Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pew on Mexico

There is a lot of great info in the new Pew study on Mexicans' views toward their nation, public security, and their leaders attempts to deal with it, a chunk of which can be found above. The whole thing is worth reading, as always. Another element that I would like to highlight is the declining view of the military: the proportion of people with a good opinion of the armed forces dropped from 77 percent in 2009 to 62 percent this year. Other institutions also saw drops, but the decline for the army was the largest. This would seem to be a manifestation of the long-expressed concern that extended exposure to drug-war combat would erode the standing of the military.

At the same time, 83 percent continue to support the use of the army in domestic security, a three-point rise in from 2009. Collectively, Mexicans overwhelmingly support the army even as they thinks less of it. I guess the lesson is that there is no perceived alternative.

Evidence of the Threat Posed by Extortion

News from Chihuahua, from Excélsior this morning:
Early this Wednesday morning armed men set a trailer on fire with a molotov cocktail, in another incident related to the extortion fees demanded by criminal bands.

Yesterday there were two arson attacks against businesses, when commandos set a restaurant on fire in the capital of the state and other businesses in the food market were also attacked in Ciudad Juárez.

A hamburger business in Chihuahua City, which had closed because of extortion, was completely consumed by the flames.
I don't think anyone the US has paid enough attention to how relying on extortion rather than just drug trafficking changes things. Nor, for that matter, has the crime received enough attention from the Mexican government for most of the past several years, although the lack of interest hasn't been so dramatic. Of course, the Casino Royale attack will probably change all that.

More Good News for Josefina

She has a nine-point edge over Santiago Creel in the race for the PAN nomination according to the latest poll from GCE, published today in Milenio. That lead has been growing, and we are now just a few months from the primaries. Creel started out with some significant advantages (name recognition, distance from a floundering Calderón administration, et cetera) but it's hard to see him reversing the trend.

Also, Cordero is almost 20 points down on Creel, and almost 30 back from Vázquez Mota.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Identifying the Rest

Nuevo León authorities have announced that they have identified the seven Casino Royale suspects who remain at large, including the man they are referring to as the intellectual author. They also said that the five in custody were detained thanks to an anonymous tip.

While the federal government has certainly responded --3,000 new federal troops are headed to the area-- it's striking how the state authorities have taken the lead on this. The investigation into and arrest of Mano con Ojos leader Óscar Osvaldo García Montoya earlier this month was similar, though the state was Edomex, not Nuevo León. I can't remember too many significant security episodes in which an entity other than the federal government was the protagonist. Those are both PRI-run states, as well. And it seems as though the federal authorities has been more than happy to cede the leading role to their state counterparts. It's commendable that instead of wanting to steal a piece of good news, the administration is living up to its rhetoric regarding the need for lower levels of government to pick up the slack. It will be interesting to see if this pattern is continued.

On Corruption

El Universal weighs in on a corruption conference held yesterday, attended by, among others Baltasar Garzón:
[The attendees] emphasized that corruption must be combated to defeat the mafias that penetrate the public security and justice structures. But not only condemning the corruption of the officials, politicians, and police, but also that which the society itself shelters and permits, even in their daily activities, because that is where a perverse ethic of convenience undermines the social fabric and is expanding until turning against the population in the form of mafias.

The social unity is conceived by these figures not only as coming out to the streets to protest the violence or through an anti-crime initiative from media outlets, but above all as a common effort of combating crime and fostering a culture of prevention at the level of a citizen's daily routine.

That is to say, the struggle against violence cannot be won simply by military or armed force. The labor is together with a united society and through a effort to eradicate corruption at its source, socially punishing illicit activities, not rewarding them or celebrating them.

Mexico has a lot to learn from countries that have already passed through what we are living. These visions must be taken into account because they open our horizon and they move us way from limited or partial conceptions of the phenomenon. Above all when we are before the monster of criminality, whose confrontation must be carried out with an integrated, broad, and intricate vision, equal to the phenomenon itself.

Differences between the Mexican Left and the Rest of the World's

Via Aguachile, the PT is holding a beauty contest in Zacatecas, complete with corporal requirements, which aims to" change the country" and "stop the social, economic and political deterioration."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lujambio Is Out

The education secretary is to abandon his doomed campaign for the PAN nomination later this evening.

The Plan in Monterrey

Bajo Reserva says that the Federal Police strategy in Monterrey --which includes special units for extortion and kidnapping, "dynamic patrols" (??), checkpoints, and a tactical analysis center-- will be based on that of Juárez, though the Monterrey plan will have a new zero-tolerance element. The number of murders has dropped a great deal since the Federal Police replaced the army in 2010, though its not clear that the Federal Police deployment was the decisive factor (as opposed to the harder-to-discern dynamics of the local criminal groups), nor that the drop will endure.

La Mano con Ojos: Still Around

Despite the arrest of the group's leader earlier this month, bodies with signs attributing the killings to the Mano con Ojos are still popping up around Edomex.

More on the Arrests

The number is now five Zetas that have been detained in Nuevo León. Governor Rodrigo Medina says that the attack was "directed at the casino and not the civilian population". I'm not sure if that means the deaths were an accident, according to authorities, or if he's just saying that to reassure the locals. There have been lots of reports from witnesses, however, that say that the men behind the attack were screaming at everyone to get out when they started to light the casino on fire, which seems to support Medina's version.

Anyway, this again demonstrates that when the security agencies are properly motivated, they are as capable of tracking down the bad guys as one would hope. The problem is that, too often, only something truly horrific seems to serve as proper motivation.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Monterrey Update

The state police in Nuevo León have announced the arrest of two suspects in the Casino Royale attack.

Also, the federal government has sent 3,000 federal troops to Nuevo León. Also, authorities in both Monterrey and Guadalajara are cracking down on casinos that are operating illegally.

