Saturday, June 30, 2012

Questionable Assertion

From the NY Times, this is an odd way of looking at Mexico's PRI era:
Strangely perhaps, in the past the PRI never actually ruled Mexico. It ran a skilled vote-gathering (or vote-fixing) operation, but the country was run by a political bureaucracy in league with other power centers, such as banks, labor unions, the army, television magnates and industrial moguls. The PRI provided a rubber-stamp Congress and, every six years, the outgoing president picked his successor. 
The most obvious error is that it's not an either-or proposition--i.e. either the banks, et al or the PRI ruled Mexico. Of course, they all did, as is the case in most countries, where any number of power centers play a role in making the system hum.

But beyond that, the PRI may not have run the country, depending on how you define the word, but it indisputably was the primary mechanism around which the country organized itself. The party co-opted all of the above into a system over which the president, a priísta, reigned supreme. The other power centers could throw their substantial weight around and even push back against other purely political actors, but they did so within the confines of the system that the PRI held up. Perhaps the party didn't run Mexico the way that Jobs ran Apple, but getting such a wide range of actors to buy into a common system over which their leader held the most sway seems a pretty close approximation for running a nation. Any other explanation seems like semantic hair-splitting.

Return of the Revolutionary Right

Via Macario Schettino, Roger Bartra, author of a really sharp book on the fractures in the Mexican left, has an insightful new column that describes Peña Nieto's election as the return of a revolutionary right wing in Mexico. Intro paragraph:
México está en vísperas de que gane las elecciones presidenciales la derecha revolucionaria. Esta situación paradójica –un conservadurismo revolucionario– es el fruto de muchos decenios de alquimia política, durante los cuales el PRI logró la transmutación de las corrientes que emanaron de la Revolución de 1910 en expresiones claramente derechistas y conservadoras. La derecha revolucionaria mexicana ha logrado colocar a su partido, el PRI, y a su candidato a la presidencia, Enrique Peña Nieto, a la cabeza de las intenciones de voto. Hoy en México pocos dudan de que gane la presidencia el partido del antiguo régimen autoritario.
This strikes me as a valuable point to keep in mind over the next six years.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Recent Stuff of Mine

From InSight Crime, here's a two-parter on the impact of the election on crime policy. Highlights:
For a number of reasons, the organized crime issue is a pickle for policy-makers: broadly speaking, Calderon’s policies are popular, but their results -- more than 50,000 deaths over the past six years, and a doubling of the murder rate -- have been disastrous. Worse still, the links between Calderon’s strategy and the increased bloodshed are indirect and unclear. That is, radical changes to Calderon’s approach carry a definite political risk, but there is no certainty that they would bring about lower murder rates.

Consequently, the Calderon administration’s approach will likely continue to feature over the next six years. Should he win, Peña Nieto will surely seek some cosmetic changes, and he may push the philosophy underlying Mexico’s crime strategy in a new direction. But the obstacles to a different approach are enormous; as a result, for better or worse, the shifts are likely to be marginal.
And here's a piece on a misguided attempt to ban narcomantas:
The rise of the manta is a consequence of changes in Mexico’s criminal environment over the past few years. One is that the territorial dominance of criminal groups is typically far less stable -- making them far more violent -- than in the past. Many of the common uses of the manta -- from denouncing a new police chief to announcing a criminal group's arrival in a city -- reflect gangs’ responses to changing dynamics. In a more static landscape, such public relations gambits on the part of criminals would not be necessary.

The increase in mantas also demonstrates the degree to which the civilian population has emerged as a terrain for conflict between gangs. While a decade ago, organized crime was centered almost exclusively on the drug trade, today extracting revenue from the population through extortion and kidnapping is far more common. As a consequence, mantas frequently urge the civilian population to refuse to make extortion payments, in order to hurt their rivals' income stream. In contested cities, groups often use mantas to try to show themselves in a better light than their competitors, often claiming not to kidnap, extort, rob, or carry out other criminal activities that prey on civilians.

