Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Numbers So Far

Alejandro Hope picks at the homicide stats through two months of 2012. There's lots of interesting data, but the one happy takeaway: the levels of violence appear to have leveled off, and may well be dropping:

Hace algunas semanas, apunté lo siguiente: “Si el promedio mensual [de homicidios en el periodo enero-marzo] es menor a 1828, tendremos el primer trimestre con tasa de crecimiento interanual negativa desde 2007, una señal importante de que la escalada homicida que inició en 2008 puede haber llegado a su fin.” Los datos preliminares de enero, dados a conocer en la última semana por el Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública (SESNSP), sugieren que probablemente se va a presentar ese escenario.

Faltando por reportar tres estados (Baja California Sur, Guerrero y Oaxaca), se registraron 1454 homicidios dolosos. Eso implica que el total del mes probablemente se encontrará entre 1620 y 1680, una disminución de entre 9.3 y 12.5% en comparación con enero de 2011. Esta es la mayor caída a tasa interanual desde diciembre de 2007 (-17.9%). Nota: como ya he señalado en otras ocasiones, las cifras del SESNSP previsiblemente subestiman el número de homicidios. Sin embargo, en la medida en que esa subestimación sea más o menos sistemática, la serie sirve de indicador de tendencia.

World's Worst Negotiator

I wonder what Jack Donaghy would think of Javi Martínez:

Athletic Bilbao starlet Javi Martinez insists that he is not worth the €40 million transfer fee that is being reported in the Spanish media.

Martinez, 23, is viewed as one of the brightest prospects in La Liga and has been tipped to make an impact on the international stage as well. Reports have suggested that Barcelona are keen to replace the ageing Seydou Keita with him in the summer, but the midfielder does not think he is worth the release clause in his contract.

"I do not think there's anyone who wants to pay so much for me," he told Mundo Deportivo. "I see it as too much money for me. I do not think I'm worth so much; I do not think that I'm worth €40m."

Though maybe it's an old Basque reverse psychological negotiating tactic.

Also, if Barça spends $40 million to replace Keita, a year after spending similar dough on Fábregas, after the emergence of Thiago Alcantará, with two world-class defensive midfielders already on the team, then I... I... I'll be shucked.

Monday, February 27, 2012

It Is Publicity, After All

The geo-strategic forecasting firm obviously doesn't come off particularly well in some of the emails released today, but could Julian Assange's attack on Stratfor actually help it? It seems to me that if you are an investor who is not all that well informed (no shortage of those!), and you are searching for a consultant to give you a little more information about political risk in Latin America, Stratfor is suddenly better known than most of its competitors. And from what I've read, the emails are embarrassing, but not the sort of thing that would make you run from them if you were otherwise inclined to hire the firm. On the contrary, paid sources and a willingness to use sex to obtain information probably makes them seem like big-timers to a certain group of potential clients. Indeed, the mere fact that they would be targeted by WikiLeaks suggests that they are a source of information comparable to a secretive government agency, which is just the sort of fantasy they'd like to peddle.

In other words: the best reasons to be skeptical of Stratfor's services --i.e., they don't know much more than anyone who's paying attention, and they charge a whole lot of money-- have not changed at all. People who were not won over by that argument aren't going to swayed by a handful of uncomfortable internal company missives. And now their profile has gone through the roof.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fixing the Jails

I have a new piece up at InSight that runs down some of the problems in Mexico's prisons, and offers some potential fixes. Highlights:

Geographical targeting -- Given the fact that most of the recent escapes and violence have taken place in the north and northeast of the country, the authorities might consider shifting resources toward prisons in Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, and other northern states. More could be done to separate rival gangs; in the case of Apodaca, federal officials could send the Zetas south, to prison facilities far from their stomping grounds. Moving prisoners in this way would be a costly logistical nightmare, but it could defuse the tensions that often spill over into mass violence.

