26 November 2008

Deputies dispute plan for overhauling police

Policia de Oaxaca

The News

Opposition lawmakers on Tuesday rejected proposals for creating a single federal police force under the command of the Public Security Secretariat, or SSP, but signaled their willingness to back other safety measures proposed by President Felipe Calderón.

"We don't want to see a single police force," Deputy Francisco Rivera Bedoya, the president of the Public Security Committee and a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, told The News. "We want to see better coordination between [all of the forces] rather than a single federal police force."

The opposition to the policing proposal will mean more delays on security measures proposed this summer. Lawmakers will likely miss a Saturday deadline for achieving the 74 public security objectives laid out at an August federal crime summit.

Lawmakers on Tuesday expressed little discomfort over missing the deadline, however.

"Our commitment is to introduce legislation during our normal period of sessions, which ends Dec. 15," said Senate president Gustavo Madero.

Since the summit, Calderón has presented measures that would change sentencing laws, target the assets of those affiliated with organized crime, crack down on kidnapping and decriminalize the possession of small quantities of drugs.

He also proposed revisions to the National Security System Law, calling for the merger of the Federal Preventive Police, or PFP, and Federal Investigations Agency, or AFI, and proposing the new force be granted broader preventive and investigative responsibilities. But the country's two main opposition parties - the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and the PRI - almost immediately voiced objections.

On Tuesday, PRI lawmakers objected to increasing the budget for the federal police at the expense of the state forces, as well as the creation of a more powerful SSP led by Public Security Secretary Genaro García Luna. The PRD also objected.

Members of Calderón's National Action Party, or PAN, backed the measure, saying it would improve local police.

"We have 2,438 municipalities with police forces, 32 [states and districts] with police chiefs, plus federal forces," PAN Dep. Edgar Olvera, the secretary of the Public Security Committee, told The News. "We're a country with a large number of police forces, but without a law for coordination and cooperation."

Olvera also discarded PRI complaints that reducing money for local police forces is "violating state sovereignty," saying that the PRI is using that argument to evade accountability. The PRI currently governs 18 states and its governors wield enormous influence within the party.

"The state governors - the majority of them PRIístas - want to receive the money," Olvera said. "They all want to receive the money, but they don't want to accept the rules. They all want to have discretion with the resources."

20 November 2008

El Peje llorando

The next step in the López Obrador show

The News

Two years ago, an estimated 300,000 of Andres Manuel López Obrador's supporters packed the Zócalo in Mexico City to witness the anointing of the nation's "legitimate president." A year on, about 100,000 gathered there for his first "Informe" - his version of the president's state of the nation address.

This Thursday, López Obrador will once again rally the masses for an address. But he's not calling it an Informe - analysts say that's a reflection of the public having moved past the contentious 2006 election - and he won't be speaking inside the Zócalo, instead opting for a space nearby. Few expect turnout to be in the hundreds of thousands.

More than two years after the controversial 2006 election, López Obrador is soldiering on with his staunch opposition to the Calderón administration. And many of his loyalists - and some analysts - still see López Obrador as the nation's only true opposition leader and the most important figure in the Mexican left.

But Nov. 20, the anniversary of his "legitimate government" arrives on the heels of several setbacks for López Obrador. The energy reform package he tirelessly crusaded against was approved in Congress, and this past week, the Federal Electoral Tribunal, or Trife, quashed the aspirations of his preferred candidate for the leadership of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD.

Now, instead of trying to establish himself as a political force, the "legitimate president" is simply seeking to stay relevant in the public policy discourse, as well as capitalize on new crises like the deteriorating economic situation. Some see his trajectory as beyond his control, given how difficult it will be to set his own agenda in the face of an economic downturn, among other powerful forces.

"His future doesn't depend on him at this stage of the game," said ITAM political scientist Federico Estevez.


López Obrador has struggled to find relevance since assuming the "legitimate president" mantle.

Two years ago, he outlined a 20-point plan for rescuing the country. He borrowed heavily from the populist proposals of his presidential campaign, and later set out on a tour of the nation's municipalities to spread the message and denounce supposed electoral fraud.