Mantas are also the favored medium of communication when a group wants to distance itself from a particularly notorious crime and avoid a government crackdown. The Gulf Cartel, for instance, used a manta to deny responsibility for the murder of Juan Francisco Sicilia, son of a famous writer turned peace activist, while the Zetas hung mantas to distance themselves from 49 mutilated bodies discovered in Nuevo Leon last month.
 Finally, here are a couple of pieces from Este País about the Euro (the currency, not the tournament, though I might have preferred the latter topic) and recent reports regarding the prevalence of jailhouse rape in the US. Highlights of the latter:
Esta creencia que los criminales merecen sufrir es entendible, pero muy equivocada. La primera razón es moral: por más mala que sea una persona, nadie debería sufrir tal desgracia. El castigo que se le impone a un convicto es tiempo en la cárcel, no la violación, y al ignorar este problema, la sociedad se convierte en un cómplice.

Para los que no les convence este argumento, es claro que todos tenemos un interés más directo en prevenir estos tipos de ataques: la gran mayoría de los que viven tras rejas van a volver a la sociedad en el futuro, y las personas que son abusadas repetidamente son más propensas a llevar trastornos antisociales y violentos. Entre más fregados deje a los convictos su experiencia tras rejas, más daño harán al acabar su sentencia. Y de ahí, se vislumbra un ciclo vicioso: los ex-reos vuelven a cometer crímenes, regresan a la cárcel, donde vuelven a ser violados o donde se convierten en los victimarios, dejando una nueva generación de convictos victimados.

Finalmente, si queremos que la cárcel sea una rehabilitación además de un castigo, deberíamos hacer más para que la cárcel no sea un infierno en el cual un reo no se puede recuperar.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Other People's Writing

Malcolm Beith checks in with some Mexican generals, ahead of an election that will likely result in changes to the role of the nation's military. One quote (from a general rather than the author) to highlight: "Human rights are stupid".

Patrick Radden Keefe has a long look at the structure of the Sinaloa Cartel here. At one point, he writes:
By most estimates, though, Sinaloa has achieved a market share of at least 40 percent and perhaps as much as 60 percent, which means that Chapo Guzmán’s organization would appear to enjoy annual revenues of some $3 billion — comparable in terms of earnings to Netflix or, for that matter, to Facebook. 
 This has led, inevitably and unfortunately, to headlines in Mexico along the lines of, "Chapo: More Money than Facebook", and the like.

Alejandro Hope has some suggestions on how to better protect Mexican journalists. Highlights:
  1. Marcar una raya en la arena: como ya he propuesto para otros tipos de incidentes excepcionales, se podría poner en marcha una estrategia de disuasión focalizada. Se advertiría por vía discreta a los grupos criminales que cualquier homicidio o desaparición de periodistas a) sería atraído por la PGR y b) generaría represalias inmediatas en contra del grupo responsable (considerando que estamos hablando de menos de una docena de casos al año en promedio, se podrían dedicar recursos excepcionales para identificar al grupo involucrado, aún si no se logra ubicar a los responsables directos). Las represalias podrían incluir el cierre de narcotienditas, la clausura de giros negros, el traslado de presos a reclusorios federales o la instalación de retenes móviles y se darían en cualquier lugar donde tuviese presencia el grupo agresor (y no sólo donde ocurrió el incidente).
  2. Contrarrestar el silencio: los atentados contra periodistas buscan acallar a la prensa local. Hay que enviarle el mensaje a los grupos criminales de que matar a un periodista va a tener el efecto exactamente contrario al buscado. Ante un homicidio de un periodista o un atentado contra un medio, los medios nacionales, tanto impresos como electrónicos, podrían diseminar de manera prominente (en primera plana y en la entrada de noticieros) y reiterada las notas sobre delincuencia organizada (o corrupción policial, etc.) que el periodista asesinado o el medio agredido hubiera publicado en el mes previo al asesinato o ataque. Ese mismo contenido podría distribuirse masivamente por las redes sociales (yo me comprometo a hacer lo propio en Twitter y Facebook).

Friday, June 15, 2012

My Problem with AMLO

In general, I don't find the arguments that AMLO is a grave economic risk to Mexico to be very convincing. His program isn't particularly extreme. Rogelio Ramírez de la O (his proposed finance minster) is sharp, experienced, and within the economic mainstream. And most importantly, between its business community, central bank autonomy, and Nafta, there's something of a policy straightjacket in Mexico. I don't think anyone should expect a Kirchner a la mexicana should AMLO pull off the upset, and if I were a fund manager or a currency speculator, his election alone wouldn't do all that much to change my opinion of Mexico's prospects.