Army patrols -- In 2010 Malcolm Beith, the author of "The Last Narco" and an InSight Crime contributor, suggested that the military, which is widely perceived to be less corrupt than the prison guards, be given a greater role in preventing escapes. According to Beith, this wouldn't require any big change to the military’s mission; a “few humvees and well-armed soldiers” patrolling the streets around a jail would discourage inmates from trying their luck in an escape.

Institutional improvement·-- Ultimately, however, none of these proposals would have much impact without a more trustworthy group of prison guards controlling the nation’s prisons. As with any of the proposed institutional fixes for Mexico’s security agencies, carrying out real reform to this vast bureaucracy will be an exceedingly difficult task.

Mexico’s decades-long improvement of its police agencies offers some lessons, despite its problems. One is that the mere creation of a new agency -- through, for instance, centralizing all of the nation’s prisons under federal control -- does not amount to a step forward. To actually change the incentives of the guards working in Mexico’s prisons, a raft of other measures must be implemented in tandem, from greater vetting and ongoing polygraph testing to transferring guards under threat from inmates and offering higher salaries.

Perhaps the most important element in all this is patience, because the challenge of reforming Mexico's prisons is enormous.

Also, check out this piece from Edward Fox about efforts to create a citizen militia to crack down on border violence in Arizona:
If signed into law, the unit would be comprised of 300 volunteers who will receive 40 hours of police training, learning how to pursue, detain and arrest suspects. In theory, each volunteer will have to go through a vetting process.

Two elements immediately stand out that would make the proposed unit unique. First, though there are currently 23 other states in the US with active guard units, the Arizona unit would be the only one with a primary focus on international crime, according to the Associated Press. Secondly, existing guard units in the US typically fall under the command of the National Guard; in Arizona, however, it appears as if the unit would be to some extent self-governing.

This move to disregard the norms of voluntary border patrol units raises a question -- why do Arizona officials deem it necessary to arm a voluntary militia with seemingly unilateral powers?

The Republican governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, has so far refrained from commenting on the bill. However, her fellow party members have come out as some of its biggest proponents, arguing that it is necessary in the face of incursions by Mexican cartels into Arizona. As Sylvia Allen, a Republican Senator from Snowflake, AZ, stated, "Something has to be done about the situation at the border -- people are being terrorized." In a separate commentary she added, “We are being invaded by criminals who have formed alliances with mid-eastern terrorists to use violence in the most evil of ways to intimidate, control and protect their drug, human smuggling, multi-billion dollar business.”


Contradiction in Philosophy. Or, Total Football in Guadalajara.

It strikes me as odd that Chivas remains steadfastly opposed to non-Mexicans suiting up with the rojiblancos, but there's no issue with Johan Cruyff joining the team in an advisory capacity. Hopefully, both for the sake of the flailing squad and for the sake of attractive football in Mexico, his influence is made evident.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Good News for Everyone

Leo Zuckermann finds stuff that each of the three candidates for the Mexican presidency (hereafter to be collectively known as "AMLEP Mota") can be happy about from the latest Buendía y Laredo poll. That's a hell of a poll!

One thing to keep your eye on for AMLO is that he's now in positive territory in net opinions. I don't think that makes him a contender by any stretch just yet, but a move like that for the politician with the highest negative ratings in Mexico was a prerequisite to his becoming one.

Mexico in the GOP Race

It's not faring too well: Romney said the other night that Arizona's law was a model for the nation, while Santorum told Excélsior in an interview the other day that relations between the US and Mexico "are not particularly strong". There's a bit of a difference here: Santorum's comment is, of course, a debatable matter of opinion and a descriptive statement, while Romney's offers a more direct indication of his policy preferences, or at least those preferences he'd like to project. (The latter will surely turn out to be an unhelpful comment when Romney is courting the Latino vote in a few months.) But they are both negative, as most of the references to Mexico during the race have been throughout. It would be nice to hear them push back against the stereotypes, point out that immigration is drying out, that Mexico is not as violent as much of Latin America, that a million Americans live there, et cetera, but then I guess electoral politics are a bad place to look for that.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Signaling in Mexico

