is from Roberto Newell García, which at one point examined the evolution of media coverage of Mexico in the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal over the past twenty years. In 1993, just 13 percent of the Times articles on Mexico dealt with crime, corruption, or border issues; that figure in 2010 was 84 percent. The jump wasn't quite so extreme in the Journal, but in 2010, 67 percent of the paper's articles on Mexico fell into those three categories. More here from Latin American Thought.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sicilia's Juárez Appearance and Milenio's Editorial Page

Ciro Gómez says that Javier Sicilia's protest in Juárez was dominated by DF denizens who turned the event into a call for the army to leave Juárez. Which is all the more odd because the army has been out of Juárez since April 2010. Gómez doesn't seem to be a fan of the movement, so perhaps take that with a grain of salt, though I've heard similar complaints elsewhere.

Also, one of the amusing things about Milenio's op-ed page is the colorful titles, and today, we had a heck of a one-two punch from Gómez Leyva and Jairo Calixto Albarrán:

For those scoring at home, the first reads, "Stop shouting bullshit, for God's sake", while the second reads, "'Big tits, big ass, doesn't make me a big whore'", apparently the chant at a rally against sexual violence in Mexico City.

Hank Rhon Freed Again

A judge invalidated the arraigo sought by the federal government, and Jorge Hank Rhon is free again. This case, even more so than the michoacanazo, illustrates the need for a more open judicial system. From what we know in the press, Jorge Hank Rhon and his group were discovered with scores of illegal weapons, two of which had allegedly been linked to murders. And now he has been totally absolved. Something here is totally screwed; either the judge is dirty/incompetent, or the federal government is dishonest/incompetent. This being a democracy, we deserve to know which it is.

The Second Biggest Drug-Testing Story in Mexico Right Now

I'd missed this, but evidently the candidates in the EdoMex gubernatorial race all challenged each other to take a drug test. So far, Ávila and Bravo Mena have taken the test. In any event: My, that is stupid. No one comes away looking good from this.

Jorge Hank Rhon Freed

He and the others arrested along with him had all charges dismissed, and were released late last night, says Excélsior.

Update: But El Universal says he is going to be arraigado, as authorities continue to investigate his possible connection to two murders.

Monday, June 13, 2011

René Arce: Heck of a Guy

He's like an over-the-top character from a none-too-subtle movie. Via Aguachile:
Milenio's recent interview with Senator René Arce is well worth a read: It is hard to find a more complete expression of the extreme opportunism and cynicism pervading much of Mexico´s political elite. To recall, Arce was once a guerrilla fighter, then a PRD member, and has now, with his brother, thrown his lot with the PRI in Mexico State, and, as he outlines, possibly in Mexico City and for the presidency as well.

Asked if he want to return to power in his old fiefdom Iztapalapa, where he and his brother have taken turns on power much thanks to their use of clientelistic networks, he replies, in a call for offers, "I don't want a borough; I want an embassy."
I love that he doesn't even try to hide his venality and empty ambition. This is like the kind of juicy comment to an aid you would read about in a trial, but he's proudly broadcasting it for all the world to see. Hopefully, if his wish comes true, he gets sent to some horrible place like [insert least favorite nation here].

Inflation Down, Quality of Life Up

Macario Schettino on how decreasing inflation has made modern Mexico a much better place than in was 30 years ago:
The inflation that we have today, between 3 and 4 percent annually, is a wonder compared to what we experienced since the end of the 60s, 40 years ago. That's why Mexicans have been able to improve their quality of life despite the fact that our output has hardly increased, just because prices have been stable.

For a better comparison, between 1970 and 1997, the average inflation in Mexico 32.7 percent annually, and if the comparison is from 1979, the figure is 43.3 percent. Since 1997, the average annual inflation rate has been 6.5 percent. Even if we take a base staple whose price has increased a great deal in recent years, tortillas, the difference is brutal. From 1997 to the present, the price of tortillas has increased at a pace of 12.4 percent annually, in good measure due to the American decision to use corn to produce gas, which has elevated the price of a ton of corn from the standard $100 to $300. However, the same tortilla, from 1980 to 1997, increased in price at a pace of 42 percent annually.

The greatest reductions in inflation have occurred in products like rice (which averages 4.5 percent since 1997 versus 43 percent between '80 and '97), and in furniture and domestic goods (4.4 percent now, against 41 percent in the previous period: that's why there are more households with televisions, refrigerators, and washers.

