Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pobre Giovani

Another transfer window comes and goes, and Giovani stays locked onto Tottenham's bench. Since his breakout performance in the 2010 World Cup, he's had two semesters of absolute irrelevance in London with another on the way, and a single half-season at Racing in which he was the team's most important player and a huge reason they weren't relegated. Harry Redknapp is a fun character and he's doing a good job with the Spurs, but he is screwing dos Santos out of quality years, and he's going to wind up losing him for nothing in the long run.

Also, you know who could have used Gio? Barça, which is wracked by injuries, is lacking in depth (relative to Real anyway), and often shows a surprising lack of attacking spark from the midfield depth when Iniesta is out.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The PRI's Missteps

Jorge Fernández Menéndez talks about how a collection of personal problems have turned into a political nightmare for the PRI.

On Veracruz

New piece here. Highlights:

While both government sources and outside analysts have trumpeted the Zetas as the most powerful and dangerous band in Mexico, the ability of a little-known group, even one with the backing of a larger organization, to move into the Zetas’ turf and fight for control of the region demonstrates that all gangs have become vulnerable to the prevailing chaos.

The spike in killing in Veracruz also exemplifies the fact that the parts of Mexico with the most significant recent rises in violence are not the border towns notorious for wanton killings, such as Juarez or Tijuana. Indeed, the violence has decreased in each of those border cities and in other regions that have long been closely tied to the drug trade. In recent months, however, it is in coastal states like Michoacan, Guerrero, and Jalisco, as well as staging-area cities just a few hours from the border like Monterrey and Torreon, where the most significant increases have been witnessed.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On Meth's Growing Importance to the Mexican Drug Trade

Sorta new piece here. Highlights:
The location of the clandestine laboratories suggests that the Mexican production of synthetic drugs is dominated by the same group that has long towered over the industry as a whole: the Sinaloa Cartel. The organization led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, has long been the strongest criminal group along the Pacific coast region, as well as one of the most innovative in producing and smuggling drugs. It’s also noteworthy that the regions under the control of their biggest enemies, the Zetas, have comparatively little synthetic drug production.

This state of affairs seems unlikely to last. The Sinaloa Cartel has more experience at the production levels of the supply chain than many rival organizations, but the relative simplicity of synthetic drug production suggests that other gangs will inevitably eat into their market share. Furthermore, because there is no inherent geographic benefit to one region or another for producing synthetic drugs -- unlike marijuana and poppy, which are ideally suited to the remote mountain ranges of western Mexico -- a long-term shift toward synthetic drugs could eat into the natural advantages that the Sinaloa-based traffickers enjoy.

While there are a great deal of factors driving the violence in Mexico, it also seems logical that the greater amount of money at stake with synthetic production could encourage more bloodshed. Indeed, it is unlikely to be a coincidence that the rise in synthetic production has occurred alongside the notorious spike in Mexican violence. Insofar as the shift toward synthetic drugs is permanent, it will likely make the recent wave of violence more difficult to rein in.

Also, the always essential Alejandro Hope has a new piece (translated into English) here.

On Monopolies

Jesús Ortega here. I'm a fan of his, and of any attempt to knock down monopolies, but I think his take is a little too tied to the ideological breakdown in Mexico regarding monopolies, ie (in simplified form) Pemex/CFE not so bad for the left, Televisa/TV Azteca not so bad for the right.

Also, he says Pemex is not, strictly speaking, a monopoly, because other companies are involved in extraction and other secondary industry activities. That's, in the kindest take, needless hair-splitting; moreover, there are no retail gas merchants in the nation outside of Pemex.

2011? A Penny for a Last-Second Copy Edit.

