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Crafty_Dog

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GPF: A History of Power Vacuums
« Reply #500 on: March 16, 2018, 11:48:04 PM »
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Mexico: A History of Power Vacuums
Mar 15, 2018

Summary

Mexico’s northern borderlands have become notorious for their lawlessness. At times it can seem that organized crime groups have as much control as the federal government. Last year was actually Mexico’s most murderous year on record. The drug trade is the easy and obvious explanation for this phenomenon, and it isn’t wrong – but it is incomplete.

Mexican governments have always had a difficult time ruling over the outer reaches of their domain. The Spanish Empire, which also had the capital of its Viceroyalty of New Spain in Mexico City, had similar issues. The Aztec Empire (also based in Mexico City, though it called it Tenochtitlan) would have encountered the same problem if it had gotten much larger. The common thread here isn’t narcotics; it’s geography. The region around Mexico City is the heartland of Mexico, but it’s also disconnected from the farthest reaches of the country by distance, mountain ranges and plateaus.

This Deep Dive will take a closer look at the features of Mexico’s geography that make its borderlands and peninsulas so difficult to control from the center. We’ll also look at Mexico’s history, which is rife with periods that promoted the localization of security and independent-minded regional security forces. And we’ll discuss the northern border region and its relationship to the U.S., specifically what it would take for the U.S. to intervene militarily to secure the border and quell the violence.

Geography Then and Now

Mexico City, the seat of Mexico’s government, has a very basic problem: It has a lot of territory to govern and many physical obstacles between itself and much of that territory. Mexico is one of only two places in the world (the other is off the coast of Peru and Ecuador) that resides on or near the junctions of four tectonic plates – the Pacific, Cocos, Caribbean and North American plates. This makes the country a hub for seismic activity, the cause of Mexico’s many mountain ranges and plateaus. The mountainous topography separates the country into regions with unique physical environments. In some areas this hindered the development of population centers, and it has defined the culture as well as which economic activities are viable.

Narrow coastal plains and basins run along either side of the country. To the extreme northwest and southeast are the Baja California and Yucatan peninsulas, respectively. Just a short distance inland, three mountain ranges flank the mainland – the Sierra Madre Occidental in the west, the Sierra Madre Oriental in the east, and the Sierra Madre del Sur in the south. Between the western and eastern mountain ranges is the massive Mexican plateau.


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Geographically, the Mexican plateau is a single feature; geopolitically, there’s a clear division between the northern and southern plateau regions. The Chihuahaun Desert dominates the northern plateau. It does not easily support large-scale vegetation, wildlife or human populations. The southern plateau, on the other hand, sits at an altitude 3,000 feet (900 meters), which gives it a much more habitable climate, and its valleys to the south are among the most habitable in the country. Temperatures in the southern plateau and valley average 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 4-27 degrees Celsius) year-round and rarely reach extreme levels. Annual rainfall is typically about 28 inches (71 centimeters), well above the roughly 15 inches needed to maintain agricultural practices, and arable land makes food production possible.


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Put these factors together and it makes sense why the valley south of the southern plateau region is the heart of Mexican civilization – the center of the Aztec empire and still the geopolitical heartland of the country today. The coast could support a large population, but any capital there would have found itself even more disconnected than Mexico City is from the rest of the country. The southern plateau isn’t perfect, but it is the best chance a civilization has to expand and project power to all corners of modern-day Mexico.

In fact, a glance at the pre-Columbian empires – mostly the Aztec but also the Mayan – provides a blueprint for understanding how Mexico’s mountain systems still impede power projection today. Both civilizations reached their limits in large part because of the difficulties that came with regularly traversing mountain ranges. For the Aztec, administrative systems were put in place to reflect this. The Aztecs’ capital was Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City. As their empire expanded, direct control over their new holdings did not. In some areas they allowed local officials to govern and demanded tribute in return.


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Nearly 500 years have elapsed since the Aztec Empire fell, but the situation isn’t all that different for Mexico today. Technology has reduced geography’s impact, but rarely does innovation overcome geography entirely. The mountains and long distances that afflicted the ancient empires of the land are still making it hard for the government in the valleys off the southern plateau to have a strong presence in Mexico’s peninsulas, coastal regions and northernmost states.

The Monumental Task of Unification

Mexico’s topography poses the same challenges to internal security that it does to central governance. Historically, Mexico City could not easily move large numbers of troops over vast distances and treacherous terrain, so it has had no choice but to rely on local forces to augment the national security forces. The Mexican states, in turn, have been conditioned to be self-reliant on security. From time to time, the isolation of some areas and subsequent feeling of alienation has engendered the creation of armed rebel groups hoping to secede from or even overthrow the national government. Combined, these trends have led to a strong belief in homegrown security and skepticism of the national government. This strongly influences the way the state and non-state actors respond to lapses in security in modern Mexico. Where geography and estrangement once fostered rebellion and independence movements, today those factors help explain the rapid growth of organized crime groups and the vigilante groups that have popped up to stop them.

The reliance on local forces to augment central government forces dates back to Mexico’s colonial period, though initially it had less to do with the region’s terrain or vastness. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Spain was engaged in multiple wars across Europe. The Spanish crown needed its troops for battles in the near abroad, and so once Mexico was considered conquered, Spain redirected military resources to its European endeavors. Much of the day-to-day security responsibilities were put in the hands of the colonists and local authorities. Mayors and business elites often funded irregular militias  to help enforce security in the countryside and city centers.

Over time, Spain sent more regular troops over to Mexico, but mostly it tried arming and training locals to enforce security. By the early 19th century, near the start of Mexico’s war for independence, there were approximately 40,000 security forces in Mexico, only 6,000 of which were professional soldiers. The rest were from local militias. When Mexico’s independence movement took shape, it drew most of its fighting force from those local militias.

Once Spain was driven out, however, Mexico still faced the monumental task of unification. Many states were reluctant to answer to a central authority immediately after ridding themselves of Spanish rule. As a colony, economic activities had been poorly integrated – the states’ focus had been on shipping goods to Spain, not to each other. And the states had their own longstanding militias, whose members often had a strong affinity for their local authorities.

As a result, the newly formed Mexican government spent much of the 1830s and 1840s confronting secessionist movements. The central government was ill-equipped to deal with so many threats at once. Many state and local governments refused to pay more taxes and support a national army, preferring instead to maintain their own forces for defense. Large-scale rebellions erupted in Zacatecas and Tabasco, while republics temporarily formed in the territories of Texas, Yucatan and Rio Grande. (Texas eventually joined the United States, Yucatan returned to Mexico, and Rio Grande split the difference – part went to Texas, the rest became the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.) Not coincidentally, all the areas where republics formed are far from the southern plateau region, and mountain ranges or deserts separate them from Mexico’s core.

Later in the 19th century and into the 20th century, other political shifts reinforced the idea that local security forces must have a prominent role. When the French tried to re-establish a monarch in Mexico in 1861, some Mexican elites endorsed the effort. Much of the country didn’t. France sent its military to impose its will. Local forces had to be commandeered to fight the French national troops. During the French intervention, the ousted Mexican government still strove to function in parallel to the French and was never fully quashed.

Then in 1910 came the Mexican Revolution, when the idea of local force development was even more vital to the revolution’s success. The longstanding government of President Porfirio Diaz used patronage to build close ties with local leadership and used the military to crush dissent. Though this approach succeeded in bringing economic growth and the most stable government structure the country had seen up to that point, it was unsustainable. Many segments of society lacked input or representation in government, and eventually they fought back.

The revolution gave a voice to the miners and farmers and factory workers who had been voiceless under the elitist government. When it came time to write a new constitution in 1917, more power was given to the local authorities. The new constitution provided a framework for security and conflict resolution under the guidance of local community leaders.

Modern Mexico

A century later, the most vexing areas for the Mexican central government are those in the northern part of the country because of their proximity to the United States.

The U.S.-Mexico border stretches almost 2,000 miles (3,100 kilometers), long enough for distinct sections to develop. A 2011 Foreign Policy Research Institute report provides a geopolitical breakdown of the border and surrounding region into three parts. First, there is Baja California, which consists of Mexico’s Baja California and Baja California Sur states (bordering California). Then there is the central band of the border referred to as the Sierra Madre, which includes Sonora and Chihuahua states (bordering Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas). The northern sections of Durango and Sinaloa are essentially part of this border section, though they don’t actually border the United States. Finally, there’s the Rio Grande Basin, which sits just south of Texas and includes Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas as well as the northern parts of Durango, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi (which, again, aren’t on the border but are so connected to the border states that they may as well be).


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Economically, some of these states are as connected, if not more connected, to their neighbors to the north than they are to the people in the southern plateau who govern their lives. These are realities that Mexico can live with, but the violence and insecurity of the northern states are a different story. Mexico City cannot let the situation deteriorate to the point that it loses the ability to exert authority, or even worse, that the U.S. feels compelled to intervene.

Baja California is strategically valuable for Mexico as a natural land buffer along the Pacific coast. Much of the peninsula, and its population, is closer to California than it is to Mexico City. As a result, the peninsula boasts strong cross-border ties with the U.S., and American companies have been influential in the region’s development. On the Atlantic coast, the Rio Grande Basin provides its own strategic value given its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. Its local businesses are closely tied to the Texas economy, which is as important, if not more so, to the local livelihood as Mexico City.

The Sierra Madre region in the center is one of the most difficult regions for Mexico to control. It includes mountainous terrain on either side, with the vast Chihuahuan Desert in between. This was one of the least populated areas during the colonial and early independence times. Because of the terrain, ties with Mexico City are meager, and it is difficult to sustain population centers. These conditions bred a strong feeling of distance from Mexico’s central government. Once upon a time, clashes with indigenous groups like the Comanche were frequent, and a distinct rancher and cowboy culture took root, which contrasted sharply with the cosmopolitan, aristocratic society of the capital. Mexico’s wars have also had a large impact on the people of this area. During the war for independence, Spain severed Mexico City’s supply lines to the north, and Sonora state suffered as a result. Inhabitants of the area were also the most affected among Mexicans by the exchange of territory at the end of the Mexican-American War.

Conclusion

Mexico’s government today faces the same challenges in projecting power as those that came before it. Its ability to influence the outer reaches of the country dwindle with each mile and mountaintop, same as ever. The difference today is that the actors filling the power void aren’t concerned with self-governance; they’re organized crime groups fighting for turf, and vigilante groups fighting for peace. After so many instances in which local populations benefited from taking matters into their own hands, there is a sense of local entitlement to self-governance. The result has been widespread violence, the deterioration of local institutions and a central government looking more and more to the military to re-establish law and order.

As the violence creeps toward and exceeds historic levels and uncertainty grows about the government’s ability to control it, the U.S. is paying close attention to the potential for spillover. It’s not unheard of that the U.S. would react to security threats emanating from across the border: Instability during Mexico’s revolution provoked a U.S. military intervention in 1916, when the U.S. Army sent a “Punitive Expedition” force to capture Pancho Villa.

But if that’s what it takes for the United States to intervene, we are a long way from intervention. At the time of its revolution, Mexico’s central government was extremely weak, and multiple border incursions had resulted in the killing of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. Before Washington got involved, it pursued other measures such as putting more troops on the border, declaring martial law along the Texas border and setting up blockades to prevent arms shipments from reaching Mexico. Today, its focus is on building a wall.

The post Mexico: A History of Power Vacuums appeared first on Geopolitical Futures.

DDF

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Re: Mexico
« Reply #501 on: March 17, 2018, 09:07:09 PM »
Good article.



Crafty_Dog

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GPF: The Barriers to Development in Guerrero
« Reply #504 on: April 26, 2018, 07:35:22 PM »
The Barriers to Development in Mexico’s Guerrero State
Apr 26, 2018

Summary

Geography can be a barrier to development in any country. Some have managed to overcome their hurdles through technology and sheer political will. Others, like Mexico, have found it more difficult.

Even during colonial rule, the Spanish viceroys struggled to control parts of the vast country. Anywhere outside of the central plateau, which includes Mexico City, can be hard to govern. Today, violence and drug trafficking are on the rise, partly due to the disconnectedness and lack of government authority in certain areas. In the first quarter of 2018, Mexico registered 7,667 intentional homicides. At this rate, total homicides will exceed 30,000 by the end of the year – well above the total for 2017, which was already a record year at 25,339 homicides.

The problem has been more pronounced in some places, most notably Guerrero state. Located on the Pacific coast and 120 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of Mexico City, it had the most homicides of any state in Mexico last year. Though this can partly be attributed to geography – the state is mountainous and therefore hard to secure from the outside – it’s also due to the fact that the state was not seen as a priority during various points in Mexico’s history. This Deep Dive will focus on why Guerrero has become a hub of violence and illicit activity and some of the challenges the government still faces in controlling it.

An Attractive Target for Cartels

On the whole, Mexico is a fairly prosperous country. It ranks 15th in the world in terms of gross domestic product and is classified as an upper middle-income country by the World Bank. But its wealth is not distributed evenly, and Guerrero state is a perfect example of the poverty and underdevelopment that exists in many parts of the country. Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography compared the level of development in all 32 Mexican states, looking at factors such as housing, infrastructure, basic furnishings, quality of life, health, education and employment levels. It found that Guerrero was among the three least-advantaged states in the country. In fact, all three least-advantaged states are located in the south and along the Pacific coast.
 
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Guerrero has become a prime target for drug cultivation and trafficking, a fact that’s reflected in its high murder rate. Last year, Guerrero registered a homicide rate of about 70 per 100,000 people. There are at least six major drug trafficking organizations – Jalisco New Generation Cartel, La Familia Michoacana, Guardia Guerrerense, Sangre Nueva Guerrerense, Los Viagras, and Los Cornudos – operating in the state and competing for territory. Other groups active in the state include Los Ardillos and Los Rojos. Some areas of Guerrero, most notably the Chilpancingo-Chilapa corridor, have almost no government presence and are controlled mainly by drug cartels that offer to “protect” local residents in exchange for their labor in poppy fields. The cartels’ willingness to intimidate and even attack local officials prompted the government, military and federal police this month to extend special protection to political candidates ahead of federal elections scheduled for July.
 
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The state’s demographics and terrain make it ripe for exploitation by drug trafficking organizations. Guerrero is the second-largest poppy producing state in Mexico after Sinaloa, thanks in large part to its climate and soil. In addition, the state’s population is very young, with an average age of 23, making it an attractive target for drug cartels that need people to join their ranks, work their land and traffic their goods. Some 98 percent of Guerrero’s economically active population is employed, but 79 percent of its workforce is employed in the informal sector, meaning those workers do not have access to health care and retirement plans and are generally paid much lower wages. Nearly 20 percent of the working population is underemployed or underpaid, and according to Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, nearly a quarter of the population lives in extreme poverty. The average person living in Guerrero has just eight years of education. Only about half of workers have some primary-level education, and only a quarter completed high school. Among a population that is undereducated and underemployed, cartels have had little trouble finding recruits for the lucrative drug trade.