I have a new piece here at Este País regarding the need for the federal government to do a better job communicating with gangs in Mexico. Highlights:

En ciertas ocasiones, los gobiernos de México y Estados Unidos sí han reaccionado a provocaciones criminales con una concentración de fuerzas y una respuesta contundente. El problema es que estas acciones han sido esporádicas e improvisadas, cuando para funcionar, tienen que ser sistemáticas y absolutas. El caso de Torreón es instructiva: en tres ocasiones en 2010 —la primera en enero, y luego en mayo, y otra vez en julio— grupos armados abrieron fuego contra un grupo de jóvenes disfrutando una noche de antro. El blanco en estos casos no se encontraba entre el montón de los muertos; la elección de los bares se debían a los dueños, quienes tenían presuntos vínculos con los Zetas. En efecto, este grupo de matones buscó sembrar pánico y mandar algún tipo de mensaje a sus enemigos a través de docenas de inocentes acribillados.

Aunque no haya tenido que ver con Al Qaeda ni fundamentalismo islámico, los ataques alcanzaron cualquier definición de terrorismo, que es el crimen que más debería preocupar a un gobierno. Sin embargo, la reacción de la administración en los dos casos iniciales fue casi nula; de hecho, los masacres de El Ferrie y Las Juanas sucedieron durante un retiro paulatino de fuerzas federales de la ciudad, lo cual no se frenó a pesar de estos hechos sanguinarios. Fue hasta el ataque del Italia Inn, en que murieron 17 personas y que provocó más atención de los medios —tanto los nacionales como los del extranjero— que el gobierno de Calderón por fin empezó a enfocarse más en Torreón.

Pero la respuesta no fue producto del grado de la provocación, porque habían sucedido dos ataques iguales sin que le importara mucho al gobierno federal, así que el mensaje hacia los criminales fue lo siguiente: bajo ciertas circunstancia, sí puedes matar muchas personas inocentes sin incurrir la ira del gobierno federal.

No Hay Nada Nuevo Bajo el Sol: Peña Nieto Owns a Double-Digit Lead, AMLO Can't Get Beyond 20 Percent

Buendía y Laredo has Peña Nieto at 48 percent, Vázquez Mota at 32 percent, and López Obrador at 20 percent. As with Orwell's (I think) line about honest book critics, I can only say that this poll provokes no reaction in me whatsoever.

In honor of the post's title:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tired AMLO

Jorge Zepeda Patterson has an interesting column on AMLO's possible battles with fatigue here. Zepeda dings AMLO for his swing to the center toward the end, and I think you can make a good case that his conspicuous moderation of the past few weeks was ill planned. At the same time, I can't think of a way that doubling down on his past approach to politics would have brought better results. Ultimately, it's like finding tactical reasons that your local college team couldn't beat the Giants. Also, the only suggestions Zepeda really offers are more strategy and more delegation to his subordinates, which is too vague to be helpful.

Aguachile also discusses the matter here.

Stronger Gangs?

Ricardo Ravelo has a recent piece in Proceso arguing that Calderón's policy has actually strengthened Mexico's largest groups. Here, I push back against that. Highlights:

Ravelo’s argument rests in large part on the alliances that have supposedly grouped the industry into two large federations. On one side stand Sinaloa and its allies: the Gulf Cartel, the Familia Michoacana, a collection of smaller gangs, and, reportedly, the Caballeros Templarios. The opposing bloc is led by the Zetas, and includes the Juarez Cartel, the Tijuana Cartel, and a pair of Beltran Leyva splinter groups.

But a federation of distinct groups operating over a large chunk of geography, with some degree of coordination, is quite different from a single group dominating the same swath of territory. (It’s also worth noting that Ravelo places several pairs of long-opposed gangs in the same federation, which makes his conclusions still more suspect.) Loose groupings like those described by Ravelo are held together by fragile alliances that are frequently broken, which is an important reason why organized crime groups today are less stable and more violent. A territorial expansion predicated on these alliances is not durable evidence for a strengthened group of big cartels.

