30 December 2006

Live cheap in Tlaxcala

Above Guanajuato

Perhaps not surprisingly, Los Cabos, a pair of burgeoning towns at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, jumped to No. 1 in a survey of living costs in 42 Mexican cities, surpassing the expensive Federal District and industrial hub Monterrey. Tlaxcala, a small state capital (of a state also named Tlaxcala) just east of Mexico City came in last. In a slight surprise, Guanajuato, a picturesque university town set in a canyon, was second-least expensive.

Here are the results of the Mercer Consulting survey:

Most expensive:
1. Los Cabos, Baja California Sur
2. Monterrey, Nuevo Leon
3. Mexico City, Federal District
4. Cancun, Quintana Roo
5. Tijuana, Baja California
6. Guadalajara, Jalisco

Least expensive:
1. Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala
2. Guanajuato, Guanajuato
3. Chetumal, Quintana Roo
4. Durango, Durango
5. Pachuca, Hidalgo

*Information published in the Excelsior newspaper, but not online.

Development trouble stirs in San Miguel de Allende

sma protest

Development issues continue vexing San Miguel de Allende as residents - both Mexican and expatriate - voice concerns that the municipality is imprudently granting too many construction permits for projects that fail to conform with the town's historic ambiance. Things came to a head on Dec. 16 with a demonstration against a seven-story condominium project called the Caracol, which was to be built next to the Caracol roadway, a bypass connecting the Salida to Queretaro with the Salida to Celaya.

Construction has been halted while the municipality reviews the project. The developer, in comments to the Atencion newspaper, blamed a small group, including expatriates, for stirring up trouble and pointed out that 108 San Miguel de Allende workers are now left without jobs. Critics of the development countered that the construction permits shouldn't have been given in the first place.

A new Super Gigante and large Comerical Mexicana outlet also opened earlier this month, saving many residents a trip to Celaya or Queretaro for worthwhile grocery shopping. And while popular - at least Comerical Mexicana is, while Gigante, a lackluster operation at the best of times, suffers with the new competition in town - the stores' plain, suburban-style facades drew grumbles from some of the marchers at the Dec. 16 protest. (More so Comercial Mexicana than Gigante.)

San Miguel resident Bob Kelly has followed this issue closely. Here's one of his articles from the Miami Herald, Mexico edition: http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/miami/22528.html

10 best Mexican destinations seldom visted by Canadians


I penned a travel story for today's Ottawa Citizen on the 10 best Mexican destinations seldom visited by Canadians.

I obviously couldn't include everything I wanted to and I've yet to visit many parts of Mexico - like Chiapas or the Baja Peninsula. Here's the list compiled in alphabetical order:

  1. Colima, Colima
  2. The Costa Alegre, Jalisco
  3. Mineral del Monte, Hidalgo
  4. Papantla, Veracruz
  5. Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila
  6. Patzcuaro, Michoacan
  7. Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
  8. Rio Nexpa, Michoacan
  9. Tequila, Jalisco
  10. Zacatecas, Zacatecas

Update: Canwest News Service picked up this story and it's made its way into five addition newspapers, most recently, The Winnipeg Free Press.

War on drugs heats up in Mexico

Perhaps trying to prove he's a man of action, Felipe Calderon recently ramped up Mexico's war on drugs by sending the army into his home state of Michoacan, where executions and beheadings have become disturbingly common. The president's action followed a less-than-successful scheme dubbed "Mexico Seguro" that was rolled out by his predecessor in an effort to secure northern Mexico. The results were unspectacular. It also was reported in the Reforma newspaper earlier this week that the recent operation in Michoacan has yet to do anything to stop executions in the state.

Fred Rosen, a columnist with the Miami Herald, Mexico edition, wrote almost mournfully in the opening paragraph of his last piece, "We can only wish the government well. But somehow it seems like we've been down this road before with precious little to show for it."

I could go on with calamitous examples of people's brushes with the war on drugs - some of them highly-amusing, like the mariachi musicians in Guadalajara who told me business was lousy in recent years because many of the narcotics traffickers (previously their best customers) in the city had moved on to other places, including prison. Other stories are just tragic. A former classmate from Calgary was shot dead outside a suburban Guadalajara nightclub in 2004. The main suspect is the son of a notorious drug kingpin.