History of Rebellion

Why have these conditions developed in Guerrero, while other parts of the country have prospered? There is no single, easy answer, but Mexico’s colonial past is a good place to start. Though named after Vicente Guerrero, a celebrated general from Mexico’s War of Independence, the state has a rich history of rebellion against authority. Guerrero, which translates as “warrior,” had unique beginnings: For years, local residents pressured the national government to establish a separate entity for Guerrero, which was previously divided among three states – Mexico, Michoacan and Puebla. Its population was among the first to rise up in several conflicts: the War of Independence, in support of constitutional reform, against French intervention, against the Porfirio Diaz government and against the government in Mexico’s Dirty War.
Colonial rule established a strong social hierarchy and concentrated land ownership in the hands of elites. Though existing population centers were allowed to survive, the Spanish distributed land, economic opportunities and investment according to the crown’s needs rather than those of the local population. Resentment against colonial rule existed throughout Mexico – the country did, after all, fight a war for independence – but the population in Guerrero was more isolated than most, with a weaker presence of the colonial government, which had limited resources with which to control a vast area. Guerrero, then, was often the starting point for social unrest that led to different rebellions. The state continued its rebellious streak even after colonialism ended. Nineteenth-century President Porfirio Diaz ruled with an iron fist, re-enforcing the public’s distrust of centralized authority. Diaz was especially tough on Guerrero, fearing it could inspire a rebellion against his government, and kept it a weak state.

Guerrero’s history of dissent is now reflected in the formation of self-defense groups – vigilante forces that have sprung up because of the growing insecurity in the state and the government’s inability to address it. The government’s response to the violence can be described as containment. Eight military bases encircle Guerrero along a federal highway that follows the state’s borders. This strategy may help limit the spread of the violence to other states, but it leaves the center unprotected and mostly lawless. At the municipal level, local police forces are ill-equipped to control the vast land for which they are responsible. Only four of the state’s municipalities have 10 or more agents from the Ministry of Public Security assigned to them, and over a dozen have fewer than four. Federal-level public security agents are practically non-existent outside of the resort town of Acapulco and the state capital of Chilpancingo.
 
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Poor Infrastructure

Another reason for the disorder in Guerrero is the lack of infrastructure. Mexico experienced a wave of infrastructure development after the second French intervention in the 1870s and during the early years of the Diaz government in the 1880s. In 1860, Mexico had but 150 miles of disjointed railway. Just 24 years later, this grew to 7,500 miles. Initially, officials wanted to construct a rail line linking Veracruz on the east coast with Acapulco, a port city in Guerrero, via Mexico City. But ultimately, they did not follow through, and Guerrero was largely left out of the infrastructure boom, a fact that has limited the state’s development ever since.

The state was left out because its mountainous terrain makes infrastructure development costly. Heavy rain during summer months also makes construction harder and increases the cost of maintenance for existing tracks. At the start of the railway boom, private companies and investors from the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere funded infrastructure projects and choose which projects to invest in based on their own business interests. In Guerrero, business interests mainly related to mining. The northern part of the state is rich in minerals and metal deposits. There was thus enough financial incentive to construct a railway from Mexico City to Iguala, located in the mining region and relatively close to Mexico’s capital.
 
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But when metal prices fell at the end of the 19th century, investor interest in the state waned. It was around this time, in 1898, that the federal government stepped in to regulate railway construction and, in so doing, put the final nail in the coffin for Guerrero’s development. The federal government intervened for two reasons. First, it needed to fill the gap left by the private sector. The fall in metal prices hit Guerrero particularly hard, but it affected the mining industry, and therefore infrastructure development, across the country. This would have almost immediate impacts on local populations and economies that the Diaz government had been so dedicated to supporting in the previous decade. Second, the government wanted a national approach to infrastructure development to ensure that the decisions being made on which projects to support and which areas received the most investment were in the best interests of the country. This resulted in legislation that limited foreign participation in infrastructure, gave the government more control and introduced a period in which projects needed government subsidies before they could move forward. But the central government did not consider Guerrero a priority for rail construction, and therefore the extension of the railway to Acapulco was abandoned.
 
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Guerrero is also poorly connected by roads. The first and only major highway in Guerrero connects Acapulco to Mexico City. It was built in 1927 and followed the original dirt road that connected the cities. The construction of the highway significantly affected the state’s development, as economic activity and population centers grew in areas with access to it. These areas included Acapulco, Chilpancingo and Iguala, as well as somewhat smaller centers just off the highway like Taxco and Chilapa. A third of the state’s population lives in the first three municipalities, and when the other three are added, it’s nearly half the population. Even today, the areas of Guerrero that are not along the main highway are underdeveloped, desolate and disconnected from economic activity in the rest of the country. Securing these areas would require heavy investment, both in terms of finances and personnel. This in part helps explain why federal security forces have adopted a containment approach there. It is costly for the government to cover this barren area, and therefore easy for others to take over.
 
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Limited Coastal Development

One key advantage Guerrero does have is its access to the Pacific Ocean. Ports usually serve as engines for economic growth and development because they help facilitate trade. Port cities offer benefits for businesses in terms of logistics and often develop into economic hubs themselves. But this hasn’t been the case in Guerrero’s main port, Acapulco.

Discovered by Spanish conquistadors in 1532, Acapulco was among the earliest ports established by Spain. But multiple factors have prevented Acapulco from developing into a major Mexican port. From 1565 to 1814, Acapulco was one of the primary ports used by New Spain and then Mexico for trade with China and other Asian countries, although trade with these countries was secondary to trade with Europe, which meant that ports on Mexico’s Atlantic coast took priority.

It was difficult for Acapulco and the surrounding area to fully capitalize on trade with Asia. The port received large shipments from Asia only twice a year. Crossing the Pacific Ocean took an incredibly long time given the distance between Mexico and China and the limits of maritime navigation and technology at the time. A trip that now takes two to three weeks took several months back then. Goods were unloaded at the port and a local fair was set up to sell them. After four to six weeks, the fairs would close and the goods would be sent to Mexico City, where they would be consumed or delivered to other parts of the viceroyalty. Thus, Acapulco was mainly used as a transit point for commerce and goods on their way to the capital and didn’t develop into a major commercial hub itself. Acapulco port did conduct trade with other viceroyalty cities along the Pacific coast – like Guayaquil (in present-day Ecuador) and Lima (in present-day Peru) – but the volume and value of such trade didn’t match that of, for example, Veracruz, Mexico’s main port on the east coast. The extreme seasonality of trade and the port’s limited development into a business center meant that it couldn’t support major development and growth in the rest of the state.

Once Acapulco lost its position as a major Pacific shipping port for New Spain, it never claimed it back. Mexico’s fight for independence severely disrupted Spanish control over trade and territory, including in Acapulco. Mexican Gen. Jose Maria Morelos took the city of Acapulco in 1814, at which point Spain redirected trade to other ports. In the years that followed, Mexico’s central government focused on securing territory from incursion by the U.S., France and even residents of Guerrero, which was not yet a state of its own. In the early 20th century, construction of the Panama Canal was in full swing, further stagnating development in Acapulco because goods could be shipped to Mexico’s east coast faster and more inexpensively through the canal. Within Mexico, Manzanillo Port, also on the Pacific coast, quickly started surpassing Acapulco in terms of infrastructure development, and in 1908, Porfirio Diaz designated Manzanillo as an official port of entry.

Today, the ports of Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas dominate Mexico’s Pacific maritime trade. Despite increasing trade between Mexico and Asian markets and the fact that, globally, Pacific trade is starting to overtake Atlantic trade, Acapulco cannot take advantage. The private sector continues to shy away from investing there, partly because of the security concerns in Guerrero and partly because of competition from more developed and reliable ports in other areas of Mexico. This leaves the government as the primary source of funding for major infrastructure projects, but even the government is reluctant to sink money into this part of the country.

Playing Catch-Up

Over time, Guerrero became isolated from the rest of Mexico, limiting the central government’s ability to govern the state and rein in violence there. Geography initially served as the underlying cause of Guerrero’s lack of connectivity. Its isolation from other major population centers bred a strong sense of regional identity and made it difficult to integrate the state with the rest of the country. Its only major center of commerce, Acapulco, was far from the country’s main trade routes and markets, thus making it more a transitory stop than an economic center. Guerrero’s natural resources were taken out of the region, particularly under colonial rule, and little was reinvested into the state. In the early days of major infrastructure development, Guerrero drew the short end of the stick, as other states presented more attractive business prospects.

The lack of connectivity resulted in the state’s developing an economy based on subsistence farming, tourism and basic manufacturing – all low-value economic activities. The lack of economic opportunities, a large, young labor force, and a climate prime for poppy cultivation have made Guerrero an attractive location for drug trafficking organizations, which have easily filled the power vacuum left by the central government.

Technology has come a long way, and much of the state’s geographic barriers could be overcome. But other states have gotten a head start, and Guerrero is still stuck playing catch-up. Major investments are needed to bring Guerrero on par with other Mexican states, but the security environment will make that difficult. Guerrero needs more economic and infrastructure development if it wants to really tackle the violence and drug problem. But it has a long way to go.

The post The Barriers to Development in Mexico’s Guerrero State appeared first on Geopolitical Futures.

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WSJ: O'Grady: AMLO Lopez Obrador
« Reply #505 on: June 03, 2018, 02:07:50 PM »
 By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
June 3, 2018 3:30 p.m. ET
8 COMMENTS

Donald Trump has cultivated a contentious relationship with the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. But if left-wing Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador wins the July 1 election, it may not be long before Mr. Trump regrets many lost opportunities to advance U.S. interests by working with Mr. Peña Nieto to deepen institutional reforms.

The troubles that an AMLO presidency could bring to the U.S. go way beyond the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. AMLO says he is an antiestablishment moderate out to unseat a corrupt political class. Others say he is an old-fashioned Mexican corporatist. But he can’t get to the presidential palace without Mexico’s hard left. If he makes it, he will be under pressure to repay the more extreme elements of his campaign.

The market will impose some economic discipline on him. But there will be no cost to opening the doors of his government’s Foreign Ministry to every useful idiot, true believer in utopia, and power-hungry climber in the country.

Once in, they will bring their friends from places like Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Iran to “educate” and provide “health care” in the barrios and pueblitos—and to share military advice.

The AMLO team understands the risks of a peso collapse sparked by an investor stampede for the exits if he is declared winner on July 2. This is why he makes a point of calmly promising “respect” and “friendship” with the U.S. and no big reversals of the market economy.

Between the election and the Dec. 1 inauguration, expect even more reassurances of continuity. Anything less could finish his presidency before it starts. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had to do much the same when he first won election in 2002.

Yet there are gaping inconsistencies between AMLO’s worldview and his insistence that he is a centrist. He cannot, for example, promise fiscal restraint while pouring government resources into agriculture with the goal of reviving agrarian life circa 1960.

Nor has he reconciled his long history of opposing private investment in oil and gas with his vague and shifting suggestions that he will not disrupt the opening of the energy industry. In February AMLO adviser Alfonso Romo said that the campaign had reviewed most existing contracts and found them acceptable, as if he and the new president will be the final arbiters of fairness. Mr. Romo’s history of dubious financial dealings, which I wrote about in a February column, “How to Get Rich Quick in Mexico,” do not inspire confidence.

Yet this potential for economic instability pales in comparison with the dangers presented by the close relations between Mr. López Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement—Morena—and several military dictatorships. These are not casual bonds; they are statements of ideological solidarity, and they are perilous.

AMLO says he does not know Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro. But as Mexican writer Fernando García Ramírez observed in a Jan. 15 column in the daily El Financiero, that “is true in personal terms but false with respect to his party and his movement.” Key players in Morena, Mr. García Ramírez pointed out, “sustain an intense relationship with chavismo in general and the party of Maduro”—the United Socialist Party of Venezuela—“in particular.”

Exhibit A is Morena’s president, Yeidckol Polevnksy, who speaks frankly about her admiration for Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian revolution and of her desire to import Bolivarian ideas to Mexico. “She travels constantly to Venezuela” Mr. Garcia Ramirez wrote, “participates in chavista activities, has continuous contact with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.” Another high-ranking Morena official who is enamored with Venezuela is Héctor Díaz-Polanco. He has said that Morena coming to power will allow Mexico to integrate into the Bolivarian revolution. Mr. Garcia Ramirez’s full column, “To Deceive with the Truth,” is worth reading.

Mr. López Obrador will also attract opportunists who see him as a way to get ahead. Mr. Romo is one such figure. Another is Sen. Gabriela Cuevas, who once belonged to the center-right National Action Party but jumped to Morena in January to advance her political career. When I met her in Mexico last year she had just returned from a recreational break in Cuba where, she told me, she goes because she has “friends” in the dictatorship. She is also a fan of Iran, as she explained in a November speech in Mexico City: “Today Iran is one of the most important fighters against extremism, violence and terrorism. In this sense, both Iran and Mexico have been loyal to the constructive dialogue.”

Bring this stuff up and AMLO shouts “dirty war.” Many Mexicans fear his vengeance if he wins and thus shrink from the debate. But no one will be able to say, after the fact, that the proclivities were not there. That includes Mr. Trump.

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WSJ: O'Grady: AMLO Lopez Obrador, Urzua
« Reply #506 on: June 04, 2018, 03:47:00 AM »

By Juan Montes
June 4, 2018 5:30 a.m. ET
0 COMMENTS

MEXICO CITY—Mexico’s leading presidential candidate has a daunting challenge that keeps his would-be finance minister awake at night: find some $20 billion every year to step up social spending and public investment without raising taxes or debt.

Leftist nationalist Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said he would call on Carlos Urzúa to take on the herculean task if he wins the July election, as all published polls indicate he will.

“My focus will be to find the money we need,” said Mr. Urzúa, an affable 62-year-old economics professor with a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Concerns about fiscal restraint have investors wary of a victory for Mr. López Obrador, who has a lead of about 18 points over his closest rival with four weeks to go before the election. Mexico’s benchmark stock index has dropped nearly 9% this year through Friday as Mr. López Obrador has risen in the polls and talks on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement have hit investor sentiment.

The candidate’s ambitious plan to fund social programs and infrastructure projects by cutting other government spending isn’t realistic, according to many economists, raising fears that campaign vows of fiscal discipline will be relaxed if Mr. López Obrador becomes president.
‘My focus will be to find the money we need,’ said Carlos Urzúa, shown in April, who Mr. López Obrador has said he would pick as finance minister.
‘My focus will be to find the money we need,’ said Carlos Urzúa, shown in April, who Mr. López Obrador has said he would pick as finance minister. Photo: ginnette riquelme/Reuters

“To achieve those savings would be a positive surprise,” said Alonso Cervera, chief economist for Latin America at Credit Suisse. “If they don’t, I think they will likely widen the budget deficit rather than break campaign promises.”

Mexico’s main business groups also have voiced concerns about a return to old policies. Uncontrolled government spending under populist leaders led Mexico to major economic upheavals and peso devaluations in 1976 and 1982. After the country’s last homegrown financial crisis in 1994, Mexico secured investment-grade ratings which it kept even through the global crisis of 2008.

Since polls show that Mr. López Obrador’s Morena party and his allies could also secure an outright majority in the lower house of Congress, his administration is also likely to have enough room to pass spending plans without support from the opposition.

“The temptation of indebting the country is going to be there,” said Héctor Villarreal, head of the Center of Economic and Budget Research, a Mexico City think tank.

Mr. Urzúa, who described himself as a moderate social democrat, said a López Obrador administration would never put the country’s financial stability at risk. “What we can’t finance [through savings], won’t be done,” he said.

Success or failure of a López Obrador administration may rest on Mr. Urzúa’s ability to come up with the savings needed to fund projects such as a $5.1 billion-a-year program to put unemployed young people to work, doubling pensions for the elderly, and building two oil refineries.

“Urzúa will be the economizer-in-chief. That’s why López Obrador wants him,” said Gerardo Esquivel, an economic adviser to the candidate.