His movement failed to gain much traction in the first year, as few media outlets followed him off the beaten path. In the meantime, Calderón achieved several major legislative victories.

In his Informe last year, López Obrador delivered a 2008 forecast of economic hardships brought about by rising prices and stagnant incomes. But his message was overshadowed by the actions of a small band of renegades who stormed the Metropolitan Cathedral to protest the usual ringing of the church's bells.

Events beyond López Obrador's control would continue to haunt him through much of 2008, although his tactics, at times, appeared to be inspired. The legitimate president suspended his nationwide tour to oppose energy reform proposals that would have allowed for greater private-sector participation in the government-run petroleum sector. He organized brigades of protesters, and loyal lawmakers shut down Congress for 16 days to prevent debate after Calderón presented his proposals. The buzz surrounding a July referendum on energy reform, sponsored by PRD factions loyal to López Obrador, even supplanted discussion of the actual proposals.

But then the agenda shifted abruptly to public security.

López Obrador was left protesting an issue that much of the public had stopped caring about. And instead of proposing solid solutions for security, he clumsily tried linking the end of energy reform to the maintaining of law and order.

"We all want our children and grandchildren [to be able to] walk the streets free of fear," he told a crowd in the state of Guanajuato on Aug. 17. "Therefore, I propose the following: The first thing we have to do is avoid the privatization, open or disguised, of the national petroleum industry."

On the evening of Sept. 15, he spelled out a 10-point plan for saving the country from deteriorating economic conditions and public security woes. Barely an hour later, two grenades tore through Independence Day festivities in Morelia, distracting attention from his message.

By the time Congress actually voted on the energy reform proposals - which some PRD senators were instrumental in crafting - López Obrador's opposition and brigades of protesters storming the barricades had become mere sideshows.


Analysts, as well as some in the PRD, say López Obrador ironically helped shape much of the final energy package, but that his intransigence and unwillingness to compromise ultimately hurt his own party.

"The only thing that he has achieved is to give more power to the [Institutional Revolutionary Party] and minimize the PRD's political weight," said pollster Jorge Buendía, of the firm Buendía y Laredo.

"The level of rejection toward the PRD is of such a magnitude that those looking to cast a protest vote no longer see the PRD as an attractive option. They're going to the PRI."

The energy reform issue highlighted López Obrador's uneasy coexistence with the PRD.

Now, the electoral tribunal ruling has allowed López Obrador's opponents to seize control of the party. Its overturning of the annulled PRD elections - which were primarily fought over López Obrador's strategy of avoiding all dealings with the federal government - has been regarded as a major blow to his party status.

The PRD's National Executive Committee also recently took measures to distance itself from the pro-López Obrador coalition known as the FAP by cutting off funding for the coalition.

His electoral allies in the Convergence party and Labor Party - part of the FAP - have remained unwavering in their support. "He's the most important voice of protest in this country," Convergence party Deputy Jose Manuel del Río Virgen told The News. "He still has strength."

But public opinion - in the past, the main source of López Obrador's strength - is proving problematic. A September poll by Ulises Beltrán y Asociados found that 50 percent of respondents hold a negative opinion of López Obrador.

This Thursday, turnout will be yet another gauge of the "legitimate" president's legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

After a year filled with protests on energy and the continuation of cries of fraud, López Obrador recently changed his discourse to economic topics, including rising prices for food and fuel, stagnant incomes and a lack of support for the countryside. While touring Michoacán last weekend, he blamed the country's economic woes on "Calderón's ineptitude."

And analysts are at odds over whether he can regain ground by focusing on such matters.

Some, like Aldo Muñoz at the Universidad Iberoamericana, say the shift from the fraud issue is a smart one. As it disappears from the public consciousness - "[people] care more about the present situation than they do 2006," Muñoz said - focusing on the present crises is more important for López Obrador.

The ITAM's Estevez said the issue actually favors the former presidential candidate, who has long been waiting for the Calderón government to stumble badly, or encounter a crisis.