The problem is this: AMLO's democratic commitment has wavered time and again. This is something that he has demonstrated repeatedly over the past six years. The reaction to the 2006 loss was a big part of that, but it's not the only example. The takeovers of Congress were shameful. The shenanigans in Ixtapalapa treated the democratic process in an area of almost 2 million residents as though it existed only to serve him. And there's no reason to think that this would change. When asked if he would accept the results of the election in July, a question where the only acceptable answer is an unqualified "Yes", he waffled. His moderation during the campaign has been laudable, but when faced with a narrow defeat of an agenda item he holds precious, I don't believe that he'll just take his lumps and move on. Unfortunately, taking your lumps and moving on is a basic element of democracy.

The counterargument to this is that AMLO has been justified in his more extreme actions--that is, the election was a fraud, and the oil reform proposals being tossed around were a vital threat to Mexico's well-being. Clearly AMLO seems to believe that; he couches his reaction in 2006 as a defense of democracy, notwithstanding his sending the institutions to the diablo. Given the fraud in the 1994 Tabasco race and Fox's desafuero push, I can understand him assuming any opposition to him is illegitimate. But while this bias is understandable on a personal level, that doesn't make it any less worrying or damaging. Over the past six years, that there isn't much to support his belief that he was acting in democracy's defense: the case for outright fraud in 2006 is extremely weak and has been contradicted by numerous people on the left, and his opinions regarding Pemex are just that --opinions-- and have no more inherent value than those who would privatize the company tomorrow (which is certainly not what I'm advocating). The "desperate times, et cetera" explanation for AMLO's unorthodox actions over the past six years just doesn't hold up, and if your bar for the barbarians being lined up at the gates is set so low, well, then, what crushing political loss doesn't justify an assault on the system?

That's not to imply that his opponents would necessarily make better leaders. There's also a pretty good argument to be made that the (potential) insidious erosion of democracy from within under Peña Nieto would far more harmful than AMLO's frontal assault, which has typically been conducted in plain view of the public. If Peña Nieto turns out to be as bad as many assume he will --that is, if he is an old-school PRI dinosaur in a pricey suit-- the damage could well be much worse than what is at risk in an AMLO presidency. Even if that doesn't happen, by all indications Peña Nieto is the lightest of lightweights, and the campaign doesn't seem to have put much weight on his bones. And the defects of Vázquez Mota are so obvious and damning that they hardly bear mentioning. From my point of view, there is no right candidate, and this is the worst slate of candidates of any Mexican election that I am more than passingly familiar with (basically, from 1988 onward).

But now that AMLO has emerged as the optimistic, anti-Peña Nieto candidate, it's important to be clear about what his drawbacks are. Support for AMLO carries risks that go well beyond ideology. Electing AMLO would mean entrusting the system to someone who doesn't wholly believe in it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Demonstrations of AMLO's Rise, Demonstrations of a Wide Gap

A poll set up by the firm Berumen and conducted on behalf of a coalition of universities shows AMLO at a distance within the margin of error from Peña Nieto. The discussion over the poll has been a little odd; Berumen was evidently instrumental in designing the sample and doing some other technical legwork, but the firm evidently was not involved in interpreting the results, and Berumen's director neither "endorses nor rejects" the findings. So make of that what you will, but it's a second technical tie in the last couple of weeks.

A new poll from Mitofsky, which was also carried out before the debate, shows a bleaker scenario for AMLO, with Peña Nieto enjoying a 12-point gap over his PRD rival. Debates can have an outsized impact on preferences, but, like Boz, I didn't see any moments likely to shake up the race too much, which, with less than three weeks to go, counts as a win for the frontrunner.

Finally, Milenio's tracking poll, which has typically leaned toward Peña Nieto, shows a 15-edge for the PRI candidate.

Organized Crime and the Elections

Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez has a thoughtful piece on how and why criminal groups manipulate elections this month in Nexos, which I've partially translated here. Highlights (from my introductory  comments):
In a recent piece for Nexos, security analyst Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez pointed out that while criminal groups have long had an interest in building links with the different levels of government, recent developments have made them focus on elections all the more. One is that gangs today earn more money from extortion and from retail drug trafficking, which is known in Mexico as "narcomenudeo." Unlike international drug trafficking, which can be carried out without much involvement from the authorities, the police are far more likely to be aware of extortion and retail drug sales. Government tolerance -- or better still, collusion -- is needed.

