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Mexico News Weekly- Mar.24

Posted by the Generals on March 24, 2011, 12:47 pm

Weekly Report - 24 March 2011 (WR-11-12)
MEXICO: Pascual resigns but remains in Mexico
The US ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, announced his resignation on 19 March. Ostensibly, Pascual’s resignation is a victory for President Felipe Calderón, who had made it clear, particularly during his recent (2-3 March) trip to meet President Barack Obama in Washington, that he had no confidence in Pascual. But Calderón’s victory could easily turn into a strategic defeat and leave Mexico with no conduit to the higher echelons of Washington policymakers during the next, crucial, few months. This is because, at the express request of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Pascual is remaining in Mexico to ensure an “orderly transition”.
As President Obama took five months in which to settle on Pascual (when the previous, political, appointee resigned after Obama came to power) Pascual is likely to be stalking the US embassy in Mexico City until at least the autumn, given the problems Obama may also have in getting his nominee confirmed by the Senate.
The significance of this delay is that by then it will be clearer who is running seriously for the presidential elections in Mexico in 2012. This weekend (27 March) sees the innovative “referendum” in the Estado de México, organised by the left-wing Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) and Calderón’s right-wing Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). This non-binding consultation is to answer the question of whether the PRD and the PAN should form an alliance in the crucial election for governor of the Estado in July this year.
What happens in the consultation (and the turnout, let alone the result will be pored over by political analysts from all the main parties) will have a big say, paradoxically, in deciding whom the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) decides to field as its candidate for governor. The gubernatorial election in the Estado is the most crucial election in Mexico this year. The current governor, Enrique Peña Nieto, is from the PRI and is also the frontrunner for the presidency in 2012. It is essential for his presidential campaign, however, that he gets his designated successor elected to succeed him as governor of the Estado. The Estado is the richest and most populous state in the country.
This year’s gubernatorial election is so interesting because it is just possible that an alliance between the PAN and the PRD could defeat the PRI in the Estado in July. If that happens, Peña Nieto will no longer be even the PRI’s frontrunner for the presidency.
By the autumn it should be clear whether Peña Nieto remains the frontrunner or whether some outsider such as Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City, or Ramón de la Fuente, the former rector of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, who could be acceptable to both moderates in the PRD and the PAN, will be running.
One of Calderón’s alleged (but unstated) problems with Pascual was that he was dating Gabriela Rojas, the daughter of Francisco Rojas, who leads the PRI in the lower chamber of congress. Rojas is a strong ally of a former president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Salinas is widely assumed to be backing Peña Nieto. Calderón showed himself to be particularly annoyed last May when Peña Nieto and Pascual winked at each other when all three were at an event, in the Estado, hosted by the Ford Motor Company.
Calderón’s problems with Pascual officially began when the ambassador’s comments about Mexico and the inefficiency and corruption of its police and army, as revealed in US State Department cables, were published by Wikileaks in December 2010. According to Wikileaks Pascual also made some undiplomatic comments about Calderón.
Despite Calderón’s hostile comments about Pascual during the March trip to Washington, the US backed Pascual strongly in briefings. Indeed, Clinton’s statement accepting Pascual’s resignation was also strongly supportive of Pascual’s term as ambassador to Mexico. She called him the “architect and advocate for the US-Mexican relationship, effectively advancing the policies of the US on behalf of the President and this administration.” What is interesting is how Clinton enumerated Pascual’s successes: energy and trade, especially promoting US exports, and only in passing the security problems which Mexico faces.
Pascual himself, however, recognised, according to a State Department statement, that he had become a distraction in US-Mexico relations and therefore made the personal decision to resign.
The vetting of a successor to Pascual by the US Senate is likely to be excruciating for Calderón and his government. A growing number of US policymakers believe that Mexico is well on the way to becoming a failed state and poses a major security threat to the US. These points are certain to be aired in the vetting process.
Pascual’s resignation comes at a particularly awkward time in bilateral relations, with politicians on both sides of the border trying to gain domestic popularity by taking swipes at their neighbour.