Also, one of Ravelo's sources for this article was a Stratfor report. Ravelo, who at his is best comes across as one of the most connected reporters in Mexico, outsourcing his reporting to Stratfor is, well, interesting.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Among the PRD Plurinominal Candidates

Manuel Clouthier, former panista and the son of one of the most important members panistas of the 20th century, will evidently be among the plurinominal congressional candidates for the PRD. That should not be a huge surprise, since he has been among Calderón's most prominent critics for years, though it is still a bit jarring to see him alongside AMLO and the Chuchos.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Alabama without Mexicans

Great new piece from Gatopardo. Highlights:
"Where are the Mexicans?", le pregunté a Matthew Jenkins, poco antes de llegar a la cima de la montaña, al final de un camino serpenteante. Esperaba encontrar al menos a algunos, pero hasta entonces no había visto más que una solitaria pareja de afroamericanos con sombreros de palma desbrozando la yerba, a lo lejos.

"They're gone", me respondió. Apenas pude escucharle entre el ruido de los amortiguadores y una canción en la radio.

Cuando descendimos de la destartalada pick-up, Jenkins se fajó su raída gorra de camuflaje militar y se llevó a la boca un puño de tabaco para mascar. Tras dar unos pasos, hizo un ademán con los brazos para mostrarme la desolación de su campo de tomates abandonado.

"Ésta es la parte más afectada", me dijo. Señalaba un páramo.

Hasta donde alcanzaba la vista, no había una sola persona. Aquí y allá, miles y miles de frutos verdes, amarillos y rojos, agusanados e infectados por feos puntos negros de podredumbre, se apilaban sobre la tierra y atraían nubes de moscas. Podía escuchar cómo algunos estallaban debajo de nuestros pies conforme avanzábamos en silencio, liberando un desagradable olor agridulce.

Al lado de un montículo particularmente grande de tomates, interrumpió la caminata. "Ya no hay posibilidad de salvar esta parte de la cosecha. A estas alturas diría que la hemos perdido —me dijo—. Todita esta parte, sí, señor".

Matthew es dueño, junto con su madre, Ellen, de la plantación Jenkins, una granja de tomate de doscientos acres ubicada en la punta noreste de Alabama, donde termina la cadena de los Apalaches. Estábamos prácticamente en el pico de un monte rodeado por bosques y lagos, no muy lejos de la frontera con el valle del Tennessee.

En el condado predominantemente tomatero de Saint Clair, enclavado en el sur más profundo de Estados Unidos, eran los primeros días de otoño, justo cuando las granjas circundantes sacan a relucir sus jack-o'-lanterns —calabazas huecas iluminadas con velas para el día de brujas— y las plantaciones agrícolas de la zona inician su etapa más productiva. Un periodo a mediados de octubre de siete, quizá diez, días para recolectar lo plantado durante la primavera, antes de la llegada de las heladas.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Problems in the Judicial Branch

Drawing on a recent article from Contralinea, I have a new piece at InSight here. Highlights:

Many of the incidents were presumably more minor missteps, but included on the list were several cases involving some of the more notorious capos to be arrested in recent years. In 1997, for instance, one judge dismissed drug trafficking charges against former Sinaloa Cartel boss Hector Palma Salazar without justification, sending him to prison instead for weapons possession, which carried with it a sentence of just six years.

Another judge twice dismissed charges of money laundering against the founder of the Sinaloa-linked Colima Cartel, Adan Amezcua Contreras. The judge was suspended from his post for ten years as a result.

Overall, however, the majority of the sanctions were simple reprimands, issued either publicly or privately. Just 156 of the cases in which sanctions were handed out were deemed grave, and experts told Contralinea that Mexico lacks mechanisms to more easily remove dishonest or incompetent judges from their posts.

These statistics and anecdotes are a reminder that, despite the judicial reforms passed in 2008, Mexico still lacks a way to effectively deal with corrupt judges.