"He was betting that the Mexican economy would sink, and now it turns out that it may sink because of the world," Estevez said.

"It's no longer an untenable strategic position."

19 November 2008

Encinas sticking with split PRD

Former mayor votes

The News

Democratic Revolution Party leadership runner-up Alejandro Encinas ended speculation over his political future Tuesday, announcing his intentions to stay in the PRD.

He will continue leading a coalition of factions in the nation's largest left-wing party, he said, declining to take the No. 2 position in the party's National Executive Council.

The former Mexico City mayor, who was last week confirmed the loser of the PRD's March 16 presidency contest by a federal tribunal, had floated the possibility that he might split from the PRD after his rival and leader of the moderate PRD faction known as the New Left, Jesús Ortega, was declared the winner.

But on Tuesday, he expressed solidarity with his party, if not Ortega's part of it.

"We're not leaving the PRD; this is our party, the party that we founded . It's the result of decades of work," he told supporters in Mexico City.

Encinas also announced plans for a new social movement - not unlike the petroleum defense movement launched by his political patron, Andrés Manuel López Obrador - that he would fight to rid the PRD of problems that he said included patronage and increasing bureaucratization.

"We won't leave the party to those who have been entrenched in its bureaucracy. Far from staying in the trenches, we're going to fight from inside [the party]."

The fight could prove difficult. Ortega already controls much of the party infrastructure, and can now exert increased influence over the candidate nomination process for the 2009 midterms.

The Ortega strategy, which calls for the party to cooperate with political rivals and negotiate with the federal government, is also expected to become more common with his ascent to the PRD presidency.

Ortega takes office on Nov. 30, more than eight months after PRD members went to the polls in an election that was originally annulled due to widespread irregularities. Encinas' United Left, whose members allege that the 2006 presidential election was rigged, said that the same chicanery was rife in the PRD election. Encinas unsuccessfully petitioned for the results from disputed polling stations in Ortega strongholds to be eliminated from the final vote count.

The electoral tribunal known as the Trife sided with Ortega, however. Encinas rebuked the Trife on Tuesday for intervening in an internal party matter and once again making "a political decision" against his factions. He said that accepting the No. 2 PRD position would have validated the Trife ruling.

"I can't sweep this garbage under the rug and I don't want to be an accomplice to those that commit abuses and irregularities," he said. "[The ruling] is a coup against our party by an authoritarian and intolerant state."

Encinas' decision to stick with the PRD was not entirely unexpected, as it is too late to form a new political party for 2009, and leaving would mean giving up annual public financing of more than 400 million pesos.

17 November 2008

Anger grows over Chihuahua crime


The News

Public outcry mounted in Chihuahua on Sunday as the wave of violence plaguing the northern state continued unabated, this time claiming a top state police commander.

A group that included 62 of the state's 67 mayors as well as business and university organizations and the bishops of three Chihuahua dioceses published an open letter to President Felipe Calderón on Sunday, urging him to overhaul federal crime fighting efforts in the nation's largest - and this year, most violent - state.

"We ask that you refocus Joint Operation Chihuahua and in general the strategies of combating organized crime," stated the letter that was published in newspapers throughout the state.

Hours before the letter's publication, yet another police official was murdered in the border city of Ciudad Juárez. José Manuel Sanginés Leal, regional director of investigations for the state police, was shot at 149 times while driving a police pickup truck, according to investigators. Police captain Miguel Carlos Herrera González was killed the day before by unknown assailants.

A crime reporter for the newspaper El Diario was also assassinated last week in the city.

Joint Operation Chihuahua organizes federal, state and local officials to battle organized crime in the state and is part of Calderón's efforts to crack down on trafficking cartels. Experts say the operation is failing to produce results because of problems with intelligence and an inability of federal and state officials to work cooperatively.

According to UNAM security expert Pedro Isnardo de la Cruz, Sunday's open letter sent the right message to Los Pinos.

"The system of coordination between federal and state authorities isn't trustworthy. The president has to do a top-to-bottom purge," de la Cruz said.