It's important to note that the great economic growth of the 1970s, forced by the government, couldn't produce well-being but it did generate an inflation that we took decades to control. I remind you because it is forgotten, and when one forgets, he makes bad choices.
This, among other reasons, is why I find the arguments that the PAN is nothing more than an ineffectual version of the PRI just baffling.

Point-Counterpoint, Narco-Tanks Edition

Last week, I argued at InSight that the nacro-tanks aren't that big of a deal. Today, Gordon Housworth of Intellectual Capital Group LLC said I was wrong. I am unconvinced by his argument for a number of reasons, but feel free to read and make up your own mind.

What Kind of Scandal?

I was amused to see that the Mexican national team's explanation for the five failed doping tests --contaminated meat-- sparked a furious denial from the nation's meat lobby and the Health and Agriculture Departments. Mexican meat is safe and entirely untreated with clenbuterol, they say. So it's a scandal of some kind. We're just not sure if it's a soccer-integrity scandal or a food-safety scandal.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

No More Mérida?

Javier Sicilia demanded the cancellation of the Mérida Initiative yesterday. I don't think much of the Mérida Initiative, neither in its conception nor its execution nor in its underlying conceit that US aid can play a decisive role in Mexican public security, but I think its removal will have zero effect on Mexican security. It's not the best use of money for the Americans, to be sure, but, it's a tangential issue for Mexico.

It's hard not to sympathize with Sicilia and those who want a radical change of direction, but the problem is that when you start looking, it's hard to find any radical changes that are very promising. Aside from the Mérida demand, Sicilia has also demanded that Genaro García Luna resign (which was fair but wasn't going to happen, nor was it going to have a dramatic improvement), demanded a sign that Calderón is listening (which is also fine, but not closely related to improvements in public security), and demanded the removal of the army, but not immediately (at which point it becomes unclear how his demands differ from the government's policies in anything more than emphasis).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hank Rhon Developments

According to El Universal, two of the guns allegedly in the possession of the ex-mayor of Tijuana have been linked to homicides.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Unlearning Past Lessons?

Peña Nieto's refusal to debate Ernesto Cordero on economic issues and the PRI vs. PAN legacy reminds one of AMLO's absenting the first presidential debate in 2006, a widely panned decision that helped Calderón pull even with the former Mexico City mayor. It's not a direct parallel, because AMLO was just a couple of months away from the elections and Cordero and Peña Nieto aren't even nominees at this point. However, the prohibitive front-runner again seems overly eager to avoid a rhetorical skirmish, and perhaps a bit too confident of his prospects.

Kidnapping Up

The number of kidnappings in Mexico has leaped up by 60 percent in the past three years. Though that actually represents a deceleration of the 200 percent increase over five years reported last year. Of course, tracking kidnapping is always a bit tricky, because victims often have an incentive not to report it, but I think it's safe to say that the crime is becoming more frequent.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Corruption among the Border Patrol

Alan Bersin said in a Congressional hearing today that Mexican gangs go crazy corrupting American officials:
Mexican drug cartels have used cash and sexual favors as tools to corrupt U.S. border and customs agents, an inspector general investigation has found.

In exchange, agents allow contraband or unauthorized immigrants through inspection lanes, protect or escort traffickers or leak sensitive information, said Charles Edwards, acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.

Testifying before a Senate subcommittee, Edwards cited the Zetas drug cartel as one of the leaders "involved increasingly in systematic corruption."

He did not elaborate on how non-cash methods of corruption, like sexual favors, have been used to corrupt agents.

Since October 2004, 127 Customs and Border Protection employees have been arrested or indicted for acts of corruption, said agency Commissioner Alan Bersin, speaking at the same hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Please read the bolded sentence again. Is the author serious? What a lack of imagination by the CNN Wire Staff!

Attractive woman in bar: [To heavyset guy drinking alone] So, you work at the border crossing?

Border Patrol officer: Yes.

AWIB: So, if we hop up to my hotel room, would you let my buddy pass through with some, um, unlicensed pets tomorrow at 4 pm?

BPO: Yes. I'll be in lane four. [To bartender] Check, please.

Do we really need Bersin to explain that? Anyway, 127 in seven years doesn't strike me as all that many in an agency of more than 60,000, so no need for hysteria. Nonetheless, this is a pretty good example of where the Mexican drug trade could potentially pose a significant problem inside the US.