It somehow seems that no matter what the Mexican government does, it won't abate this situation as the traffickers become increasingly sophisticated and brutal in their tactics. There's also a consumption problem in the U.S. and until that diminishes - or drugs are legalized - Mexico will keep on suffering.

24 December 2006

Arthur March R.I.P.

A sad chapter in one of Lake Chapala's longest-running soap operas closed on Thursday, when former resident Arthur March died in a Texas prison. He was 78. March, father of convicted killer Perry March, passed away after serving four months of a five-year prison sentence for his role in a botched murder-for-hired scheme designed to eliminate Perry's former in laws. The hit, which turned out to be a sting, snared Arthur after he went to the Guadalajara airport to pickup the hitman, who turned out to be a jailhouse informant. (Perry just filed suit against the informant.)

According to reporting by Chapala-area journalist Dale Hoyt Palfrey, Arthur March was supposed to provide a safe haven in Ajijic for the hitman. Mexican immigration authorities later seized March outside of an Ajijic doughnut shop last winter and quickly put him on a plane out of the country. (The amaparo March had obtained against police action had just expired and March's attorney apparently failed to notify his client.) March had vowed never to leave Mexico without a struggle and according to Hoyt Palfrey, March pulled a belt-buckle knife - the popular kind from the Ojeda factory in Sayula, Jalisco - while being apprehended.

Perry March, who was previously a prominent Nashville attorney, was convicted earlier this year of murdering his wife Janet, who disappeared in 1996. Her body was never found. In a plea bargain, which a Tennessee judge later threw out, March said he disposed of Janet's body at Kentucky golf course. After the deal was nixed, March was sentenced to five years in prison. Perry is serving a 56-year sentence, but is appealing. The younger March was also convicted of stealing money from his in laws' legal firm.

Although convicted of participating in a murder-for-hire scheme, Arthur March still has his supporters, one person said of him on the Chapala.com message boards, "In spite of everything, I knew him well, he was a great person always positive and helpful, he had pride.... he will be missed." Others strongly disagreed.

Even with Arthur gone, Perry will keep this saga going for years - witness his custody petitions from prison. And, just musing, where's his new Mexican wife holed up these days? And where's the money Perry allegedly swindled? Anyway, this will be gossiped about at Lakeside for a long time to come.

20 December 2006

Adios Oswaldo

Only 10 days after leading Chivas to an improbably victory in the Mexican soccer league's Apertura (opening leg), goalie Oswaldo Sanchez traded the red and white candy-cane stripes of Club Deportivo Guadalajara for the somewhat less illustrious green and white stripes of Santos Laguna. The Torreon-based club - and not the UANL Tigres of Monterrey as previously rumored -acquired the star national team goalie after making what Sanchez called a "very attractive" package reportedly worth US $6 million over three seasons.

Santos, which is owned by Grupo Modelo (Corona), finished second from the bottom in the 2006 Apertura and risks relagation without a marked improvement in the upcoming Clausura. The club also signed midfielder Juan Pablo Rodriguez, who played on the 2006 Mexican World Cup squad.

Allowing Sanchez to leave would normally raise hackles of outrage in Guadalajara - his hometown - but with the team ending a ten-year championship drought last season, Chivas owner Jorge Vergara will most likely be forgiven - for now. Sanchez had flirted with the idea of playing in Europe after the 2006 World Cup, but didn't receive any especially attractive offers. (High transfer fees could have hindered the process too.) Given his age, 33, he'll probably finish his career in Mexico.

16 December 2006

Pirate cabs on the prowl in Mexico City

Taxi en San Angel

Upon entering a cab early yesterday morning on Calle Homero in Mexico City's swank Polanco district, the driver asked, "Young man, why do you trust me so much?" I pointed to the "L" on his Federal District license plate - which signifies libre, or a taxi not attached to a station. He responded by pointing a laminated credential from the local government with a photo hanging from the rear-view mirror, before adding that many of the taxi licenses are fake. (Some pirates simply use a normal plate instead of one with the letters "L" or "S" and the necessary red trim.)