"The level of infiltration by the cartels into police forces and the infiltration into politics and governments is now, after Sinaloa, the highest [in Mexico]."

Chihuahua has been the scene of a bloody turf war between narcotics trafficking gangs, who have increasingly been turning their guns on local and state police - 59 law enforcement officials have been slain in Ciu-dad Juárez so far this year. Reforma estimates that the war on organized crime has claimed 1,368 lives in Chihuahua thus far in 2008, a sharp increase from the 147 deaths registered the previous year.

In response to the violence, increasing numbers of Chihuahua residents are acting or speaking out for change.

Last week, members of the state's 40,000-member Mennonite community shuttered business to demand an end to the violence. On Saturday, the state's opposition National Action Party demanded the resignation of Chihuahua's two top law enforcement officials.

One diocese in the southern part of the state has even gone as far as to deny funeral rites to narcotics gang members murdered for their criminal activities.

15 November 2008

Yunque bogeyman won't die

The News

In the aftermath of Mouriño's untimely death in the Nov. 4 plane crash that killed Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño, amid conspiracy theories of sabotage and drug cartel involvement, reports have emerged that a shadowy faction within the governing National Action Party known as "El Yunque," or the Anvil, was just as anxious to topple Mouriño.

"The Yunque was going to do everything in its power to destabilize the president" – which meant attacking Mouriño has a proxy – said former Puebla mayor and admitted ex-Yunque member Luis Paredes. Paredes added that the group was still smarting from being deposed from the party leadership by Calderón and his tight inner circle. Meanwhile, one of those deposed, Manuel Espino, denied that there had been a campaign to discredit and bring down Mouriño, saying it was the drug cartels who were the enemy, not The Yunque.

This PAN feuding in the press this past week has not only highlighted the divisions in the governing party, but also revived one of the oldest bogeymen in Mexico politics: The Yunque, a group characterized by staunch Catholic and conservative beliefs that reportedly has wielded enormous influence over the party throughout the past few decades – especially in the PAN heartland of Jalisco and Guanajuato.

But whether or not the Yunque even exists is disputed by analysts and members of the PAN – even if they won't deny that some in the party bring deeply religious beliefs and tilt sharply to the right.

"There are people [in the PAN] who are much more conservative than others," PAN Deputy Gerardo Priego told The News. "But this idea that they meet and bathe themselves in goats' blood, and do other strange things, is exaggerated."

The label, he said, "Is a way to easily tag adversaries."

Others, like PAN Deputy Obdulio Ávila Mayo, said the Yunque "exists," but not necessarily as a PAN-only group.

"Not all of the Yunque is part of the PAN, and not all of the PAN is part of the Yunque," he told The News.

ITAM political science professor Jeffrey Weldon said the Yunque label persists as way to describe PAN factions. The party's internal conflicts frequently simmer beneath the surface, but seldom erupt into the full-blown wars over wide ideological rifts, he said, due to the fact that the PAN's members share relatively similar core values.

Priego, a former National Executive Committee member from Tabasco state, who does not identify with the conservative factions of the party, expressed some discomfort with the use of the Yunque label – many non-Catholics are members of the PAN, he said, and in some states, they constitute a near-majority.

"In Campeche, half of the membership is Mormon," he said.

13 November 2008

Moderate named winner of left-wing party's elections

Former mayor votes

The News

The Federal Electoral Tribunal, or Trife, settled the Democratic Revolution Party´s internal leadership election on Wednesday, nearly eight months since party members cast their ballots for a president.

The decision gave three-time leadership candidate Jesús Ortega the PRD presidency, dealing a stiff blow to former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who backed a rival candidate and now finds himself at odds over strategy with the new party hierarchy and lacking influence over the candidate nomination process.

Ortega, the leader of a moderate PRD faction known as the New Left, led the original vote count over rival Alejandro Encinas by some 16,000 votes, but the outcome was annulled after the committee charged with overseeing the election found irregularities in more than 20 percent of the polling station tallies. The election and leadership campaign were rife with allegations of improper campaigning, vote tampering and ballot boxes being stolen.