Mr. Urzúa says he is confident that by trimming down bureaucracy, making government more efficient and fighting corruption, enough funds can be freed up. The target is to make annual savings of around 2% of Mexico’s gross domestic product, or $20 billion.

Purchases by all government ministries, of items from toilet paper to computers, will be centralized and monitored at the finance ministry, Mr. Urzúa said. Part of the money for discretionary spending that is transferred to Mexican state governments, and which last year included $10 billion more than expected, would instead be funneled to public works, he said.
Mexico has seen major economic upheavals in prior decades. Above, unemployed workers in Mexico City in 1982.
Mexico has seen major economic upheavals in prior decades. Above, unemployed workers in Mexico City in 1982. Photo: Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

Mr. López Obrador’s plan also includes slashing by half the salaries of high-ranking officials who earn more than $50,000 a year and reducing by 70% the number of management positions. He also says he would save money by fighting corruption in public bidding processes, although details remain vague.

Former government officials view the planned cuts in bureaucracy with skepticism. “You won’t attract talent, and incentives for corruption will increase, not decrease,” one former top finance ministry official said.

Reassigning funds that currently go to state governments could also face strong political resistance from affected sectors and special interest groups, complicating the plan.

And analysts see little room to make the needed savings, as more than 80% of Mexico’s roughly $270 billion budget goes to pay wages and pensions and to service debt. Mr. López Obrador’s promises to lower consumer taxes along the northern border and freeze gasoline prices could make it even more difficult to balance the books.

“The most likely outcome is that they will achieve just a fraction of the planned savings,” Mr. Villarreal said.

A López Obrador government would aim for a primary budget surplus—excluding debt payments—in 2019 and progressively reduce Mexico’s public debt, Mr. Urzúa said. “López Obrador is a fiscal conservative.”
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Mexico’s public debt rose steadily under current President Enrique Peña Nieto, reaching 49% of GDP in 2016 but is now on a downward path. A primary budget surplus equal to 0.8% of GDP is already projected for this year.

Mr. López Obrador has promised to respect the Bank of Mexico’s autonomy and the free float of the peso.

Mr. Urzúa was Mexico City’s finance chief from 2000 to 2003, his only government experience so far, when Mr. López Obrador was mayor. Some investors and analysts doubt he is cut out for a job as Mexico’s finance minister that typically requires international contacts and political skills.

“If Urzúa is the best López Obrador has around him, he is in trouble,” said one U.S. investor who recently met with him.

Mr. Urzúa says he is prepared for the job, having managed a budget in Mexico City that is larger than those of some countries in Latin America, and added that he has experience in difficult political talks, such as when he negotiated the city budget with an opposition-controlled local assembly.

Instead of attending international meetings and events, he said he plans to focus on re-engineering Mexico’s budget. “I won’t be a suit-and-tie minister, but a hands-on minister.”

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The liberal magazine New Yorker on AMLO
« Reply #507 on: June 18, 2018, 11:06:13 PM »
A New Revolution in Mexico
Sick of corruption and of Trump, voters embrace the maverick leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

By Jon Lee Anderson

Proclaiming a “people’s struggle” against the country’s “power mafia,” Andrés Manuel López Obrador is regularly mobbed on the Presidential campaign trail.Photograph by Meghan Dhaliwal for The New Yorker

The first time that Andrés Manuel López Obrador ran for President of Mexico, in 2006, he inspired such devotion among his partisans that they sometimes stuck notes in his pockets, inscribed with their hopes for their families. In an age defined by globalism, he was an advocate of the working class—and also a critic of the pri, the party that has ruthlessly dominated national politics for much of the past century. In the election, his voters’ fervor was evidently not enough; he lost, by a tiny margin. The second time he ran, in 2012, the enthusiasm was the same, and so was the outcome. Now, though, Mexico is in crisis—beset from inside by corruption and drug violence, and from outside by the antagonism of the Trump Administration. There are new Presidential elections on July 1st, and López Obrador is running on a promise to remake Mexico in the spirit of its founding revolutionaries. If the polls can be believed, he is almost certain to win.

In March, he held a meeting with hundreds of loyalists, at a conference hall in Culiacán. López Obrador, known across Mexico as amlo, is a rangy man of sixty-four, with a youthful, clean-shaven face, a mop of silver hair, and an easy gait. When he entered, his supporters got to their feet and chanted, “It’s an honor to vote for López Obrador!” Many of them were farmworkers, wearing straw hats and scuffed boots. He urged them to install Party observers at polling stations to prevent fraud, but cautioned against buying votes, a long-established habit of the pri. “That’s what we’re getting rid of,” he said. He promised a “sober, austere government—a government without privilege.” López Obrador frequently uses “privilege” as a term of disparagement, along with “élite,” and, especially, “power mafia,” as he describes his enemies in the political and business communities. “We are going to lower the salaries of those who are on top to increase the salaries of those on the bottom,” he said, and added a Biblical assurance: “Everything I am saying will be done.” López Obrador spoke in a warm voice, leaving long pauses and using simple phrases that ordinary people would understand. He has a penchant for rhymes and repeated slogans, and at times the crowd joined in, like fans at a pop concert. When he said, “We don’t want to help the power mafia to . . . ,” a man in the audience finished his sentence: “keep stealing.” Working together, López Obrador said, “we are going to make history.”

The current Mexican government is led by the center-right President Enrique Peña Nieto. His party, the pri, has depicted López Obrador as a radical populist, in the tradition of Hugo Chávez, and warned that he intends to turn Mexico into another Venezuela. The Trump Administration has been similarly concerned. Roberta Jacobson, who until last month was the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, told me that senior American officials often expressed worry: “They catastrophized about amlo, saying things like ‘If he wins, the worst will happen.’ ”

Ironically, his surging popularity can be attributed partly to Donald Trump. Within days of Trump’s election, Mexican political analysts were predicting that his open belligerence toward Mexico would encourage political resistance. Mentor Tijerina, a prominent pollster in Monterrey, told me at the time, “Trump’s arrival signifies a crisis for Mexico, and this will help amlo.” Not long after the Inauguration, López Obrador published a best-selling book called “Oye, Trump” (“Listen Up, Trump”), which contained tough-talking snippets from his speeches. In one, he declared, “Trump and his advisers speak of the Mexicans the way Hitler and the Nazis referred to the Jews, just before undertaking the infamous persecution and the abominable extermination.”

Officials in the Peña Nieto government warned their counterparts in the White House that Trump’s offensive behavior heightened the prospect of a hostile new government—a national-security threat just across the border. If Trump didn’t modulate his behavior, the election would be a referendum on which candidate was the most anti-American. In the U.S., the warnings worked. During a Senate hearing in April, 2017, John McCain said, “If the election were tomorrow in Mexico, you would probably get a left-wing, anti-American President.” John Kelly, who was then the Homeland Security chief, agreed. “It would not be good for America—or for Mexico,” he said.

In Mexico, remarks like Kelly’s seemed only to improve López Obrador’s standing. “Every time an American politician opens their mouth to express a negative view about a Mexican candidate, it helps him,” Jacobson said. But she has never been sure that Trump has the same “apocalyptic” view of amlo. “There are certain traits they share,” she noted. “The populism, for starters.” During the campaign, López Obrador has decried Mexico’s “pharaonic government” and promised that, if he is elected, he will decline to live in Los Pinos, the Presidential residence. Instead, he will open it to the public, as a place for ordinary families to go and enjoy themselves.

After Jacobson arrived in Mexico, in 2016, she arranged meetings with local political leaders. López Obrador kept her waiting for months. Finally, he invited her to his home, in a distant, unfashionable corner of Mexico City. “I had the impression he did that because he didn’t think I would come,” she said. “But I told him, ‘No problem, my security guys can make that work.’ ” Jacobson’s team followed his directions to an unremarkable two-story town house in Tlalpan, a middle-class district. “If part of the point was to show me how modestly he lived, he succeeded,” she said.

López Obrador was “friendly and confident,” she said, but he deflected many of her questions and spoke vaguely about policy. The conversation did little to settle the issue of whether he was an opportunistic radical or a principled reformer. “What should we expect from him as President?” she said. “Honestly, my strongest feeling about him is that we don’t know what to expect.”

VIDEO FROM THE NEW YORKER
Lies and Truth in the Era of Trump


This spring, as López Obrador and his advisers travelled the country, I joined them on several trips. On the road, his style is strikingly different from that of most national politicians, who often arrive at campaign stops in helicopters and move through the streets surrounded by security details. López Obrador flies coach, and travels from town to town in a two-car caravan, with drivers who double as unarmed bodyguards; he has no other security measures in place, except for inconsistent efforts to obscure which hotel he is staying in. On the street, people approach him constantly to ask for selfies, and he greets them all with equanimity, presenting a warm, slightly inscrutable façade. “amlo is like an abstract painting—you see what you want to see in him,” Luis Miguel González, the editorial director of the newspaper El Economista, told me. One of his characteristic gestures during speeches is to demonstrate affection by hugging himself and leaning toward the crowd.

Jacobson recalled that, after Trump was elected, López Obrador lamented, “Mexicans will never elect someone who is not a politician.” This was telling, she thought. “He is clearly a politician,” she said. “But, like Trump, he has always presented himself as an outsider.” He was born in 1953, to a family of shopkeepers in Tabasco state, in a village called Tepetitán. Tabasco, on the Gulf of Mexico, is bisected by rivers that regularly flood its towns; in both its climate and the feistiness of its local politics, it can resemble Louisiana. One observer recalled that López Obrador joked, “Politics is a perfect blend of passion and reason. But I’m tabasqueño, a hundred per cent passion!” His nickname, El Peje, is derived from pejelagarto—Tabasco’s freshwater gar, an ancient, primitive fish with a face like an alligator’s.

When López Obrador was a boy, his family moved to the state capital, Villahermosa. Later, in Mexico City, he studied political science and public policy at unam, the country’s premier state-funded university, writing his thesis about the political formation of the Mexican state, in the nineteenth century. He married Rocío Beltrán Medina, a sociology student from Tabasco, and they had three sons. Elena Poniatowska, the doyenne of Mexican journalism, recalls meeting him when he was a young man. “He has always been very determined to get to the Presidency,” she said. “Like an arrow, straight and unswerving.”


“Chicken on a bed of spinach and onions?”
For a person with political aspirations, the pri was then the only serious option. It had been founded in 1929, to restore the country after the revolution. In the thirties, President Lázaro Cárdenas solidified it as an inclusive party of socialist change; he nationalized the oil industry and provided millions of acres of farmland to the poor and the dispossessed. Over the decades, the Party’s ideology fluctuated, but its hold on power steadily grew. Presidents chose their successors, in a ritual called the dedazo, and the Party made sure that they were elected.

López Obrador joined the pri after college, and, in 1976, he helped direct a successful Senate campaign for Carlos Pellicer, a poet who was friends with Pablo Neruda and Frida Kahlo. López Obrador rose quickly; he spent five years running the Tabasco office of the National Indigenous Institute, and then leading a department of the National Consumer Institute, in Mexico City. But he felt increasingly that the Party had strayed from its roots. In 1988, he joined a left-wing breakaway group, led by Lázaro Cárdenas’s son, that grew into the Partido Revolucionario Democrático. López Obrador became the Party chief in Tabasco.

In 1994, he made his first attempt at electoral office, running for governor of the state. He lost to the pri’s candidate, whom he accused of having won through fraud. Although a court inquiry did not lead to a verdict, many Mexicans believed him; the pri has a long record of rigging elections. Soon after the election, a supporter handed López Obrador a box of receipts, showing that the pri had spent ninety-five million dollars on an election in which half a million people voted.

In 2000, he was elected mayor of Mexico City, a post that gave him considerable power, as well as national visibility. In office, he built a reputation as a rumpled everyman; he drove an old Nissan to work, arriving before sunrise, and he reduced his own salary. (When his wife died, of lupus, in 2003, there was an outpouring of sympathy.) He was not averse to political combat. After one of his officials was caught on tape seeming to accept a bribe, he argued that it was a sting, and distributed comic books that depicted himself fighting against “dark forces.” (The official was later cleared.) At times, López Obrador ignored his assembly and governed by edict. But he also proved able to compromise. He succeeded in creating a pension fund for elderly residents, expanding highways to ease congestion, and devising a public-private scheme, with the telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, to restore the historic downtown.

When he left office to prepare for the 2006 Presidential elections, he had high approval ratings and a reputation for getting things done. (He also had a new wife, a historian named Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller; they now have an eleven-year-old son.) López Obrador saw an opportunity. In the last election, the pri had lost its long hold on power, as the Partido de Acción Nacional won the Presidency. The pan, a traditionalist conservative party, had support from the business community, but its candidate, Felipe Calderón, was an uncharismatic figure.

The campaign was hard fought. López Obrador’s opponents ran television ads that presented him as a deceitful populist who posed “a danger for Mexico” and showed images of human misery alongside portraits of Chávez, Fidel Castro, and Evo Morales. In the end, López Obrador lost by half of one per cent of the vote—a margin slim enough to raise widespread suspicions of fraud. Refusing to recognize Calderón’s win, he led a protest in the capital, where his followers stopped traffic, erected tented encampments, and held rallies in the historic Zócalo and along Reforma Avenue. One resident recalled his giving speeches in “language that was reminiscent of the French Revolution.” At one point, he conducted a parallel inauguration ceremony in which his supporters swore him in as President. The protests lasted months, and the residents of Mexico City grew impatient; eventually, López Obrador packed up and went home.

In the 2012 election, he won a third of the vote—not enough to defeat Peña Nieto, who returned the pri to power. But Peña Nieto’s government has been tarnished by corruption and human-rights scandals. Ever since Trump announced his candidacy with a burst of anti-Mexican rhetoric, Peña Nieto has tried to placate him, with embarrassing results. He invited Trump to Mexico during his campaign and treated him as if he were already a head of state, only to have him return to the U.S. and tell a crowd of supporters that Mexico would “pay for the wall.” After Trump was elected, Peña Nieto assigned his foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, who is a friend of Jared Kushner’s, to make managing the White House relationship his highest priority. “Peña Nieto has been extremely accommodating,” Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican Ambassador to China, told me. “There’s nothing Trump has even hinted at that he won’t immediately comply with.”

In early March, before López Obrador’s campaign had officially begun, we travelled through northern Mexico, where resistance to him is concentrated. His base of support is in the poorer, more agrarian south, with its majority indigenous population. The north, near the border with Texas, is more conservative, tied both economically and culturally to the southern United States; his task there was not so different from presenting himself to the Houston Chamber of Commerce.

In speeches, he tried to make light of his opponents’ accusations, cracking jokes about receiving “gold from Russia in a submarine” and calling himself “Andrés Manuelovich.” In Delicias, an agricultural hub in Chihuahua, he swore not to overextend his term in office. “I’m going to work sixteen hours a day instead of eight, so I will do twelve years’ work in six years,” he said. This rhetoric was backed by more pragmatic measures. As he travelled through the north, he was accompanied by Alfonso (Poncho) Romo, a wealthy businessman from the industrial boomtown of Monterrey, whom López Obrador had selected as his future chief of staff. A close adviser told me, “Poncho is key to the campaign in the north. Poncho is the bridge.” In Guadalajara, López Obrador told the audience, “Poncho is with me to help convince the businessmen who have been told we’re like Venezuela, or with the Russians, that we want to expropriate property, and that we’re populist. But none of that is true—this is a government made in Mexico.”