An estimated 20,000 pirate cabs prowl Mexico City's congested streets. When asked why some many are out there, the cab driver responded, "The government allows it."

Another cab driver in a more expensive sitio taxi (one with a radio and home base) said the pirate taxistas support the PRD party and thus have obtained protection against possible enforcement.

Obviously the licensed taxi drivers object to the pirates due to the extra competition. Tourists might be hesitant as Mexico has been notorious for express kidnappings in which the passenger is escorted to several bank machines and ordered to empty his or her accounts.

But what does this say about the PRD administration in capital? This smacks of the old PRI-style corporatist system that tied unions, businesses, etc. to the once-mighty party in exchange for patronage. It also suggests a lack of respect for the law - something critics of presidential candidate and former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have long alleged the perredista is guilty of.

14 December 2006

$450 for a bottle of Tequila Patron? No gracias!

Atotonilco Cantina
Originally uploaded by David Agren.
An interesting article earlier this month in the National Post on the misery of dealing with Liquor Control Board of Ontario noted that a special edition bottle of Tequila Patron was on sale for more than C$450.

That same weekend, I downed a copious amount of tequila in Atotonilco el Alto, Jalisco - where Tequila Patron is made - at my landlady's family reunion. Of course, since Atotonilco is a legendary tequila-producing town, we drank the local brands: mainly 7 Leguas and 3 Magueyes. Don Julio, which is also distilled locally, was absent, perhaps due to its high price - which in Mexico is far less than what the LCBO wants for Tequila Patron. Also missing was Tequila Patron, a brand gaining fame outside of Mexico, but everyone in Atotonilco that day had little positive to say about it. When I told one cousin about the $450 price tag, she commented: "That's abusive."

13 December 2006

Sandcastle in Puerto Vallarta

Jose de Jesus Ramirez sculpts sandcastles on the beach in front of Puerto Vallarta's famed Malecon. Being Dec. 12, he made an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a revered religious icon in Mexico. Legend has it the dark-skinned virgin appeared to Juan Diego, a poor indigenous peasant, at Tepayac Hill in what's now the northern part of Mexico City back in the 1531.

When not shaping saints out of sand, Ramirez makes sandcastles, which take about 10 hours each to complete, to fit the season. Next week he said he'd craft a nacimiento (nativity scene) then Santa Claus and various reindeer and finally in early January, the three wise men.

10 December 2006

The good guys (read: Chivas) capture Mexican soccer title

Chivas fans

Long-suffering Chivas fans took to the streets on Sunday after their squad bested Toluca 2-1 to capture the Mexican league's Apertura (Opening leg). The Guadalajara-based team only fields Mexican players - which endears it to millions across the Republic - and hadn't won the championship since 1997. Along with celebrations at Lakeside, Chivas fans also swarmed the Glorieta Minerva in Guadalajara and the Angel monument in Mexico City and later lined a two-kilometer stretch of the Carretera Guadalajara-Chapala (which runs by the airport) in order to welcome their conquering heroes home.

Despite the loss, Toluca, the runner up, has perhaps been Mexico's most successful club over the past decade. According to sports marketing expert Hector Lopez Zatarain, the Diablos Rojos (Red Devils, as Toluca is known) have been well managed and seen little turnover. Players are also paid promptly - unlike at some other clubs. The consistency differs from the coaching carousel in Guadalajara, but with a championship under his belt, no one's really blaming Chivas colorful owner Jorge Vergara for anything right now.

Update: The Miami Herald, Mexico Edition ran my piece on why Chivas' is more than just a popular soccer team.

San Miguel’s cantinas

Cantina in San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel’s cantinas

By David Agren, Dec 8, 2006

Shortly before 5pm on a chilly Wednesday afternoon, an old- timer, clutching a cane, pushed through the wooden doors of Cantina La Colonia, a drinking establishment on Insurgentes in San Miguel de Allende. After approaching the bar, he ordered a generous shot of Gran Centenario Reposado Tequila and then proceeded to the tiny restroom behind a curtain in the corner. Upon emerging, he paid 30 pesos, took a sip from the shot glass before pouring the rest of the tequila into a red disposable cup and leaving the premises.