The Trife said in its ruling that enough of the polling stations had been installed to adequately stage the election. It also adjusted the final vote count, giving Ortega an even bigger advantage.

Encinas, who had been endorsed by López Obrador, rebuked the ruling on Wednesday, calling it "a clear intrusion by the state into the internal life of our party."

He said that the Trife ignored irregularities - votes from polling stations that were never opened were included in the final vote count, for instance - and called on Ortega to "not accept" the decision and to instead reach an agreement for governing the party.

Ortega wasted little time Wednesday in announcing that he would seek unity in his divided party, and also pursue dialogue with the federal government - a clear departure from the López Obrador strategy of eschewing all contact with and acknowledgement of the administration of President Felipe Calderón.

The New Left favors working cooperatively with other political factions, in contrast to the United Left, a coalition of factions loyal to López Obrador and Encinas.

PRD politicians loyal to Ortega also broke ranks with López Obrador over the energy reform issue last month, negotiating a deal with the politicians from other parties.

Encinas supporters on Wednesday also expressed their disgust with the Trife, a federal judicial body that referees internal party squabbles and electoral disputes - and which ruled against López Obrador´s claims of fraud in the 2006 presidential election.

11 November 2008

New No. 2 signals party push for unity

by David Agren
The News

With the sudden death last week of Juan Camilo Mouriño, President Felipe Calderón shelved his criteria for appointing Cabinet members on Monday, and reached beyond his inner circle to tap Fernando Gómez Mont as interior secretary.

Analysts say the move reflects a new style of governance being ushered into Los Pinos, and that the president is signalling his desire to advance his agenda of structural reforms in a divided Congress. This would require a shrewd negotiator and non-polarizing figure in the Interior Secretariat.

"This is a good signal because the president, governing with his inner circle, has been isolated and not really able to build bridges," said political analyst Jorge Zepeda Patterson. "Calderón's Cabinet [has been] characterized by people who have long futures, but short pasts."

The appointment also reached across current breaches in the National Action Party, or PAN, which has been plagued by low-level feuds between pro-Calderón groups and those that never warmed to his nomination for the presidency.

"[The appointment of Mont is] a strong signal for a unified party," said Jeffrey Weldon, a political science professor at the ITAM.


Gómez Mont, the son of a PAN founder and close collaborator of former PAN presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos, brings a long political history to the Interior Secretariat. He previously sat in the Chamber of Deputies in the early 1990s and participated in commissions that revamped the electoral and judicial systems.

As a criminal defense attorney, he later defended both former President Carlos Salinas and the president's brother Raúl along with a former Pemex director implicated in the Pemexgate scandal.

He also helped create the tamper-proof voter identification card that most Mexicans carry in their wallets.

As an attorney, Gómez Mont developed a reputation as a shrewd negotiator - a key skill for an interior secretary, who acts as a liaison between the presidency and other levels of government, but who is also responsible for security matters.

"The main function of the Interior Secretariat is precisely that of a political operative," Zepeda said. "They didn't opt for a military man, or police official as many had speculated."

Mouriño drew posthumous praise for his political skills, but was derided through his 10-month term by left-wing lawmakers anxious to assail the president via a proxy. They demanded the interior secretary's resignation over allegations of previously steering business to a family company.

Zepeda said Gómez Mont would mostly like draw less fire, but could be "injured" by left-wing lawmakers who hold grudges against Fernández de Cevallos, a controversial figure for his decision to defend private companies as a lawyer against the government while serving as a senator.

"It's important for Calderón to be able to have a moderate left that is allied with him to pass reforms and not have to depend on the [Institutional Revolutionary Party]," Zepeda said.

10 November 2008

PRI dominates in Hidalgo

Real del Monte

The News

Early returns from the central state of Hidalgo showed voters solidly backing the Institutional Revolutionary Party in Sunday´s municipal elections.

The PRI and its election allies were leading in 50 of the 84 races; seven municipalities had yet to report returns. Notable results included the PRI leading in the capital, Pachuca, and the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, leading in Zimapán, where the leader of a civic group opposed to the construction of a toxic waste dump was running for the left-wing party.