Yesterday's Papers

Saturday, August 27, 2011

More Reaction to Monterrey

Greg Weeks and Malcolm Beith had some interesting thoughts. The latter:
Calderón is right to point the finger at the United States, but not at this particular moment in time. Drug consumption in the United States was not what allowed the attack in Monterrey to occur. The total impunity that reigns in Mexico -- due to the failure of police and security forces to maintain any semblance of trustworthy authority, the dragging speed of reform in the police forces, and the absence of any investigative capacity or will whatsoever -- is responsible for this atrocity. And Calderón's inability to admit fault or honestly describe the sorry state of his signature initiative is exactly what is making it so difficult for him to convince Mexicans of anything, including the notion that his party should remain in office next year.
With regard to Calderón, he needs to distinguish between proximate and fundamental causes, and recognize which of the two he has control over. The US's drug demand is the latter; Mexico's inability to secure convictions on more than 2 percent of the crimes that take place, its inability to control the nation's prisons, its unwillingness to punish political support for organized crime, its failure to move decisively against the financial networks of criminal groups, et cetera, et cetera--those are proximate causes over which Calderón has a fair amount of control. And though he has made some progress, his government hasn't done enough to address these problems. In contrast, there's not much at all that Calderón can do about American drug demand, other than complain. Even if he is logically consistent and his complaints are entirely fair, they don't amount to an effective response.

Not All Bad

As if to balance the horrible feeling stemming from the Monterrey massacre, Excélsior reports that the Zona Esmeralda, a neighborhood Atizapán, Edomex is the nation's safest spot. And the reason, the article says, is that the locals have been willing to invest in security:
In this area officers from both the local police as well as private security agents are on patrol, working above all in residential areas and retail centers.

The statitistics show that 86 percent of the 267 officers that are in the zone are paid by the community [as opposed, I assume, to federal and state cash transfers] and that eight out of every ten pesos collected are earmarked for this expense.

"We are working so that the Zona Esmeralda continues to be one of the safest areas in Mexico. What we are seeking in our subdivisions is security; we all pay for the security and each day we want it to be better", said Luis Miranda, president of the residents' association.

Friday, August 26, 2011

On Kleiman and Demand Reduction

I have a response to Mark Kleiman's essay here.

A Biography of Torreón's Last Five Years

I have a piece here about my former city. Two other things I didn't mention: one, something like half the city's trees lost all over their foliage during a cold snap this winter, so the parts of the city that used to be nice and shady are now drenched in sunshine, which sucks. Oddly, the leaves have grown back around the trunk in many cases, but in the upper reaches of the branches, there is nothing.

Also, the cops in the city used to walk around with six-shooters, a patrol belt with some bullets and whatnot, and a hat. That was about it. I don't know what exactly they were, but these were big pistols that looked like they could stop an elephant, but they were just revolvers. Today, the cops walk around with ski-masks, assault rifles, and bullet-proof vests. Yet the city has gotten worse and worse, with the police being powerless to stop it. That serves as a demonstration, yet another one, that Mexican security is not a problem of insufficient government firepower.

More on Monterrey

This seems like it could be a turning point. Although maybe that's not the right phrase, since I'm not sure in which direction public opinion/government policy would turn, since the government is already pursuing the Zetas first and public opinion is already anti-gang. In any event, the reaction from 2,000 miles away seems more indignant than ever. Above we have Milenio calling it 25/08, which of course reminds one of 9-11 or 3-11. Calderón called for three days of mourning, and said, "We are confronting terrorists", a declaration that I believe he had previously resisted making so openly. Calderón also pointed out that the acts are not common-sensical, which is also true. This will only increase the heat on the Zetas, probably from the American government, too.

I also think that it's worth noting that what appears to be at the heart of this was extortion. That should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who thinks that Mexico's problems are exclusively related to the drug trade. The Zetas formed as a result of the drug trade, but the factors sustaining them today go far beyond that single activity.

Horror in Monterrey

Sixty-one people were killed in a casino in Monterrey yesterday, after the owners refused to make extortion payments to the Zetas.

Update: Per Nuevo León Governor Rodrigo Medina, most media outlets are saying just 52 people died, though the number could rise, they say.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Losing Faith in Moreira

Ricardo Alemán notes the tepid in-house defense of the PRI's chief's actions as governor of Coahuila:
Furthermore, in the opinion of not a small number of priístas --of all sizes and from all wings-- Humberto Moreira has turned into a stain for the PRI, above all in the moments when he needed to demonstrate that it is a modern, democratic, and transparent party, distanced from the cheating and swindling.
Enrique Peña Nieto, interestingly enough, is among those whose defense was not exactly Finch-like. Background on Moreira's problems here and here.

Why is Peña Nieto So Popular?

Jan-Albert Hootsen asks that question in a new column. I confess that I'd grown so used to his double-digit lead that it no longer seemed striking, but it really is.

Kleiman's Essay in Foreign Affairs

Mark Kleiman has a new essay on Mexico in Foreign Affairs. I'll have more to say on this in a coming piece, but in short, it is very informative and authoritative with regard to demand reduction, but, though he has some good ideas, the piece is not very well thought out with regard to its impact in Mexico. Boz writes:
Kleiman also suggests (as he has before) the Mexican government should not target all drug traffickers equally and specifically target its resources against the most violent trafficking organization. While I see some weaknesses in this strategy, I do think it would be better than the current policy of the Mexican government.

One flaw I see in Kleiman's strategy is that he is solely focused on drug-related violence. I realize drug policy is the whole point of his article, but the violence in Mexico is not just caused by drug trafficking. Even if drugs magically disappeared, there would be significant criminal organizations taking advantage of Mexico's weak police and judicial institutions. For the Mexican government, they must focus beyond drugs on strengthening institutions and halting the influence of powerful criminal organizations that threaten the state and society.
I certainly agree with the second paragraph. With regard to the first, I think it's worth pointing out that this isn't all that different from Mexico's present strategy. Mexico has definitely focused more resources on the Familia and the Zetas, because, they say, these gangs represent the greatest threat. That assessment may or may not be correct, but the logic is the same as what Kleiman is advocating.

And beyond that, Kleiman ignores the fact that the Mexican government hasn't proven capable of taking down the gangs it identifies as the most dangerous, because it has an utterly inefficient judicial system, jails that are completely uncontrolled, and police agencies that are corrupt and incompetent. As Boz mentions, the problem goes far beyond being able to identify the worst gangs (a strategy that is pulled from gang interventions in the US, where the context is very different); it's about building effective institutions first.

