Mexico News- Feb.10
Posted by the generals on February 16, 2011, 1:20 pm
Subject: Mexico News WEEKLY February 10, 2011 |
NOTE: Not often do those of us in BCS merit a mention in the national Mexican news. As of today there is still a kerfuffle over the mayoralty race in Los Cabos - where the winner seems to be Tony Agundez (PRD) with just 30% of the vote and a bare 1-2% more than the next two parties. Recall there is no run-off in Mexico. Sr. Agundez as mayor will have the chance to lead in the investigation of the missing MN$17,000,000 from a federal water/sewer capital account - a federally required audit was recently released. The federal government just wants the money returned, and is leaving criminal investigation to the new governor and mayor. The problem for Sr. Agundez is that he will need to investigate himself, as he was director of water/sewer department for the past five years. It is also nice to see that London has made Los Cabos the state capital - maybe they meant the de facto state capital.
Weekly Report - 10 February 2011 (WR-11-06)
Stunts and killings dominate Mexican headlines, obscuring big development
The most eye-catching event in Mexico last week was the erection of a banner in the lower chamber, at the start of the first congressional session of 2011, by deputies from the left-wing Partido del Trabajo accusing President Felipe Calderón of being a drunk. The media reaction to this stunt overshadowed another week of spreading violence: seven youngsters (13 to 17 year olds) were shot in Ciudad Juárez on 5 and 6 February, including two US youths from El Paso. The third headline event was the second of this year’s state elections, in Baja California Sur. This produced a result with major implications for next year’s congressional and presidential elections. Yet perhaps the development with the most long-term importance for Mexico was the official registration of a new teachers’ union, the Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la Educación de México (Sitem).
The official registrar of trade unions, the Tribunal Federal de Conciliación y Arbitraje, approved the Sitem as a new national teachers’ union on 25 January, but the Sitem only chose to launch itself on 8 February. The Sitem is portraying itself as a rival to the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE) which has controlled Mexico’s schools for three generations. The SNTE’s leader, Elba Esther Gordillo, is a hugely influential political figure and has run the SNTE since 1989. In 2006 she split the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in the last presidential election and claims to have engineered the win for President Calderón. His careful treatment of her since taking office underlines her power. The SNTE also funds its own political party, the Partido Nueva Alianza (PNA), which has nine seats in the lower chamber and flits between alliances with the PRI and Calderón’s Partido Acción Nacional (PAN).
The Sitem could be important for two reasons. The first is that it will break the stranglehold the SNTE has on school education in Mexico. Essentially the SNTE (often in the person of Gordillo) sets education policy: Gordillo famously rejected a new (revisionist) history textbook which Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, (who later became president from 1994 to 2000) tried to introduce while serving as President Carlos Salinas’s education minister in 1992. Gordillo’s objections led to the book being pulped. Gordillo’s power has increased under Calderón. Her son-in-law, Francisco González Sánchez, is responsible for primary education at the education ministry and in 2010 revised another history textbook to downplay the importance of Pre-Columbian cultures.
The results of the SNTE’s grip on Mexican education are far from impressive. Mexico came dead last for literacy in the latest (2010) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey of reading, mathematics and science commissioned by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) among 15-year olds in 70 countries, although there was some improvement on the previous OECD survey in 2006.
The second reason why the birth of the Sitem could signal a turning point is that it poses a threat to Gordillo’s political influence. This may have peaked under President Vicente Fox (2000 to 2006) when she tried (and failed) to rally the PRI behind his political reforms in 2003. Gordillo, unusually, came out on the wrong side of the election in Guerrero on 30 January 2011. She was a bystander in the election in Baja California Sur (BCS) on 6 February.
The BCS election was not what it appeared: a thumping win for Calderón’s PAN. The triumph of the PAN candidate for governor, Marcos Covarrubias Villaseñor, was the result of a split in the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) which had run the small state since 1999. Infighting inside the PRD meant that Covarrubias, a PRD federal deputy until last October, did not get the nomination for the governorship. As a result both the PRI and the PAN courted him. Such is Covarrubias’s pull at the ballot box that the PAN ended up with nine of the 16 deputies in the state congress. The PRD was marginalised, though it did manage to hang on to the mayorship of the state capital, Los Cabos.
It is worth noting that turnout in the BCS election was, as it had also been in Guerrero, more-than-respectable at 61%. This suggests that voters still believe that their votes matter.
The results in the two elections so far, Guerrero and BCS, show that the PRI is not the political steamroller its hierarchy assumed that it would be this year. To be fair, the PRI’s main test is what happens in the forthcoming election in the Estado de México on 3 July. This election will choose a successor to the state’s current governor, Enrique Peña Nieto, who is the PRI frontrunner for the presidency in 2012.
Some political commentators are already counting out the PRD, arguing that its crushing defeat in BCS shows that it has no future. The second strand of this argument is that the PRD was not really a winner in Guerrero because its candidate was a (perhaps only temporary) defector from the PRI. This argument ignores the fact that the PRD has a couple of presidential candidates for 2012 in Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leader of the radical Left.