Current History's annual Latin America issue is out:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Castañeda's New Book

Here's a review of Mañana Forever. Short version: lots of good diagnoses regarding what ails Mexico, but the critique of national character over top of it fell short.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The PRI's Mistake

Leo Zuckermann says the gang blew it in Mexico City with Beatriz Paredes, pointing to a recent phone poll by El Universal putting her 13 points down to Miguel Mancera. Her once-impressive showing in previous local polls seems to have stemmed more than anything from her advantage and name recognition, and perhaps better fundamentals from the PRI several months ago.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Reading

For that hour between the end of the Barça-Málaga tie and the opening game of the NFL, here's a long piece from Gatopardo about Jorge Hank Rhon. Early paragraphs:
Dos años antes de morir, su padre le escribió una carta que Jorge Hank lee todas las noches. En ella le dice lo orgulloso que se siente de él, al verlo convertido en todo un padre de familia y en empresario de éxito, y le habla de la gran satisfacción de poder servir a los demás desde la función pública. Sin embargo, el profesor muere sin ver que su hijo tome un día la decisión de dedicarse a la política. Hasta hace menos de un año, Jorge Hank Rhon no hacía vida pública y afirmaba que él nunca se dedicaría a la política. Nunca pasó por una brigada juvenil priista ni coqueteó con alguna candidatura, pues él siempre dijo sentirse más feliz entre sus animales que entre la gente.

¿Cómo ha sucedido esa transformación? ¿Cómo ha operado el milagro? Entre las múltiples carreras políticas que el profesor Carlos Hank González apadrinó, destaca la de Roberto Madrazo Pintado, quien quedó huérfano en 1969, cuando la avioneta en la que viajaba su padre, el ex líder nacional priista Carlos Madrazo, se desplomó extrañamente en Nuevo León. Hank González adopta al huérfano adolescente y encauza su carrera, primero en el Departamento del Distrito Federal y después apoyándolo para una diputación a los veinticuatro años de edad. Más tarde le da todo su respaldo para convertirse en gobernador de Tabasco e intenta impulsarlo sin éxito como candidato presidencial en 1999. En 2004, Roberto Madrazo es presidente nacional del PRI, y es él quien le pide como un favor personal a su compadre y amigo Jorge Hank Rhon que acepte la candidatura a la presidencia municipal de Tijuana. Vicente Fox le ha arrebatado al pri la presidencia y su influencia está aún vigente. Baja California pertenece al partido del presidente. Sin embargo, una de las enseñanzas de su padre, repetida hasta el final de sus días, es que un verdadero priista es un soldado de su partido que debe estar listo para entrar en batalla cuando se lo piden, aun cuando todos los factores estén en contra.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Celebrating the Polling Industry

Here's last week's column from Macario Schettino, noting that two decades ago, there was no polling industry to speak of in Mexico. Among other more important things, this would have severely limited the ability to write about elections with some degree of precision, which would have sucked for op-ed columnists. Or maybe the alternative: they could write about whatever they wished without any regard for objective perceptions of electoral reality, in which case it would have been a bad deal for the readers. Anyway, the current existence of so many top-flight pollsters in Mexico is another of the illustrations of how far the nation has come in two decades.

Also, today Schettino notes the unusually wide swings in opinion regarding the economic prospects for 2012.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wayne Weighs In

Rooney was also left indignant by Pepe's behavior. Incidentally, that lack of a Real-Man Utd matchup following Ronaldo's exit is quite a disappointment. Maybe next year.

How about a Win, Barça?

Update: Thank you, that was just what I was looking for. Pepe's performance was apropos of the Hanson brothers. Between the artillery captain's approach to tackling (which is standard), the element of diving (which was novel!), and the blatantly premeditated hand-stomp on Messi, it was simply insane.

On Boz's New E-Book

Boz and Sam Logan, that is:
There is much evidence to suggest that the decentralization of violence predicted in "Beyond 2012" is already underway. While Guzman and Lazcano remain big names, the relative power of the capos of their stature has been reduced during the Calderon years, ebbing away thanks in large part to the rise of smaller, more regionally isolated gangs.

Some of these form from the ashes of larger groups, like the Mano con Ojos (an offshoot of the Beltran Leyvas) and the Caballeros Templarios (a splinter from the Familia Michoacana). Others, like the Zetas, start as simple enforcer groups but evolve into something very different: perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is La Linea, a Chihuahua gang that has essentially subsumed the Juarez Cartel, its initial sponsor.

There are also innumerable local street gangs, which, though they have existed in some form for decades, are now more violent and more connected to the transnational groups than ever before. While the principal driver of violence in Juarez appears to be fighting between the forces of Guzman and Carrillo, local gangs are a significant factor in sustaining the bloodshed: Mexican authorities have estimated that there are up to 1,500 street gangs operating in Juarez alone.