At a lunch with businessmen in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa state, López Obrador tested some ideas. “What we want to do is to carry out the transformation that this country needs,” he began. “Things can’t go on as they are.” He spoke in a conversational tone, and the crowd gradually seemed to grow more sympathetic. “We’re going to end the corruption, the impunity, and the privileges enjoyed by a small élite,” he said. “Once we do, the leaders of this country can recover their moral and political authority. And we’ll also clean up the image of Mexico in the rest of the world, because right now all that Mexico is known for is violence and corruption.”

López Obrador spoke about helping the poor, but when he talked about corruption he focussed on the political class. “Five million pesos a month in pension for ex-Presidents!” he said, and grimaced. “All of that has to end.” He noted that there were hundreds of Presidential jets and helicopters, and said, “We’re going to sell them to Trump.” The audience laughed, and he added, “We’ll use the money from the sale for public investment, and thus foment private investment to generate employment.”

During these early events, López Obrador was adjusting his message as he went along. His campaign strategy seemed simple: make lots of promises and broker whatever alliances were necessary to get elected. Just as he promised his Party faithful to raise workers’ salaries at the expense of senior bureaucrats, he promised the businessmen not to increase taxes on fuel, medicine, or electricity, and vowed that he would never confiscate property. “We will do nothing that goes against freedoms,” he declared. He proposed establishing a thirty-kilometre duty-free zone along the entire northern border, and lowering taxes for companies, both Mexican and American, that set up factories there. He also offered government patronage, vowing to complete an unfinished dam project in Sinaloa and to provide agricultural subsidies. “The term ‘subsidy’ has been satanized,” he said. “But it is necessary. In the United States they do it—up to a hundred per cent of the cost of production.”

Culiacán is a former stronghold of the brutal Sinaloa cartel, which has been instrumental in the flood of drug-related violence and corruption that has subsumed the Mexican state. Since 2006, the country has pursued a “war on drugs” that has cost at least a hundred thousand lives, seemingly to little good effect. López Obrador, like his opponents, has struggled to articulate a viable security strategy.

After the lunch in Culiacán, he took questions, and a woman stood to ask what he intended to do about narcotrafficking. Would he consider the legalization of drugs as a solution? A few months earlier, he had said, seemingly without much deliberation, that he might offer an “amnesty” to bring low-level dealers and producers into legal employment. When critics leaped on his remark, his aides tried to deflect criticism by arguing that, because none of the current administration’s policies had worked, anything was worth trying. To the woman in Culiacán, he said, “We’re going to tackle the causes with youth programs, new employment opportunities, education, and by tending to the abandoned countryside. We’re not only going to use force. We’ll analyze everything and explore all the avenues that will let us achieve peace. I don’t rule out anything, not even legalization—nothing.” The crowd applauded, and amlo looked relieved.

For López Obrador’s opponents, his ability to inspire hope is worrisome. Enrique Krauze, a historian and commentator who has often criticized the left, told me, “He reaches directly into the religious sensibilities of the people. They are seeing him as a man who will save Mexico from all of its evils. Even more important, he believes it, too.”

Krauze has been concerned about López Obrador ever since 2006. Before the Presidential elections that year, he published an essay titled “The Tropical Messiah,” in which he wrote that amlo had a religious zeal that was “puritanical, dogmatic, authoritarian, inclined toward hatred, and above all, redemptory.” Krauze’s latest book—“El Pueblo Soy Yo,” or “I Am the People”—is about the dangers of populism. He examines the political cultures in modern Venezuela and Cuba, and also includes a scathing assessment of Donald Trump, whom he refers to as “Caligula on Twitter.” In the preface, he writes about López Obrador in a tone of oracular dismay. “I believe that, if he wins, he will use his charisma to promise a return to an Arcadian order,” he says. “And with that accumulated power, arrived at thanks to democracy, he will corrode democracy from within.”

What worried Krauze, he explained, was that if López Obrador’s party won big—not just the Presidency but also a majority in Congress, which the polls suggest is likely—he might move to change the composition of the Supreme Court and dominate other institutions. He could also exercise tighter control over the media, much of which is supported by state-sponsored advertising. “Will he ruin Mexico?” Krauze asked. “No, but he could obstruct Mexico’s democracy by removing its counterweights. We’ve had a democratic experiment for the past eighteen years, ever since the pri first lost power, in 2000. It is imperfect, there is much to criticize, but there have also been positive changes. I’m worried that with amlo this experiment might end.”

Over dinner in Culiacán one night, López Obrador picked at a steak taco and talked about his antagonists on the right, alternating between amusement and concern. A few days earlier, Roberta Jacobson had announced that she was stepping down as Ambassador, and the Mexican government had immediately endorsed a prospective replacement: Edward Whitacre, a former C.E.O. of General Motors who happened to be a friend of the tycoon Carlos Slim. This was a nettlesome point for López Obrador. He had recently argued with Slim over a multibillion-dollar plan for a new Mexico City airport, which Slim was involved in. The scheme was a public-private venture with Peña Nieto’s government, and López Obrador, alleging corruption, had promised to stop it. (The government denies any malfeasance.) “We are hoping it doesn’t mean they are planning to interfere against me,” López Obrador said, of Whitacre and Slim. “Millions of Mexicans would take offense at that.”

Recently, the Peruvian novelist and politician Mario Vargas Llosa—who serves as an oracle for the Latin American right—had said publicly that if amlo won office it would be “a tremendous setback for democracy in Mexico.” He added that he hoped the country would not commit “suicide” on Election Day. When I mentioned the remarks, López Obrador grinned and said that Vargas Llosa was in the news mostly for his marriage to “a woman who always married up, and was always in Hola! magazine.” He was referring to the socialite Isabel Preysler, a former wife of the singer Julio Iglesias, for whom Vargas Llosa had abandoned his marriage of fifty years. López Obrador asked if I’d seen his response, in which he’d called Vargas Llosa a good writer and a bad politician. “You notice,” he said wickedly, “I didn’t call him a great writer.”

On April 1st, López Obrador officially launched his campaign, before a crowd of several thousand people in Ciudad Juárez. On a stage set up in a plaza, he stood with his wife, Beatríz, and several of his cabinet picks. “We have come here to initiate our campaign, in the place where our fatherland begins,” he said. The stage stood under a grand statue of Mexico’s revered nineteenth-century leader Benito Juárez, an avowed hero of López Obrador’s. Juárez, a man of humble Zapotec origins who championed the cause of the disenfranchised, is a kind of Abraham Lincoln figure in Mexico—an emblem of unbending honor and persistence. Looking at the statue, López Obrador said that Juárez was “the best President Mexico ever had.”

In López Obrador’s speech, he likened the current administration to the despots and colonists who had controlled the country before the revolution. He attacked the “colossal dishonesty” that he said had characterized the “neoliberal” policies of Mexico’s last few governments. “The country’s leaders have devoted themselves . . . to concessioning off the national territory,” he said. With his Presidency, the government would “cease to be a factory that produces Mexico’s nouveaux riches.”


López Obrador often speaks of admiring leaders from the nineteen-thirties—including F.D.R. and the pri head Lázaro Cárdenas—and much of his social program recalls the initiatives of those years. In his launch speech, he said that he intended to develop the south of the country, where the agricultural economy has been devastated by inexpensive U.S. food imports. To do this, he proposed to plant millions of trees for fruit and timber, and to build a high-speed tourist train that would connect the beaches of the Yucatán Peninsula with Mayan ruins inland. The tree-planting project alone would create four hundred thousand jobs, he predicted. With these initiatives, he said, people in the south would be able to stay in their villages and not have to travel north for work.

Across the country, he would encourage construction projects that used hand tools rather than modern machinery, in order to boost the economy in rural communities. Pensions for the elderly would double. There would be free Internet in Mexico’s schools, and in its public spaces. Young people would be guaranteed scholarships, and then jobs after graduation. He wanted “becarios sí, sicarios no”—scholarship students, not contract killers.

For many audiences, especially in the south, these proposals are appealingly simple. When López Obrador is asked how he will pay for them, he tends to offer a similarly seductive answer. “It’s not a problem!” he said, in one speech. “There is money. What there is is corruption, and we’re going to stop it.” By getting rid of official corruption, he has calculated, Mexico could save ten per cent of its national budget. Corruption is a major issue for López Obrador. Marcelo Ebrard, his chief political aide, says that his ethics are informed by a “Calvinist streak,” and even some skeptics have been persuaded of his sincerity. Cassio Luiselli, a longtime Mexican diplomat, told me, “I don’t like his authoritarian streak and confrontational style.” But, he added, “he seems to me to be an honest man, which is a lot to say in these parts.”

López Obrador has vowed that his first bill to Congress would amend an article in the constitution that prevents sitting Mexican Presidents from being tried for corruption. This would be a symbolic deterrent, but an insufficient one; in order to root out corruption, he’d have to purge huge swaths of the government. Last year, the former governor of Chihuahua, charged with embezzlement, fled to the U.S., where he is evading efforts at extradition. More than a dozen other current and former state governors have faced criminal investigations. The attorney general who led some of those inquiries was himself reported to have a Ferrari registered in his name at an unoccupied house in a different state, and, though his lawyer argued that it was an administrative error, he resigned not long afterward. The former head of the national oil company has been accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes. (He denies this.) Peña Nieto, who ran as a reformer, was involved in a scandal in which his wife obtained a luxurious house from a developer with connections to the government; later, his administration was accused of using spyware to eavesdrop on opponents. According to reporting in the Times, state prosecutors have declined to pursue damning evidence against pri officials, to avoid harming the Party’s electoral chances.

With every major party implicated in corruption, López Obrador’s supporters seem to care less about the practicality of his ideas than about his promises to fix a broken government. Emiliano Monge, a prominent novelist and essayist, said, “This election really began to cease being political a few months ago and became emotional. It is more than anything a referendum against corruption, in which, as much by right as by cleverness, amlo has presented himself as the only alternative. And in reality he is.”

For months, López Obrador’s team crisscrossed the country. Arriving in a tiny cow town called Guadalupe Victoria, he told me that he had been there twenty times. After a long day of speeches and meetings in Sinaloa, we had dinner as he prepared to travel to Tijuana, where he had a similar agenda the next day. He looked a little weary, and I asked if he was planning a break. He nodded, and told me that, during Easter, he’d go to Palenque, in the southern state of Chiapas, where he had a ranchito in the jungle. “I go there and don’t come out again for three or four days,” he said. “I just look at the trees.”

For the most part, though, communing with the crowds seemed to energize him. In Delicias, it took him twenty minutes to walk a single block, as supporters pressed in for selfies and kisses and held up banners that read “amlove”—one of his campaign slogans. Appearances with his opponents and encounters with the media suit him less. At times, he has responded to forceful questions from reporters with a wave of his pinkie—in Mexico, a peremptory no. In 2006, he declined to attend the first Presidential debate; his opponents left an empty chair for him onstage.

There were three debates scheduled for this campaign season, and they were amlo’s to lose. By May 20th, when the second one was held, in Tijuana, polls said that he had an estimated forty-nine per cent of the vote. His nearest rival—Ricardo Anaya, a thirty-nine-year-old lawyer who is the pan candidate—had twenty-eight per cent. José Antonio Meade, who had served Peña Nieto as finance secretary and foreign secretary, trailed with twenty-one. In last place, with two per cent, was Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, the governor of the state of Nuevo León. An intemperate tough guy known as El Bronco, he has made his mark on the campaign by suggesting that corrupt officials should have their hands chopped off.

With López Obrador in the lead, his opponents’ debate strategy was to make him look defensive, and at times it worked. At one point, Anaya, a small man with the buzz-cut hair and frameless glasses of a tech entrepreneur, walked across the stage to confront López Obrador. At first, amlo reacted mildly. He reached for his pocket and exclaimed, “I’m going to protect my wallet.” The mood lightened. But when Anaya challenged him on one favorite initiative, a train line connecting the Caribbean and the Pacific, he was so affronted that he called Anaya a canalla, a scoundrel. He went on, using the diminutive form of Anaya’s first name to create a rhyming ditty that poked fun at his stature: “Ricky, riquín, canallín.”

When Meade, the pri candidate, criticized López Obrador’s party for voting against a trade agreement, amlo replied that the debate was merely an excuse to attack him. “It’s obvious, and, I would say, understandable,” he said. “We are leading by twenty-five points in the polls.” Otherwise, he hardly bothered to look Meade’s way, except to wave dismissively at him and Anaya and call them representatives of “the power mafia.”

Nevertheless, his lead in polls only grew. Two days later, in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, thousands of fans surrounded his white S.U.V., holding it in place until police opened a pathway. On social media, video clips circulated of well-wishers bending down to kiss his car.

Ever since he lost the election of 2006, López Obrador has presented himself as an avatar of change. He founded a new party, the National Regeneration Movement, or morena, which Duncan Wood, the director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, described as evocative of the early pri—an effort to sweep up everyone who felt that Mexico had gone astray. “He went around the country signing agreements with people,” Wood said. “ ‘Do you want to be part of a change? Yes? Then sign here.’ ” morena has an increasing number of sympathizers but relatively few official members; last year, it had three hundred and twenty thousand, making it the country’s fourth-largest party. As López Obrador’s campaign has gathered strength, he has welcomed partners that seem profoundly incompatible. In December, morena forged a coalition with the P.T., a party with Maoist origins; it also joined with the pes, an evangelical Christian party that opposes same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and abortion. Some of his aides intimate that López Obrador could sever these ties after he wins, but not everyone is convinced. “What terrifies me most are his political alliances,” Luis Miguel González, of El Economista, told me.

At a rally in the town of Gómez Palacio, some of these alliances collided messily. In an open-air market on the edge of town, P.T. partisans occupied a large area near the stage—an organized bloc of young men wearing red T-shirts and waving flags with yellow stars. Onstage with López Obrador was the Party’s chief, Beto Anaya. One of López Obrador’s aides winced visibly and grumbled, “That guy has quite a few corruption scandals.” (Anaya denies accusations against him.) As local leaders gathered, a young woman walked to the microphone, and boos erupted from the crowd. The aide explained that the woman was Alma Marina Vitela, a morena candidate who had formerly been with the pri. The booing gathered strength, and Vitela stood frozen, looking at the crowd, seemingly unable to speak. López Obrador strode over, put his arm around her, and took the microphone. “We need to leave our differences and conflicts behind,” he said. The booing quickly stopped. “The fatherland is first!” he shouted, and cheers broke out.

With the P.T. partisans in the audience, López Obrador’s speech took on a distinctly more radical edge. “This party is an instrument for the people’s struggle,” he said, and added, “In union there is strength.” He went on, “Mexico will produce everything it consumes. We will stop buying from abroad.” After each of his points, the P.T. militants cheered in unison, and someone banged a drum.

Over dinner that night, we spoke about morena’s prospects. López Obrador boasted that, although the party remains considerably smaller than its rivals, it was able to reliably mobilize partisans. “There are few movements on the left in Latin America with the power to put people on the street anymore,” he said.

Not long before, a prominent Communist leader in the region had told me that the Latin American left was largely dead, because there were almost no unions anymore. Unions were once a powerhouse of regional politics, supplying credibility and votes; in recent decades, many have succumbed to corruption or internal divisions, or have been co-opted by business owners. López Obrador smiled when I mentioned it. The largest Mexican miners’ union had recently offered to support his campaign. In 2006, the head of the union, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, was charged with trying to embezzle a workers’ trust fund of fifty-five million dollars; he fled to Canada, where he obtained citizenship and wrote a best-selling book about his travails. In López Obrador’s telling, he had been punished for taking on mine owners. “They own everything, and they call the shots,” he said.