On 17 March senators from all parties, including the ruling PAN, criticised the Mexican government’s policy towards the US. The Mexican senate’s unhappiness with what the US has been doing in and over Mexico bodes ill for US attempts to allow its officials to bear weapons in Mexico and for the US attempts to extradite a Mexican suspect of a murder of a US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent to face a death-penalty trial in the US.
On 16 March Mexico did extradite a national, Emilio Samyn Gonzáles Arenazas, to California, where he faces prosecution for the murder of a US Border Patrol agent in 2009. California, however, has a ‘de facto’ suspension of executions.
Mexican senators from all parties were questioning the foreign minister, Patricia Espinosa, over recent US operations in Mexico. The two most notable are: the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives’ (ATF) ‘Operation Fast & Furious’, in which the US deliberately allowed Mexican gangs to equip themselves with supposedly tracked assault rifles, and the use of US drones in Mexican airspace.
A former foreign minister, Rosario Green, from the PRI, said that never had a Mexican government handed over so much for so little and with such poor results. She said that Mexico’s foreign policy was in a critical situation with the government concealing information and making dangerous miscalculations in a confrontation with the US over Pascual. Green’s questioning of Espinosa was particularly pointed because Green had been one of the supporters of Espinosa, a professional diplomat, during her time as foreign minister.
Green said that it was “unacceptable” for the Mexican government to rely on “investigations on the other side of the border” over both ‘Fast & Furious’ and the use of drones.
What the Mexican senate can do the US House Representatives can do even better. On 18 March, a Republican congressman from Texas, Michael McCaul, who chairs a Homeland Security subcommittee on oversight, investigations & management, announced a 31 March hearing on “The US Homeland Security Role in the Mexican War Against Drug Cartels” to consider “the failed” ‘Fast & Furious’ operation.
The Mexican government itself stoked the fire on 23 March when Alejandro Poiré, a senior security official, let it be known that Mexico would seek to extradite US officials who had approved ‘Fast & Furious’. Mexico’s decision to go for extraditions raises the stakes in the growing row between the US and Mexico over ‘Fast & Furious’. The US is highly unlikely to allow its officials to face Mexico’s courts, yet influential US Republican congressmen, such as McCaul, want the Mexican suspect accused of killing the ICE agent, Jaime Zapata, on duty in Mexico, extradited to the US to face a legal process that could end in execution.
The statement that Mexico would seek extraditions came from the outgoing and the new chairmen of the joint security committee in Mexico’s congress, Gustavo González, a PAN deputy and René Arce, a PRD senator, respectively. They were reporting on a meeting they had with Poiré. The committee chairmen both said that the federal Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) was working on securing the extradition of the US officials.
The chairmen added that Poiré had confirmed to them that no Mexican official had known about ‘Fast & Furious’. In the US, the ATF was not working alone. Documents show that the ATF had conference calls with the Department of Homeland Security, US Marshals and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). An ICE agent, officially answerable to the DHS, was on the ATF’s ‘Fast & Furious’ team. This team was also advised by an Assistant US Attorney from the Justice Department.
Weekly Report - 24 March 2011 (WR-11-12)
MEXICO | Domestic recovery. One of the surprises in the recent GDP data is the pick-up in the domestic market. Officially, domestic demand grew by 5% in 2010. This suggests that for 2011 the government’s optimistic growth forecasts of 4% plus look feasible. Indeed the finance minister, Ernesto Cordero, said this week that it was possible that the economy could grow 5.5% in 2011.
If the economy does well Cordero, who is probably still the only realistic government candidate for the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) presidential nomination in 2012, could see his chances reviving. Political commentators had thought that he was out of the running when President Calderón suggested to the PAN that it should pick the best candidate for 2012 even if that person was not a member of the party.
MEXICO | PRD leadership. The left-wing Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) chose Jesús Zambrano and Dolores Padierna as its president and secretary general for the next three years on 20 March. These two will lead the party into the presidential elections in 2012. It is far from clear that the feuding PRD will be a force in these elections though it is the country’s third biggest party and controls Mexico City (DF). Zambrano and Padierna come from different factions in the party: Padierna is married to René Bejarano, who is close to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the radical left-wing leader.
In their victory speeches, Zambrano hailed the success of the tactical alliances the PRD had gone into with the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). In her victory speech Padierna criticised the alliances and argued that the PRD should be true to its identity and support López Obrador in 2012.

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  • Mexico News Weekly- Mar.24 - the Generals March 24, 2011, 12:47 pm
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