There are even questions of the degree of control that Lazcano and Guzman exercise over the organizations they lead. "Beyond 2012" mentions rumors of a divide between Lazcano and his number two, Miguel Treviño, and as InSight Crime has pointed out, it appears that many of the most spectacular acts of violence perpetrated by the Zetas were not orchestrated by the Lazcano and Treviño, but rather by lower-level members. Guzman’s control over the Sinaloa Cartel appears less frayed, but a wave of violence last year in Durango -- a state long controlled by Guzman where hundreds of bodies were discovered in mass graves last spring -- was attributed to infighting among Sinaloa cliques.

You can (and should!) buy the book here.

Also, SOPA seems to suck: when Boz, Richard, and Wikipedia are all lined up on the same side of an issue, chances are that's a good place to be.

On Legalization and Violence

From Este País, on legalization and a relatively new paper from Cornell researcher Emily Greene Owens here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Where Will Calderón Land?

Evidently, Calderón is considering relocating to the US or to Spain when his term is completed. He would be the third of the last four presidents to hit the road once they leave office, along with Zedillo and Salinas (who has since come back and I believe is now a full-time resident of Mexico). Unless I am mistaken, Fox is the only president since De la Madrid to remain in Mexico following his exit from the presidency. It's hard to fault anyone individually for living where they want to, but the collective effect is unfortunate.

I wonder if Televisa could set up a The Decision-style special program to let the world know where Calderón is going to take his talents.

Well, This Is Unseemly

Mexico was booed at the Republican debate last night. The country was mentioned in reference to Mitt Romney's ancestors, but the booing appeared apropos of nothing, other than a perennial disdain for Mexico among some in the crowd.

Monday, January 16, 2012

When the Washington Post Reports on Mexico, Mexican Media Listens

The above is a screen shot of Excélsior's home page, right now. The article precipitating all the attention is here. Can you imagine a scenario in which a foreign report on the US would receive similar attention from the Washington Post? For a variety of reasons, I cannot.

Optimistic for 2012

Liébano Sáenz says that 2012 will be a year of validation for Mexico's democracy.

Also, just for fun, here's an old story from the NY Times about allegations about Sáenz while serving in the Zedillo administration, and how it drove a wedge between the US and Mexican governments. The same thing happened with regard to Manlio Fabio Beltrones a couple of years prior, and the subsequent history certainly seems to suggest that the Mexicans were right in dismissing the allegations, while the American officials pushing the stories were overzealous and credulous. I'm not as familiar with the allegations regarding Sáenz, but his recent record and this passage together seem to suggest that a similar dynamic was at play in his case.
Mexican officials said the allegations against Mr. Saenz came from half a dozen sources, including several drug traffickers. All offered second-hand information about his activities, or claimed ties to him that they could not prove. At least one failed a lie-detector test, the officials said.
It's kind of ridiculous that despite the bolded section, the charges were given sufficient credence to spark a diplomatic row that wound up in the NY Times. For a Mexican drug trafficker, starting a whisper campaign against an honest official would not be a particularly complicated affair, so if officials in a position to act on those rumors are not endowed with much skepticism, this is what happens.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Second Round

Arjan Shahani argues at Americas Quarterly that Mexico needs a presidential runoff, so that winning candidates have a stronger mandate than 35 percent of the votes, and some 20 percent of the total electorate. True enough! A second round would certainly alleviate that somewhat unseemly facet of Mexican politics, and would certainly an improvement. (It would also give journalists an easy topic to write about for another several months.)

However, that lack of mandate in and of itself isn't Mexico's foremost problem; the real issue is that weak presidents have a hard time enacting any agenda. But that's not so much a factor of the lack of support for the president as it is a product of a tripartite political landscape existing over top of a presidential system. If Calderón (who had approval ratings brushing up against 70 percent for much of his year, you may remember) had won a second round against AMLO, presumably the PRD would have emerged less intransigent, but he still would have had to deal with a majority-opposition Congress, one in which the incentives for the opposition were still to block or water down any presidential agenda item that comes down the pike. That's the problem that needs to be addressed, and I don't see any easy way to do so.