Update: Kleiman responds in comments.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Legalization as Solution

ED Kain calls for an end to the drug wars in Mexico:
Now the Mexican government is passing up on an opportunity, however vague, to find some sort of peaceful resolution with the cartels:

Mexico’s federal security spokesman on Monday rejected a state prosecutor’s call for drug cartels to join in some kind of truce, saying the gangs must be arrested and disbanded instead.

Security spokesman Alejandro Poire was reacting to questions about a call made by Alberto Lopez Rosas, the attorney general of the violence-wracked southern state of Guerrero.

In comments to local media over the weekend, Lopez Rosas asked drug cartels for a truce, "to respect the life of a city, the life of the populace, the life of society."

Poire told a news conference on Monday that such entreaties wouldn’t lead anywhere.

"Regarding calls by authorities for the criminals to change their behavior, I think it couldn’t be clearer that peace is not going to be achieved by asking the criminals for something," Poire said.

"Peace is going to be achieved by bringing the criminals to justice … that their thinking will not be influenced by appealing to their interests by calling on them to change their ways, but by giving them no choice but to submit to the law and stop their crimes."

Making peace with the cartels can’t happen in a vacuum. That’s the trick. If you simply allow the black market and the smuggling and violence to continue and don’t oppose it, that’s no better than state-sponsored organized crime. That was the status quo under previous governments, and the reason that Felipe Calderon is so passionate about fighting the war on drugs. The concurrent policy would need to be an end to prohibition, something Mexico can’t really do with the US standing over its shoulder.

Still, it would be good to end the violence, and the way to do that isn’t to bring every cartel and criminal to justice. That’s a fool’s errand, impossible and unrealistic. The way to end the violence is to wipe out the black market altogether by ending prohibition.
The first thing is that Kain's facts are mixed up. Poiré didn't have anything like the opportunity to end the violence through a truce; he was responding to the musings of a relatively minor, state-level official, which he subsequently clarified to mean nothing like Kain thinks. Also, his version of the previous status quo is overly simplistic; in fact, Fox declared war on the Arellano Félix gang in the early stages of his presidency, and the government has fought criminal groups in fits and starts for a generation. (See, for instance, the three big-time bosses of the Guadalajara cartel, all of whom have been in jail for more than 20 years.) The idea that the criminal justice agencies were like a lamp turned off, before Calderón arrived and turned them off, is not right. This is an important point, because if you believe that, it also becomes much easier to conclude that all Mexico needs is a president to abandon Calderón's policies so as return to the relative peace of the past, through a truce or legalization or whatever alternative you like.

Second, with regard to legalization, it's odd that Kain would link the back-and-forth between Poiré and López Rosas to prohibition, because that wasn't what they were talking about. I'm sympathetic to many arguments for legalization, but I don't like to see them tossed off without any consideration of their near-term impact. What happens, for instance, if the gangs double down on extortion and kidnapping on after prohibition?

Lastly, this line: "[I]t would be good to end the violence, and the way to do that isn’t to bring every cartel and criminal to justice. That’s a fool’s errand, impossible and unrealistic." That's a straw man argument. Obviously, no one sentient thinks Mexico is capable of completely wiping out crime through the present policies, but of it could achieve convictions on more than 2 percent of crimes nationwide, there would a much stronger disincentive against criminal activities. In other words, Mexico is capable of engineering the growth of a more defensive industry and reducing (though not eliminating) the present levels of violence. As many nations have shown, though a painstaking process, it is not a fool's errand to reform ineffective institutions. And insofar as improving the police agencies and the criminal justice system will make for a safer Mexico both during and after prohibition (should we ever live in such a world), that's where the focus should be right now.

If You're Not Quite Sick of the Moral Element of Barça-Real

This piece pretty much winds up the issue for me:
Let me get a couple of things out of the way. Firstly, diving and embellishing suck. It is cheating as it unfairly gains an advantage that is not deserved. However in my world view, terrible tackles are so much worse. At worst, diving and embellishing can get someone sent off and you can lose the game. Tackling, on the other hand, can end careers – end a person’s livelihood; how a person makes money to support themselves and others around them; with many not having a back-up career. (The obscene amount of money they make in the first place is a different topic for another discussion).

Secondly, we don’t use embellishing as part of our tactical system. That is to say, Pep does not deliberately ask players to make meals of contact. If they do, they are acting alone in their behaviour.

The only time I can think of where embellishing was used as part of a deliberate, tactical approach, was the first leg of the CL semi-final after the Copa del Rey final. It was used as a direct response to the on-pitch mugging that occurred in the aforementioned final – to bring attention to the types of fouls that were no called due to the psychological pressure put on referees by a certain coach.

Now, in England, with their hatred of CHEATING and envy of Barcelona, inevitably chose to focus on this part. Because the media, which has a large reach in the football world, is annoyed their top teams keep losing to us and fans of those teams we’ve beaten feel the need to try and take the ‘gloss’ of the shine of the club in envy. There is no other possible point of contention on the pitch with regards to Barcelona, so one part is taken and then blown out of proportion. After all, doesn’t every team have at least one embellisher?

Has any manager or team complained about these so-called ‘theatrics’ other than one? There is a reason for that. For every action, there is a reaction; in football terms, for every tactical implement, there is an opposing one.

For example, Athletic Bilbao play physical football. They stay compact and are no-nonsense in their tackling. When they exceed the boundaries, they are given cards and accept them without much fuss or outrage and continue on. Likewise we take the tackles, or dish them and get cards, with little fuss or complaint. Why is this? Because the games are hard fought, tackling no-nonsense but not cynical.

Now here is the thing I really want to get off my chest.

If a team uses an aggressive approach as a part of a tactical system, which often exceeds the boundaries set by the rules of the game, are they not also CHEATING? After all, they are acting dishonestly/unfairly in order to gain an advantage. They are deliberately breaking the rules set by the game and are ‘conning’ the ref into believing there was little to no contact, that the player was diving, and/or it was their ‘first’ foul, and therefore go unpunished.

If the team who uses an aggressive approach as part of a tactical system which often exceeds the boundaries set, also contains players who, often and serially, go to ground easily with little to no contact, does that not make them CHEATING hypocrites? After all, they are claiming to have moral beliefs that they do not conform to while acting dishonestly/unfairly by deliberately exceeding the rules of the game in order to gain an advantage.