PRI Ahead in Nayarit

The PRI remains the odds-on favorite to win the governor's post in Nayarit: Roberto Sandoval Castañeda enjoys the support of 49 percent of the electorate according to a new El Universal poll, compared to 38 percent for PAN candidate Martha Elena García Gómez, and 12 percent for the PRD's Guadalupe Acosta.

However, the lead has shrunk by five points thanks to García Gómez's rising popularity, and is now small enough that you wonder if there will be an increase in pressure on Acosta to bail out, so that the PAN and the PRD unite behind García Gómez. She is, after all, a perredista.

Headlines from the Debate

Here's is El Universal's take on last night's debate from Mexico State:
But how is that possible, if Ávila has made 6,000 campaign pledges?

This debate, and this campaign really isn't an outlier; I don't have much of a basis of comparison outside of the US, but Mexican campaigns always strike as being very idea-empty. The Democratic primaries hinged on relatively obscure questions of policy like meeting with the leaders of enemy nations and the individual mandate in health care. White papers abound for all candidates. Not that American campaigns are paragons for intellectual exercise, but in Mexico, the bar is a fair amount lower.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Support for Carstens

Twelve Latin American nations have come out for Carstens: Colombia, Belize, Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The names not among that group--Brazil, Argentina, Chile--are weightier.

No Arraigo for Hank

I thought it was a rather damning indictment of the arraigo that Marisela Morales said that it would not be applied in the Hank Rhon case so as to avoid "political pressure". That's rather silly; if it's good enough for the arrestees in the San Fernando case, or the musicians playing at Beltrán Leyva's parties in 2009, or beauty queens dating narcos, then it should be fine for an allegedly corrupt politician, too. And if it can't withstand the scrutiny in a case like Jorge Hank Rhon's, then Mexico should consider ditching it altogether. In any event, Hank Rhon is now on his way to trial for charges related to illegal weapons and perhaps organized crime.

Speaking of Morales, she's been the attorney general for just a few weeks, and first Hank Rhon and now the ex-governor of Chiapas, Pablo Salazar, has been arrested by federal authorities; was she given a mandate to go after corrupt former officials?

Good News from Tamaulipas

Felipe Calderón announced a $300 million dollar investment in the state by the Korean company Posco, which will be upgrade its steel plant in Altamira. This is more evidence for the argument Bret Stephens was making last week about Mexico's recent economic performance being positive, despite all of the horrid coverage Mexico receives in the papers. I think there's a lot of truth to that, though Stephens is probably a bit too optimistic in his take on the economy, because if you look back to 2000 through 2008, the performance is rather middling.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mi Pobre Torreón

Eleven residents at a rehab facility were killed earlier today in Torreón. With this, two unsettling trends return to the fore: mass killings using indiscriminate gunfire in Torreón, and mass killings targeting rehab centers.

Fun Rumor

Clint Dempsey to AC Milan? I liked being able to watch him in a more entertaining league, but it would be great to see an American on a top-flight team.

Denying Calderón's Role

Declaring that the era of the political use of criminal justice is in the past, Alejandro Poiré said that Calderón had nothing to do with the decision to arrest Hank, which may be true, but the fact that he feels the need to point that out doesn't speak well of the timing, and shows how deep the suspicion of his motives is. The fact that one of the nation's most prominent columnists predicted just such a move a couple of weeks ago doesn't help.

It's also worth noting that Calderón (or whoever) would have to be foolishly optimistic to think that this arrest will have much of an impact in Mexico State. The election is four weeks away, and there is a 30-point margin. Furthermore, the links between Tijuana's Hank and Mexico State's Ávila are by no means self-evident, and most voters probably don't remember the history of Carlos Hank and the Grupo Atlacomulco. Hank may reduce the support for Ávila by a very small margin, but there's virtually no way Ávila will lose as a result of this.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Slim's Next Investment?

Evidently Carlos Slim wants to stage Canelo Álvarez-Manny Pacquiao in Mexico, and is willing to pay $65 million to do so. I'm kind of skeptical of this because Slim doesn't seem to be into vanity purchases and the original source is an Indonesian paper I've never heard of. Even if he were interested, Canelo's people would be silly to stick their cash cow in front of a potentially career-altering beatdown at this stage of his development, and it's hard to imagine Pacquiao fighting outside the US.