Ramon García’s family has owned Cantina La Colonia on Insurgentes since 1949.
Cantinas such as La Colonia generally sell alcohol in simple establishments to an older, less-affluent clientele drawn from the municipality’s barrios and ranchos. They generally open early and serve customers until midnight, seven days a week. Although similar to bars, cantinas usually lack polish and are governed by different licensing regulations. They’re also a throwback to days gone by, when only men would imbibe at such places and the tipplers were supposedly all macho. And while cantinas are still commonplace, business in many establishments isn’t exactly brisk.“In the old days, all the cantinas had a lot more people,” said Ramon García, owner of Cantina La Colonia.

Cantinas, however, live large in San Miguel de Allende’s municipal lore. Back in the 1960s, members of the Beat Generation, including Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac, would populate La Cucaracha, perhaps the area’s most legendary drinking establishment. Twenty-eight years after Cassady’s death on the railroad tracks heading toward Celeya, cantinas still dot most San Miguel de Allende neighborhoods, providing a cheap spot to drink beer and socialize with the Mexican population. In some cases, though, cantinas are tourist attractions and cater to both locals and foreigners in atmospheres that are genteel and not entirely authentic. And at places like La Cucaracha (cockroach in Spanish) and El Gato Negro (The Black Cat), the crowds can be decidedly young at times.

At Cantina La Colonia, owner Ramón García tends bar every day in a cheery establishment, which recently moved one door down the street. (He rented the old corner location at Insurgentes and Hernández Macías to a furniture store.) In the new location, he painted the walls mauve. It has three simple Corona-branded tables, a television set, a jukebox and a small shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. He figured about 40 people could squeeze in at any given moment. Although possibly imposing for a foreigner passing by the swinging doors—the kind straight out of an old western movie—García rejects the idea of a cantina being an unsafe or unwelcoming place.

“The myth is that there were really macho people (in here),” he said between drags of a Marlboro cigarette. And he listed another fiction about cantinas: “That there used to be people here many years ago who had knives and guns.”

As a result, García said that foreigners—and some Mexicans—“Wouldn’t enter any cantina ... they were scared they would get beat up or that they could be killed.”

Cantina La Colonia first opened in 1949, the year García was born. He grew up in the cantina his father started shortly after moving from Mexico City. “For my father, this was a good business,” García said.

Since assuming control of the cantina, he said business has slipped due to the general economic malaise that has settled over Mexico for the past 25 years. (Last week, though, it was the cold weather that kept customers at home, and one night he closed early at 8:30pm.) Garcia also groused about the lack of a local industrial base and the dependence on tourism jobs, which he said don’t pay all that well.“San Miguel lives—for me—for nothing more than two things: artisans and drunks,” he said somewhat sarcastically.“Nowadays, the situation is [economically] pretty critical. Everything is going up in price and people don’t earn all that much money.”

Mostly Mexicans patronize his cantina—only about 20 percent of the clientele is foreign. Bottled beer is the most commonly ordered drink, followed by tequila. (García only sells Grupo Modelo products because the brewery, which makes Corona, Victoria and Negra Modelo, offered him a cash payment for signing an exclusivity deal.) Cantina La Colonia doesn’t serve food because cantinas are not allowed to serve it. The jukebox, loaded with a surprising variety of music ranging from Latin rock groups such as Maná to ranchero crooners such as Vicente Fernández, swallows an enormous quantity of coins. Cantina La Colonia almost never has live music—another thing forbidden by municipal rules. (Cantinas also can’t impose a cover charge.) Rules aside, bars, nightclubs and even strip joints are pulling customers away from cantinas, according to García, who lamented the large number of liquor licenses granted in the city center. “San Miguel is extremely saturated with bars,” he commented.

Silvia Hernández, a secretary in the Fiscalización office at city hall, said the municipality grants liquor licenses after consulting with the department of urban development and the general guidelines set out by the ayuntamiento (municipal council). As for cantina permits, she said few applications are made and most potential licensees seek permission to sell beer in small mom-and-pop shops.