If the team’s coach who has implemented this aggressive approach as part of their tactical system, goes in front of the media and complains of players being dismissed are unwarranted, therefore saying said-players never exceed the boundaries of the game, and whose players claim it is due to the play-acting of the opposition team, make the coach’s team sanctimonious CHEATING hypocrites? After all they are making a show of being moral superior than others while being morally self-contradicting and are acting dishonestly/unfairly by deliberately exceeding the rules of the game in order to gain an advantage.

On Acapulco's Mayhem

Here's a brief rundown. Highlights:

As a key entryway for South American cocaine, the city has long been an attractive piece of real estate for drug gangs, with agents of the Sinaloa Cartel battling the Zetas as far back as 2005. But breakdowns in the coherence of the hegemonic networks in Mexico have transformed Acapulco from the site of a battle between two competing gangs to an anarchic mess of newer groups. Much of the recent surge in violence stems from battles between the Independent Cartel of Acapulco (known as CIDA for its initials in Spanish), which is made up of the remains of the network run by Edgar Valdez Villarreal until his arrest in September 2010, and the South Pacific Cartel, a newly emerging gang that is loosely affiliated with the Beltran Leyvas.

Other smaller gangs such as the Barredora, which saw 10 members arrested for a litany of crimes earlier this month, are also carving out a toehold. The increase in petty crimes like armed robbery and car theft also suggests a rise in smaller groups capitalizing on the climate of insecurity, though they are less active in the international cocaine trade. At the same time, larger groups like the Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Familia Michoacana continue to compete for space in this city of some 700,000 residents.

Oddly Sympathetic Headline

This appeared in Excélsior. Pesadilla, or "nightmare", implies that it was a horrible situation visited upon Strauss-Kahn without any provocation on his part. I don't think anyone would say that is the case for the former IMF boss.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Odd Take on Torreón

Jorge Fernández Menéndez says that it was not a coincidence that the attack happened during Santos' game against Monarcas, who are from Morelia, home to Zetas' rival Caballeros Templarios.

From Santos' Website

You can read it for yourself here.

PGR Doings

Bajo Reserva says that the house-cleaning continues:
The broom and the brush will continue to be very handy implements in the PGR. We are told that the thorough scrubbing will continue in the agency. After the state delegations of the PGR were purged, the attorney general, Marisela Morales, will now move on to cleaning three other areas. The Federal Investigative Agency, the ministerios públicos [the officials who double as investigative officers and prosecutors], and the servicios periciales [the first-responders who run the crime scenes] will be submitted to a detailed revision and vetting. We are told that in the coming weeks there will certainly be dust, because the house is very, very dirty.
Also, El Universal reported a few days ago that the agency will seek to recapture Jorge Hank Rhon, based on the argument that the judge who ordered the former Tijuana mayor's release did not fully consider the evidence against him. If Morales is choosing to pick at the wound of one of the government's most embarrassing failures in recent years, she had better be standing on pretty firm ground. To take another run at him only to see the case fall apart again would be an incredibly silly decision.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

PAN Shaking Out

Josefina Vázquez Mota and Emilio González Márquez, respectively the PAN's likely presidential nominee and an inevitable also-ran, have announced dates at which point they will leave their posts in order to campaign full-time: August 30 for Vázquez Mota (who just earned a nice profile in The Economist) and some point in November for González Márquez, a non-date from which I imagine he will back out as the presidential momentum consolidates behind another.

Also, Bajo Reserva says that Ernesto Cordero is on his way out from the finance ministry to campaign full time as well, and will be replaced by Secretary of Communications and Transportation Dioniso Pérez-Jacome Friscione, a longtime priísta who just recently joined the PAN.

From the Department of Clairvoyance

The latest news from Libya reminds me that in June, Doug Muir wrote on Noel Maurer's blog:
Back in April, I said I gave Qaddafi “more than a month, but less than a year.” I’ll narrow that a little now — as of this posting, he’s got more than two weeks, but less than six months. Too vague? Okay, I’ll live dangerously: August, plus or minus a month.
Not a bad call. If Mr. Muir has a stock tip or a football team he really likes, I'm all ears.

Also, Noel himself has a very interesting meditation on of the ups and downs in Bahamanian crime.

Reaction to Mexico's Literary Offerings

I just got back from 10 days in Mexico, and one of the more striking illustrations of the increased attention to security was the explosion of books about narcos. When I first moved there in 2005, I believe that there were five or six books that were in the stores: Los Capos, De Los Maras a Los Zetas, El Cártel, and maybe one or two others. There were three times that number, at least, in my most recent trip.

Also, I considered bumping back the return day by one date so as to attend this game. I'm quite glad that I didn't.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Curious Editorial Decision

Proceso's recent cover story summing up a series of Small Wars Journal articles, which tended to see security in Mexico through a military lens, strikes me as odd for two reasons. One is that it's just odd to see one of the most connected magazines in the country basically cribbing the analysis, most of it esoteric and some of it not very well informed on Mexico, of a group of foreign military officers. Imagine Newsweek dedicating an article to the musings of Russian generals on American foreign policy. Or Sports Illustrated using a cover story to summarize the analysis of Mexico's top football experts.

Of course, Proceso presumably was convinced that the article would fit by the fact that the authors by and large considered Mexico as something like a war, which is exactly the line Proceso has been pushing since spring 2007. But, while the two groups' diagnoses have much in common, the prescriptions are very different: the people writing for Small Wars Journal mostly want a much larger American footprint in Mexico, especially with regard to the military, while such a result would be anathema to Proceso.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What La Mano con Ojos Says about Peña Nieto

Jorge Fernández Menéndez:
What catches the eye with this arrest is that it was carried out, without the collaboration of the Federal Police or the armed forces, by the security forces of the State of Mexico. Beyond the fact that in the operation some errors and abuses were committed, the fact is that, in his exit from government, Enrique Peña Nieto wanted to send an important message on security, which can be summarized in something very clear and simple: if he is the candidate and, later, president, he will continue combating, in a direct way and with arrests of this type, criminal groups. This operation seems to say that those who think with Peña in the government this process won’t continue are wrong.
Interesting stuff, but I think it’s not altogether positive that people automatically leap to the relevant executive on these sorts of arrests. I have no idea whether Peña Nieto wanted to send a message or not, but I do know that the arrest of one of the big-time local operators shouldn’t be the result of a governor wanting to send a message. It should be the result of autonomous agencies doing their job.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sicilia's Big Idea and Its Popularity

Pinche holandés Jan-Albert Hootsen has an interesting column on the problems inherent in Sicilia's movement:
One of Sicilia’s principal goals is to stop the militarization of the country. His movement feels that, by employing thousands of soldiers in 2006 to fight organized crime, the Calderón-administration has led the country into a fight it cannot win, where citizens have become trapped in the crossfire between violent organized crime groups and a law enforcement effort unable to contain the violence. Thousands of serious allegations of human rights violations by the military fuelled this discontent and caused both Sedena (National Defense Secretariat) and Semar (Navy) to lose its traditionally solid public support.