Another issue is the democratic opening in Mexico: unlike 20 years ago, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had ruled Mexico for six unbroken decades, today criminal groups have to deal with the three major parties contending for political posts. That means that profitable and long-standing relationships between a group and a political party in a given area can be rendered useless with a single election, which is a grave setback to a gang's interests.

In this sense, meddling in elections is a logical policy for gangs, not unlike private-sector campaign donations to candidates promising a lower corporate tax rate. And, just as large companies sometimes make contributions to more than one candidate in the same race, criminal groups also hedge their bets by donating cash or performing services for a variety of different candidates. That way, they have a measure of protection regardless of the outcome of the election.
 This month's edition also also included very worthwhile articles by Alejandro Hope on an easing in the bloodshed in Mexico and by Kari Jacobsen about how street gang culture was exported from the US to Mexico.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fox's Post-Presidency

New post here from Este País. Highlights: es la primera vez que el Presidente Fox provoque tal reacción. De hecho, su carrera pos-presidencial representa una larga serie de ideas equivocadas y momentos penosos. Véase esta lista, que es por cierto parcial:
  • Mantuvo un público pleito con Calderón a lo largo de gestión, culpándole al presidente actual por la derrota panista en los comicios del 2009 y reprochando el uso del ejército para combatir el crimen organizado. Más allá que la cortesía de un ex-presidente de no lanzar ataques a un sucesor del mismo partido, el PAN sufrió derrotas en 2003 bajo Fox, y Fox también incrementó el uso de las fuerzas armadas en tareas de seguridad pública.
  • Se fue enojado antes de acabar una entrevista en 2007, después de una pregunta sobre las acusaciones de bienes ilícitamente ganados, y llamándole vulgar y mentiroso al entrevistador Rubén González Luengas
  • Se presumió en una entrevista con el Associated Press en 2007 de ser el líder de una lucha mundial contra no sé exactamente qué, diciéndole a su interlocutor, “Estoy montado de nuevo. Estoy en mi caballo. Estoy luchando contra las dictaduras, la demagogia, el populismo.”
  • Ha prestado el Centro Fox, supuestamente un instituto para la investigación y la “formación de líderes”, para conciertos de Juan Gabriel y Elton John, entre otros.
  • El año pasado, hizo un llamado para un pacto con los narcos. Luego acusó de malintencionados a los que etiquetaron su propuesta como tal, pero cuando describió su propuesta con más detalle, efectivamente sí estaba proponiendo un pacto, nada más su etiqueta preferida fue tregua.
  • En abril, anunció planes para conducir un programa de entrevistas en la televisión.
Lo que tienen en común todas estas actuaciones es un deseo evidente de protagonizar, de estar delante de las cámaras y de ser un tema de conversación. Claro, convertirse en un verdadero hombre de estado queda en el olvido. Es una característica común dentro de la farándula, donde es hasta admirable, pero desde luego, lo que es bueno para un participante de Big Brother no siempre lo es para un Presidente de la República.

Es decir, las actuaciones de Fox desde 2007 no han sido dignas del puesto que ocupó anteriormente, ni el papel histórico que desempeñó en llegar a la presidencia.

It Depends on the Meaning of the Word "Major"

This is the lede to an article about the Mexican race published, I believe, yesterday:
The top three contenders for Mexico’s presidency have all promised a major shift in the country’s drug war strategy, placing a higher priority on reducing the violence in Mexico than on using arrests and seizures to block the flow of drugs to the United States. 
What follows is several hundred words that fall well short of proving the thesis of an imminent major shift. I don't know if this was written before the debate, but Josefina Vázquez Mota promised in no uncertain terms to keep the military in Veracruz and Tamaulipas (and presumably, wherever else needed) on Sunday. Enrique Peña Nieto has repeatedly affirmed his support for the war on drugs, and has never outlined any imminent plan to end domestic military operations. AMLO has suggested he'll pull the troops off the streets in six months, but he's waffled and he'll have no problem wiggling away from that commitment. (See more on that topic here from Alejandro Hope.) There's a good political reason for this: deploying the military is popular. And while there are obvious reasons for adopting a circumspect view toward US assistance during the campaign, to my knowledge, none of the candidates have promised a reduction in the security collaboration with the US.

