The End of La Maestra?

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Elba Esther Gordillo, the singularly repugnant leader of Mexico’s teachers’ union, turns 68 today as most sources in Mexico begin to write her political epitaph. The first signs came early in Peña Nieto’s presidency, with the designation of La Maestra‘s enemy, Emilio Chuayffet, as Education Minister. The subsequent educational reform, ratified this week by more than 50% of state congresses, sought to weaken her control over teaching, imposing new standards and greater transparency in teacher evaluation. It is becoming increasingly clear that the current powers-that-be in the PRI are uninterested in reestablishing the longtime alliance with her that was ruptured during last year’s presidential campaign, as recent nominations in Baja California seem to illustrate. If this is indeed the end, Elba Esther has had a long, if not admirable, career. Among other episodes, in 2006 she offered her support (or rather, the votes she controlled) to Calderón after López Obrador refused to bargain, and that likely proved the difference in the election.

Her defeat will certainly be Mexico’s victory.

Corruption and Cabinet Posts

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The recent New York Times report that U.S. diplomatic pressure blocked General Moisés García Ochoa from being appointed defense secretaries offers a few intriguing insights, but is perhaps less scandalous than it is curious. First off, the allegations of corruption and links to drug trafficking organizations that reportedly torpedoed García Ochoa’s career were hard to prove and hardly salacious; I suspect similar rumors could be found about many top military officials in Mexico. Why García Ochoa’s potential nomination attracted the U.S.’s attention, when the head of public security under Calderón, Genaro García Luna, was hardly immune from similar suspicion of narco ties, hints at the extent to which the U.S.-Mexico relationship has become militarized. That U.S. diplomacy was able to maneuver García Ochoa out also suggests that there is a good working relationship with the Peña Nieto administration, something that was perhaps less true under Calderón.

The broader and more important story, though, is one of a failing response to drug trafficking. Calderón’s decision to employ the military as a domestic police force, while understandable given the profound structural weaknesses that plagued policing in Mexico, has not been backed by a reform of law enforcement and police and the military’s return to the barracks. Instead, the military has remained the country’s primary anti-drug force, and in turn it has become increasingly corrupted and weakened. Moreover, the deployment of the military resulted in an arms race of sorts, encouraging drug trafficking organizations to upgrade their weaponry and the military to seek U.S. assistance. It increasingly appears to be a failed strategy.

Those doubts have also crept to Capitol Hill. Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was withholding nearly $230 million in security assistance to Mexico through the so-called Merida Initiative amid concerns about whether the fight against organized crime is doing more harm than good.

“Congress has been asked for a significant new investment, but it’s not clear what the Mexican government’s plans are,” Mr. Leahy said. “It’s premature to sign off on more of the same.”

As Greg Weeks points out, the expensive militarization of the drug war is basically political snake oil: http://weeksnotice.blogspot.com/2013/02/drug-war-militarization.html

The NYT and Guerrero

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Saturday’s New York Times reported on community policing efforts in Guerrero, a response to the failure of authorities to protect villages from a wave of violent crime. Nothing too surprising there. Not the first time something similar has happened, as the article pointed out.

But then there was this:

“Federal officials sent in the military to take control of checkpoints in Ayutla de los Libres and several other towns on Wednesday, according to the Guerrero State government. ‘We understand you, and that’s why we have to exercise all the force of the state to protect you,’ Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, the interior secretary, said Thursday at a news conference in Nayarit State.”

To anyone who knows Mexican history, that is a rather ominous proclamation. Guerrero, of course, was ground zero in the 1970s dirty war, when military units trampled roughshod over local communities, leaving a legacy of violence, torture, and intimidation, creating as many guerrillas as they ultimately captured. Under the guise, of course, of ‘using the force of the state to protect’.

Walking Man

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Enrique Peña Nieto issued his required declaration of property and income today, though in the public filing he declined to state the value of his houses, land, artwork, jewelry, and other belongings. (Felipe Calderón did so, as a point of reference) Per the declaration, Peña Nieto claimed a monthly income of 193,478 pesos, though he did not specify the sources. Comically, Peña Nieto also claimed not to own any cars.

Peña Nieto also declined to release a declaration of his wife’s property (again, for reference, Calderón’s did) or that of his children. According to the President, that seeming lack of transparency is excused by his government’s commitment to an anti-corruption push and a strengthening of the Federal Transparency Institute (IFAI).

Why?

It appears the PRI is launching an effort to overturn the 2011 Constitutional reform that adopted international human rights norms. I was turned on to this via a bit of office gossip, with the general consensus on the news being a puzzled “why?”

While the apparent justification is to resolve a “contradiction” between which set of norms (Constitutional or international) has primacy, it seems to simply conjure the specter of príismo‘s more sinister side. If there’s a better explanation, I’d like to hear it.