Javier Sicilia’s demands are valid and need to be taken seriously by the Mexican government. There is, however, one problem that his movement might encounter in the future. The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity has become an umbrella for a great many social movements, all with their own complaints and demands. Support for his cause comes from disenchanted farmers from Mexico State, women’s rights organizations from Chihuahua, environmental activists from Chiapas and traditional pressure groups such as the Zapatist Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and unions.

One of the groups supporting Sicilia is the now autonomous community of Cherán, in Michoacán state. Since April this year, the (mostly indigenous) inhabitants of Cherán have risen in resistance to the destruction of their environment by illegal logging, which is allegedly sponsored by regional organized crime. When I visited Cherán one week ago, locals implored the federal government to send troops. Perhaps their most serious complaint wasn’t the presence of soldiers, it was actually the absence of the military.
There are definitely a lot of problems with the ongoing use of the military, especially when coupled with a plainly insufficient drive to create a police force capable of replacing it on domestic security issues in the near future. Nonetheless, most people want the military out on the streets, as demonstrated by surveys from several different pollsters, as well as the typical reaction to spikes in violence from local leaders like those of Cherán. Given that, I think Sicilia and co. should focus more on educating the public as to why using the army and marines is a bad idea. His point of view is valid, as Hootsen says, but it's a minority opinion on a relatively simple question.

Ebrard Takes Aim at Peña Nieto's Huge Edge in Public Attention to his Romantic Life

This image was on the front page of the print edition of El Universal yesterday, as well as the website.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

El Universal on the Debt

From yesterday's editorial:
The exponential growth that the state debt has experienced in the country in recent years is an economic red flag. The so-called subnational debt could be a silent time bomb that, upon exploding, would take the entire country into a crisis that would impact the population's welfare. The issue must be addressed soon and, above all, without attempts to politicize it.

The numbers are overwhelming. According to document from the Finance Secretariat, the state debt grew by 172 percent in real terms from 2000 to 2010. Previous information from the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) warned that just from 2005 to 2005, the indebtedness in Chihuahua grew by 709 percent; in Tamaulipas 427 percent; Nayarit 407 percent and 248 percent in Coahuila.
Maybe the parties shouldn't politicize it, but I don't think there's anything wrong with me pointing out that all those states were governed by the PRI in the years mentioned. And Peña Nieto's profligacy with public money is well documented. The younger generation of the PRI may be a new breed in some sense --I don't think many of the wanton anti-democratic practices will return-- but there is not much reason to think that the economic instincts of the group likely to be running the country next year are much better than those of the PRI a generation ago. I don't imagine that argument is going to have much sway with the younger portion of the electorate that doesn't remember 1994, to say nothing of 1982, but it's worth mentioning and being worried about.

Also, El Universal reports today that the cash transfers from the federal government to the states increased by close to $3 billion in the first half of this year compared with the first half of 2010.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Reaction to/Bragging Based on the Capture of la Mano con Ojos' Leader

Above is the Milenio front page today. Alfredo Castillo, the Edomex attorney general who was García Montoya's foremost pursuer, said that in addition to being behind 600 murders, he was on his way to being one of the nation's big-time capos. I'm not sure either claim is credible, but since they make Castillo look good, he probably doesn't much care.

Oral Trials Come to Mexico City

The judicial reform's implementation is moving gradually along, with a handful of defendants charged with sex crimes and robbery in Mexico City to have oral hearings this weak.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

La Mano con Ojos Didn't See the Hands Coming for Him

State of Mexico authorities captured the leader of the newly emerged gang la Mano con Ojos, Óscar Osvaldo García Montoya, earlier today in the capital. He was subsequently linked to 600 murders, 300 of them ordered by his mouth, 300 of them carried out by his hand. They didn't really offer much to back that up as far as I can tell, but hey, it's a round number, and a scary one at that. In any event, it will be interesting to see if the gang survives the loss of its leader. If not, that was some effective bud-nipping by Edomex attorney general Alfredo Castillo, who has been the government official who has been most vocal about the gang's rise.

More on Organized Crime Groups in Mexico City

Excélsior had a piece on the growth of extortion gangs in Mexico City. According to authorities, at least 15 gangs are operating in the city's Centro Histórico, at least one of them claiming to be a part of the Zetas. These are probably small timers, though I'm not sure it matters all that much to the people receiving the demands. This comes amid an ongoing debate as to the extent to which the country's problems with insecurity have extended into the nation's capital.

Time to Get Down to Brass Tacks

In a sign that 2012 is rapidly approaching and the aspirants are getting down into the nitty gritty, Enrique Peña Nieto says he will open a Twitter account. No word on those position papers that were supposed to start rolling out right about now, however.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Are the Zetas the Worst?

I have a piece examining that question at InSight. The short answer is maybe, but a lot of the reasons you might say that they are don't hold up all that well upon closer inspection. I didn't mention this in the article, but it's even more true if you take into account the influence over the American drug market, because the Zetas don't supply nearly as many cities as does Sinaloa.

That doesn't mean that the US and Mexico are wrong to go after the Zetas --maybe from the standpoint of starting with the low-hanging fruit, it makes a lot of sense-- but I don't think it's been sufficiently demonstrated that these guys are the worst of all. You have to start somewhere, of course, but as far as sending a message to the other gangs, it would be helpful if the governments would offer a better explanation as to why the Zetas are the worst, so as to disincentive those activities.