There are, of course, some shifts in emphasis toward lowering violence, which are positive and could be the basis for a change of policies. However, that focus alone doesn't necessarily mean any operational changes. The article says that the candidates "eschew Mr. Calderón’s talk of dismantling the cartels and promising big seizures", but that strikes me as misleading. Thus far, the candidates have de-emphasized the seizures and takedowns of capos relative to other tasks, but they aren't saying that they are less interested in arrests. In his interview attached to the article, Peña Nieto even refers vaguely to increasing takedowns and the like, but while improving the judicial process that follow arrests. Moreover, even if we concede that he is less interested in arresting capos, it's not as though the security agencies are going to stop pursuing these goals just because of a different rhetorical bent from the incoming president during his campaign. Arresting Miguel Ángel Treviño will still represent a major coup for any general or admiral as of December 2nd, as will seizing a hundred tons of precursor chemicals. In other words, there is an ocean of distance between what we've heard so far and an actual change of direction.

It's worth considering some of the major planks of Mexico's current strategy:
  • Widespread prohibition of drugs in the US and in Mexico  
  • US-Mexico security cooperation
  • Mexico's deployment of the military in domestic security 
  • Institutional strengthening, particularly among the Federal Police, and cleansing of security agencies, which has been recently most evident in the PGR
  • Continued implementation of the judicial reform
Are any of those likely to change markedly in the next two years, based on what we've heard so far? I'm certain there will be some subtle changes under the next president, and we could well see a significant shift in the way the next government presents its security strategy to the nation, but a "major shift in the country's drug war strategy"? I haven't seen anything in the campaign that leads me to that conclusion, and certainly not with the certainty the article expresses.

Of course, the authors are presumably more connected to US and Mexican policy-makers than I, and therefore more aware of their concerns and intentions, so maybe that is the driver of this piece.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Explaining Pacquiao's Robbery

I halfway wrote a piece comparing the inevitable controversy in scoring prizefights to the travesty of Pacquiao-Bradley last night, but I got bored and never got around to finishing it. Luckily, Hamilton Nolan hit the nail on the head here:
Some boxers like to fight backing up. This is a conscious style, with advantages and disadvantages, like any style. Judges, though, tend to interpret this as retreating, and penalize the fighter for it, even though he is doing it by choice. "Ring generalship" is the vague and meaningless phrase cited to justify the judging of rounds based on who is walking in which direction. This is dumb, because it penalizes a legitimate strategic decision for no good reason. Often, judges reward the fighter who throws more punches, without regard for whether or not those punches landed, or did any damage, or did any anything except tire that fighter out and soften him up for the kill. Fighters win rounds because they were "busier," even if they were busy doing something counterproductive. This, too, is dumb, though it can be forgiven somewhat due to the fact that there are few real metrics by which to judge these things.

Differences in philosophy, though, have their limits. When Manny Pacquiao fought Juan Manuel Marquez last November, Pacquiao tended to throw more punches, while Marquez landed harder shots. Most of the rounds were very, very close. In a 12-round fight with, say, eight close rounds, either fighter could win eight rounds to four, and the decision would be within the realm of reason. Pacquiao won. Marquez fans complained. But in truth, a decision for either man would have been fair. Sometimes, when it's genuinely close, it comes down to perfectly reasonable disagreements between perfectly reasonable judges. That's the game.

Sometimes, though, shit is just fucked up. Saturday night, by any possible standard, Pacquiao beat Tim Bradley. How do I know? Pacquiao landed 100 more punches than Bradley, and he landed all the hardest and most damaging punches. By either metric, he won. Bradley won at least two rounds; a generous interpretation could have given him four. Five would have been a stretch. But two of the three judges—Duane Ford and C.J. Ross—gave Bradley the fight, seven rounds to five. (The third judge, Jerry Roth, scored it seven rounds to five for Pacquiao.)
I'd only add that even by the hopelessly vague standards of ring generalship, Pacquiao was better: Bradley backed up for most of the second half of the fight, not by choice but by necessity. If dodging the others guy's blows more than he dodges yours implies superior defense (and really, how could it not?), Pacquiao was far better in that regard as well.

I think one issue, both last night and in the Márquez fight, is the fact that judges and fans often equate falling short of expectations to a fighter actually losing rounds. Pacquiao destroyed Bradley during the first half of the fight, and then was noticeably less dominant in the second. He was still winning handily, but he let Bradley breath a bit, took few risks, and stopped shooting for the knockout. But there was no question that in the only criteria that matters --who kicked whose ass harder, from one round to the next-- Pacquiao was better. Somehow, an obviously lesser Pacquiao turned into a losing Pacquiao to the two offending judges, Thomas Hauser, and really, to a lesser degree, anyone who found four rounds to give to Bradley.