Thickening Plot

Jorge Hank Rhon's security chief, who evidently was essentially a shadow of the former Tijuana mayor, has been missing for 48 hours, and is not among the 10 people arrested along with Hank Rhon. Also, said chief, Jorge Vera, is the son of Antonio Vera, Hank Rhon's former bodyguard now in prison for killing a journalist, Héctor Félix, who had been critical of his boss.

Context Is Everything

In the US, public school teachers are by and large a good bunch, and unions have basically been a force for good. In Mexico, not so much, on either score:
After almost two weeks of demonstrations, the "dissident" Sección 22 of the SNTE teachers union (dissident in the sense that it opposes the national leadership of SNTE leader Elba Esther Gordillo), returned to the class rooms today, Monday. In one of Mexico's absolute poorest states, with educational attainment at rock bottom, the teachers left the 1.4 million or so students without a teacher for almost two weeks - all the time collecting their salary.


Oaxaca's business sectors reported losses of about 12 billion pesos so far due to Sección 22's teachers (and far from all are; many merely collect their pay yet dedicate themselves to "organizational work" such as the recent strikes) since 2006.

Also of note: Not once in the last 28 years have the teachers actually fulfilled their professional duties to teach the full 200 days per academic year.
That last sentence is simply insane.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

More on Hank

Jorge Zepeda says that the arrest of the Jorge Hank, connected through his father to the Grupo Atlacomulco that forms Peña Nieto's political support base, is an attempt by Los Pinos to take Peña Nieto down a peg ahead of the Mexico State and presidential elections. He also compared it to the desafuero, which is an exaggeration in that López Obrador was the leading candidate for the presidency and Hank is a has-been politico whose reputation is more broadly negative, and the michoacanazo, which seems more apt to me. He also says that without more proof of guilt, Calderón will probably end up worse off from the gambit than Peña Nieto.

Hank's lawyer says he was arrested without any weapons in his possession, which would kind of take the sting out of the weapons charges.

Paraphrasing Hank's father and dismissing the lawyer's claims, Alejandro Encinas says that a politician with guns is a poor politician. Hank himself had his own take on Carlos's famous line: A politician who is imprisoned is a political prisoner. Of course, that's irredeemably stupid.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Famously Controversial Figure Arrested

Jorge Hank Rhon was arrested in Tijuana by the Mexican army with dozens of illegal weapons.

Broken Record: Chemicals Found in Manzanillo

Sixty tons of precursor chemicals arriving from China were discovered in Manzanillo. Unless I'm mistaken, this is a separate bust from the 54 tons of Chinese chemicals also discovered in Manzanillo earlier this week. Thought with hundreds of tons being seized in the port city on an annual basis in recent years, it's a bit hard to keep up.

More Clandestine Graves

Thirty-seven graves with an undetermined the remains of an undetermined number of people have been discovered in the border town Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Following the discoveries in San Fernando and Durango, one can't help but wonder: how many mass graves dotting the Mexican countryside still remain undiscovered?

Planning for 2012

The PAN will select its presidential candidate on Feb. 22, and will determine the format of its selection process in October. In 2006, the PAN selected Calderón in a trio of regional primaries, the last of which came in October 2005. I wonder a) Why they changed the format, which seems to me to be ideal (I'd much prefer the US adopt something similar) and b) Why they are waiting until February. The PRD is determining their candidate in the fall, and Enrique Peña Nieto basically already has it locked down; the PAN candidate is therefore going to cede several months of preparation to the competition. Why?

Juárez's Best Month in Two Years

The improvement in security in the border town continues:

A total 150 people were killed in Mexico's Ciudad Juarez in May, the lowest monthly number since March 2009, when a massive army deployment caused the murder rate to temporarily plummet.

Before the recent improvement, the border town, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, had enjoyed the dubious designation of the world’s most dangerous city for some years. At its peak of violence, 350 people were killed in October 2010, in the city of 1.3 million or so residents. Since then, the violence has steadily declined, slipping to 183 murders in March and 168 in April.