Urrutia was exonerated in 2014, but he still felt that he was vulnerable to new charges if he returned. López Obrador took up his cause, offering him a seat in the Senate, which would provide him immunity from prosecution. López Obrador’s critics were enraged. “You should have seen the outcry!” he said. “They really attacked me. But it’s dying down again now.” With a mocking look, he said, “I told them that, if the Canadians thought he was fine, then maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.” Rolling his eyes, he said, “You know, here they think the Canadians are all things good.”

López Obrador told me that he also had the backing of the teachers’ union, then hastened to clarify: “The unofficial one—not the corrupted official one.” Peña Nieto’s government had passed educational reforms, and the measures had been unpopular with teachers. “They are now with us,” he said, then added, “The official—compromised, corrupted—teachers’ union has also given me its support.” He grimaced. “This is the kind of support one doesn’t really need, but in a campaign you need support, so we will go forward, and hope to find ways to clean them up.”

A few weeks later, I rejoined López Obrador on the road in Chihuahua, Mexico’s biggest state. South of Ciudad Juárez and its dusty belt of low-wage factories, Chihuahua is cowboy country—a wide-open place of vast prairies and forested mountains. For several days, we drove hundreds of miles back and forth through the rangelands.

This territory had once been a base for Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army in its fight against the dictator Porfirio Díaz; the landscape was dotted with the sites of battles and mass executions. One day, outside a men’s bathroom at a rest stop, López Obrador looked out at the plain, waved his arms, and said, “Villa and his men marched all through these parts for years. But just imagine the difference: he and his men covered most of these miles by horse, while we’re in cars.”

López Obrador has written half a dozen books on Mexico’s political history. Even more than most Mexicans, he is aware of the country’s history of subjugation and sensitive to its echoes in the rhetoric of the Trump Administration. When we stopped for lunch at a modest restaurant off the highway, he spoke of the invasion of 1846, known in the U.S. as the Mexican-American War and in Mexico as the United States’ Intervention in Mexico. That conflict ended with the humiliating cession of more than half the nation’s territory to the United States, but López Obrador saw in it at least a few examples of valor. At one point during the war, he said, Commodore Matthew Perry arrayed a huge U.S. fleet off the coast of Veracruz. “He had overwhelming superiority, and sent word to the commander of the town to surrender so as to save the city and its people,” he said. “And you know what the commander told Perry? ‘My balls are too big to fit into your Capitol building. Get it on.’ And so Perry opened fire, and devastated Veracruz.” López Obrador laughed. “But pride was saved.” For a moment, he mused about whether victory was more important than a grand gesture that could mean defeat. Finally, he said he believed that the grand gesture was important—“for history’s sake, if for nothing else.”


We were interrupted by members of the family that ran the restaurant, politely asking for a selfie. As López Obrador got up to oblige them, he said, “This country has its personalities—but Donald Trump!” He raised his eyebrows in disbelief, and, with a laugh, hit the table with both hands.

Early in Trump’s term, López Obrador presented himself as an antagonist; along with his condemnatory speeches, he filed a complaint at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in Washington, D.C., protesting the Administration’s border wall and its immigration policy. When I mentioned the wall to him, he smiled scornfully and said, “If he goes ahead with it, we will go to the U.N. to denounce it as a human-rights violation.” But he added that he had come to understand, from watching Trump, that it was “not prudent to take him on directly.”

On the campaign trail, he has generally resisted grand gestures. Not long before the speech in Gómez Palacio, Trump sent National Guard troops to the Mexican border. López Obrador suggested an almost pacifist response: “We’ll organize a demonstration along the entire length of the border—a political protest, all dressed in white!”

Mostly, López Obrador has offered calls for mutual respect. “We will not rule out the possibility of convincing Donald Trump just how wrong his foreign policy, and particularly his contemptuous attitude toward Mexico, have been,” he said in Ciudad Juárez. “Neither Mexico nor its people will be a piñata for any foreign power.” Offstage, he suggested that it was morally necessary to restrain Trump’s isolationist tendencies. “The United States can’t become a ghetto,” he said. “It would be a monumental absurdity.” He said that he hoped to be able to negotiate a new rapport with Trump. When I expressed skepticism, he pointed to Trump’s fluctuating comments about the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un: “It shows that his positions aren’t irreducible ones, but made for appearances’ sake.” Behind the scenes, López Obrador’s aides have reached out to counterparts in the Trump Administration, trying to establish working relationships.

A more aggressive position would give López Obrador little advantage over his opponents in the campaign. When I asked Jorge Guajardo, the former Ambassador, what role Trump had at this point in the election, he said, “Zero. And for a very simple reason—everyone in Mexico opposes him equally.” In office, though, he could find that it is in his interest to present more forceful resistance. “Look at what happened to those leaders who right away tried to make nice with Trump,” Guajardo said. “Macron, Merkel, Peña Nieto, and Abe—they’ve all lost out. But look at Kim Jong Un! Trump seems to like those who reject him. And I think the same scenario will apply to Andrés Manuel.”

In campaign events, López Obrador speaks often of mexicanismo—a way of saying “Mexico first.” Observers of the region say that, when the two countries’ interests compete, he is likely to look inward. Mexico’s armed forces and law enforcement have often had to be persuaded to coöperate with the United States, and he will probably be less willing to pressure them. The U.S. lobbied Peña Nieto, successfully, to harden Mexico’s southern border against the flow of Central American migrants. López Obrador has announced that he will instead move immigration headquarters to Tijuana, in the north. “The Americans want us to put it on the southern border with Guatemala, so that we will do their dirty work for them,” he said. “No, we’ll put it here, so we can look after our immigrants.” Regional officials fear that Trump is preparing to pull out of nafta. López Obrador, who has often called for greater self-sufficiency, might be happy to let it go. In the speech that launched his campaign, he said that he hoped to develop the country’s potential so that “no threat, no wall, no bullying attitude from any foreign government, will ever stop us from being happy in our own fatherland.”

Even if López Obrador is inclined to build a closer relationship, the pressures from both inside and outside the country may prevent it. “You can’t be the President of Mexico and have a pragmatic relationship with Trump—it’s a contradiction in terms,” González said. “Until now, Mexico has been predictable, and Trump has been the one providing the surprises. I think it’s now going to be amlo who provides the surprise factor.”

One morning in Parral, the city where Pancho Villa died, López Obrador and I had breakfast as he prepared for a speech in the plaza. He acknowledged that the transformation Villa helped bring about had been bloody, but he was confident that the transformation he himself was proposing would be peaceful. “I am sending messages of tranquillity, and I am going to continue to do so,” he said. “And, quite apart from my differences with Trump, I have treated him with respect.”

I told him that many Mexicans wondered whether he had moderated his early radical beliefs. “No,” he said. “I’ve always thought the same way. But I act according to the circumstances. We have proposed an orderly change, and our strategy seems to have worked. There is less fear now. More middle-class people have come on board, not only the poor, and there are businesspeople, too.”

There are limits to López Obrador’s inclusiveness. Many young metropolitan Mexicans are wary of what they see as his lack of enthusiasm for contemporary identity politics. I asked if he been able to change their minds. “Not much,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Look, in this world there are those who give more importance to politics of the moment—identity, gender, ecology, animals. And there’s another camp, which is not the majority, but which is more important, which is the struggle for equal rights, and that’s the camp I subscribe to. In the other camp, you can spend your life criticizing, questioning, and administering the tragedy without ever proposing the transformation of the regime.”

López Obrador sometimes says that he wants to be regarded as a leader of the stature of Benito Juárez. I asked if he really believed that he could remake the country in such a historic way. “Yes,” he replied. He looked at me directly. “Yes, yes. We are going to make history, I am clear about that. I know that when one is a candidate one sometimes says things and makes promises that can’t be fulfilled—not because one doesn’t want to but because of the circumstances. But I think I can confront the circumstances and fulfill those promises.”

This is the message that excites his supporters and worries his opponents: a promise to transform the country without disrupting it. I thought about a speech he gave one night in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, a neglected-looking mining town surrounded by mountains. Ciudad Cuauhtémoc was remote from most of Mexico’s citizens, but people there felt the same frustrations with corruption and economic predation. The area was dominated by drug cartels, according to López Obrador’s aides, and the economy was troubled. A local morena leader spoke with frustration about “foreign mining companies exploiting the treasures under our soil.”

The audience was full of cowboys wearing hats and boots; a group of indigenous Tarahumara women stood to one side, wearing traditional embroidered dresses. López Obrador seemed at home there, and his speech was angrier and less guarded than usual. He promised his listeners a “radical revolution,” one that would give them the country they wanted. “ ‘Radical’ comes from the word ‘roots,’ ” he said. “And we’re going to pull this corrupt regime out by its roots.” ♦

This article appears in the print edition of the June 25, 2018, issue, with the headline “Mexico First.”

Jon Lee Anderson, a staff writer, began contributing to the magazine in 1998. He is the author of several books, including “The Fall of Baghdad.”Read more »

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Crafty_Dog

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GPF: La mierda se acerca a la ventiladora
« Reply #509 on: June 25, 2018, 09:03:37 AM »
Two reports have concluded that Mexico’s police are corrupt and unable to maintain the rule of law. As Mexico heads into elections on July 1, more than 100 politicians have been assassinated. The most recent is a mayoral candidate in the small city of Ocampo. In response, Mexican federal authorities detained the town’s entire 27-person police force, as well as the local public security secretary. These kinds of stories are unfortunately becoming commonplace, but even more disturbing is a report by the Executive Secretary of the National Public Security System, which estimated that there was a police shortfall of 95,900 officers (a shortfall owed in part to officers’ unreliability) and that it would take at least three and a half years to fill the gaps. From both a short- and long-term perspective, this does not bode well for political stability in Mexico.



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WSJ: Mexico's Presidential Watershed
« Reply #512 on: June 29, 2018, 09:29:07 AM »


Mexico’s Presidential Watershed
The country may elect a left-wing populist who says he’s changed. Has he?
By The Editorial Board
June 28, 2018 6:37 p.m. ET
155 COMMENTS

Mexicans head to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president, and the biggest question is whether a country that has made great political and economic strides is about to slide backward.

The question takes the form of leftwing Morena party candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is the heavy favorite to win after two previous losses. The 64-year-old AMLO, as he is known, claims to have moderated his views but retains his zeal for the corporatist Mexico of the 1970s. With a six-year term he could reverse the progress this nation of 130 million has made to becoming a modern, advanced democracy.


It’s worth recalling how recent and substantial that progress is. For decades through the early 1980s, Mexico was a one-party, inward-looking state run by the PRI.

President Miguel de la Madrid (1982-1988) recognized the need for change and started the reform era by joining the global trade regime in 1986. President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) privatized most state enterprises and signed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Ernesto Zedillo was also a modernizer, laying the groundwork for the first truly transparent competitive election in 2000.

Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) and PAN successor Felipe Calderón continued this market opening. The PRI came back in 2012 with the election of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has pushed formerly unthinkable reforms to open Mexico’s energy and telecom markets and demand accountability for teachers.

The changes have lifted Mexico from an economy dependent on oil exports to a manufacturing powerhouse with a rising middle class. From shoes and cell phones to dining out and better education at all levels, Mexicans are more prosperous than ever.

Yet as young, U.S.-educated technocrats moved into government, the old guard at the PRI, including Mr. López Obrador, broke away. AMLO lost presidential bids in 2006 and 2012 and has moderated his views in his third try. He has dropped his opposition to Nafta and talks about the need to continue Mexico’s economic progress. The effort has calmed some fears—not least about politicizing the central bank.

Yet AMLO remains a man of the left whose instincts are for state economic control. For decades he described Mexican oil reserves as the property of “the people,” meaning the government. He now says he’ll respect private contracts as long as he deems them fair, which implies political leverage over investment. And he says Mexico should aspire to be self-sufficient in agriculture and gasoline.

AMLO is running against corruption, but he hasn’t practiced transparency. As mayor of Mexico City he opposed a “freedom of information” law and used no-bid contracts. He had financial records for the city’s multimillion-dollar elevated highway classified.

Optimists say he is following the playbook of Brazil’s Lula da Silva, another leftist whose close links to Fidel Castro spooked investors when he was elected president in 2002. Lula calmed markets with the right talk and presided over a short-lived, commodity-led boom. But he gradually undermined central bank independence, openness to foreign investors and fiscal discipline. By the time his Workers’ Party left after 13 years, corruption was rife and Brazil endured a near three-year recession.

A victorious AMLO would command significant power even if his Morena party doesn’t win a majority in Congress. He’d be able to name at least three members to the 11-member Supreme Court, four vice governors of the central bank and a new central bank governor in 2021. That would leave financial markets and trade agreements as the main checks on his power.

AMLO can win with a plurality of the vote against his two main competitors, but it’s possible that middle-class Mexicans will have final-week doubts and turn him away one more time. If he does win, he will pose a test for President Trump, as he is likely to seek alliances with the region’s left-wing governments.

Mexicans are responsible for their own political choices, but Mr. Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric has encouraged the response of AMLO’s left-wing nationalism. Americans have underestimated the importance of having a reform-minded, prospering democracy on its southern border. They may have to deal with a different reality for the next six years.

Crafty_Dog

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Stratfor: Mexico's historical election
« Reply #513 on: June 30, 2018, 08:16:43 AM »
    The populist front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador appears likely to win Mexico's presidential election on July 1, and his coalition will likely emerge from the congressional balloting in a much stronger position.
    Lopez Obrador's agenda will depend on his control of Congress. Without at least a lower house majority, he will find it virtually impossible to make good on many campaign promises.
    Whoever wins the presidency in the July 1 election can be expected to take the same general approach as the previous government to negotiating NAFTA with Canada and the United States.

Historic elections that could change the political face of the country are fast approaching for Mexico. On July 1 — for the first time since the founding of the modern Mexican state — voters could elect a president outside of the two political parties that have held the post for more than 70 years. That candidate is the populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is running as the head of a coalition led by his National Regeneration Movement (Morena). For more than a year, Lopez Obrador has led in the polls, widening his lead as he gained popularity among undecided voters and supporters of the other major parties. Now, he seems poised to win the election with a third to half of the vote, and according to some polls, he could also gain a majority in both houses of Congress, where all 628 seats are up for election. Those majorities would mean that, upon taking office in December, Lopez Obrador would not need the votes of any opposition political party to pursue his agenda. But regardless of who wins, the most pressing foreign policy topic will be the United States and NAFTA.

The Big Picture

Populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador appears poised to win the presidency in Mexico, and his coalition is expected make gains in both houses of Congress. His policies remain unclear, but there are clear signs that Lopez Obrador intends to review oil and gas contracts awarded since 2015. Any other aggressive legislative action will depend on whether his coalition seizes congressional majorities.

See The Importance of Mexico

AMLO: Promises and Reality

Lopez Obrador, who often goes by the initials AMLO, has frequently criticized the private sector in Mexico, as well as the political elites for their supposed acquiescence to corruption. The three-time presidential candidate has turned widespread dissatisfaction with government fraud into political gains over the past two years. But turning his broad campaign promises into action will likely meet with uneven results. Some pledges, such as higher public spending, can be enacted with legislative majorities; others, such as an attack on deep-rooted corruption, could meet more resistance from political opponents. Still, other promises, such as an oil export ban to benefit domestic consumers, will be economically counterproductive and will meet with resistance from technocrats at government ministries.

