BY DAVID AGREN
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected talk of Mexico becoming a failed state during a visit Wednesday to the capital, where she sought to reassert solidarity with a neighbor increasingly sensitive to criticism from Washington.
"I don't believe that there are any ungovernable territories in Mexico," Clinton said at a press conference, challenging a popular talking point among U.S. military strategists, conservative lawmakers and talk show hosts.
"I remember very well, when we had such a crime wave, 15, 20 years ago, that there were many parts of cities in our country where people didn't feel safe going to," she said.
Clinton's comments came at a time when Mexican officials, including President Calderón, have expressed increasing frustration with U.S. alarmism over the drug violence engulfing parts of the nation. Such talk, Mexicans complain, ignores the United States' own culpability in the drug war.
But on Tuesday, Clinton acknowledged that the United States, with its demand for illegal drugs and inability to curb the southward flow of weapons, shares blame for the violence that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in Mexico so far this year.
"I feel very strongly that we have a co-responsibility," Clinton said.
Clinton's two day trip to Mexico - she visits Monterrey on Thursday - follows an announcement by the White House on Tuesday that it plans to stiffen security along its southern border by dispatching nearly 500 federal agents to the area, increasing intelligence gathering abilities and working more cooperatively with Mexican officials.
Speaking alongside Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa, Clinton said the move showed that Washington is serious about helping Mexico in its fight against the cartels.
"We will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you," she told Espinosa. "The criminals and kingpins spreading violence are trying to corrode the foundations of law, order, friendship and trust between us that support our continent. They will fail."
Espinosa, who introduced Clinton as "a close friend of Mexico," said that "deepening" of the Mérida Initiative, a U.S. aid package for Mexico's fight against organized crime, was a top priority.
Clinton also said that the two neighbors were making progress in resolving a trade dispute that erupted after the United States banned Mexican trucks from its interior, and that the Obama administration hoped to achieve comprehensive immigration reform in the coming months.
26 March 2009
BY DAVID AGREN
24 March 2009
Allegations of improprieties in the primary elections of the nation’s biggest left-wing party continued being launched by aggrieved aspirants on Tuesday, despite attempts by the party president to minimize the impact and frequency of such incidents.
On Tuesday, videos surfaced on the Internet of burned ballots being discovered in the Coyoacán borough. The two warring Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, factions – the moderate New Left and more combative United Left – blamed each other.
In neighboring Álvaro Obregón, aspirants from New Left said that they would ask the electoral tribunal to annul the election due to irregularities such as ballot box theft and vote buying.
In the central Cuauhtémoc borough, candidate Marco Rascón alleged that one his rivals benefited from the participation of out-of-state voters bussed in to cast ballots, an inflated voters’ list and social-welfare recipients being threatened with the withdrawal of benefits by local government employees allied with other campaigns.
“The big struggle we have now is against illegality,” Rascón told reporters from his seafood restaurant in the Colonia Roma.
The inability to name quickly name winners and widespread allegations of irregularities risked once again plunging the PRD into internal disunity – in spite of a “civility pact” agreed upon prior to the elections by party leaders.
The party election last year for national party president left the PRD badly split and featured a hotly disputed contest between candidates from the New Left and United Left, who differed over tactics, strategy and loyalty to the anti-establishment positions called for by former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador. López Obrador calls himself the “legitimate president” and has rebuked some factions of the PRD for showing a willingness to work cooperatively with a federal government that he alleges stole the 2006 presidential election.
Rascón warned that the latest disagreements could further hurt the PRD’s electoral fortunes, especially in Mexico City, where the party has ruled since 1997, holds a majority in the local Assembly and governs all but a pair of the 16 boroughs.
“The internal conflicts are going to produce terrible inefficiencies in the upcoming elections,” said Rascón, who says that he is not affiliated with any of the factions and gained famed for previously darting around the city in wrestling tights as the social crusader, “Super Barrio.”
“These are very favorable conditions for the [National Action Party] and the [Institutional Revolutionary Party].”
The Sunday elections in Mexico City that were held to select nominees for 16 borough chief positions and the races for both the local Assembly and federal Chamber of Deputies, but the outcome is still unknown due to a failure of the computer program that was tabulating the votes. Party officials say that the results will be announced at Noon on Wednesday.