And while bars and cantinas are different, some establishments blur the distinction. At La Coronela on the corner of San Francisco and Relox, the atmosphere is classy with large portraits of movie stars from the golden age of Mexican cinema gracing the walls. The music—a song from the sappy Mexican pop sextet RBD blared from the television during a recent visit—hardly seemed apt for a cantina. The establishment caters to both locals and foreigners, but in a departure from other cantinas, it hires well-dressed bartenders and waiters, each of whom declined to comment on the record for this newspaper.

Farther out from Centro, down Canal Street, Bar Casanova seemed a more authentic spot to watch the Chivas-Cruz Azul soccer playoff last Saturday evening. At Bar Casanova, a bottle of beer costs only 10 pesos and a waiter wearing a grubby white shirt and faded jeans delivered it to the table. Pictures of dogs playing poker covered some of the walls. Most of the denizens were glued to the match, with Chivas, a beloved squad that only fields Mexican players, drawing the most support. After a Cruz Azul shot hit the post, one inebriated patron yelled, “Pinche suerte!” (Cantinas are wonderful places to learn off-color Spanish.)

José Luis Perales, a lawyer trained at UNAM, has been the owner of El Gato Negro on Mesones for 23 years. The legendary cantina, which is adorned with photos of Marilyn Monroe, first opened in 1921.

On the other side of Centro from Bar Casanova, El Gato Negro delivers a more eclectic ambiance than virtually any other San Miguel de Allende cantina. Owner José Luis Perales decorated his establishment—the second-oldest cantina in San Miguel de Allende—with Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. El Gato Negro probably vies with La Cucaracha for the unofficial title of the most famous cantina in town.

“[El Gato Negro] has been famous because people comment ... ‘When you come to San Miguel you have to come to El Gato Negro,’” Perales explained.The landmark cantina on Mesones dates back to 1921. The original owner had a business delivering fuel, and a black cat was its mascot. Sort of by default, the cantina gained its name from the fuel company’s mascot, according to Perales. And while it was once a male bastion, Perales said that changed in the 1970s as Mexican women began receiving more legal rights and social customs changed. Nowadays, pretty much any sober person over the age of 18 can drink in a cantina.

“If you have a voter’s credential and it says 18 years old, you can enter,” he said.

Perales, like Ramón García at Cantina La Colonia, grew up in the cantina business. But unlike his competition, he previously studied law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Although he is a lawyer, Perales said, “I prefer working in a bar.”

Perhaps topping El Gato Negro in notoriety is La Cucaracha—but just barely. Esquire magazine once dubbed La Cucaracha one of the 10 best bars in the world. Located on Zacateros—it moved from its original location by the Jardín about a decade ago—it draws a mixed crowd of locals during the week and foreigners and tourists on the weekend.But beyond the plain and easy-going ambiance, history is La Cucaracha’s biggest calling card. The Beat Generation frequented La Cucaracha in the 1960s. Legend has it one writer gave writing lessons upstairs in order to cover his bar bill. Ramón García said La Cucaracha’s original owner was “a good promoter” who courted the American writers. “The Americans used to arrive and give him their checks,” Garcia explained. “If there wasn’t any money, it wasn’t important.”

Due to its notoriety, business is seemingly better at La Cucaracha than at pretty much any other cantina, including García’s La Colonia, which isn’t really thriving but, according to the owner, still provides an OK living. “It’s a business that isn’t especially profitable,” García said. “But it’s livable.”

Published in Atencion San Miguel

05 December 2006

Adios, President

Adios, Presidente

A look back at six unremarkable years of Vicente Fox

David Agren December 4, 2006

Cantina owner Ramon Garcia once held high hopes for Mexican President Vicente Fox. He supported Fox not once but three times, as Fox previously ran for governor in Garcia's home state of Guanajuato before successfully deposing the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000. But with time, Garcia, like many Mexicans, grew disillusioned as Fox repeatedly stumbled and failed to implement much of the change promised during the heady days of his presidential campaign.

"He wasn't born dumb," Garcia commented, before adding, "Fox just never knew how to be president."

Garcia pointed to his ailing San Miguel de Allende bar business as proof of Fox's unfulfilled promises of creating prosperity. He said his clientele, mostly working-class folk from nearby barrios and surrounding ranchos, lacks the purchasing power of past years. Good jobs are still scarce.