Friday, January 13, 2012

On Joaquín Villalobos' Nexos Piece

Calderón advisor Joaquín Villalobos penned a long defense of his crime policy in the latest Nexos, an article to which I responded here. Highlights:

Perhaps the piece's most glaring problem is Villalobos’ focus on Mexicans’ supposed cultural aversion to conflict, which he claims prevents them from supporting a robust response to the security problems. In his telling, Mexicans’ longstanding preference for negotiating their way out of problems rather than confronting them directly is responsible for the existence of criminal gangs, and has made it impossible to marshal the collective force of the law-abiding masses.

One problem with this argument is the source; for a member of the administration to publicly blame the population at large for the ill effects of government policy is inappropriate, aside from being politically tone-deaf. Beyond that, cultural critiques from whatever source are particularly unhelpful for a number of reasons: they are unfalsifiable, because they are not based on data but rather on impressions and anecdotes; and they earn acceptance through rote repetition rather than careful analysis (Villalobos, for instance, bases his cultural generalization on a recent book of Jorge Castañeda’s, who in turn borrowed many observations from authors like Octavio Paz and Manuel Gamio). In addition to this, even if the critique is on target, changing a country's culture is difficult to the point of futility, so it’s not clear what the policy implications would be.

Rather than worrying about correcting or overcoming something so amorphous and unidentifiable as culture, officials would do much better to analyze specific institutional bottlenecks, such as the inability of the Mexican justice system to process cases efficiently. Thorough institutional reform is a painstaking process, but it is more likely to work than changing an entire culture via public haranguing.

Villalobos goes on to dismiss the idea that Mexico should consider the security landscape from the criminal’s perspective, which is an odd argument, given that in any conflict it is a useful exercise to put yourself in your adversary’s shoes in order to predict their next move.

He also criticises dissuasive approaches to crime reduction such as that put forward by UCLA criminologist Mark Kleiman in an article in Foreign Affairs last year. In it, Kleiman proposed identifying the most violent of Mexico’s criminal networks through an elaborate scoring system, and then targeting them for extinction by coordinating law-enforcement activities in both the US and Mexico.

There are certainly elements of Kleiman’s strategy that are unconvincing; as Villalobos indicates, he spends very little time on issues of institutional quality and corruption, which are huge obstacles to any security improvement in Mexico. But Kleiman is certainly correct in his belief that the incentives currently driving violence in Mexico need to be reversed, and that smart policy-makers should be thinking about ways to encourage less aggressive modes of conduct. In fact, Villalobos’ call for stronger institutions is, in a broad sense, just the sort of dissuasive tactic that he criticizes: the theory behind it is that if criminals have a greater chance of being imprisoned and less ability to corrupt security agencies, they will naturally respond with more defensive, less violent operations.

More on the piece from Leticia Ramírez of México Evalúa here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

DF Mayoral Race

With the announcement that anti-crime activist Isabel Miranda de Wallace would be the PAN candidate to succeed Marcelo Ebrard, there exists a significant possibility that there will be a three-woman race for the second most powerful position in Mexico, with Alejandra Barrales and Beatriz Paredes representing her potential opponents. However, Barrales has a significant barrier in the form of former DF procurador Miguel Ángel Mancera, who has a six-point edge over Barrales in an El Universal poll published yesterday.

Related writing: Aguachile has a great anecdote as to why as a med student Mancera became a lawyer, and Martín Moreno argues that the PRD will come out on top, regardless of their nomination. On that last point, I believe there are a number of polls refuting that claim, but we shall see.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Now, More Data

A day after I wrote this piece criticizing Calderón for hiding the data regarding drug-related murders, the PGR released the tally for the first nine months of 2010. (To avoid any unintended implications, let me make perfectly clear that the above sentence's first clause has virtually nothing to do with the second.) The total through September: 12,903, which puts Mexico on pace for some 17,200 murders linked to organized crime this year. The figure represents an increase of roughly 11 percent from 2010. Any increase is unfortunate, though the rate of increase appears to have slowed (something Alejandro Hope has been saying for months): in 2010, drug-related murders jumped by 70 percent, in 2009 by 63 percent, and in 2008 by 110 percent.