The Sunday primary elections were also held in the State of Mexico, Morelos and Zacatecas, but much of the focus was on Mexico City.
“There’s a lot at stake in Mexico City,” said Ilán Semo, political historian at the Universidad Iberoamericana.
“There’s such a large pool of votes.”
Semo said that many of the problems came from the PRD factions practicing patronage politics that involve the widespread distribution of giveaways known as “dispensas” to entice votes and them making large groups dependent on favors from unscrupulous operatives using government resources.
Indeed, three New Left operatives were detained in Cuauhtémoc for allegedly distributing dispensas. But Rascón turned much of his criticism toward René Bejarano, a political operative with sympathies for the United Left and who is said to wield enormous influence over the local PRD, despite having been tossed from the party in 2004 after being caught on film accepting money from a developer. He was never convicted of any crimes.
“Bejarano is the biggest elector we have in the PRD,” Rascón said.
22 March 2009
Union boss wins injunction
A union boss living in self-imposed exile in Canada has won an injunction against his apprehension, the mining union said in a Sunday press release.
Napoleón Gómez Urrutia fled to Canada in 2006 to avoid arrest on charges of fraud and embezzlement, but a decision by a panel of judges in Mexico City has granted an injunction against three apprehension orders that previously had been issued by courts in the capital and in Sonora.
Gómez Urrutia was alleged to have improperly dissolved a $55 trust fund that was created after the privatization of the Cananea copper mine in Sonora. Dissidents in a Chihuahua-based cooperative allege that they did not grant permission for the union to dissolve the trust fund on their behalf and say that the money has been mismanaged.
The mining union denies the allegations and says that the money can be accounted for.
Mexican officials in February asked for the extradition of Gómez Urrutia, who has received support while living in Vancouver with his family from the United Steelworkers Canada and the left-wing New Democratic Party.
The union alleges that the government has been carrying out a revenge campaign against Gómez Urrutia on behalf of mining giant Grupo México, owner of the Cananea mine, where a strike has dragged on since July 30, 2007. Grupo México has rejected any claims of revenge.
Two senior union officials said to be close Gómez Urrutia collaborators were arrested in December. Juan Linares was arrested in Michoacán on charges related to the trust fund, while Carlos Pavón was arrested for the alleged extortion of a smelter operator in Coahuila state. Both men maintain their innocence. Pavón has been released on bail.
UPDATE: The Attorney General's Office, or PGR, released a statement saying that Gómez Urrutia is still a fugitive and that the apprehension order used to seek his extradition was not among the three that the union leader won injunctions against.
For PAN, win would restore pride, power
BY DAVID AGREN
The National Action Party suffered through a miserable 2008, performing terribly in the five states that held local elections. But that hardly deterred PAN president Germán Martínez from going on the offensive and predicting a reversal of fortune in 2009, when the country holds midterm elections and six governor's offices are up for grabs. The turnaround, he said, would include victory in Nuevo León.
"I don't have the slightest doubt that we're going to recapture Nuevo León," he told reporters in December.
"The PAN is going to return to governing Nuevo León, and this nightmare of a local government that [the state] is suffering through will only be a historical footnote."
On July 5, Nuevo León voters will prove Martínez right or wrong. But the PAN president has repeatedly signaled that his party is betting heavily on taking back the northern state from the incumbent Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
The PAN faces a stern test in Nuevo León and has done itself few favors since Martínez first predicted electoral success.
For weeks, the party has been bickering over candidate nominations for elections in several key municipalities as well as the gubernatorial race. And a slumping economy - which is hurting the governing party in national polls, too - also threatens to dent PAN prospects in Nuevo León.
"They're probably not going to do so well in the [nationwide midterm] elections," said Jeffrey Weldon, a political science professor at ITAM. "But [PAN] can claim a moral victory if they win back a state."
The PRI captured Nuevo León in 2003 under similar economic circumstances to those today. That year, the centrist party took advantage of a troubled economy and a less-than-powerful rival to claim the governor's office and victory in the federal midterm elections.