The 2008 reforms have emerged as a pillar of Calderon’s response to Mexico’s public security dilemma, and an answer to critics who say that the results of Calderon’s crime policies have been purely negative. According to this argument, despite the short-term spike in violence -- some 17,000 killings last year were linked to organized crime, compared to roughly 2,700 in 2007 -- Calderon and his team have set the stage for a long-term improvement in security by modernizing the judicial system.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Quite the Contrast

Last week, Alejandro Hope published a characteristically interesting post in which he called for something akin to DEA spreading its version of the nuclear umbrella across Mexico. More generally, the piece was about the need for the government to focus on communicating effectively with the narcos, not in the back-of-the-seedy-bar sort of way, but rather using signaling to paint some lines in the sand.

A few days ago, Felipe Calderón made the following statement:
There are people that attack my government for combating criminals, and now what did they want us to do? To invite them inside, to serve them a cup of coffee or what? Whoever doesn't want to combat criminals does not govern, that's the truth.
I'll have more to say about this at some point in the future, but if you aren't willing to look for ways to distinguish between different groups, you can't draw any lines, and you can't incentivize different behavior. It does not seem like Calderón has ever been particularly interested in distinguishing between different gangs or different criminal activities.

Josefina's Chances

New piece here. Highlights:

Después de 12 años de presidentes panistas, y muchos de ellos no tan exitosos, México está listo para un cambio. La lógica dicta que este deseo de cambiar es una mala noticia para la abanderada del PAN, pero me pregunto si el impacto negativo sería mitigado por la omnipresencia mediática del ex-gobernador mexiquense desde hace varios años. (Tampoco le hace daño que el delfín panista de Calderón fue otro.) Es decir, Peña Nieto lleva tantos años abiertamente en pos de Los Pinos que ya no se siente como una cara nueva. Si esta hipótesis es correcta, los que quieren emitir un voto de cambio buscarán otra opción.

Sin embargo, tener la posibilidad de ganar es muy diferente que ganar, y el camino no será fácil. Aunque su ventaja ha disminuido, Peña Nieto sigue siendo un gran favorito. Además, para aprovechar de sus pasos falsos, Vázquez Mota tiene que evitar los mismos; es decir, tiene que ser la política preparada, disciplinada y visionaria que él no parece ser. El tiempo nos dirá si tiene las cualidades para sobresalir en una campaña presidencial, pero son muchas las voces que opinan que no.

The Electoral Reform's Lasting Impact

Leo Zuckermann has had a couple of columns in recent days detailing some unfortunate and inevitable side-effects of the 2007 electoral reform, which needlessly and (probably) fruitlessly sought to limit political appearances outside of the official campaign periods. Even if you think Zuckermann's argument is not that strong (which is not what I'm saying, but just supposing), I don't think I've ever read an affirmative case for the electoral regime's restrictions that was remotely convincing.

[New Year's resolution number 231: jump between first and second person in the same sentence more often.]

Zuckermann also speculates
today that we are going to see the arrest of a big fish priísta in the days to come. If that's done for electoral purposes, aside from being morally suspect, it's also politically risky, given the end result of the michoacanazo and the Jorge Hank Rhon case.

Pessimism in Mexico, Optimism in Brazil

Here's an interesting comparison from Este País. Such polls do not lend themselves to nuance, and I've seen others that show Mexicans feeling much more optimistic about life, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Going Overboard

Allow my to get ornery and foul-mouthed ahead of the Barça kickoff: In response to Ronaldo's latest offensive explosion, Deadspin's Timothy Burke wrote:
You are unlikely to see as perfect a soccer goal as this for a very, very long time. Cristiano Ronaldo, who's hoarding goals at such a clip it's as if he's trying to make every Spanish soccer fan forget the name Messi forever...
(Here's the goal.) This is just fucking stupid. First of all, Messi has been a bit off-form since the Málaga game, but he has more goals than Ronaldo in all major tournaments this year, and more in the Liga excluding penalties. He also has more assists, is more consistently involved in his team's offense, and, as good as CR7 is, he is just transparently better than Ronaldo, as the three consecutive Ballon d'Or awards suggest. Nobody is forgetting Messi, dipshit.