Fox left office on Friday after six stable but unremarkable years of governance – if you don't account the early accomplishment of outsting the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and improving the macroeconomic climate. Despite running on an agenda of change, much of the old Mexico he promised to banish stubbornly persists, perhaps nowhere more visibly than in Oaxaca, where a teachers' strike descended into a battle between disgruntled leftists and the state's corrupt PRI governor. Inaction, a failure to broker deals with a divided Congress and a tendency to avoid conflict will no doubt go down as some of his biggest shortcomings. But many of Fox's problems stemmed from the high expectations created by his presidential campaign.

"He was an imprudent president incapable of biting his tongue,” said Marco Antonio Cortes, director of the political science department at the University of Guadalajara.

A gifted campaigner and lousy politician, the former Coca-Cola executive effectively turned the 2000 presidential race into a referendum on 71 years of PRI rule, coining the slogan, “¡Ya!” (loosely translated: now, or enough). He also was all things to all people and in the euphoria of seeing the PRI unseated – a feat compared to landing a man on the moon – pretty much anything he said seemed possible. Governing, however, proved more difficult than winning office.

"Fox never had a serious plan for governing,” said Dan Lund, president of Mund Americas, a Mexico City market research firm. Almost from the start, “There was a sense of drift that began to set in.”

Opposition lawmakers immediately seized on the president's poor political instincts and unwillingness to wield power like his predecessors. Much of Fox's agenda got bogged down in legislative gridlock. He quickly became a lame duck president.

His unwillingness to act decisively extended beyond partisan politics as he repeatedly backed down from confrontations. In 2002, he abandoned plans for a new Mexico City airport after machete-wielding campesinos refused to cooperate. Left-leaning presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador shut down central Mexico City for six weeks over the summer to protest alleged election fraud. Fox later fled the capital during the fiestas patrias (national holidays) rather than confront Lopez Obrador supporters camped outside of the traditional spot the president delivers the grito (the annual reenactment of Miguel Hidalgo's 1810 shout for independence). The Oaxaca conflict simmered for months, but Fox refused to send in the federal police until an American activist/journalist was shot dead in late October.

Perhaps most infamously, Fox said he'd resolve the Chiapas crisis in 15 minutes. Six years later it's still unresolved, although jungle-dwelling rebel subcomandante Marcos is now a peripheral figure, better loved by foreign lefties than Mexicans outside of Chiapas.Economically the country stagnated, although 2006 has been promising in terms of job creation. Growth averaged just 2.5 percent annually during the Fox years – a far cry from the seven percent promised. Migrants still decamp the campo (countryside) in large numbers. (The president promised to achieve an immigration deal with the United States, but 9/11 derailed those hopes.) Fox spoke of job creation, but the informal economy is as robust as ever. Monopolies and duopolies – most notably in telecommunications, broadcasting and brewing – still gouge Mexican consumers. Pemex, the state-owned oil company, is sorely lacking investment. Unions wield as much power as ever.

"We've got more macroeconomic stability, but that's all we've got,” Lund said. "Monopolies and privileges are braking – if not absolutely impeding – economic growth.”

Still, some of the macroeconomic figures are impressive. Inflation dipped below three percent, banks now issue fixed-interest rate loans, the peso failed to crash and the stock market tripled. Fox also drove down the budget deficit.

"He deserves credit, but not all of the credit that's been attributed to him,” said Marco Antonio Cortes. "He's been lucky.”

High oil prices swelled profits at Pemex, the government's main cash cow. (The company remits more than 60 percent of its gross income to the Mexican government, leaving little cash for exploration or maintenance.) Remittances from Mexicans abroad also accelerated, going from less than $10 billion in 2002 to a projected $24 billion in 2006.

Stability aside, Cortes remarked, "(Fox) hasn't achieved any of his important projects."