Silly Knock

This is rather odd: I feel obligated to support a position of Mourinho's and applaud a moment of graciousness from Ronaldo:

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has defended star player Cristiano Ronaldo over criticism that he does not celebrate his goals with enough passion.

Some Madrid fans made their feelings known in the 5-1 win over Granada at the weekend, whistling and jeering their own player after he had scored. The abuse caused Ronaldo to make an angry gesture and walk back to the centre circle with his head bowed, but Mourinho insists that the £80 million man is happy at the Bernabeu.

"He seems fine to me," Mourinho told reporters, ahead of their Copa del Rey last-16 second leg away to Malaga on Tuesday night. "I think it is more relevant that he celebrates the goals that win games and not the fifth goal in the 90th minute.

"I saw him celebrate the other four that were the important ones. If there are going to be criticisms of a player for not celebrating goals, then why not criticise me because I didn't celebrate any of the five goals. I didn't even get up."

In the face of unusually strong criticism from the pro-Real Madrid media over the incident, Mourinho was also keen to play down suggestions that the title race was over after Barcelona's 1-1 draw with Espanyol.

In any event, this reflects a significant difference between European football and most American sports: in the US, the "act like you've been there before" ethos generally and the Colin Cowherds in particular love to go after players who celebrate individual accomplishments too excitedly, while European fans seen the failure to toot your own horn as, I dunno, a lack of appreciation of the honor of wearing a given team's jersey. The context matters a great deal, but more times than not, I think soccer gets the better of this debate.

A Penny for a Better Memory of My Own Words

I hope Aguachile doesn't mind me lifting this post entirely, but it's an anecdote worth repeating.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said that he is not an enemy of private investment, and that he has not ever called businessmen "white collar criminals." He went as far as to say that he never used the phrase, and would even resign as presidential candidate if it were ever proven that he had uttered these words.

Yes, step down from the presidential contest.

La Jornada, Michoacán edition, June 27, 2006:
"No son empresarios, son traficantes de influencias los que están impulsando esa campaña, nada más que no tiene ni caso mencionarlos, son los que han hecho jugosos negocios, son delincuentes de cuello blanco, traficantes de influencias, los que no quieren que las cosas cambien verdaderamente en nuestro país."
I'm actually kind of surprised at the date of this comment. My memory is that his rhetoric was notably less fiery prior to the election.

Kate del Castillo Says Some of the Silliest Things I've Ever Heard

Aiming to definitively disprove the idea that one can be a successful actor and a thinking human being, here comes the star of La Reina del Sur:
This Tuesday morning, the star of the televsion series La Reina del Sur, wrote through her account @katedelcastillo:


“Today I believe El Chapo Guzmán more than the government that hide painful turths from me, those who hide the cure for cancer, AIDS, et cetera for their own benefit and wealth", wrote the actress who then asked the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel to change, to stop trafficking and live right, and to thus turn himself into the "hero of heroes". In her note she said wouldn't it "be cool" if El Chapo began to traffic for the sake of good, with cures for the sick...
The mixture of a 6-year-old's naivety and a crackpot's conspiratorial suspicions is an odd one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

No More Data

Here's a piece about the Calderón administration's decision not to publish the data related to murders linked to organized crime. Highlights:

Regardless of its reasons, the Calderon administration’s decision to block the information represents an unfortunate prioritization of short-term priorities over the long-term interests of the nation. While Calderon’s government has been rightly criticized various elements of its security policy, his team has been admirably open about the number of killings.

Indeed, when Guillermo Valdes, the director of Mexico’s intelligence agency (CISEN), announced in 2010 that some 28,000 murders linked to organized crime had taken place under the Calderon administration, this was significantly higher than most media organizations had counted. Similarly, despite the temptation to take advantage of the semantic murkiness and re-interpret the meaning of “linked to organized crime” in order to arrive at a lower number, Calderon’s team remained open about the data through most of last year.