But more to the point, it was a nice strike, for sure, but the most perfect goal you'll see for a long, long time? Please. I don't think it'll wind up in the Liga's top ten this year. Goal quality is, of course, a subjective thing, and personally I prefer a buildup of zig-zagging runs and pinpoint passing, which is both a product and a cause of me being a Barça and Messi fan. Or a fan of Giovani more than Guardado. Burke seems to disagree, and prefers the long-distance strike. Whatever. But it wasn't even that special of a strike. It was surely a nice goal, but Iñigo Martínez has two bombs this season that were far better than Ronaldo's. Vladimir Weiss had a goal that was every bit the equal of Ronaldo's the previous week for Espanyol (about two minutes in). Indeed, it's an odd week when you don't see a strike like Ronaldo's somewhere around the top leagues in Europe.

El Coss and the Marines

Proceso has a new piece about the longtime capo who has emerged as the leader of the Gulf Cartel, which I've excerpted here. It's quite interesting in that it alleges systematic collusion by the marines and the army with Costilla Sánchez, but as with any Proceso article build on a single source's info, one wonders how reliable the story is. Highlights:
The 2010 split between the Gulf Cartel and their erstwhile armed wing, the Zetas, has triggered hundreds of killings in the northeastern states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, which the two groups previously ruled as, essentially, a single organization. The Zetas, whose expansion and violent tactics made them notorious even prior to the split, emerged with a larger share of the territory. They have since expanded, now operating in far-flung states like Jalisco, and have even popped up in Sinaloa.

In addition to fighting with the Zetas, the Gulf bosses have also been battling among themselves. As the Proceso article indicates, Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias "El Coss," was piqued at having risen no higher than third-ranking member of the group following the arrest and extradition of former leader Osiel Cardenas in the 2000s. According to an anonymous source, Costilla Sanchez has since focused on setting his rivals up to be arrested or killed by government forces, allowing him to emerge as the overall leader of the group.

While the Gulf Cartel is a diminished force, it retains control of a number of significant border regions, most notably Reynosa and Matamoros, and continues to battle it out with the Zetas in other cities around the region, such as Monterrey and Tampico. Indeed, while its territory has been reduced, the Gulf's level of control in the areas that remain under its dominion seems to have hardened, despite the ongoing battle with the Zetas.

According to Proceso, this is due to the links between Costilla Sanchez and high-level elements in the military. The anonymous source whose account was the basis for the story says that, in exchange for millions of dollars, army and marine commanders essentially give Costilla Sanchez free rein to operate in Mexico’s northeastern region, and attack his enemies as needed. Under Costilla Sanchez, the Gulf Cartel’s previous ruling clique has been displaced, thanks in large part to military pressure. Most notable was former leader Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta” Cardenas, Osiel’s brother, who was killed in a shootout with marines in 2010.

Vázquez Mota Being a Woman: Not a Big Problem

This polling from BGC is encouraging, though I don't think it's terribly surprising.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mistakes from the PAN

I think the PAN did the best they could with a rather difficult hand in selecting their presidential candidate, but in two lesser races, they've made very disappointing selections: eager to prove that the reactionary Christian right remains robust and influential, they passed over José Ángel Córdova the internationally renowned health minister, selecting instead Miguel Márquez Márquez by a margin of 25 points. This led to speculation that the PRI would snap Córdova up as their candidate, which would have been a sharp move on their part, though it appears as though he will now work on Vázquez Mota's campaign.