Of course, the cynic can always point out that Constitutional norms have never had much importance under the PRI anyway.

Party Fragmentation?

At the same moment as the PAN announced that its review of national party rolls resulted in a dramatic downward revision of membership numbers from 1,868,567 to 368,253, MORENA, the López Obrador “movement” organization officially filed for registration as a political party. Combined, this is something of a shakeup for the PAN and the PRD (off of which MORENA split), the country’s two traditional opposition parties (despite the PAN’s 12 years in the presidency). Both parties have suffered from serious infighting and internal ideological differences and the PRI’s return to the presidency owes much to the inability of either party to coalesce around a compelling vision and coherent political strategy.

Some, particularly Aguachile, feel that the PRD will, in the long run, be stronger without López Obrador and I am inclined to agree. However, If MORENA organizes and shows electoral strength in the 2015 midterm elections, it will likely exert influence into the 2018 presidential election – if not, I suspect it comes to resemble one of the country’s minor ‘coalition’ parties that survive by spinning minimal votes into maximum appointed positions.

For the PAN, particularly after the disastrous 2012 presidential election, it is painfully obvious that the party is in need of an overhaul, ethically, politically, and strategically.

Transparency Reforms

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I will be very interested to see what happens with this project for reform of the Federal Transparency Institute. I’m of the opinion that the push toward transparency (which I’ve experienced first hand in working with formerly classified archival material) has been the biggest and most meaningful shift in Mexican political culture post-2000. Democracy hasn’t meant a lot in terms of electoral practice, nor has there been a significant change in economic models, but there has been–or at least I perceive–a shift toward accountability and openness that has broad support and is now pretty firmly entrenched. Maybe I’m wrong, but a strengthened IFAI strikes me as a good thing, and I think Peña Nieto is simply reading the tea leaves on this.

The Shamelessness of Humberto Moreira

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Disgraced former governor of Coahuila and former Secretary General of the PRI, Humberto Moreira apparently has a new shameless trick: requesting a scholarship from the wildly corrupt SNTE teachers union to study languages abroad. Moreira, a former teacher, left Coahuila’s finances in ruins as governor, though managed to hide the scandal until after he had left office (though he successfully passed power to his brother). His shady dealings nevertheless caught up with him and he was forced to resign the leadership of the PRI. The request for a scholarship from a man who certainly does not lack for resources is so incredibly cynical that it boggles the imagination.

Source: Animal Político

A Bad Start

It was hardly surprising that Peña Nieto’s inauguration this Saturday sparked protests across Mexico City, and it was only slightly more surprising that some of those protests turned violent. Two things have become painfully clear since then:

1) The police were woefully unprepared and did not act with great aplomb. The abuses and unjustified arrests that occurred seem to me less a signal of a repressive plot than a police force that was overwhelmed. Yes, the police acted reprehensibly, and apparently grabbed and beat anyone they could catch, regardless of involvement in any criminal action, but that is hardly a new phenomenon.* Nevertheless, the pressure is definitely on the new government to resolve this quickly and justly before it becomes the sort of human rights violation that was a hallmark of the old PRI administrations.

2) The reports and rumors of dirty tricks are credible. The first report yesterday that anarchist groups received 300 pesos to commit vandalism rings true, and suggests an effort to discredit the protests–an old PRI strategy to be sure. Hopefully it’s nothing more than an isolated incident and not an indication of what the next six years will look like.

 

* Studies of 1968 have argued that at the start of the movement, the police repression that helped drive the growth of the protests was not an organized effort from the upper echelons of government, but rather the chaotic response to a situation for which the police were wholly unprepared; see Ariel Rodríguez Kuri’s work.

El Pacto Por Mexico

Intriguing developments on the eve of Peña Nieto’s inauguration: at the impulse of the incoming president, leaders of Mexico’s three main parties have agreed to a basic program of reforms that, in theory, will address some of the country’s biggest problems. It’s not surprising that Peña Nieto and his advisors were eager to set the legislative bases for serious reforms and in doing so, set the agenda. Neither is it surprising, however, that this has all happened behind closed doors. According to El Universal, the PAN and particularly PRD cadres are not happy about how the so-called Pacto por Mexico went down. There’s also a profound irony, here, in Videgaray’s assertion that: “Peña gobernará con la convicción de que México es y seguirá siendo una democracia” – there is very little democratic about old-style backroom agreements.

That said, however, the cynical optimist in me is inclined to believe that there may actually be hope. The PRD leaders involved in the pact are from the moderate faction (López Obrador has already pulled off most of his radical supporters to his newly founded Morena party) and if they can hold a principled line while agreeing to moderate compromises, and if the PAN can discover a set of principles, and if Peña Nieto’s team can put forward realistic, meaningful reform projects… then the top-down pact model of governing could cut through the gridlock that bogged down the past 12 years.