In 2011, Alejandro Poire, currently the secretary of the interior and previously Valdes’ successor as the director of CISEN, continued the policy with the forthright admission that more than 15,000 of the prior year's murders could be connected to organized crime, a sharp increase from 2009. In short, even as the numbers indicated a worsening climate, the government helped provide a fuller sense of the circumstances around Mexico.

Instead of hiding the stats, Poire’s approach was to dispute their significance. He argued, for instance, that the government’s targeting of capos did not cause the murder rate to spike, and repeatedly emphasized that the violence was concentrated in a relatively limited number of municipalities.

While InSight Crime has argued that many his arguments were misleading, presenting an alternative spin on unflattering statistics is far preferable to hiding them from view.

Moving and Shaking in the Polls. Up to a Point.

Josefina Vázquez Mota stands atop the list of presidential aspirants based on Excélsior's mixture of public notoriety and popularity. She has net opinion rating of +36, compared to +21 for Peña Nieto and +10 for López Obrador. Just 9 percent of those polled expressed a negative opinion about her, compared to 31 percent for Peña Nieto and 25 percent for López Obrador. Furthermore, 28 percent either didn't know here or didn't have an opinion on her (9 and 6 percent, respectively, were the corresponding figures for Peña Nieto and López Obrador), which suggests that her popularity could grow significantly. However, it also suggests that no one knows here particularly well, and she could crater as the microscope trains on her ever more intensely. In any event, this is positive news for the PAN. Now, if they could only get around to nominating her.

The bad news, however, is that 50 percent of those polled expressed a preference that the PRI win in the coming election, a figure 24 points above that of the PAN and 26 above that of the PRD.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Another Embarrassing Debt Scandal Involving a PRI Governor

It's not just Coahuila now:
In a bit more than a year, the PRI's Miguel Alonso Reyes, governor of Zacatecas, multiplied the state's debt by a factor of almost eight.

The preceding administration, headed by the PRD's Amalia García, left the state with a debt of 718 million pesos, in September of 2010. In December of 2011, the total was 5.261 billion. This figure surpasses, by more than 200 million, what was approved by the local Congress. Additionally, the governor sought to issue another 372 million in debt.

The current administration no longer has enough to pay its suppliers nor the second part of its aguinaldo [the annual Christmas bonus].
Wasn't the younger generation of the PRI supposed to be different? I don't ask that to be a smartass, I find it genuinely odd that the exceedingly conservative management of debt and the generally responsible conduct of the economy in general over the past 15 years would not have rubbed off more on the 40-something set, and turned into something like the default approach to the political economy. I guess the lesson is that as the early 1980s and the mid-1990s fade from memory, younger politicians are growing more comfortable with risky fiscal policies.

More on Security and Mexico's Presidential Race

In response to last week's article on security and the presidential campaign, Boz adds the following point, which is also quite correct and which I erred in omitting:
Part of this is due to the fact that while Mexicans are generally displeased by Calderon's results, polls suggest they are in surprising agreement with the basic outline of his strategy. Only a small minority of the public wants to see a pact with the criminals at one extreme or an even more violent military campaign at the other. So the candidates end up dancing around the issue, offering modest alterations to Calderon's framework.

What will be interesting is whether in the final months of the campaign as one candidate is down in the polls if he or she throws that Hail Mary pass and offers something completely different to try to distinguish their policies and draw media attention and votes.
Good question.

I also feel compelled to add that no sooner was that piece published than half the slate of candidates began to prove me wrong. Here's AMLO and Creel returning to the familiar terrain of Calderón-knocking, and here's Vázquez Mota proposing life in prison for dirty politicians. More on that second part in a bit.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Nicer Campaign?

I was wondering a few days ago what will be the approach to AMLO in the current campaign, given the arguably successful but widely disparaged "danger to Mexico" allegation from Calderón in 2006. I don't quite remember why, but I expected that we would see less of those sorts of attacks. And then, in this morning's paper, Jefe Diego emphatically demonstrated the silliness of whatever reasoning upon which I was basing that conclusion:

Of course, if I was called a mafia leader time and time again, I might want to respond with a serpentine epithet too. Anyway, it's an interesting interview.