But PRI Gov. Natividad González has since drawn underwhelming job performance reviews. He has taken a particular beating for his handling of security issues, said University of Monterrey political science professor Jose Luis Berlanga Santos. And in 2006, the PAN leveraged increasing concerns over rising insecurity in Nuevo León - and PRI divisions over presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo - to claim a majority in the state legislature.
Public opinion surveys showed continuing dissatisfaction with the PRI during the second half of González's administration due to a rash of drug-related killings in 2007 and the state's notoriety for auto theft and bank robbery.
"The governor has been viewed as weak," Berlanga Santos said. "Both [the economy and security] are the main issues, but here, people are definitely worried more about security."
Still, public opinion polls show a narrowing of voter preference over the past six months. A February poll in the newspaper El Norte put the race in a statistical dead heat with 37 percent backing PRI candidate Rodrigo Medina and 35 percent opting for PAN candidate Sen. Fernando Elizondo Barragón. As a result, politicians from both sides have been hesitant to predict victory.
"It's very competitive," Nuevo León PAN Deputy Cristián Castaño told The News. "If the PRI boasts that it's going to win, that's wrong. If the PAN boasts that it's going to win, that's also wrong."
The unveiling of the candidates in February failed to sway public opinion, making it likely that campaign performance and party unity will decide the election.
Unity has been elusive in Nuevo León for the PAN and to a lesser degree, the PRI.
The PAN originally split over the prospect of forming a coalition with the New Alliance party. (No deal was ever reached.)
The national PAN leadership then bypassed the primary election process and tapped Elizondo, a 60-year-old former interim governor, as the one and only candidate.
The three rival candidates for the PAN nomination scorned the process, but fell silent after the announcement.
Some have defended the process, which critics have compared to the old ways of the PRI.
Castaño, for instance, said that the selection process was necessary, in part, due to flaws in the PAN membership list. Analysts, meanwhile, say that the party mostly likely wanted to avoid the possibility of polemic Monterrey Mayor Adalberto Madero winning the nomination.
The PRI, by comparison, experienced less conflict in selecting a candidate. The party opted for Medina after the local PRI leadership brokered a deal. The party, according to PRI Nuevo León Deputy Francisco Rivera Bedoya, also wanted a young candidate. Medina is just 36, but he has already held the No. 2 position in González's administration.
Possibly the only internal PRI spat to go public was a dispute between several unions over the divvying up of candidates for municipal races outside of the Monterrey area.
With the race currently so tight, analysts say that the party that keeps a lid on internal conflict will most likely win. This applies particularly to the PAN, they say.
"The key for the PAN is to make sure that they don't split between now and the election," Weldon said.
17 March 2009
Gay mayoral hope wants to reveal and repair rifts in city
BY DAVID AGREN
GUADALAJARA - Nomination battles within the nation's small parties seldom generate much excitement. But Miguel Galán has defied that trend by vying for a spot on the mayoral ballot as an openly gay candidate in Guadalajara, Jalisco, one of the country's most conservative cities.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 31-year-old's bid to take the mayor's office in a city known for its conservative Catholic politics has captured the attention of national newspapers and foreign media outlets. He is, after all, trying to become the first openly gay mayor in the country's history. But Galán insists his aspirations to govern Mexico's second-largest city go beyond championing issues important to the gay community.
"I'm not going to govern for just the gay community," Galán said while breaking from his campaign for the Social Democratic Party, or PSD, nomination in Guadalajara last weekend. "But I'm not going to forget it."
Mexican electoral campaigns traditionally have overlooked the gay community, which itself is said to be disparate in its partisan leanings and shy about venturing into the political arena. And few politicians or parties outside of Mexico City court the gay vote, or take up issues specific to the gay populace.
Galán recognizes the long odds. The conservative National Action Party, or PAN, has governed Guadalajara and Jalisco for the past 14 years and the Catholic Church wields enormous social influence there.
Galán, who was named the PSD candidate on Friday, will represent a party that only recently emerged from massive internal strife on the national level and is engaged in a struggle to pass the minimum-vote threshold in the July 5 elections that is necessary to maintain its registration with electoral authorities.
Galán's strategy, he says, will be to capitalize on the softening social attitudes in Guadalajara, which for all of its fame as a bastion of Catholic and conservative attitudes, is also home to a sizable gay community and many members of other religious sects. And Galán insists that Guadalajara as a whole is moving beyond many of its old stereotypes.