And, they selected Zeferino Torreblanca, the ex-perredista governor of Guerrero as their candidate for the mayoralty in Acapulco. Torreblanca left office disliked by virtually everyone outside of his immediate family (and rumor has it many of them were on the fence), and was I believe selected as the most distrusted governor in the nation by a poll in 2007 or so. It is understandable that the PAN wants a presence in states where it has one, but Torreblanca is not the kind of presence the party should want.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Peña Nieto's Doings

Peña Nieto today promised to gradually pull the army off the streets should he become president. That gives more wiggle room than a [too lazy to think of a metaphor in which a lot of wiggle room is implied], but I believe it's further than he has gone on that issue in the past. Also, doesn't Peña Nieto looked old here?:
Gray hairs!! Perhaps this is why: in the past three months, according to Ipsos, Peña Nieto's poll numbers have dropped by 18 points. And with Vázquez Mota in the race, he has a lead of just 12 points. As a lesser known figure, Vázquez Mota could well eat into that figure as she introduces herself to the public. Although she also needs to avoid gaffes and make a good impression, something that is certainly not a given. See here, for instance, for more information on that score.

Learning from Jalisco

New piece:

The nuances of the relationships among the other gangs operating in Jalisco are similarly unclear. The Resistance has been described as allied to the Zetas and to the Familia Michoacana, though other reports have depicted them as enemies of both these groups. This interplay among the Jalisco gangs demonstrates that, contrary to the widespread belief that all smaller groups are subsidiaries to one of the larger networks, the low-level gangs have been able to carve out an autonomous toehold.

The local gangs operating in Jalisco and elsewhere also demonstrate that the model of the transnational group, controlling every step of production and transportation, is less and less relevant to today's Mexico. Many of the gangs in Jalisco have no known connections to Colombia, nor do they control valuable plazas in the border region, nor do they have retail partners in the US. These groups, and others like them in Acapulco and elsewhere, either buy into another gang's smuggling network in order to ship drugs northward, or they extract their profits from the local population, whether through extortion, kidnapping, car-jacking, or retail drug sales.

Marisol Valles in Gatopardo

Evidently, the 20-year-old was merely seeking a position as a secretary last year, and was shoehorned into becoming the chief of police in violent Práxedis G. Guerrero, Chihuahua. And now the single mother is a refugee, run out of town by the gangsters in control.

Also, the magazine has a nice long profile of these guys.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On the New Juárez Cartel

This one is a couple of days old now. Highlights:

Such a reorganization of fading older groups into new networks is common in Mexico, and has often led to the further spread of violence. After the death and arrest of all but one of its foremost leaders, the formerly vaunted Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), for instance, disintegrated into the South Pacific Cartel, the Mano con Ojos, and various other largely regional gangs sprinkled around the country. While these groups have nowhere near the influence that the original group did, they have sparked fighting in Mexico State, Guerrero, Morelos, and other Mexican states.

In other cases, the impact of this reorganization is not so severe. In Michoacan, for example, the rebranding of the Familia Michoacana as the Caballeros Templarios has sparked a comparatively mild increase in violence. Overall, however, the constant process of destruction and regeneration has been a force for greater levels of bloodshed spread across a larger expanse of the nation.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I can't overemphasize how much I agree with this statement from Alejandro Poiré, and while I am glad to have heard it, my only quibble is that I don't remember any Calderón official having made such a point in the past five years:

Late to the Party

Congrats to Josefina Vázquez Mota for winning the PAN primary and to Mexico for having a female candidate from a major party. They beat the gringos to it!

Cordero's nearly 40 percent was a far better showing than I would have guessed a month ago, so it wasn't the perfunctory washout that I had expected, but the PAN's failure to determine a candidate until now still seems like quite a lost opportunity. Peña Nieto has gift-wrapped a number of opportunities to paint him as, by turns, out of touch, unintelligent, immoral, and condescending. Throughout that time, Vázquez Mota's primary concern has been Cordero. If Peña Nieto has shaken the cobwebs off and runs a relatively gaffe-free campaign from here on --clearly, a significant "if"-- then the PAN's best moment to make up ground will have been wasted.