In the case of corruption, Lopez Obrador has several options for taking a more aggressive approach. The easiest path would involve purging government ministries of employees suspected of irregularities. A more difficult route would be the establishment of a stronger nationwide anti-corruption agency or process capable of investigating and referring cases for prosecution. Even without clear majorities in either house after July 1, his administration could still bring the proposal for such an agency to the floor of Congress for a vote. Because of widespread public resentment against official corruption, it would be politically difficult for the two other major parties, the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to oppose such a move even if their own elites could eventually be threatened by it.

A chart shows the changes in party composition of Mexico's lower house of Congress over time.

Another big campaign issue for Lopez Obrador is social spending. Though his policies remain unclear, his rhetoric suggests he will try to adjust government budgets to redirect funds to welfare programs. Even without a clear Senate majority, his government could still use a lower house majority to get the Senate to approve his spending priorities. But Carlos Manuel Urzua Macias, who may be his pick for finance minister, appears to support more pragmatic economic and fiscal policies, such as pushing for a quicker resolution to NAFTA talks, delaying a freeze on fuel prices and reining in government spending.

On the business front, a Lopez Obrador presidency could have a big impact on the Mexican private sector and foreign investors. He will almost certainly move to review oil and gas exploration and production contracts awarded since 2015. A longtime critic of the 2013 energy reform, Lopez Obrador will not be able to reverse the constitutional reform that opened the energy sector to private capital. And even with a two-house majority, he may not be able to significantly amend the reform's secondary legislation, because of the subsequent fiscal and economic benefits of rising oil and gas production. But a contract review could allow him to slow or temporarily suspend future bidding rounds, particularly if evidence of corruption is uncovered. Despite this risk, foreign investors appear to have bet on Mexico in the long term by snapping up exploration and production areas in 2017 and 2018.

A chart shows the changes in party composition in Mexico's Senate over time.

NAFTA and the U.S. Elephant in the Room

On the foreign policy front, Mexico's biggest challenge under a new president will likely be the successful completion of negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada. Concerns about other aspects of Lopez Obrador's foreign policy — suggestions that he would antagonize Washington by negotiating with criminal groups or would alter the country's military-dominated domestic security policy — are likely unfounded. But whoever wins the presidency will have to face the NAFTA negotiations in some form or another. The discussions could even be headed toward completion before a new president takes office — assuming that Mexico and Canada agree to U.S. demands, such as more stringent rules of origin for the automotive sector or a sunset clause for the agreement.

Or the trade negotiations could head down a rockier path. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump could stick to its hard-line demands and threaten to withdraw from the agreement. In that case, Mexico City and Ottawa would probably wait and hope that the U.S. Congress would restrain the White House's power to undo the agreement. If Congress steps in, a withdrawal may be beyond the administration's power, and the White House may decide that it is not in its political interests to fight for it ahead of 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential vote.

A bar chart shows the U.S. goods trade deficit with Mexico over time.

Despite whoever is elected president, Mexico is still likely to take the same broad approach toward NAFTA negotiations, assuming they are still going on in December. In Mexico, the deal is widely regarded by the country's elites as being economically beneficial, so even a Lopez Obrador administration would try to preserve the trilateral deal. However, enough uncertainty remains in the talks that a satisfactory conclusion for Mexico is still in doubt. With negotiations effectively stalled, Mexico is looking, at best, at a prolonged limbo, which draws out the uncertainty for foreign investors and Mexico's private sector. At worst, Mexico's economy could suffer if the Trump administration moves ahead with Section 232 tariffs on automobile imports or moves to end U.S. membership in NAFTA.

If Lopez Obrador wins on July 1, his initial impact on Mexico's political scene will depend on his margin of victory and on whether he controls any houses of Congress. Any major gains by the Morena coalition in the Senate and lower house would likely drive the PAN and PRI into a rapid alliance to fend off Lopez Obrador's legislative advances. If his coalition takes majorities, the opposition's options will be much more limited. It will have to rely on the federal court system to slow any legislation it deems controversial, including attempts to amend the 2013 education reform, to enact laws to implement a cease-fire with criminal groups or to rewrite parts of the 2014 secondary laws for the energy reform. Nevertheless, the future for Mexico starts at the polls.


Crafty_Dog

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Stratfor: AMLO logra mayoria en el Congreso
« Reply #515 on: July 03, 2018, 08:09:55 AM »
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been declared the winner of Mexico's July 1 presidential election, and now that nearly all the votes from the federal elections of the same day have been counted, the country's populist president-elect and his National Regeneration Movement (Morena) have emerged as big winners in Congress as well. Preliminary information from the National Electoral Council, reported July 3, indicate that Lopez Obrador's National Regeneration coalition will pick up about 69 seats in the Senate and about 309 in the lower house. These figures will give Morena uncontested majorities in both houses of Congress.

These majorities are crucial because they will allow Lopez Obrador's party to legislate without the input of political opponents such as the center-right National Action Party (PAN) or the centrist Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), which has been Mexico's ruling party for several years — until these most recent elections.

Morena's control of the legislature means the PRI and PAN will have to resort to Mexico's federal court system to slow any legislative changes they deem controversial. These issues may include attempts by Morena to amend parts of the previous administration's showcase energy and education reforms.

Indeed, having won the majority in Congress, Lopez Obrador's coalition can now begin seriously considering a far more ambitious legislative agenda than that of his predecessors in the PRI. Initiatives such as significantly increasing social spending are well within his political faction's grasp, and so are changes to secondary legislation underpinning energy reform.

Though the extent of his political power is now fully visible, Lopez Obrador's complete political agenda is not. Now that the July 1 elections have limited the power of Mexico's political minorities and private sector, they will likely begin building connections to Lopez Obrador's coalition in the hopes of shaping the president-elect's agenda. However, without significant congressional leverage to engage in political bartering, PRI and PAN will find themselves increasingly at the mercy of Morena and its allies.


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Stratfor: AMLO vs corupcion
« Reply #517 on: July 06, 2018, 11:13:31 AM »
    Thanks to a congressional majority, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will become the strongest Mexican president in decades, but questions remain about how he will wield that power.
    Lopez Obrador's big win, as well as the success of his party in Congress, gives him a mandate to tackle corruption, but he will find it easier to stamp out graft at the federal level than among lower-level officials.
    As a politician who has acted pragmatically in the past, Lopez Obrador could abandon a far-reaching campaign against corruption in favor of a targeted anti-graft drive.

Some political regimes bend for decades until they break. After years of pressure building on Mexico's political establishment, an overwhelming presidential and legislative victory by populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador might be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Voters propelled Lopez Obrador — who was third-time lucky after two unsuccessful attempts to capture the presidency — into the country's highest office with more than half of the national vote and the highest tally for any presidential candidate since 1994. Lopez Obrador's National Regeneration Movement (Morena) also captured a majority in the Senate and lower house, marking the first time any candidate has won both chambers since 1997.

Often referred to simply as "AMLO," the new president clearly enjoys a strong political mandate and extensive powers to pursue an agenda that includes hiking public spending, raising wages and possibly rolling back parts of energy and education reforms. But perhaps the plan that will have the most profound ramifications is his popular — and politically loaded — vow to stamp out corruption in Mexico. Fueled by the fraying of the country's political establishment and intensifying public intolerance toward crime and graft, Lopez Obrador has a strong platform to target well-entrenched political adversaries under a broad, anti-corruption umbrella. The new president, however, could trigger a major upheaval as he strives to tackle misconduct that has infested the public and private sectors. The question now is whether he will turn to political pragmatism once in power — becoming a product of the system he was elected to dismantle — or will use the powerful tools at his disposal to try and upend the country's political order.

The Big Picture

In its Third-Quarter Forecast for 2018, Stratfor noted that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador stood a good chance of winning Mexico's presidential elections but that his political influence would depend on whether he secures a congressional majority. Not only did Lopez Obrador win the elections on July 1, but his Morena party also secured majorities in both chambers of Mexico's Congress of the Union. The double victory gives him the power to implement much of his agenda, including an anti-corruption drive.

Realities, however, could reduce the scope of that campaign.

The Roots of Political Change

A win by an insurgent politician like Lopez Obrador was nearly three decades in the making. Since the early 1990s, Mexico's once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has steadily ceded ground to political opponents such as the center-right National Action Party (PAN) and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Voters soured on PRI as it presided over corruption scandals and an economic crisis in 1994. Other parties gained power at its expense, but by the 2012 election cycle, no single party could secure a congressional majority. Without this fragmentation, it would have been impossible for a single politician heading a brand-new party (as with Lopez Obrador) to stand a realistic chance of attaining power. After suffering consecutive defeats in the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections, Lopez Obrador made a strategic move to break with the PRD and rebrand himself under the newly formed Morena.

A bar chart shows the percentage of votes for Mexican president won by each party as well as the party makeup of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.

Broad trends clearly enabled the rise of Lopez Obrador, but short-term political trends and events also nudged voters toward his fledgling party. In December 2017, Stratfor wrote, “If Lopez Obrador becomes president in 2018, it will be because he was in the right place at the right time.” During outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto's six-year term, three major trends served to hamper PRI's and PAN's political fortunes. Criminal activity worsened significantly in parts of the country, including the state of Baja California Sur, which had previously experienced less of the extreme violence of Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. Even as the government broke the Sinaloa Federation by arresting its leader, the rapidly expanding Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion grew across the country, resulting in new, bloody turf wars.

Political events to the north also turned Mexicans against their political establishment. By early 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump's moves to alter key trade relationships, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, were in full swing. Voters in Mexico interpreted the Pena Nieto administration's cautious moves in response to Trump's foreign policies as indecision at best and cowardice at worst.

But it was Lopez Obrador's persistent attacks on the excesses of corrupt politicians under Pena Nieto and prior administrations that seemed to resonate the most with the public. Given that nationwide corruption scandals have wracked the country for decades, it is no surprise that the Pena Nieto administration also became embroiled in graft. Allegations of extensive graft, such as when contractors reportedly overcharged the federal government by $2.5 billion during the construction of Mexico City's new airport, provided fodder for Lopez Obrador on the campaign trail and helped turn public opinion against PRI and PAN. Pervasive violent crime, corruption and Pena Nieto's perceived weakness before Washington all contributed to the political establishment's defeat and the election of a politician who billed himself as a political outsider.

Lopez Obrador's persistent attacks on the excesses of corrupt politicians seemed to resonate the most with the public ahead of the elections.

Institutionalizing Corruption in Mexico

There is a reason why a serious anti-corruption movement has never taken root in Mexico's political system before. Since modern Mexico emerged in the wake of the 1910-20 revolution, the country's governments have put a priority on political stability, meaning that addressing political corruption simply paled in importance to victory in elections and the maintenance of stability. After 1920, a series of governments corralled the country's divided politicians into a working coalition of political factions. In so doing, the new governments primarily sought to keep the peace among Mexico's powerful elites and put the nation back on the path toward economic development and internal stability. To achieve this, successive administrations in the 1930s and 1940s incorporated as many potentially destabilizing factions as possible into the ruling party's orbit, resulting in the federal government doling out federal money and benefits to the military, state governors and labor unions, all in the interest of inculcating loyalty to the PRI. Under the strong patronage networks that emerged, politicians and party allies had little incentive to transgress the boundaries of the PRI.

The patronage system held together for nearly five decades, as PRI inevitably emerged victorious in every election. Thanks to the party's strong political networks that were undergirded by state power, a sprinkling of intimidation, and strict control over the federal government's purse strings, the party faced virtually no serious political opposition for much of the 20th century. During the period of unassailable PRI control over Mexican politics, the party never emphasized the fight against corruption. After all, its goal for decades was to create a political machine capable of delivering big wins, not one concerned with the illicit activities happening under its watch.

AMLO Takes on the Establishment

Much of the unease of elites with Lopez Obrador stems from his anti-corruption pledge. Not only does his anti-graft mandate carry broad appeal with the public, but it could also serve as a potent tool to further weaken his opponents in the political establishment. And since a U.S.-backed anti-corruption body in next-door Guatemala has already taken down a president — and with the prospect that such agencies could spread across Central America — the incoming Mexican president has an interest in seizing the initiative to battle corruption at home rather than face the risk that outside forces would team up with civil society groups to galvanize public dissent over graft. The details on how Lopez Obrador will translate a popular campaign promise into policy remain sketchy, but he now has the legislative numbers to create anti-corruption bodies without interference from other parties in Congress. The independence of any such bodies, their enforcement powers and their potential insulation from politics or politicization by the president remain open questions. The prospect of an anti-graft body with teeth is nonetheless a direct threat to the country's political establishment. The PRI and PAN are already in a weak position, and the publicization of more corruption scandals involving them will only harm their standing among potential voters.

In broad terms, there are two paths open to Lopez Obrador. First, he could take a more ideological approach in cutting the political establishment down to size. Such action would please many of his constituents, but endowing an anti-corruption body with broad investigative and enforcement powers to systematically take down political opponents could prove disruptive to Mexico's stability. On the other hand, Lopez Obrador could pursue a more practical approach that could still score the president political points with his base. Such an approach would target corrupt officials primarily at the federal level in Congress and ministries through audits and investigations. Such probes would constitute showy moves that could greatly unnerve investors, but Lopez Obrador would still be operating within the constraints of the system that enabled his rise. For all his anti-establishment rhetoric, Lopez Obrador began his career as a member of PRI and made a name for himself as a PRD official and a mayor of Mexico City before becoming a presidential candidate. Ultimately, Lopez Obrador knows the good, the bad and the ugly intricacies of the system and where he is likely to encounter the heaviest resistance.

AMLO knows the good, the bad and the ugly intricacies of the system and where he is likely to encounter the heaviest resistance in his anti-corruption drive.

The Path Forward

Lopez Obrador will be greatly restricted in attempting to extend the writ of an anti-corruption body down to the local level. Because municipal officials are nestled beneath state officials in the federal system created by PRI, there are multiple avenues for corrupt behavior, some of which the central government in Mexico City cannot detect or easily eliminate. During PRI rule, the president could remove governors more easily or lean on party bosses to influence the behavior of even lower-level officials. But now that governorships across the country are in the hands of different major parties and (largely unreported) corruption has become deeply embedded in thousands of municipalities, combating lower-level graft and theft will pose a great challenge for the federal government. Morena's legislative majorities will allow Lopez Obrador to enact tougher anti-corruption mechanisms to ensnare the egregiously corrupt in Congress and federal ministries, but extending the writ to the states, municipalities and the private sector — all authorities with whom many Mexicans interact on a daily basis — will be far more complicated.

So where will Lopez Obrador go from here? Tackling endemic corruption at a federal level is not only simpler than taking down local officials, but it also offers greater political benefits since it's more visible to the public. Accordingly, Lopez Obrador is likely to allocate investigative resources to such a fight. But as Brazil has learned, measures to combat deeply entrenched corruption can have unexpected consequences, after an investigation into a massive graft network at state-owned energy firm Petroleo Brasileiro worsened the country's economic downturn in 2014 and 2015. In Mexico, an indiscriminate pursuit of corruption would likely have immediate side effects, particularly if such an initiative occurs in tandem with other measures, such as tax hikes or reviews of oil and gas contracts, that will frighten investors. Broader investigations and stricter enforcement mechanisms would also disturb opposition parties, which will harbor worries that the probes will target their members. Investors and the private sector may also interpret heavy anti-corruption efforts as a move to consolidate political power, which risks fomenting economic disruption in the form of capital flight and delayed investments.