But that didn't stop the president from returning to what he did best: campaigning. Los Pinos (the presidency) aired an endless stream of TV and radio commercials and erected signs along many of the Republic's major highways boasting of the “Gobierno de Cambio” (government of change). Many Mexicans didn't believe it, but Fox remained somewhat popular. The propaganda, though, confused the residents of one Veracruz hamlet, who changed their town's name to Licenciado Vicente Fox Quesada in a bid to avoid missing out on the supposed largess flowing from Los Pinos. (More importantly for one resident commenting in Mexico City newspaper El Universal: “Most of the town is illiterate and this is one of the few names everyone could remember.”)

Fox's successor, Felipe Calderon, also spoke of change and made numerous promises during the 2006 presidential race. Unlike Fox, many analysts, including Cortes, give Calderon a better chance of succeeding.

"(Calderon's) intelligent, an able negotiator (and) much more prudent," Cortes said. Perhaps more importantly, "He thinks a lot more prior to opening his mouth."

David Agren is a freelance journalist living in Guadalajara

This article appeared in Reason

APPO leaders arrested

While not entirely placid, a sense of normalcy is returning to Oaxaca. And sadly, Governor Ulises Ruiz is still in power.

After the late November dust up, which saw a number of buildings burn, more than 100 APPO supporters were arrested and jailed in Nayarit state - a long ways from Oaxaca. Several top APPO leaders were also apprehended yesterday in Mexico City and are now apparently in Altiplano, one of the country's most notorious prisons.

This whole Oaxaca situation is tough to completely understand and no side is without blame. Seemingly, there are just varying degrees of bad.

Why, for example, do the teachers strike every year? Or, why, despite assertions to the contrary, do APPO-led protests sometimes descend into violence? Of course, Ulises Ruiz and his thugs in the PRI have much to answer for - and his ousting would effectively put an end to much of the unpleasantness.

One troubling part is how APPO has garnered such sympathy. Are their motives entirely pure? Sergio Sarmiento pointed out in one of his Grupo Reforma columns that APPO used to receive money from the Oaxaca government, but Ruiz put an end to the payments.

That fact doesn't negate many of APPO's grievances, but it raises questions.

Adios Presidente

Vicente Fox finally left office after six unremarkable years and sadly many of things his Gobierno de Cambio promised to change stubornly persist - just witness the unrest in Oaxaca where radical lefties are battling an old-school PRI governor.

Fox isn't a bad man, he's just a lousy politician with a gift for campaigning. Here's what I wrote for Reason Online ... it's not all that complimentary.

04 December 2006

Paco heads for Gobernacion (Interior Ministry)

Former Jalisco governor Francisco "Paco" Ramirez Acuna collected on an imense political debt with his ascension to the interior ministry, perhaps the most prestigious spot in President Felipe Calderon's cabinet. Paco, who governed Jalisco from 2001 until a few weeks ago, gained a reputation as a no-nonsense character willing to have the police bust heads when necessary - principally at the May 2004 summit of European and Latin American leaders held in Guadalajara. Local and state police forcefully cracked down on globalifobicos (anti-globalization protesters) trying to enter a restricted downtown area. Human rights abuses were documented and some of the protesters were detained for months without being charged. When asked to explain things, Paco testily responded afterwards, "Nothing happened."

Few tapatios (Guadalajara residents) lost much sleep over those events as the city and region generally sees few protests and the local population is seldom enamored with causes viewed as radical.

That doesn't mean Paco was well regarded. He certainly never achieved the same levels of popularity as Alberto Cardenas, Paco's predecessor. Paco seldom spoke to the media, took numerous foreign junkets of dubious value - promoting tequila in Poland comes to mind - and accomplished little other than bring the 2011 Pan Am Games to Guadalajara. (No other cities made bids.) A fuss broke out in Chapala after the new malecon was named for the outgoing governor last month. (PAN was just voted out of city hall in Chapala after disastrous back-to-back terms and Lake Chapala has improved slightly in spite of government inaction.) New PAN governor Emilio Gonzalez Marquez won fewer votes in Jalisco than Felipe Calderon and only a deeply-negative campaign kept the state from going PRI.

Although perceived as a law-and-order guy, Paco willing broke the rules when it served his purposes. After a new transparency law was passed, he refused to show his paycheque - as required - to a constituent.

But Paco backed Felipe Calderon back in 2004, going against the PAN establishment - and Cardenas. And now Paco's collecting.