"Of course, we have this reputation, but in a city like Guadalajara . with more than 5 million people [in the metropolitan area], we can't say any longer that it's a conservative city," Galán said over iced tea and cigarettes on the patio of a popular café in the Colonia Americana, a leafy neighborhood where the gay community has a noticeable presence.
"It's a city that in many ways is cosmopolitan. There's every type of thinking, there's every kind of ideology - and liberals are continually gaining ground."
Galán confesses to bringing little political experience to his mayoral bid - he only joined the PSD within the past two months - but he does bring idealism and a background of fighting for social causes.
Originally trained as a helicopter pilot, he said that he wanted to use his skills to save dolphins from the nets of tuna fishermen, but became sidetracked with other projects.
Those projects included the founding of an Internet radio station for the gay community and later a gay-focused program on the University of Guadalajara's radio station. Galán also worked in the culture department of the municipal government - which now sponsors ancillary events at the city's annual gay pride parade - and was involved in launching a newspaper on women's issues.
Galán says that his "red socialist blood" came from his grandfather, who fought on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War. He cites Spanish President José Luis Zapatero as a political hero on account of his liberalization agenda, which included a gay marriage initiative that passed.
Galán's interest in politics only grew stronger after the 2006 campaign of Patricia Mercado, who successfully courted the gay vote for Alternativa, as the PSD was previously known.
Like Mercado - who renounced her PSD membership last fall - Galán speaks more of issues like minority rights and equality than bread-and-butter municipal political issues like roads and sewers.
And in Guadalajara, he sees inequality in many places, including the way that more municipal money is spent on the wealthier west side of the city - where he resides in a neighborhood known for rosebushes lining the streets - than the working-class east side.
"If you go to the east side . you won't find one park in [good conditions] of security, cleanliness, and upkeep," he said. Even worse, he said, for every 12 trees on the west side, there's only one in eastern Guadalajara. On the east side of the divide, pollution from cement plants, winter bonfires and brick ovens produces air quality levels worse than those in Mexico City.
"If we all pay the same taxes, we should get exactly the same services," he said.
If elected, he promises to "review . and eliminate all discriminatory laws," and open City Hall for dialogue between groups that seldom come together - or even venture across the Calzada de la Independencia, a roadway that slices the city in two.
"At this moment, the rich fear the poor and vice versa, the poor fear the rich," Galán said. "No one is communicating with each other."
IS GUADALAJARA READY?
How Galán's message of tolerance and dialogue will be received is uncertain. Equally uncertain is if Guadalajara is ready for a gay mayor.
Activists in the gay community and political observers express differing opinions over the matter.
"The image people have of Jalisco is somewhat incorrect," said political science professor Joaquín Galindo Díaz of the University of Guadalajara, who agrees that changing social values work in the favor of Galán's candidacy. "Half of the population is conservative, but the other half, no."
That other half includes a gay community whose presence is visible and whose reputation is well-known outside western Mexico.
A 2003 survey in the local newspaper Mural found more gay-oriented businesses in Jalisco - split equally between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, a long-time destination for gay tourists - than any other jurisdiction in the country.
And just last year, a 90 million peso donation by the Jalisco government toward the construction of a massive Catholic temple in the Guadalajara suburb of Tlaquepaque generated a record number of human rights complaints and spurred so many streets protests that the money was returned.
Others speak less enthusiastically about social change in Guadalajara, however. Aarón Díaz, who works with a health organization that runs a monthly HIV-testing clinic, said that the city is only marginally more tolerant than it was two decades ago. Back then, a conference that was set to be held by an international gay organization was hounded out of town, and the office of one gay advocacy group was even attacked with Molotov cocktails.
"Guadalajara has a reputation for double standards," Díaz said, adding, "the gay community itself is very conservative."
Díaz doesn't think the city is ready for a gay mayor. Others concur.
"This city is very Catholic . [and] not ready for a candidate like that" said Lili Ceja, who has been promoting PAN mayoral candidate Jorge Salinas in Guadalajara.
Still, at least some average citizens seem willing to take a chance on a candidate like Galán.
"Maybe he would be a little less worse than the other [politicians]," said taco stand waiter Mario Becerra.