Despite the dip in killings, Juarez remains an exceedingly violent city; the May total may have been the lowest since 2009, but it was enough to put the annualized murder rate well above 100 per 100,000 residents, which would make it the bloodiest of any major Mexican metropolis.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Cordero's Gaffe

Ernesto Cordero is taking a fair amount of flak for his assertion that Mexico is not a poor country. This is a bit unfair; by all of the accepted international standards, Mexico is not poor! It is a middle-income nation. It's poorer than the US, but with a GDP per capita of more than $10,000, it's wealthier than the majority of Latin American nations. And as Leo Zuckermann points out, the majority of the country is classified middle-class. (Though I hasten to add that middle class in Mexico is a different ballgame from what we see as middle class in the US.) So why pretend that it is poor? And why slam someone who merely points out accepted economic fact? Not to minimize the plight of the poor or to overlook the policies that have caused horrible inequality (which Cordero did not do either), but that's anti-reason right there.

At the same time, Cordero is probably not the best messenger for anything that smacks of economic optimism, thanks to his much-derided claim that one can live like a champ on 6,000 pesos a month. Also, from the standpoint of naked self-interest, I imagine Cordero wants to build his presidential candidacy around the middle class, but he doesn't want to simultaneously embrace the role of the candidate who ignores the poor. Though it turned out to be ill-fitting, Calderón's self-label as the candidate of jobs has a broader appeal.

Mexico's First Life Sentence for Murder

A 28-year-old convicted of killing two cops in Chihuahua will spend the rest of his life in prison, and in the process he wins the unfortunate distinction of being the first Mexican in modern history to be given a life sentence for murder. (Another convict in Chihuahua got life for kidnapping last year.) Assuming he is guilty, it's hard to muster much sympathy for him, but I would point out that doling stiffer sentences without reducing the rates of impunity shouldn't be confused with action.

Trouble with Arithmetic

From Excélsior:
It would be great if a headline like this could go above a story about poor math test scores in Mexico.

To the Big Screen!

El Cártel de los Sapos
, which is for my money the best Spanish-language portrayal of drug trafficking I have seen, is going to be turned into a movie. After three television seasons, I'm not sure what more they can do with the story that they haven't already, but I'll see it. Much of the cast is back, including, most importantly, Don Cabo.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Scare for Ortega

Jesús Ortega had the misfortune of being at a Tepic hotel where there was gunfight last night, but he was kind enough to Twitter about it as well as the inevitable inappropriate replies from political adversaries.

Mexico City Happy with Marcelo

Marcelo Ebrard maintains an approval rating of 61 percent according to El Universal, within a few points of his highest all-time rating. With his lack of support within the PRD relative to AMLO, I don't think that means much with regard to 2012, but he has done an admirable job in Mexico City, and were performance the most important factor, he'd be well on his way to the nomination.

Oddly enough, Mexico City denizens overwhelmingly point to insecurity as the top problem in the city: 60 percent named that as the number one blight upon society, with just 7 percent saying unemployment, which came in second place. While not to trivialize the security problems that do exist there, Mexico City, despite its reputation of being survivable only for the toughest of the tough, is not a particularly unsafe city, especially by Mexican standards. The DF has not, for instance, had a murder rate above 10 per 100,000 residents in the past decade. Juárez's, in contrast, has not dipped beneath 100 since 2007. While Mexico City's robbery numbers are high, the figures for rape and kidnapping are likewise not particularly eye-popping. Yet the perception of oh-so-dangerous Mexico City, perpetuated in part by an endless series of movies that portray DF as Spanish for "gritty", persists.

What New Names Mean

Steve Dudley writes that the emergence of Los Caballeros Templarios reflects a divide between La Tuta and José de Jesús Méndez:

With Mexican security forces' arrest of 36 alleged members of the Familia Michoacana drug trafficking organization, and the deaths of another 15, the rift between two leaders of the group has spilled into public view.

The confrontation with authorities took place along the Jalisco-Michaocan state border. A large group of forces belonging to Jose de Jesus Mendez, alias "El Chango," had gathered there for an assault on the Knights Templar, the newly minted gang of Servando Gomez, alias "La Tuta," the authorities said.

One lesson that tends to be reinforced in Mexico is that groups' new names tend to reflect real organizational differences with the gang they split off from or work for, which eventually tend to manifest themselves in violence. The most obvious example is the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, in which the former always called themselves the Zetas while working for Cárdenas, and eventually split from the Gulf altogether. You also see the same with the former Gente Nueva bosses in Durango, who never called themselves Sinaloa Cartel gangsters but rather Gente Nueva, and who seem to have split from Chapo Guzman and Mayo Zambada. There is also the case of the Pacific South Cartel, which was thought to be run by Héctor Beltrán Leyva; but the new name indicated a degree of distance that became more evident with the narcomantas from Beltrán Leyva distancing his group from the Pacific South and the Sicilia killing. And you see it in the above example.