Some budgetary and security issues will also influence Lopez Obrador's plans to reduce corruption. Any new mechanism that is actually capable of investigating and punishing illicit enrichment will compete with other funding priorities in the national budget, such as social, infrastructure and security spending. Striving to create a commission with a sizable body of investigators doesn't necessarily have the same near-term political payoff as the funding of new bridges, schools or roads. Other concerns, such as the backlash from drug traffickers whose political allies may find themselves caught up in corruption investigations, or protests and public opinion campaigns driven by officials resisting the probes, could also discourage the creation of new, more powerful anti-corruption institutions.

Though Lopez Obrador swept into office on the back of promises to stamp out corruption in the government, the hard realities of governance may ultimately whittle down his ambitions to a series of targeted investigations through existing institutions. Overall, this approach would be far less disruptive than wide-ranging investigations, while also avoiding the political hullabaloo that would surround Congress' establishment of far stronger investigative bodies. But even if the new president has little choice but to tone down his anti-graft campaign, he will be the strongest Mexican leader in decades. Lopez Obrador boasts the political incentive and wields the tools to ramp up corruption investigations — the only question is whether he ultimately decides that the rewards of taking a dramatically stronger stance against Mexico's endemic corruption is worth the risk.

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GPF: AMLO's transistional justice
« Reply #518 on: July 07, 2018, 11:33:58 AM »
Last year, Mexico recorded its highest homicide rate ever, so its next president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, will try a new strategy against the cartels. Dubbed “transitional justice,” the strategy will feature amnesty, leniency and decriminalization, at least according to the incoming interior minister. AMLO, as the president-elect is colloquially known, doesn’t take office until Dec. 1, and he must approve the strategy before submitting it to the public for a referendum. It’s clear that the incoming government will need to make some kind of change, but AMLO will soon discover that Mexico’s problems are not the reflection of bad policy but of much deeper societal issues. How he handles the cartels may become another obstacle to improved U.S.-Mexico relations

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GPF: Truth and Reconciliation in Mexico
« Reply #520 on: August 07, 2018, 02:20:00 PM »
Aug. 6, 2018
By Allison Fedirka


Truth and Reconciliation and Violence in Mexico


The president-elect has a controversial plan to eliminate organized crime. Will it work?


For many Mexicans, insecurity is commonplace. They look at the news and see stories of new vigilante groups, or they learn about the piles of bodies that were the most recent victims of organized crime, or they hear anecdotes of how business was obstructed or suspended because of some unnamed security concern. Now, the media coverage they watch tends to overemphasize these kinds of acts of violence while de-emphasizing the fact that Mexico has a mostly functional government and thriving economy. Still, violent crime, especially associated with the country’s drug cartels, is a serious issue in Mexico. So serious, in fact, that President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s radical proposal to resolve it – which features amnesty and reconciliation rather than confrontation – helped win him the presidency. He will soon begin to execute the plan, but as he does, he needs to bear in mind that virtually every previous plan to eliminate the cartels in the past few decades has failed.

A Spectacular Failure

This stands in stark contrast to the success of the cartels themselves. Their run began in the 1980s, when they went into business with Colombia’s cocaine producers looking for alternate transportation routes to their biggest market, the United States. At the time, Mexican drug trafficking was essentially a monopoly. But things changed in the 1990s. The business was divvied up partly by function and partly by region to inoculate itself from counternarcotics operations. Where some saw safety in numbers, others saw competition, which inevitably and violently ensued. The government, meanwhile, tried to curb cultivation but did not conduct large-scale operations against drug traffickers.

Enter Felipe Calderon, the president from 2006 to 2012, who all but declared war on the cartels. On his first day in office, he enlisted the military to help manage public security, employing a decapitation strategy on the leadership of the biggest groups. Calderon’s successor, Enrique Pena Nieto, mostly pursued the same strategy.
The strategy failed. In fact, it succeeded only in balkanizing and militarizing the larger cartels. The number of large drug trafficking organizations – that is, ones capable of controlling large swaths of territory – jumped from four in 2006 to nine in 2017. (This figure excludes the 45 or so smaller organizations that operate on a local level and whose associations with larger groups may change, depending on their business interests.) The cartels continued to produce, move and profit from their trade. Poppy cultivation, for example, increased 38 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, yielding an additional 111 metric tons. Higher numbers of cocaine-related overdoses and increased levels of coca production in Colombia suggest cocaine use is on the rise in the United States, a market in which Mexican cartels control supply.


 

(click to enlarge)


Homicides, meanwhile, shot up dramatically under Calderon. They dipped slightly from 2011 to 2014 before increasing again. In 2017, Mexico registered 25 homicides per 100,000 people. More alarming than the sheer number is the speed at which the number is increasing. 2017 set a record for registered intentional homicides, and 2018 is on track to be the bloodiest year ever, with a reported 15,973 intentional homicides in the first half of the year alone, according to the National System of Public Security. 2018 has also been notable for its uptick in political assassinations. In the nine months leading up to recent elections, 132 politicians and candidates were killed, according to risk analysis firm Etellekt. (The previous record, set in 2010, was 20.)

Clemency Is Controversial

AMLO, as the president-elect is often called, promised to solve these problems knowing full well the failures of his forebears. And he did so by taking a new approach, articulated in his 10-point Pacification and National Reconciliation Plan for Mexico. Though short on detail, the plan calls for opening public debate on contentious issues and a re-examination of how the law is enforced. Controversially, it proposes amnesty for some offenders, the formation of truth commissions, the use of pardons and penalty reductions, the professionalization and purging of law enforcement entities, the gradual demilitarization of public security, and the possible legalization of drugs beyond medicinal marijuana.

Some of these, especially those that redress problems among law enforcement personnel, are direct responses to public demand. Mexico does not have enough police officers to keep the peace, and the ones it does have are often underqualified. At the beginning of the year, the country had a total of nearly 120,000 officers or 0.8 officers per 1,000 residents, short of the minimum standard of 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents. In some places, there is no functional police force at all. In the places where the police do exist, many officers were not current with their performance evaluations; 66,000 had no evaluation at all. Roughly 24,000 have no initial training. Nearly 80,000 uniformed officers failed to meet the evaluation of basic skills. And this is to say nothing of rampant allegations of criminal collusion and corruption.

Other proposals are not so popular. Take the proposed amnesty law, which will apply only to young people co-opted by organized crime, women forced to mule drugs, and farmers forced to produce drugs. It is not meant to forgive crimes against humanity, torture and forced disappearances. Still, clemency is controversial – just ask anyone in Colombia, whose citizens remain deeply divided over the deal to bring members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia into the political fold – and the government has not yet decided how it will prosecute full-fledged organized crime members.

The legalization of drugs is also contentious. It’s unclear which drugs AMLO’s plan would apply to, and it’s unknown whether the law would focus on consumption, production, sale or any other segment of the business cycle. Drugs are, moreover, just one component of an organization’s portfolio. Legalizing drugs in Mexico may do little to prevent a criminal enterprise from continuing to profit in foreign markets, nor will it prohibit the countless other illicit activities in which it engages. Hence why AMLO means to target their finances. But if he does that, the groups won’t have much of an incentive to participate in his peace plan.

The Greater Good

At this point, AMLO’s primary objective is to open the debate on alternative ways to solve Mexico’s security problems, a goal that invariably touches on sensitive topics. And so, from Aug. 7 to Oct. 24, he will hold public discussions throughout Mexico to identify public needs and hear ideas of how to address them. Participants will include farmers, indigenous groups, academics, business members, religious communities, local authorities, politicians and the military.


 

(click to enlarge)


It will be interesting to see what details, if any, come from the discovery phase of his plan. Many of Mexico’s security problems are structural and so are difficult to solve. Revamping municipal police and gradual demilitarization alone will take at least three and a half years to execute (according to the National System of Public Security) even if everything goes exactly according to plan (which it rarely does). The U.S. has already criticized the plan to legalize drugs, and it could discourage AMLO from making good on the proposal by linking the issue to other issues. And in any case, there is always a chance that the public consultations will backfire.

AMLO may listen to all sides, but ultimately he will be forced to ignore some suggestions – and the groups that made them – for the greater good. And in doing so he will create enemies. With all these potential roadblocks, it’s no wonder a poll by the National Survey of Urban Public Security showed that 35 percent of the population thinks security will be equally bad in the next year while another 33 percent thinks it will get worse. AMLO’s predecessors came to office with grand plans too. His strategy is different, but unless he can secure buy-in from both cartels and civil society, the outcome will be the same.

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GPF: US-Mexico NAFTA negotiations
« Reply #521 on: August 11, 2018, 09:09:06 AM »
Mexico and the U.S. are talking rules of origin in NAFTA. Canada is sitting on the sidelines. The U.S. continues to play hardball, having reportedly refused to budge on its calls for 75 percent local content as a baseline, with 40-45 percent of regional content coming from high-wage zones (the U.S. and Canada). Washington is, moreover, now overtly linking the talks with potential tariffs on automobiles and auto parts. The U.S. proposal now includes a measure to exempt existing Mexican auto plants from the tariffs, which would still apply to any new Mexican auto plants. Mexican media indicate that Mexico is willing to be more flexible on rules of origin for automobiles with the U.S. in exchange for leeway in other areas – eliminating the sunset clause and keeping the dispute resolution mechanism, for example. Still, the current proposal is too steep even for Mexico, so bilateral talks on the issue will continue into next week. Meanwhile, Canada remains in direct contact with its counterparts but is staying out of it until its southern neighbors resolve the questions on automobiles. This doesn’t mean Washington has forgotten about Canada – President Donald Trump recently threatened Ottawa over its high tariffs and trade barriers. The current goal is for an agreement in principle by the end of the month. Meeting that goal will require some major concessions over the next couple of weeks.

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GPF: Guerrero
« Reply #522 on: August 16, 2018, 02:38:40 PM »
A state in Mexico wants to decriminalize poppy production. At least, that’s according to the Justice Committee of the Guerrero State Congress. Mexican newspaper Milenio reported on Wednesday that the issue would be sent to the Mexican Senate for consideration. Guerrero has been one of the hardest hit states by the drug trade, and it boasts a number of local vigilante security groups. So it’s no surprise that it’s the source of the country’s more radical political initiatives. Then again, about to take power is a Mexican president who has advocated similar policies. Ideas like this have always been in the ether. Maybe now they are gaining traction.

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Stratfor: Narcowars spill into tourist areas
« Reply #523 on: September 18, 2018, 12:22:18 PM »
Highlights

    An attack carried out by La Union Tepito against a splinter group illustrates the continuing danger posed by the balkanization of cartel groups in Mexico.
    That the attack occurred in a tourist zone shows how cartel figures can drag violence into any part of Mexico.
    The attack was well-orchestrated, which likely reflects the powerful CJNG's support for La Union Tepito.

Editor's Note: This security-focused assessment is one of many such analyses found at Stratfor Threat Lens, a unique protective intelligence product designed with corporate security leaders in mind. Threat Lens enables industry professionals and organizations to anticipate, identify, measure and mitigate emerging threats to people, assets, and intellectual property the world over. Threat Lens is the only unified solution that analyzes and forecasts security risk from a holistic perspective, bringing all the most relevant global insights into a single, interactive threat dashboard.

The party atmosphere surrounding Mexico's Independence Day celebrations in Mexico City's Garibaldi Plaza was shattered Sept. 14 when a group of three gunmen dressed as mariachis opened fire on a group seated at a restaurant. The hail of pistol and rifle fire killed five people and injured another eight. The apparent target of the attack was Jorge Flores Concha "El Tortas," the leader of a criminal organization known as "La U," or "La Fuerza Antiunion," a group that split from the powerful Union Tepito crime network.
A Map of Mexico City's Major Narcomenudistas

Union Tepito assassinated El Tortas' predecessor, Omar Sanchez Oropeza, aka "El Oropeza" or "El Gaznate," on May 5 in a parking garage in the Tlaxpana colony of the Miguel Hidalgo delegation of Mexico City. Union Tepito sometimes uses the name New Generation Cartel of Tepito, illustrating its close connection to the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG). The CJNG is the most aggressively expanding cartel in Mexico and is behind much of the violence that has wracked Mexico in 2018.

A Professional Attack

The attack was well-planned and well-executed, which may be a result of the support Union Tepito has received from the CJNG and its experienced enforcer groups. While it is unclear if El Tortas was at the restaurant at the time of the attack, most of the dead and wounded were associated with him, according to Mexican newspaper El Milenio. This suggests Union Tepito had intelligence on his plans in advance and was able to prepare for the attack.

Using gunmen dressed as mariachis provided good cover for status, allowing the attack team to move into the area with rifles hidden in their instrument cases. After the attack, the shooters escaped on the back of motorcycles operated by drivers staged and waiting for them. The motorcycles likely took the shooters to safety in the maze of nearby Tepito, the group's stronghold. Their hasty exit suggests the attackers feared the Garibaldi Plaza area's heavy police presence, which is not a concern in many parts of Mexico.

An Ongoing Cartel Threat

The conflict between Union Tepito and La U has resulted in a significant increase in homicides in Tepito and adjacent areas of Mexico City so far in 2018. Union Tepito efforts to eradicate La U will continue, and La U can be expected to retaliate against Union Tepito for the attack.

The increased violence has prompted local business and political leaders to request that the Mexican military deploy forces to improve security in parts of the capital. Such a brazen attack will likely result in similar calls, which will make it very difficult for Mexico's incoming administration to fulfill its campaign promise of removing the military from the struggle against Mexico's criminal cartels.

Reports indicate that one of the eight wounded victims was a foreign tourist. This highlights the persistent danger of being in the wrong place at the wrong time in Mexico. It also once again illustrates how cartel leaders can drag violence into any part of Mexico.

In light of these risks, travelers and expatriates in Mexico should practice good situational awareness and pay specific attention to people who might belong to cartels. If a group of such people enters a restaurant or other establishment, it would be prudent to be prepared to respond to a possible incident, and even to leave the location to avoid potential violence.

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Stratfor: AMLO plows ahead
« Reply #524 on: October 16, 2018, 08:32:20 PM »
Mexico: President-Elect Plows Ahead With Plans for an Airport Vote
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The Big Picture

Mexican voters elected Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as president based on his promises to combat government and private sector corruption. True to his word, Lopez Obrador has signaled his intention to take the construction of Mexico City's new airport — a project plagued by corruption allegations — to a public vote. Enforcing the results of a nonbinding referendum, however, would put Lopez Obrador in dubious legal territory and hurt investor confidence in Mexico.
See 2018 Fourth-Quarter Forecast
See The Importance of Mexico
What Happened

On Oct. 16, the legislative heads of Mexico's ruling party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), said their party would not financially support a referendum on whether to continue construction of the new Mexico City international airport. The president of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, a Morena ally, said the referendum lacked legal validity and that he would ask the Supreme Court to invalidate it if President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attempts to enforce its results. The referendum, which Lopez Obrador has set for Oct. 25-28, would give voters the options of continuing the project — which has been plagued by allegations of $40 million in corruption-related cost overruns — canceling its construction in favor of expanding the existing Mexico City and Toluca airports or building new runways at the Santa Lucia military airbase. The government may also try to reduce costs for some parts of the airport project even if voters choose to continue with its construction.
Why It Matters

The referendum provides a test as to how far Lopez Obrador wishes to stray from normal institutional channels to enforce his populist campaign promises. After all, Lopez Obrador made decisive action against corruption and increased popular participation in referendums — including a vote on the controversial airport — a key part of his political platform on the campaign trail. According to Mexican law, however, Lopez Obrador cannot hold a binding vote on the facility's continued construction as no legal basis exists for such votes on public works projects like airports or for such referendums outside of an election.