Ebrard and López Obrador take very different approaches to the Estado election, which could be decisive in determining whether Peña Nieto proceeds to the presidential election next year. Ebrard endorses some sort of alliance with the PAN in the Estado, while López Obrador is opposed to any sort of understanding with the PAN. López Obrador argues that the PRD can win the Estado on its own, a result the opinion polls do not suggest. The risk of this strategy is that he will split the anti-PRI vote and therefore allow Peña Nieto’s designated (but as yet un-nominated) successor to win and then fund Peña Nieto’s presidential bid.
Fox wades in over Calderón slur
Former President Vicente Fox argued this week that the sacking of a prominent TV and radio presenter, Carmen Aristegui, for suggesting that President Calderón needed to answer the accusation that he was an alcoholic, was an attack on press freedom. There is no evidence, however, that the government put pressure on MVS Radio in Mexico to sack Aristegui. Technically she was sacked for refusing to apologise for referring to Calderón’s alleged alcohol abuse problems. Fox and Calderón, despite coming from the same political party, the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), have long had a testy relationship.
Aristegui’s comments were prompted by events in congress on 3 February when deputies from the left-wing Partido del Trabajo (PT) put up a banner in congress which read: “Would you let a drunk drive a car? No, Really? So why do you let one run the country?” The banner bore an unflattering picture of Calderón (see sidebar).
MVS Radio in Mexico said that it had terminated Carmen Aristegui’s contract because she had referred to President Calderón’s drink problem as though it was a fact rather than a rumour or allegation. CNN Español, a US broadcaster, said that it had no plans to end Aristegui’s nightly TV show. Aristegui had said in her MVS morning radio show that the PT’s banner in congress merited a formal response from the presidential spokesman. Indeed, on 9 February, Calderón’s private secretary, Roberto Gil Zuarth, said that Calderón was in good health, usually starting work at 6am and working through until 10pm.
Weekly Report - 10 February 2011 (WR-11-06)
MEXICO: Shake-up in Nuevo León
Rodrigo Medina, the governor of the gang-ridden state of Nuevo León, sacked his security minister and attorney general and shook up his finance team on 3 February, making 11 cabinet changes in all. Nuevo León has seen an explosion in gang-related criminal violence and homicides over the past year. In 2010, 610 people were killed by gangs, according to the tally kept by the daily Reforma’s Ejecutómetro, up from 99 in 2009. To date (to 9 February) at least 152 people have been killed in the state, according to Reforma’s sister paper, El Norte, published in the state capital Monterrey.
Medina’s new security chief is General Jaime Castañeda Bravo. He is the first general ever to serve as a state’s minister of public security. He is a Lieutenant General who specialised in managing armoured forces.
Medina’s shake-up coincided with a report from an NGO, Human Rights Watch, reporting that in 2010 the police and army operating in Nuevo León killed at least eight innocent people and made another 10 “disappear”.
Weekly Report - 10 February 2011 (WR-11-06)
MEXICO | Supreme court appointments. The senate’s justice and legislative studies committee interviewed the three shortlisted candidates nominated by President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa for a single place on the supreme court on 8 February. This shortlist was entirely male while the first shortlist, from which the senate failed to make a selection, was all female.
The three candidates are: Jorge Higuera Corona; Jorge Mario Pardo Rebolledo; and Alberto Gelacio Pérez Dayán. The senate has to back a candidate with a two-thirds majority. If the senate fails to make a choice this time, President Calderón can nominate a new candidate, without any senate vetting, to the supreme court.
MEXICO | Election budget. A congressional committee has called on the financial controller at the independent Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE), the agency which runs elections, to explain what the IFE had done with the budget it had not spent in 2010. The IFE has retained the underspend (of M$348m or US$28.5m) and put it into a building modernisation fund, rather than returning the money to the national treasury. It is not clear whether congress, in the form of the chamber of deputies, has the power to compel officials of the IFE to testify. Currently the congressional audit commission is inviting the IFE’s financial controller, Gregorio Guerrero Pozas, to present his side of the case.
MEXICO | Inflation. The consumer price index rose by 0.49% in January. This was better than most local economists had expected. The 12-month inflation rate came down to 3.78% from 4.4% in December.
The good data also prompted the Banco de México to lower its inflation forecast for the first quarter of 2011 and to raise its GDP growth estimate for 2011 as a whole to a range of between 3.8% and 4.8%.
There must be some doubt, however, about whether inflation will remain low. The cold weather in northern Mexico in January has seriously damaged crops: the state of Sinaloa, a major maize producer, has reported that 500,000 hectares of maize may have been destroyed by the cold.
In January, surprisingly, given the cold, the price of a lot of fresh vegetables fell.
MEXICO | US Army. On 8 February, Joseph Westphal, the US Army undersecretary, retracted statements strongly critical of Mexico he had made a day earlier. The sharp reaction from Mexico, and the speed with which Westphal retracted, show how sensitive the issue of security in Mexico is on both sides of the border. Westphal initially said that the violence in Mexico was an insurgency and that US troops might be needed on or across the border.
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