Monday, August 8, 2011


I will be traveling the next 10 days, so posting will be light. Enjoy your dog days.

Splinter Groups, Mexico's Take

A new report from Sedena is focusing on four of the new groups to emerge in recent months: los Caballeros Templarios, the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, La Resistencia and La Mano con Ojos. The report also says that Chapo remains the most powerful of all the capos.

More Bad News for Cordero

Bajo Reserva had a piece over the weekend title, "The betrayals in the PAN start early", with the news behind it being that a big-time campaign operative who had signed on to work with Ernesto Cordero has jumped ship, and will now work with Josefina Vázquez Mota. That doesn't speak well for the finance secretary's chances. Nor do the polls.

Calderón's Approval, Mexico's Path

El Universal has a new poll from Buendía y Laredo today that has some typically unflattering news regarding Felipe Calderón: a 53 percent approval rating which has been stable in recent months but is one off of his all-time low, but with the 2011's highest marks for Calderón delivering less than respondents expected (52 percent) and Calderón's government presently passing through it's worst moment (49 percent).

On the plus side, the right path-wrong path question has showed some significant movement: just 39 percent said that Mexico is on a bad or very bad track, dropping for the fourth consecutive poll. The high in November was 54 percent. Just 29 percent say that the country is on a good or very good track, so the balance is still negative, but the progression is positive.

Security Suggestions for Calderón's Successor

I have a long piece on that topic at Mexidata.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lookalikes, Presidential/English Entertainer Edition

This image comes from the website of Excélsior last week. After gazing upon it for a few seconds, it occurred to me that Ernesto Cordero looks a good deal like Mr. Bean, the facepaint notwithstanding. Unless I vastly overestimate the Mexican electorate, I don't think that's going to help him vault past Creel and Vázquez Mota.

Mexico on the Front Page of the NY Times

From today's edition:
The United States is expanding its role in Mexico’s bloody fight against drug trafficking organizations, sending new C.I.A. operatives and retired military personnel to the country and considering plans to deploy private security contractors in hopes of turning around a multibillion-dollar effort that so far has shown few results.

In recent weeks, small numbers of C.I.A. operatives and American civilian military employees have been posted at a Mexican military base, where, for the first time, security officials from both countries work side by side in collecting information about drug cartels and helping plan operations. Officials are also looking into embedding a team of American contractors inside a specially vetted Mexican counternarcotics police unit.

Officials on both sides of the border say the new efforts have been devised to get around Mexican laws that prohibit foreign military and police from operating on its soil, and to prevent advanced American surveillance technology from falling under the control of Mexican security agencies with long histories of corruption.

“A sea change has occurred over the past years in how effective Mexico and U.S. intelligence exchanges have become,” said Arturo Sarukhán, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States. “It is underpinned by the understanding that transnational organized crime can only be successfully confronted by working hand in hand, and that the outcome is as simple as it is compelling: we will together succeed or together fail.”

Boz has some smart thoughts.

Against the Prevailing Narrative

For what it's worth, Inegi says Mexicans are growing slightly more positive with regard to public security:
In July, the perception regarding public security in households of the country saw an improvement in comparison to the results 12 months ago, revealed the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi).

The agency also revealed that in the seventh month of this year the Index of Perception of Public Security (IPSP) came out at 100.6 points 5.2 percent above what was reported in July of 2010, owing to the fact that all of the partial components that compose the IPSP increased.

The measure of current personal security...came out at 99.4 units, its best level since 2009. In comparison with July 2010, that demonstrates an advance of 4.6 percent. It's worth emphasizing, however, that 57.45 percent of those polled said they felt "worse" or "much worse" on that topic.

The indicators that determines the state of personal security in 365 days, compared to the present, advanced 3.8 percent. However, 30.4 of the population thinks that the situation will grow worse.

As far as the questions that evaluate public security today compared with that of 12 months ago, and the question that compares the future situation with today's, they improved by 2 and 3.9 percent, respectively.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sicilia's Rift with the Legislators

Javier Sicilia had a meeting with a number of legislators last week in which Manlio Fabio Beltrones essentially said that it was their turn to listen to and learn from Sicilia. The implication, for Sicilia at least, was that when crafting a new security law his opinions would be the driving philosophy. That has turned out not to be the case, specifically with regard to the codification of the army's use in domestic security, and Sicilia was quite angry. Jorge Fernández Menéndez says that the issue is the one of the legislators not having the guts to own up to differences of opinion with Sicilia to his face, and to acknowledge openly that his is just one of many outlooks:
Sicilia is a political actor playing his cards, legitimately. What's incredible is that Congress followed along with his ideas, to the letter. That sectors of the PRD say that they will listen to the poet is logical, but for a man like Manlio Fabio Beltrones to "explain" that it's only a legislative procedure and that they will then come "together", senators, deputies, and Sicilia's social movement, to legislate with regard to the issues is absurd. First, because legislating is the responsibility of the legislators and no one else. And second, because nobody has granted Sicilia's movement representation of the society. It's a legitimate movement, but with limited, scarce representation, as the marches demonstrated.

Rough Week

Carlos Slim's fortune lost $6.7 billion of its value this week, essentially owing to losses in Mexico's stock market.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Against the Mano Dura

I have a post outlining my opposition to the spate of proposals to lengthen criminal sentences in Mexico at Este País. Somehow, I can't bring myself to translate my own writing from Spanish into English, so hopefully you're bilingual and will click on the above link. If not, here's the short version: impunity is the problem in Mexico, not the inability to lock criminals away for long periods of time.

On the Splintering of Mexico's Drug Industry

I have a piece looking at the changes in Mexico's drug industry at InSight Crime. Here's my takeaway:
The most obvious reason for the growth of the smaller gangs is pressure from the federal government. A significant number of kingpins have been killed or arrested in the past two years in particular, and one capo’s demise often sparks fighting between subordinates and rivals for control of his network. (The government denies this, though not very convincingly.) But even beyond the takedowns of capos, a more aggressive federal policy creates space for newcomers, because one group losing a significant chunk of its operators or having its favored cocaine route shut down by the army creates opportunities for ambitious small-timers.