Sunday´s results appeared certain to further cement the PRI´s hold on Hidalgo where it held 35 municipal governments on election day. The party swept all 18 directly elected seats in the state Congress during legislative elections earlier this year and holds the governor´s office.

Chicanery was also rife during the election period. The state Attorney General´s Office reported receiving at least 50 complaints of election-related incidents, including murder, improper police detentions and the enticing of voters with free rides and giveaways.

PAN officials in Pachuca alleged that four out-of-state election observers were detained and roughed up by local police. A Saturday confrontation between the PRI and PRD campaigns in the municipality of La Mi-sión resulted in a police commander being shot dead. Two PRI operatives - brothers of the local PRI candidate - were named as suspects in the shooting by state judicial authorities. Gunfire was also reported in the municipality of Huejutla.

Hidalgo, a small rugged state north of the Mexico City metropolitan area just beyond the State of Mexico, usually opts for the PRI, although it supported the PRD campaign of former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the 2006 election and opposition parties had won a few municipal races over the past decade.

Analysts predicted the PRI would benefit in Sunday´s local elections based on its party unity and its well-oiled patronage machine while its opponents were suffering from disunity and disorganization.

07 November 2008

No funeral rites for narcos

David Agren, in Mexico City

A bishop in Northwestern Mexico recently rebuked the rampant narcotics cartel violence in his diocese by forbidding all 66 priests under his supervision from performing funeral rites for those killed in drug-related slayings.

"Given the circumstances of violence and death that we are living in our communities, I especially ask priests and those that preside over funerals to comply with what church law establishes and deny funeral rights to all those that noticeably and openly are part of a crime," Bishop Jose Andres Corral of Parral said during his Nov. 2 homily.

The Diocese of Parral covers the southern part of Chihuahua state, where a government crackdown on narcotics cartels has resulted in 1,287 deaths so far this year – 10 times as many as were recorded in each of the past two years, according to the Grupo Reforma newspapers.

Priests in the diocese appear willing to comply. Father Miguel Angel Saenz Vargas, a prelate in the municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo, the hub of a violent cartel-infested region known as the "Golden Drug Triangle," told the El Universal newspaper, "It's a contradiction, a scandal within the church itself that people, who led a life distant from God, upon dying have [the same] funeral rights as those of other faithful (people) that lived for Christ."

05 November 2008

Mouriño dies in crash

Mouriño dies in crash

The News

The nation's highest-ranking Cabinet official died Tuesday evening when his government-owned jet plunged into a narrow street lined with office buildings in the capital's upscale Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood.

Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño, a trusted adviser of President Felipe Calderón and the country's top public security official, died in a crash that claimed the life of José Santiago Vasconcelos, the former lead federal prosecutor for organized crime.

"Mexico lost a great Mexican, intelligent, loyal, committed to his ideals, honest and hard-working," President Felipe Calderón said in televised remarks Tuesday night.

The president tapped his former chief of staff to be interior secretary earlier this year in an effort to smooth relations with Congress for the introduction of a politically sensitive energy reform package. But the Spanish-born Mouriño, 37, immediately became polemic as contracts surfaced suggesting that he had steered Pemex business to family businesses while serving in previous public positions. He was most recently mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate in his home state of Campeche.

Mouriño and Vasconcelos were returning from public security meetings in the state of San Luis Potosí, but their plane crashed for reasons that are still unclear to investigators.

The crash killed all nine passengers and crew members and at least three more on the ground, according to Carlos Huber, spokesman for the civil protection agency in the borough of Miguel Hidalgo. At least 40 people were injured, seven of them seriously.

Photos taken by Huber shortly after the crash showed at least three weapons belonging to passengers on the plane littering the scene.

He told The News that at least 20 vehicles were torched and one of the victims was found sitting in a car.

Huber said that the Learjet 45 appeared to have been traveling in a northward direction - the opposite direction for aircraft arriving in Mexico City from San Luis Potosí and contrary to the normal flight path to the capital's international airport.