In the Márquez fight, a similar dynamic was at play in the upset surrounding the bout: the narrative in the run-up to the fight was that at 147, a prime Pacquiao would walk right through a bloated, slowed, aged Márquez. That didn't happen, and it turned out to be a close fight. I thought Pacquiao won, but I can't begrudge anyone who thought Márquez was better. But the reason I think so many people thought Márquez didn't just squeak by but indisputably crushed Pacquiao was that the latter fell so short of expectations, and Márquez, in contrast, so exceeded them. But that only put them on even terrain, it didn't make Márquez the easy winner.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Catching Up with Ebrard

Guillermo Osorno has a long article on Marcelo Ebrard in this month's Gatopardo. Reading about Ebrard is a bit depressing these days. He's probably the best bet to win in 2018, but that's a bit like saying Chicharito is currently the best bet to score Mexico's first goal in the 2018 World Cup. What's frustrating is that the bloom has clearly come off of Peña Nieto, yet none of his adversaries are in a position to do much with it, and if Ebrard had been selected instead of AMLO, I think we'd be looking at a very different race today.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cosa Nostra in Mexico

Here's a piece of mine about an Italian smuggling network operating in Monterrey. Highlights:
The investigation into the Gerardi operation demonstrates the degree to which Mexico has become a vital actor not merely in the US cocaine supply chain, but in the global drug trade. For a gang dedicated to moving South American cocaine to Europe, there was no inherent need for a Mexican connection, but the centrality of Mexican traffickers to the global trade drew the Gerardis to forge links with Mexican traffickers as early as 2002. The freedom of movement available in Mexico also made the country a logical center of operations following the Gerardis' exit from Colombia. While the Gerardis were investigated by US and Italian authorities, and forced to flee Colombia because of government pressure, there is no evidence of similar heat in Mexico.

Similarly, Mexicans have popped up in drug trafficking investigations around the world. For instance, three brothers from the Pacific state of Sinaloa received a death sentence in Malaysia, after they were arrested in a methamphetamine processing lab in the Asian nation that lies some 8,000 miles from Mexico’s borders (their case remains in the appeal process). In similarly remote Australia, the government fingered Mexican gangs as the nation’s foremost cocaine suppliers. Mexican gangsters have operated in South America for years, and have also popped up in Africa, a staging area for shipments that later make the leap to Europe.

The most important structural factors driving the Mexican groups’ relevance to the global trade include the nation’s proximity to the US, the world’s largest cocaine market, and the weakness of Mexico's criminal justice institutions. As a result of the first factor, Mexican gangsters have grown fabulously rich and have established deep logistical networks emanating from South American producer nations, qualities that are useful in trafficking cocaine anywhere around the globe. Thanks to the second factor mentioned above, the Mexican gangs have long enjoyed a significant degree of impunity. Because it is relatively unlikely that arrests will interrupt drug-smuggling operations, the Mexican organizations can thrive for years, if not decades, and in so doing accumulate vast amounts of institutional knowledge and personal relationships that are invaluable in carrying out illicit activities.

Switching to AMLO

I've recently talked to a lot of acquaintances in Mexico who have made the same basic calculation--AMLO is better than Peña Nieto, and Vázquez Mota is a disaster. Therefore, they are planning to pull the lever for AMLO. For the most part, these are people who were staunch Calderón supporters, so to put it mildly, this was unexpected. It's a decision I think is logically flawed, for reasons I'll explain another time, but it's clearly something that is widespread, and there are some lessons (for me anyway) to be learned from AMLO's surge, even if it is unlikely to vault him to victory. Among them:
  • there remains a deep mistrust of the PRI among a huge sector of the country, and Peña Nieto didn't (or couldn't) do enough to assuage the latent fears of his party.
  • voters' memories are short, and a dedicated (though less than 100 percent consistent) effort to change one's image can wipe away past perceptions. I've spent the last several years referring to AMLO as the politician with the highest negative views in the country, and for good reason: indeed he was said figure. And while AMLO remains a highly controversial figure, the negative perceptions have largely been wiped away.
Also, Sergio Aguayo explains his vote for AMLO here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On Pacting with Criminals