One Less Ivory Back-Scratcher for Slim

Telmex was fined more than 90 million pesos (almost $8 million) for monopolistic practices (they denied access to their network to a subsidiary of Telefónica in 2007 and 2008) by the nation's newly teethed Federal Competition Commission (CFC). This pales in comparison to the $1 billion penalty it received a few weeks ago, but the hits keep on coming for Telmex, to the point that Secretary of Communications and Transportation Dionisio Pérez had to deny that his agency, which oversees the CFC, had anything against Slim's companies. Telmex shares have been slipping in the Mexican stock market as a result of all this, and I wonder how much Slim's fortune will fall the next time we see a world's-richest list. The poor guy may drop below a gazillion.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Proactive Approach to a Longstanding Problem

At long last, something resembling a comprehensive approach to the problems in Chihuahua's jails:
The state's attorney general's office revealed that so as to maintain order and control in the state's prisons, it has implemented a policy in coordination with federal authorities so as to avoid acts of corruption and impede that within these facilities criminal activities are orchestrated.

As a part of this strategy, during the course of this administration [of Governor César Duarte], 36 operations in different Ceresos in the state have been carried out, which equals one operation every seven days.
This in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean anything, but at least they are going beyond putting out fires as they become visible.

Misleading Stats

Alejandro Poiré was bragging the other day about how 85 percent of the cases brought before federal judges result in convictions. That may be the case (though the note linked above was very short on details, and I suppose that he wasn't even bragging and the newspaper just played it that way), but that stat means a lot less than he implies. As the government itself reported just a couple of weeks ago, more than 70 percent of those arrested on federal charges never see trial. Presumably, Poiré's figure refers to that 28 percent who do go trial, but 85 percent of 28 percent of arrests --less than a quarter-- doesn't strike me as impressive.

Against the Attacks on Journalists

El Universal on the Sunday night grenade attack on the Saltillo paper Vanguardia:
No journalist is more than a common citizen, but as with every common citizen he has the right that the state --at all three levels of government-- guarantees his physical security as well as the conditions in which to carry out his job. And the issue goes even further.

Defending Vanguardia is not a simple matter of solidarity of colleagues, but rather a basic instinct of the survival of democracy in the country. Shutting up the media is the first step toward authoritarianism. The threats to free expression from organized crime are growing, principally in the North and central portion of the country, without their being detainees, much less convictions.

Gonzalo Marroquín, president of the Inter-American Press Society, is right when he asks the government for a swift investigation so as to avoid that savage acts like this continue to undermine the freedom of the press and that they adopt security measures for members of the newspaper. "If the responsible parties are not punished there is the risk that the violent parties fulfill their goal of intimidating the media, that they self-censor and that freedom of the press and the right of the public to be informed continues to be undermined."

Allowing criminals to control what is said is the same as having lost control of regions of the country, where there are powers above the state. Like feudal lords the criminals would decide who lives and who dies, who speaks and who doesn't. Coahuila is a state with proven greatness, with a booming society and economy, that don't deserve to live under siege. It is urgent that this be the first of many solved cases of aggression against the press.
It seems as though in recent months the number of attacks on journalists has dropped. However, even if I am correct (and I may well not be), without the government having done anything to punish the people responsible for attacks on the press, it's hard to see that possible decrease as more than a blip in an otherwise alarming and decade-long trend.

Some Gangs Are Worse than Others

Linking to a piece by Denise Maerker, Boz mentioned on his Twitter feed yesterday that in the past, Calderón was criticized for ignoring Sinaloa, and now he's being increasingly encouraged to do just that. A recent piece by Jorge Fernández Menéndez implicitly makes a similar argument.

I've long thought that differentiating between the gangs and their various approaches to mafia operations is a good idea. But a discriminating approach to the various criminal gangs needs to be coupled with a more effective communications strategy for two big reasons. Politically, if Calderón had explained why, for instance, the Zetas were more dangerous than Chapo and Mayo and deserved more of the government's immediate attention, then he could help move the debate beyond the inevitable accusations of protection (which, at least in theory, would be untrue) or favoritism (which would, strictly speaking, be correct), and the subsequent denials. Furthermore, making clear what that the gangs had done to earn the greater share of the government's attention would discourage such behaviors from other gangs, and hopefully lead to a safer pattern of interaction between criminals and the government.