But this is not a one-off phenomenon; instability breeds further instability, because the new groups don’t enjoy the same level of dominance as their predecessors did. Even after winning control over a given territory, their reign is subject to continued challenges. This dynamic is further aided by the fact that two of the groups that have emerged in recent years -- the Zetas and the Familia -- are aggressively expansionist. All of this, of course, has driven spiraling levels of violence, essentially generating just the sort of feedback loop which Mexico has been struggling to break free for the past several years.

The current violence notwithstanding, there are a certain number of advantages to an industry populated with scores of smaller gangs rather than a handful of giants. One is that the new mafias will be less wealthy than the billion-dollar behemoths, and therefore less capable of corrupting public officials. Insofar as less wealth implies less power, eventually the constellation of smaller groups will likely adopt a more defensive position with regard to the government.

But unfortunately, the transition to a more disperse industry is causing a great deal of bloodshed today. And until the industry settles at a more tranquil and stable equilibrium, the chaos and violence will endure, causing some to long for the good old days of the big cartels.

Is AMLO a Leftist? Is Ebrard?

In response to reports that Ebrard said he was not a leftist a little over a decade ago, Jorge Fernández Menéndez says neither is AMLO, and that it doesn't really matter anyway:
Who cares if Marcelo Ebrard is of the left of the center? Furthermore, who can identify today where the left, center, and right are located in the political spectrum? Personally I have always believed, for exampled, that Andrés Manuel López Obrador is a conservative reactionary: his discourse can be very nationalistic; his opposition to the government, very loud; his denunciations of "the mafia that stole power from us", insistent, but that doesn't make him a man of the left, much less that he sympathizes with the Cuban regime or Hugo Chávez, [both of whom are] as authoritarian as the Tabascan.

You could say that being of the left or not is defined by the attitude toward private capital. It's partially true and Ebrard recognizes that he wants an open economy, but continuing with our comparison, it's not that AMLO hasn't don't business with the private sector: he denounce the "mafia" as a group of economic power group, but he has worked a great deal with other groups. I remember, in his registration as a presidential candidate in 2006, how in the first row of guests were the construction executives that did so much business with the DF government then.
For what it's worth, Ebrard is also far more socially liberal than AMLO.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Marco Fabián Kicks Ass

Watching Barça lose 4-1 never feels particularly good, but that the loss comes in a preseason match to Chivas, with two absolutely fantastic strikes from Fabián, does mitigate the situation. (That second one especially: he looks like he's auditioning for a poster.) The offensive engine didn't look that bad, especially considering Messi's absence and the rest of the offense's stars playing at best partial minutes. But the defense looked just terrible throughout, even considering that it was roughly the E team on the field. There needs to be an 8000 percent improvement before the Real showdown next week.

A Significant Line in the Desert

Short version of this NY Times Magazine story on Juárez and El Paso: life is quite different in the two cities. The longer version is still worth reading.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Santos' Visit to Mexico and Journalists' Role in Confronting Organized Crime

From Bajo Reserva:
During the state visit to Mexico by the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, there was a meeting of journalists from both countries to share experiences and editorial practices regarding the coverage of security an the violence that organized crime groups. The director-general of the Colombian National Police, General Óscar Naranjo, had a brief participation in which he explained that Colombia's national media outlets served as an umbrella, as protection, for local media, harassed by the groups. But he also said that media investigations were the point of the spear in the destruction of Colombian groups. The press did a good part of the work, he said.
Two things: now that I think about it, you rarely see the national dailies --not even the local iterations of the national chains-- being killed by organized crime; it's usually the independent locals, as Naranjo says.

Also, I think the point about the media being a potential ally for the government, and the government's inability to see that, demonstrates the narrow, scandal-phobic approach to fighting organized crime by the Calderón administration. It's not unlike the debate over the fuero militar in that sense.

Not Investigating

Contralínea had a report earlier this week on the fact that of the 40,000 or so drug-related murders under Calderón, less than 2,000 have been picked up by the PGR. (I wrote about it here.) There appears to be a bit of a legal gray area; the PGR is obligated to pick up organized-crime related cases, but the agency says that murders are only on its list when the victims are federal employees or public servants. In any event, I think two other points are more relevant: one is that the issue would seem to be one of capacity more than the PGR laying down on the job. Notwithstanding the hundreds of employees who have been let go since Morales arrived at the top of the agency, pursuing 40,000 cases instead of 1,800 over a four-year period just wasn't possible with the PGR as it is presently composed.

That leads to the second point: given that the federal government wasn't able to investigate more than a few hundred murders a year, the states were necessarily going to have to be involved. Calderón couldn't have suspected that there would be 15,000 people dying per year, but well over a thousand people were killed in 2006 in drug-related crimes, and he should have suspected that his strategy would stir the pot and likely cause a spike in violence. As a result, prepping the state PGRs should have been a basic element of his strategy, but as far as I know, nothing like that happened in the ten days between his inauguration and the deployment of the army to Michoacán.

Prominent Non-PRD, Lefty-ish Voices for Marcelo over AMLO

Carlos Fuentes and Jorge Zepeda Patterson.

Ernesto's Fua

One of the odder --and, if you like, charming-- aspects of modern Mexico is its habit of making celebrities out of silly drunks who are featured on local news programs and then uploaded to the internet. There was Pedro of "Qué pasó muchacho" fame en Torreón, Monterrey's Dulce Sarahí, who had a series of run-ins with the law, and many others. And now, the latest, is Don "Fua", who you can see up above. Don Fua seems to have gone further than any of his predecessors, and is now a political inspiration: Ernesto Cordero is capitalizing on his now-famous phrase, promising to make use of his own personal "fua" in his presidential run. Good luck to you on that, Secretary.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Crime Empties Houses

This stat may not be any more reliable than yesterday's note about housing values decreasing by 80 percent because of the violence, but it doesn't seem as implausible: the PGR says that 300,000 houses in Mexico have been vacated because of "extortion, kidnapping, and because criminal groups have demanded from their owners possession of their property so that they function as safe houses." If that's anywhere near the mark, that's significant displacement as a result of crime, and it doesn't even account for people who left because of indirect threats.

The PRD's Candidate in el DF

The PRD is preparing to select its candidate for the upcoming mayoral race in Mexico City. You can find a list of the candidates here. The biggest name nationally is Carlos Navarrete, though of course it remains to be seen if that will translate into his being nominated.