Here's a long Q&A from Alejandro Hope, in which he outlines the case against a pact with the narcos. His finale:
Pregunta: Bueno, ya en resumen, ¿está usted a favor de negociar con delincuentes?
Por supuesto que no. Creo que todo el que infrinja la ley debe recibir una sanción. Sin embargo, yo soy un ciudadano privado, no un político. Siguiendo a Max Weber, el político se debe regir no sólo por la ética de las convicciones, sino también por la ética de la reponsabilidad. Y la ética de la responsabilidad obliga a veces a tomar decisiones que hieren las intuiciones morales primarias de un ciudadano privado. Como negociar con delincuentes, por ejemplo.

De nuevo: no sé si eso deban hacer nuestros políticos en este momento. Pero creo que la pregunta no es trivial y la respuesta no es obvia.

Should You Wish to Rekindle a Hatred of Humanity

This shirt comes to us from Burro Hall:

You hate to judge a book by its cover, unless the cover resembles the ridiculous t-shirt pictured above. The person who wears it is necessarily an ass-clown. The company that manufactures it is worse still. I wish the two parties mockery and bankruptcy, respectively.

A Fitting Response to Vicente Fox

From Ernesto Cordero, via Excélsior:

Incidentally, Excélsior's election section is called "Color Electoral". That should be harmless enough, except upon seeing the words, especially on the periphery of my vision, whether in the URL or in the tab at the top of Firefox window, the term "colorectal" invariably and involuntarily slips into my consciousness instead of the intended title, and I have a pang of panic or wonder about the contents of the link I somehow managed to click.

Musings on a Tight Race

Here's a new column from Este País about the closer --though maybe not quite four points-- presidential race. Highlights:
Hay varios factores que explican el alza de AMLO, pero el crecimiento de dos bloques de votantes ha sido fundamental.

Uno, y el más obvio, es la proporción del electorado que se puede llamar anti-Peña, evidenciado más notoriamente por el movimiento Yo Soy 132, pero el fenómeno va más allá que los universitarios. Hace unos meses, varias encuestas le pronosticaban un voto efectivo cerca de o hasta arriba de 50 por ciento; ahora, en ni uno de los sondeos confiables alcanza tal cifra. Y el segundo grupo se encuentra entre, en las palabras de Macario Schettino, los votantes revolucionarios (o sea, los que voten por el PRD o el PRI). El crecimiento de este grupo se ha dado a lo largo de los tres años pasados, gracias a la crisis económica y la crisis de la seguridad pública. Después de promediar 60 por ciento de 2000 a 2005, y apenas 54 por ciento durante los primeros tres años del sexenio de Calderón, desde 2011 el bloque revolucionario ha rozado el 70 por ciento del electorado.


Lo más probable sigue siendo una victoria de Enrique Peña Nieto. Su campaña ha tenido el lujo de ignorar a sus adversarios en gran medida, pero ahora irá con todo contra AMLO, quien por cierto tiene una trayectoria política llena de actuaciones polémicas. Es decir, los propagandistas de Peña Nieto tienen mucho material a su disposición. Pero entre más encuestas que veamos como la de Reforma, entre más cerrada se ponga la carrera, más van a pesar las decisiones de la candidata panista en el tiempo que resta de la campaña.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Overrating England

I enjoyed this note of caution regarding England's chances in the Euro from Richard Jolly. It's easy to blame injuries, but really, England is just old and untalented, relative to the continental heavyweights. Consistency issues notwithstanding, Rooney, sixth-best in the tournament according to ESPN, is surely among the very best in the world, but who else of their non-keepers qualifies? ESPN ranks Steven Gerrard as the 26th-best player in the tournament, ahead of, among others, Juan Mata (33rd) and Santi Cazorla (doesn't appear), which is pretty ridiculous based on his recent performance: Gerrard's not played more than half a season since 2009-10, and hasn't scored in double-digits in the EPL since 2008-09. Moreover, Liverpool has fallen apart during those last two seasons. And at 32, the past two years seem more relevant to his present ability than do distant heroics in Istanbul. After that, we have Ashley Cole at 36, which, considering that Jordi Alba doesn't appear on the list, seems a pretty favorable ranking as well. And that's the list.