On Messi's Rivals, and What They Say about Messi

Ahead of his third straight Ballon D'Or, which he presumably will be lifting tomorrow, Graham Hunter says:
Xavi is, in my view, the greatest Spanish footballer ever. He is a serial trophy winner and has matured into a fantastic leader for club and country. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored some utterly unbelievable figure like 111 goals in 112 games for Real Madrid, produces feats of athleticism and power that have rarely been seen and, were it not for Messi, would probably stand unchallenged as the most remarkable footballer of our times. Yet they and everyone else are significantly, and I mean significantly, behind Messi in terms of his utter, divine brilliance. We live in extraordinary football times. Cherish them.

Goalie Turned Kidnapper, Allegedly

Omar Ortiz, a former keeper with Rayados de Monterrey, was arrested on January 5 for participating in dozens of kidnappings, including that of the husband of Gloria Trevi. Ortiz, who also played on Mexico's national team a handful of times, was only a couple of years removed from his playing career, which ended early because of positive anti-doping tests. Authorities say that a cocaine addiction led him into the life of forcible abductions for ransom.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Blast from the Past

Yuriria Sierra has a bit more on the plea deal under which notorious Tijuana boss Benjamín Arellano will do no more than 25 years in a US prison, when he was facing 150.

In Honor of the Primera División Kicking Off

I have a new piece about Santos' recent run and that horrible loss to Tigres at The Classical:
Santos had been the most electric offensive team in the tournament, but their one goal was the only shot they put on goal in the entire second leg.

In contests of even strength, Tigres, in contrast, preferred to play with some 17 men behind the ball at every moment. Their semifinal win over Querétaro was a miserable 180 minutes, with the lone score for either team coming on a horrific own goal. Only one of the eight playoff teams scored fewer goals over the course of the regular season than Tigres. Nonetheless, overcoming that natural inclination toward dreadful soccer, the Tigres attackers came at the net in waves in the second half of the vuelta. They scored their first goal of the night in the 51st minute, netted another 12 minutes later, and added a final dagger in the game’s waning minutes. Another two or three goals would not have outstripped the run of play.

As if intent on proving that his initial game-changer was not a one-off spasm of bad judgment, Rodríguez continued to seek the spotlight in a series of bizarre interventions. Like a two-pistoled gunmen in a Western—picture Kevin Costner’s move at the end of Silverado—he whipped out the double yellow card in the 56th minute, simultaneously warning Carlos Morales and Héctor Mancilla. (What ref carries around two yellow cards waiting for that moment?) He later awarded Santos’ defensive anchor, Felipe Baloy, a straight red card for a tackle in which the Panamanian actually clipped the ball first.
Also, the Christmas break from fútbol seemed thankfully short, this year.

Security in the Campaign

Given the importance of the issue in Mexico, it seems like the candidates are taking their time to really dig in to public security issues. More here:

Peña Nieto’s approach serves as a microcosm for insecurity’s role in the campaign in general: rather than taking center stage, public security has drifted into the background. As the campaign continues, this may change -- it’s hard to imagine the presidential debates passing without more substantive discussion of organized crime -- but there’s little question that the candidates’ reticence reflects a disinclination to engage the issue. As a result, there is a misalignment between the significance of the issue and the amount of attention it has received.

What this tells us is that for all of the dissatisfaction with the current state of security, there are no alternatives that slip easily into a campaign sound bite. While it’s easy to lament the spike in violent deaths under Calderon, it’s comparatively difficult to envision a reliable, short-term path out of the current morass. And any candidate who capitalizes on the security woes in order to win himself (or herself) the presidency would soon face the unenviable task of having to live up to his promises.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reading Rec

Richard Grabman has a new e-book titled Gorostieta and the Cristiada: Mexico’s Catholic Insurgency of 1926-1929, which can be purchased here. I've not had the pleasure of reading the book yet (though I will!), but the Cristiada is a fascinating and all-too-overlooked period in Mexican history, and, based on his writing at Mexfiles, I can only imagine that Grabman's opus is well worth your time.