Here's some commentary from Cecilia Soto (who also ran for president for a smaller party in 1994), Ricardo Raphael, and Leo Zuckermann.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Three Tamaulipas Governors

I have a new piece about the past three governors of Tamaulipas and the investigation into their links to criminal groups:
The governors are suspected of having links to groups like the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas. As online publication Reporte Indigo reports, a document from the special organized crime unit of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, dated January 13, refers to an investigation into these alleged ties. Among the specific crimes that the governors are accused of committing are money laundering and accepting illegal payments. As part of the investigation, federal agencies were instructed to record every instance in which any of the governors or 46 of their family members and political associates left the country.

While investigations into such high-profile officials are rare, the suspicions about Tamaulipas politicians being linked to criminal groups are not. The state government has long been accused of protecting the Gulf Cartel and fostering the rise of the Zetas over the past decade. In 2009, renowned journalist Carlos Loret de Mola said the state was “without a doubt” the most dangerous in Mexico in terms of “the social decomposition and the penetration of drug traffickers in all of the structures.”

Tamaulipas is significantly less violent than many other states also linked to drug trafficking, which is probably linked to the fact that the total infiltration of its institutions makes it more stable. However, the region has grown more bloody with the 2010 split between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. In the most notorious act of violence in Tamaulipas' recent history, a candidate for governor, Rodolfo Torre Cantu, was murdered less than two weeks before the 2010 election.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Peña Nieto's Imperfect Candidacy

New piece here:

Sin embargo, es indudable que esto representa otra mancha en la imagen de un candidato que parecía impecable y invencible hace unos meses. No es justo, pero es la realidad. Y aunque no nos diga mucho sobre la capacidad de Peña Nieto como ejecutivo, este escándalo a medias sí nos brinda otra lección política: las campañas presidenciales son completamente diferentes a cualquier otro desafío político. Las investigaciones en el pasado de los candidatos son más a fondo; la atención diaria es más abrumadora; las preguntas de la prensa son más y más detalladas; el estrés es más constante. Antes de que pase por todo eso, es casi imposible ver de lejos quien está a la altura de las exigencias. Algunos aspirantes que parecen ideales antes de arrancar el proceso no lo son.

Peña Nieto (junto con su equipo) ha hecho un trabajo de maravilla en aprovechar a los medios durante los últimos seis años y pico. Siendo un personaje altamente conocido, atractivo, experimentado, y no panista, parecía el hombre ideal para las circunstancias actuales. Pero entre los Tuits de su hija, su falta de conocimiento sobre el precio de tortillas o el salario mínimo, la alianza fracturada con Panal, sus vínculos con Humberto Moreira, y varias vergüenzas más, ahora queda claro que un candidato ideal no es.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

On Joaquín Villalobos' Nexos Piece: Hope's Turn

Alejandro Hope has a response to Joaquín Villalobos' sprawling and in many ways curious defense of Calderón's crime policy here. The conclusion:
No existe contradicción entre construir el Estado y lo que Joaquín llama “administrar el crimen”. Esa tarea la hacen todos los Estados modernos del mundo. No implica entrar en componendas con los delincuentes. Significa que el Estado, en situación de fuerza pero con plena conciencia de sus limitaciones, ponga rayas, fije prioridades y disuada las peores conductas, aun si eso implica tolerar temporalmente otras. No hay nada particularmente conservador en esa visión y nada eminentemente progresista en sugerir que no hay más ruta que el combate a ultranza, sin referencia a costos y vidas humanas.
My own contribution to antivillalobismo can be found here.

There Are No Scandals in Peña Nieto's World

As with all the past missteps, the revelation that he had a child out of wedlock has had little effect on the support for Enrique Peña Nieto. Sixty-nine percent of those who were aware of the charges basically dismissed their relevance to the presidential race, according to a new BGC poll. That may change once people are paying more attention to the race, and perhaps the most striking thing is that people were largely unaware of the infidelity story. In this case, the widespread dismissal is also logically correct and shows admirable maturity, even if it strikes me as unusual, child of the Clinton years that I am. But when you start comparing Peña Nieto's merits and advantages to his scandals and drawbacks, it's hard not to wonder if a crash is around the corner.