In other words, in an England-leaning publication, just three Englishmen are among the top 36 non-goalies in the tournament (four keepers appear on the list, including Joe Hart). Other than wherever Rooney lines up, I have a difficult time imagining where on the field England might find themselves on favorable terms in a matchup with Germany, Spain, or the Netherlands. There's no shame in that--all three of those teams are fantastic, from top to bottom. But it does mean that England falls well short of fantastic, and if they make it out of the quarters, it has to be considered a significant surprise.

Skeptical of Reforma

The Mitofsky report looking at seven different polling firms' results suggests that we should be pretty skeptical of Reforma's ground-breaking survey from last week. Of course, it has the smallest gap between Peña Nieto and AMLO, at four points, when the average difference was 16 points, and the next smallest was 12 points, from UnoTV. But it also shows the largest swings from March to May, for all of the candidates. Peña Nieto dropped seven points according to Reforma, while the next largest drop was a mere 3.1 percentage points, and the average was just 2.8. AMLO leaped by 12 points with Reforma, while no one else gave him a bump of more than six. Reforma found a drop of 9 points for Vázquez Mota, compared to an average of 5.3 points, and a second-largest drop of six points. Even Quadri, largely an afterthought, had a larger jump than any other candidate.

In short, these are big differences across the board. I'm no Nate Silver, but to me that suggests there was something funky in their sample.

Vicente Fox: Loyal Panista

The first opposition candidate to win the presidency in the post-Revolutionary era has thrown his support behind Enrique Peña Nieto. I'm not sure if this will swing too many votes, but it does say quite a lot about Fox.

Fox's presidency was a disappointment, but that was inevitable given the exuberance inspired by his campaign. Where I think you really have gotten a taste of his shortcomings is in the years since he left office, during which he has: brow-beaten an interviewer for asking a legitimate --and potentially quite helpful!-- question, calling him vulgar and storming off the set; announced plans to start a talk show; written one of the emptier memoirs you could ever read; boasted to the Associated Press, "I'm riding again. I'm on my horse. I'm fighting dictatorships, fighting demagoguery, fighting populism"; called for a pact with the narcos; and carried on a noisy spat with Felipe Calderón's wing of the PAN. This is just a partial list, but it's long enough to demonstrate that the man who should have been one of the signal figures for Mexican democracy is closer in temperament to reality-show contestant.

More here.

Jalisco's Stunted Police Reform

New piece here. Highlights:
As El Occidental reported, an unidentified criminal group posted an advertisement on the Internet targeting the hundreds of Jalisco police officers who have failed the vetting tests. Kicking off with the punchy intro “Have you been fired?” and mimicking the recruiting tactics of a legitimate firm, the ad, which was later pulled, promised benefits and training for officers who went to work for the gang.

Roughly 900 police, out of a total of nearly 24,000, failed Jalisco’s vetting program, which monitors officers’ assets and applies drug tests. However, because of concerns that criminals' attempts to recruit the fired police could lead to a rash of new gunmen operating around the state, the process of firing the officers deemed unfit for duty has been postponed.


These examples demonstrate that, while police reform is certainly a good thing in the long term, in the short term it can actually play into the hands of illicit actors -- both transnational drug traffickers and local petty criminals. Even when the transition does not provide obvious opportunities to criminal groups, they are still capable of slowing the pace of reform; El Universal reported in 2010 that the violence in Chihuahua, which was one of the first states to embrace the oral trial system, forced the government to delay the implementation of several reform measures.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ronaldo Likes to Make Little Girls Cry. Rumors of Baby-Punching and Puppy-Smothering Unconfirmed.

Portugal's finest, playing to type:

Peña Nieto's Strategy for the Homestretch

Here's Bajo Reserva, and suddenly, it matters a lot more:
EL CUARTO de guerra del candidato presidencial del PRI-PVEM, Enrique Peña Nieto, definió la estrategia electoral para el último mes de campaña electoral, el cierre rumbo a la jornada de votación: quiere enviar el mensaje a los ciudadanos de que el mexiquense rechaza cualquier idea autoritaria y que tendrá un gobierno de puertas abiertas, que escuche las necesidades de la gente. De llegar a Los Pinos, nos dirán a los ciudadanos, la administración federal va a trabajar por un México democrático y libre, con mejores oportunidades de vida para sus habitantes. El equipo de Peña Nieto comenzó la distribución masiva de propaganda vía correo electrónico para dar a conocer los compromisos que ha adoptado y parte del plan para el cierre de su campaña.