Also, Mexico's biggest bookseller Gandhi has launched a new e-reader. Hopefully, this will be part of a broader shift toward Mexican books becoming available digitally. Physical books from Mexico are hard to track down in the US, and are shockingly expensive wherever you are.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

More on AMLO's Swing to the Center

New piece from Este País:
Por eso hemos visto un discurso notablemente tranquilo hasta el momento. No le ha dicho “chachalaca” a nadie ni ha callado a ni un rival. La palabra “mafia” —anteriormente una de sus etiquetas favoritas para sus adversarios—no ha aparecido en los comunicados de su campaña desde Septiembre. Anunció que tres figuras con reputaciones muy buenas aún afuera de las filas de la izquierda—Rogelio Ramírez de la O, Juan Ramón de la Fuente, y Marcelo Ebrard—tomarían puestos claves en una administración suya.

Y, más curiosamente, el ex gobernador del DF ha hecho hincapié en la importancia del amor en la vida pública. Apostar por el amor como parte clave en una campaña presidencial puede o no resultar una decisión acertada, pero sí es extraña, ya que el amor es probablemente la emoción menos vista en la política.

La jugada, pues, es clara: hacerse el moderado por siete seis meses más, lograr que desvanezcan las memorias de López Obrador mandando las instituciones al diablo, y ofrecer un programa centrista. Esta estrategia demuestra una buena comprensión de los deseos del electorado, y puede tener un efecto en la percepción popular del candidato de la izquierda. Según el mismo reporte de Mitofsky, las opiniones negativas de López Obrador bajaron nueve puntos de febrero a noviembre del año pasado.

Sin embargo, ahora la pregunta más importante no es si tomó la decisión correcta en diseñar su estrategia, sino si será suficiente un simple cambio en su discurso. Es decir, López Obrador está haciendo lo más que puede con las cartas que tiene, pero los obstáculos que le impiden están muy fuertes.

New Piece on the Spread of Gang Control at the Municipal Level

Here is the full piece. Here are some highlights:
Particularly problematic is his reasoning that if criminal activities are conducted openly, that means a particular group now controls the local government. While blatant examples of impunity suggest some degree of official collusion, there is a great deal of distance between some corrupt interaction and a gang’s total control of a city.

The reality is, of course, much more complicated. The interplay between any city’s underworld with its legitimate political leadership is a tangled mess consisting of ever-evolving alliances, corrupt officials working alongside their honest colleagues, and certain gangs colluding with the authorities while their competitors confront them. To offer but one possible scenario, a gang of pirate merchandisers may be making payoffs to the local beat officers and the director of the municipal unit in charge of investigating the crime, while simultaneously having no relationship with the mayor’s office or the federal police deployed locally.

In such a context, any notion of criminal control is a fleeting. The criminal group may feel comfortable conducting their business out in the open, but that doesn’t mean they have purchased the loyalty of the local government wholesale, much less that they are pulling the strings at city hall.

Another problem with Buscaglia’s analysis comes from the fact that he is drawing broad conclusions regarding a shadowy industry based only on activities carried out in the light of day. A smart criminal group, especially one dedicated to hidden activities like drug smuggling, may well exert its control behind the scenes, without leaving any indication of their influence. Such a circumstance is likely not uncommon, which means that Buscaglia’s analysis is unable to account for much of the influence exerted by Mexico’s criminal gangs.

Monday, January 2, 2012

An Amusing Illustration of AMLO's Swing to the Center

Since October, there is not a single press release from el Peje's website that uses the word "mafia" in the headline or in the summary sentence. Prior to that, a typical month's press releases would deploy the epithet a half dozen times.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Día de los Inocentes Success

Courtesy of Excélsior, this was definitely my favorite:

Bullfighting Popularity

According to Mitofsky, a larger proportion of Mexicans have attended a cockfight (20 percent) than a bullfight (17 percent). Forty-five percent of the population has attended a soccer game, the sport with by far the highest number. Bullfighting is associated with Mexico more than with any other country outside of Spain, but in all my time there, I only met one person who was a real fan of it. I was the passive recipient of invitations to watch all types of competition, from pro wrestling to amateur football, but I was invited to watch as many contests of ullamalitzli as I was bullfights: zero.

Feliz Año

Back from vacation. The normal posting routine --that is, irregular commentary and consistent promotion of pieces published under my byline-- returns now. A happy 2012 to one and all.