The referendum, however, is significant because Lopez Obrador could try to turn a nonbinding, haphazard vote into policy. No federal electoral authority will count the votes, while it's unclear what private or nongovernmental entity will actually conduct the referendum. A vote against the airport's continued construction could paint Lopez Obrador into a corner, as he would either try to turn it into policy and alienate allies by entering legally dangerous territory or ignore the result and suffer political backlash from followers who expected him to follow through on a major campaign promise. If Lopez Obrador were to opt for the former, investors could become wary of providing funds for projects that could attract scrutiny from the government, whether because of corruption or local resistance.

But there is another layer of importance to the referendum. Lopez Obrador is progressing down a politically disruptive path by trying to hold a potentially controversial vote haphazardly — seeking a congressional vote to change the constitution to permit such a referendum would have created less instability. In theory, Lopez Obrador has the two-thirds majority in each house of Congress and a majority of the state legislatures needed to alter the Mexican Constitution to eventually allow such referendums to legally proceed. His haste to put the airport issue to a public vote on an unrealistic timeline and without funding support, however, is exposing his lack of votes in Congress for constitutional reform — even from his own allies — meaning Mexico's new president is opting for a course of action that will inject a sizable amount of uncertainty into the country's politics.

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« Last Edit: November 11, 2018, 02:39:50 PM by Crafty_Dog »




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Muchas enfermedades en las caravanas
« Reply #529 on: November 12, 2018, 10:02:50 PM »
El "headline" (?Como se dice 'headline'?) dice que ya hay cuatro caravanas,

https://noticieros.televisa.com/ultimas-noticias/migrantes-caravana-concentran-coatzacoalcos-veracruz/



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Stratfor: Rodeo in the Borderlands
« Reply #538 on: November 27, 2018, 11:54:48 AM »
The Cultural Stew of Rodeo in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
By Thomas M. Hunt
Board of Contributors
Thomas M. Hunt



    For centuries, migration across the U.S-Mexican border has been a normal part of life in rural far West Texas.
    The rodeo culture in the region reflects that reality, featuring traditions from both north and south of the Rio Grande.
    The popularity of the sport in both Mexico and Texas makes it an interesting prism through which to view the current issues surrounding the border and immigration.

My family owns a ranchito in the beautiful Davis Mountains of far West Texas. It is my favorite spot on earth. A recent episode of Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" series on CNN featured Texas' Big Bend region where the Davis Mountains are located. The residents he interviewed, much like myself, cherish both the rugged beauty of the land as well as its rich mixture of Anglo and Mexican cultural traditions. And they universally opposed the push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border through the sparsely populated region.

In one interview, an eye-patch-wearing cowboy/saloon owner named Ty delivered an astonishing moment of eloquence on this point. "We can't survive without the river," he said, referring to the Rio Grande forming the border. "And we can't survive without the people on that side of the river. And they can't survive without us. And they're our friends, for God's sake. Loyalty is a big thing in Texas, and you ain't gonna build a fence between me and my loyal friends."

President Donald Trump, who has long touted a wall stretching the entire length of the border as a solution to illegal immigration, recently ordered about 5,200 active-duty troops to the border in response to reports that a large caravan of migrants was moving north from Central America. The deployment took place amid the implementation of a larger set of policy proposals centered on immigration. These include a "zero tolerance" policy by law enforcement toward undocumented immigrants and a decision to allow the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy to expire.

Those issues and the wall proposal have put the region at the front of my mind lately. I've been thinking about my annual trips there in August, when I take a few friends out to the ranchito so we can watch the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo held in nearby Alpine. In the amateur competitions at the event, working cowboys representing their home ranches perform tasks designed to replicate the reality of their chosen profession: calf branding, team penning, cattle doctoring, wild-cow milking and ranch bronc riding. The display of everyday skills showcases the athleticism of the wranglers. The ranch hands are very much the real deal — and their abilities are amazing. I competed in a few local youth rodeo events as a child, and I maintain that roping a calf from horseback is perhaps the single most difficult feat in all the world of sports. But my group of friends also goes as scholars interested in larger issues.

Rodeo seems to offer an interesting prism through which to view the types of border questions that Bourdain's episode raised. It serves simultaneously as the official state sport of Texas and as (in a stylized form called charreria) the national sport of Mexico. Rodeo events, moreover, range from the small and the local to commercialized versions that are truly gigantic.

Among the most successful of the latter are the 300 or so competitions put on every year by the Professional Bull Riders (PBR). Although the organization includes competitors from all over the world, its brand identity is very much centered in the United States. "At its core," its website says, "PBR has always been about bringing people together to participate in and enjoy a sport built upon traditional American values. Reflecting on these bedrock principles, PBR looks for ways to promote these values, celebrate real heroes, unite our nation, and inspire the next generation."

In 2008, the organization entered into a partnership with the U.S. Border Patrol, whose agents became "the official federal law enforcement officers of the Professional Bull Riders." Recruiting booths for the agency are now prominently found at PBR events. That tone seems markedly different from the ranch rodeo of which my friends and I are so fond.

The cowboys and vaqueros of the borderlands have a long and deep relationship, after all. My guess is that at least a few of the ranches that send competitors to the Big Bend event employ a hand or two from Mexico. It is also worth pondering as well that charreria are becoming mainstays in a number of rural communities in Texas. This is perhaps emblematic of the demographic transition into a state whose largest population group is projected to soon be Hispanic.

All three flavors of rodeo — the amateur competitions between rural ranch hands, the gatherings of vaqueros practicing the traditions of Mexico and the professionals who perform their sport in concrete arenas before thousands of spectators — reflect the perspectives that can be found in the mixed heritage of the borderlands.

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Stratfor: AMLO's call for a moral constitution
« Reply #539 on: November 27, 2018, 02:35:20 PM »
Second post

Mexico: What the President-Elect's Call for a Moral Constitution Means
(Stratfor)

The Big Picture

When he enters office in December, Mexico's president-elect will expand the avenues for Mexican citizens to demand political change. In addition to pursuing a broad constitutional reform effort to expand the authority of national referendums, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will ask the citizenry for input on what he has dubbed a "moral constitution." Although not legally binding, the document will likely include requests for populist policy changes that Lopez Obrador could pursue. But in all likely scenarios, the drive for change will also increase uncertainty in the private sector and spark political opposition.

What Happened

Mexico's new leader is moving forward with his plan to create a set of social guidelines and shared values that he has dubbed a moral constitution. On Nov. 26, Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador set out a timetable for drafting the new document. According to Lopez Obrador, the presidency will accept submissions from members of different elements of Mexican civil society from Dec. 3, 2018, to April 20, 2019. The government will then convene on July 31 to determine which proposals to include in a final draft.

Why It Matters

Lopez Obrador has said that the document will not be legally binding, but the process he started may still end with legislative changes. His request for proposals from different sectors of Mexico's civil society — which could include interest groups and political factions with clear ideological agendas — will likely lead to requests to change the country's laws or constitution to address long-standing grievances.

Opening up a new channel for grievances means that Lopez Obrador will also be opening a new source of uncertainty for investors.

Populist demands for greater social spending or for mandatory consultations ahead of public works and energy projects, for example, could plausibly find their way into the process. The request for suggestions will likely be met with calls for populist policy changes, some of which the Lopez Obrador administration may choose to pursue for their political expediency ahead of the 2021 midterm election or the 2024 presidential vote.
Background

Lopez Obrador is trying to introduce more avenues for democratic participation in Mexico, where citizens have traditionally had few options to involve themselves outside of federal elections. Primarily, the president-elect has pushed for such increased participation to come through a constitutional amendment to make referendums legally binding, more frequent and focused on a wider range of subjects. However, the drive for a moral constitution and greater citizen participation in politics will come at a cost. By opening up a channel for a wide range of groups to air their grievances with the status quo, Lopez Obrador will also be opening a new source of uncertainty for investors.




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Pinche Pueblos Sin Fronteras
« Reply #543 on: December 06, 2018, 02:44:44 PM »



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Re: Mexico
« Reply #546 on: February 09, 2019, 11:55:17 AM »
What Happened: Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is planning to hold a referendum on Feb. 23-24 on the construction of a $628 million power plant in Morelos state, Natural Gas Intel reported Feb. 8. Although construction on the plant is complete, it has not yet started operations. The referendum will only include residents of 32 towns along a 171-kilometer (106-mile) pipeline supplying the plant.

Why It Matters: Holding the referendum would significantly erode investor confidence in Mexico as the plant has already attracted considerable funding and halting the project would be a sign of increasing regulatory risk despite previous assurances.

Background: Lopez Obrador's government has already held informal referendums, including a vote on the construction of a new airport in Mexico City in 2018.

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Stratfor: Murder in Mexico
« Reply #547 on: February 19, 2019, 08:07:03 AM »
Murder in Mexico: What's the Danger to an American Tourist?
Mexican marines patrol the beach of Playacar, near the seaside tourist resort of Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo State, on Feb. 14, 2019.
(DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
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Highlights

    Mexico broke its record for homicides last year, and the dynamics that are driving that violence are unlikely to abate in the near future.
    At the same time, record numbers of U.S. citizens are either visiting Mexico as tourists or residing in the country, yet the number of Americans murdered in Mexico remains remarkably low.
    Still, violent crime remains a problem in Mexico, and visitors and residents should take measures to mitigate the risk.

With spring break right around the corner, our Threat Lens team is once again in demand, as clients — along with a wide array of friends and family — are all wondering about the safety of a Mexican getaway for some spring sun. Of course, the concern is understandable. As our 2019 Mexico cartel forecast reported, murders in the country hit their highest rate ever last year and, worryingly, there's nothing to suggest that this year will be any different.
The Big Picture

Geography, economics and history have resulted in the United States and Mexico becoming tightly intertwined, with Mexico's manufactured goods benefiting the U.S. market and U.S. tourists helping Mexico's economy. Mexico's proximity to the United States, however, has also spawned powerful and deadly crime south of the Rio Grande — some of which can ensnare Americans.
See The Importance of Mexico

Mexico's climbing murder rate has yet to deter American tourists from visiting their southern neighbor. Last year's U.S. tourist figures are not yet available, but it's safe to assume that the tally will come in higher than the 35 million that visited the country in 2017. The U.S. Department of State has issued warnings advising against travel to five Mexican states: Colima, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Guerrero — the last of which is home to the resort city of Acapulco. Despite this, the resorts of Cancun, Cozumel and Cabo San Lucas are already full of American tourists in 2019, and I expect they will be near capacity over spring break.

Someone recently reached out to me on Twitter, saying they had stopped visiting Mexico after becoming a Stratfor subscriber. Now, that's certainly not our intent in writing on this topic; after all, we prefer to take a "go, but" approach to travel security rather than definitely tell anyone not to go. It's the same story for Mexico, which is a great country to visit with incredible things to see and do. But, like anywhere else, there are risks, many of which can be avoided or mitigated. For the moment, though, let's take a closer look at the confluence of Mexico's growing murder rate and the rising number of American tourists choosing to visit the country. Because, ultimately, the threat may not be as great as feared. 
American Deaths in Mexico

Between June 2017 and June 2018, 238 Americans died in Mexico, amounting to 29 percent of all U.S. citizens who perished overseas during the period, according to the U.S. Department of State. But in terms of homicide, Mexico looms much larger in the figures: Of the 152 who were murdered overseas during the 12 months in question, exactly half died in Mexico. Naturally, however, the question of scale is paramount in interpreting the figures. The 35 million U.S. tourists who visit Mexico dwarf the number of their compatriots (1.5 million) who go to nearby destinations such as Jamaica. And while just six Americans fell victim to homicide in the latter, the murder rate for U.S. citizens is, per capita, higher on the Caribbean island than it is in Mexico.

To put things further into perspective, Chicago has a population of 2.7 million — about the same as the number of Americans that live in Mexico (to say nothing of the 35 million that visited last year). Last year, however, 561 people died in homicides in the Windy City, more than seven times the number of Americans who were murdered in Mexico.
A graph showing the cause of deaths for Americans in Mexico from June 2017 to June 2018.

In the end, the 76 American homicide victims are a drop in the bucket in terms of Mexico's overall total: 33,341. Moreover, a good portion of those murders occurred in border cities in which there are active cartel wars, such as Tijuana, Juarez and Reynosa. In contrast, just four occurred in tourist hotspots like Cancun, La Paz in Baja California Sur and Puerto Penasco in Sonora. Furthermore, many of the Americans murdered in places like Tijuana and Juarez were dual citizens or residents of Mexico who were involved in criminal activity — that isn't intended to minimize their deaths, but merely indicates that such murders have almost no bearing on the American tourists who visit Mexican resorts. And even in states with significant resorts in which the murder rate has increased, such as Quintana Roo (which is home to Cancun), the number of American tourists killed there remains quite small. Violence in Cancun, for example, is quite common — an attack on a bar there on Feb. 16 killed five people — but most of the violence occurs far from the tourist zones along the beach. Ultimately, Mexico's murder rate may have risen to about 27 per 100,000, but its homicide rate is still only about half that of Honduras or El Salvador.
Avoiding the Danger

That notwithstanding, Mexico patently does have a serious problem with violent crime, as evidenced by the many cartels that are fighting each other for control of the country's lucrative drug production areas, trafficking corridors and domestic narcotics sales. And then there are ancillary, violent criminal activities, such as fuel theft, cargo theft, kidnapping and human trafficking. Cartel members also tend to wield military-grade weapons, which they do not hesitate to use on rival gangs or security forces, often resulting in collateral damage.

Violence in Cancun is quite common — an attack on a bar there on Feb. 16 killed five people — but most of the violence occurs far from the tourist zones along the beach.

Because of this, the best way to avoid falling prey to criminal violence is to avoid places in which it is most likely to occur, such as strip bars and seedy clubs in which drug-selling occurs. Moreover, many foreign victims of crime in Mexico were drinking to excess, using drugs or staying out late at night. We recommend that tourists visiting Mexico stay at their hotel or resort grounds after dark and avoid drinking to excess or using drugs. In some of the drinking-related incidents, assailants spiked beverages with incapacitants such as GHB, Rohypnol or fentanyl, so we recommend you not accept drinks from unknown people or leave your drink unattended. What's more, it's a good idea to avoid going onto the beach after dark.

And speaking of the dark, avoid driving at night, even on the highways. That means that if you're flying into Mexico, schedule your flights to arrive during the day and use pre-arranged transportation to get to your hotel or resort, as Mexican taxis, particularly the illegal ones, can sometimes be used for express kidnappings and sexual assaults.

Before you go, minimize what you take with you on your trip, so that you can reduce your losses if you are robbed and lessen your temptation to resist an armed criminal. And if, despite all your precautions, armed robbers do confront you, do as they say, for they will not hesitate to use gratuitous violence if you fail to comply. In the end, your watch or your wallet is simply not worth your life.

As the old adage goes, you're more likely to die or suffer injury in a traffic accident (or fire or other accident) than you are to suffer harm at the hands of a criminal. That's why it's critical to pack a stop-the-bleed kit and other first aid equipment, a good-quality flashlight and smoke hoods, as these items can literally be lifesavers. For the rest of the time, exercise proper situational awareness and common-sense security and you're unlikely to encounter many problems on your trip south.

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