Creel Interview

Milenio's Sunday mag had a long interview with Santiago Creel last week, in which they touched on his security proposals:
On the issue of security, what would be your proposals?
Summarizing isn't easy, but I will try: I think the first thing is to set the federal house in order with a Secretary of the Interior [as distinct from the Secretario de Gubernación; I usually translate the two interchangeably]. In Europe or South America, where there are medium successes on security issues, they have secretaries of the interior that gather all of the responsibilities that have to do with federal public security. If today we ask ourselves which agency in Mexico is responsible for federal public security, it's not clear, and I don;t think many cooks make a good soup.

Are we talking about a unified police command?
Yes, but under a system of one police, which will allow us to organized the Tower of Babel that we have: the 400,000 police officers uncoordinated in the state and local police. Another of the fronts would be the direct combat, but at the finances of organized crime. We can't just continue with the captures, no matter how big or important the capos are; we have to go after their money. That money is worth some $25 billion a year.

Why hasn't that happened?
One more: I proposed an initiative in the combat of money laundering, we already approved it in the Senate and it was going to be approved in the Chamber of Deputies. Once this happens, along with the [asset-seizure law], I am convinced that the state will have the necessary tools to identify and confiscate the assets of organized crime. A third important element of my security plan has an international dimension: let's imagine that there are no producer countries to the south nor the great consumer market to the north. What would we have? A Mexico without violence.
The point about the lack of coordination regarding security is well taken, but another cabinet post and another layer of bureaucracy doesn't seem to be the answer to me. It would be better to just informally subordinate all of the relevant positions to one Secretario de Gubernación and let it be known that he has your ear.

Regarding the "international dimension", it isn't clear to me that he is proposing anything, the conclusion he draws is both logically flawed and based on an absurd premise--if there wasn't any greed and hate and jealousy, there probably wouldn't be any violence in Mexico, either, but what do we get out of pointing that out?

As far as the unified command, here's my skeptical take.

Monday, August 1, 2011

On the Murder Rate in Mexico

Here's a new piece of mine from InSight. Highlights:

The Trans-Border report comes days after a report from INEGI, Mexico’s governmental statistical agency, which put the final total of all murders in Mexico in 2010 at 24,374. This represents a nearly 25 percent jump from 2009, in which 19,803 people were murdered across the country, including in killings unrelated to organized crime.

This continues a worrying trend past several years; after a low of 8,867 homicides in 2007, the number of murders has nearly tripled. The increase in violence related to organized crime is the biggest reason for the rise in overall murders -- according to the government data, the number of murders not related to organized crime actually declined in 2010 by roughly 1,000.

The increase in violence, while more severe in some regions than others, is widespread, further undermining the government’s argument that the drug violent is concentrated in a handful of hotspots. According to INEGI, only three of the country's 31 states witnessed a decline in the murder rate from 2005 through 2010.

On the Poverty Report

I haven't had a chance to comment on the new poverty figures; here's the gist from Aguachile:
There are now at least 52 million poor in Mexico, out of which 11.7 live in extreme poverty.

In percent, poverty went up from 44.5 percent of the population to 46.2 percent in 2010 - more than three million more poor.

And this is real poverty: The number of people who can't even cover sufficiently their daily nutritional needs went from 23.8 to 28 million.

Peña Nieto's Mexico State came out worst, with biggest rise of those in extreme poverty - 200,000 more in these two years - with PRI-led Veracruz and the Jalisco of Emilio González right behind.

Calderón's answer to the CONEVAL report was chiefly to blame the international crisis: "It was out of our hands."
I think the "out of our hands" bit needs to be coupled with the fact that Calderón's government launched a rather weak stimulus in response to the recovery (just $40 billion), which ran out of money after about eight months. He couldn't have prevented the housing bubble bursting or the American recession, but it would be interesting to see an estimate of what those figures would be like had they put together a stimulus worth twice that amount, and seen it through to the end. Though this report makes me wonder how viable a much larger package would have been.

Also, how did Los Pinos manage to slip the swine flu into the headline of this Excélsior piece on the reasons for the upsurge, with nothing to support that assertion? This is doubly silly as the administration is trumpeting its actions to reduce poverty in Mexico City.

Innovations for Mexico from Africa by Way of Panama

That's not a headline you write everyday. Anyway, from Jorge Luis Sierra:
Media outlets in Panama have begun to develop a unique process in Latin America: citizens denounce instances of crime and corruption anonymously on a website, and journalists investigate them so as to publish reports in three newspapers and two television chains in this Central American nation.

Endorsed by the International Center for Journalists, a nonprofit organization that dedicates itself to increasing the quality of journalism in more than 85 countries around the world, the website has adopted the digital platform Ushahidi, a technology created in Africa to geolocate incidents of violence with the help of citizens.

Employed only by humanitarian organizations, Ushahidi was developed in Kenya and Congo to monitor violent elections, in Atlanta to register crimes, or in Chile and Haiti to facilitate the aid to victims of the disasters caused by earthquakes. But this is the first time that a group of journalists use the same tool to receive citizen reports regarding corruption and delinquency and deepen them with techniques of investigative journalism.
The program is coming to Mexico next.

Suspicious Headline of the Day

From Excélsior:
The violence reduces home prices by up to 80 percent in five states
I know the violence is bad in Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Michoacán, Guerrero, and Tamaulipas, but 80 percent?! I'm guessing the only way that is true is if the violence actually destroyed a major room inside the house (not the guest cottage or the housekeeper's quarters, mind you), or if the smell of corpses leads to 24-hour nausea. And even then, as a seller, I'd hold out for 40 cents on the dollar.

Calderón in Michoacán

Luisa María Calderón, brother of Felipe, is now the PAN candidate for governor of Michoacán. This follows Rubén Moreira's winning the seat his brother had recently vacated in Coahuila in July, though I think the situation is a bit different for a couple of reason: Humberto Moreira was controlling the state government in Coahuila when his brother was tabbed as his successor, which is not the case with Felipe Calderón, and there was a primary. And, of course, Calderón is nowhere near the short-money bet to win that Moreira was.

If Cocoa Calderón does pull this off, she will succeed where her brother failed: Felipe finished third in the race to be Michoacán's governor in 1995.