31 December 2009

A bit of New Year's self-promotion

Ejido Modelo Emiliano Zapata

I spent three days in early December working as a fixer in the Lake Chapala area and Guadalajara for a New York Times reporter, who was investigating what happens to the undocumented migrants that lose access to health care services in the U.S. and subsequently return to Mexico. The story focuses a 34-year-old woman, Mónica Chavarría, from an ejido on the Jalisco-Michoacán state line. She has end-stage renal failure and used to receive treatment at a public hospital in Atlanta. But the hospital closed the kidney dialysis clinic earlier this year due to budgetary issues.

The undocumented migrants receiving dialysis were offered three months of treatment elsewhere and a trip home. (U.S. Citizens with kidney failure are eligible for Medicare.) Mónica returned to Mexico with her youngest son, while her husband and older son stayed in the Atlanta area. Her husband has been working as a paver and raising money to pay for a transplant - which would cost far less in Mexico.

Read the full story here, at the Times' website.

Happy new year to everyone!

26 December 2009

Christmas potpourri

Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. Photo by Steven H. Miller.

I avoided working on Christmas Day for the first time in three years. But I noticed enough happenings back in Mexico worth mentioning in a blog post. (There certainly weren't any here in Canada worth mentioning, spare this outstanding year-end column penned by Lord Conrad Black from his Florida prison cell on the worst nonsense of 2009.)

Trips to the newsroom on the past two Christmas Days were rather bleak affairs - and made even more bleak by a big boss that was partial to a no-fun, let's-take-ourselves-too-serious editorial policy that kept the lighter side of the news out of the newspaper on holidays. (How many times can you write seriously about Andrés Manuel López Obrador rallies in the Zócalo? For the record, I've done it more than 20 times.)

The lighter side of the news in Mexico around this time of year often involves fireworks - or, more accurately, some mishap with fireworks, such as a pyrotechnics warehouse blowing up in Cancún.

And with most Mexicans feasting on their Christmas dinners - accompanied by generous amounts of drink - late on Dec. 24, a not-so-enterprising reporter in León wrote about the traditional remedy for a night of hard drinking: A hot bowl of menudo, or tripe soup. Menuderías were, no surprise, busy on Christmas morning, ladling up hot fare for those that hit the liquor a little too hard.

Others hitting the liquor a little too hard got busted by the "alcoholimétro," or breathalyzer. The Mexico City Public Security Secretariat reported that 1,096 motorists have been detained so far this holiday season for failing breathalyzer tests. Cops in the capital have reputedly been less inclined to take bribes from those anxious to avoid a possible trip to the drunk tank.

Reforma, meanwhile, noted that the Mexico City prison population also got into the Christmas spirit by hitting the liquor a little too hard. The newspaper reported in a Boxing Day story that wealthier inmates celebrated Christmas with feasts that featured "Serrano ham" along with "alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, music and ... and hired women."

Inmates with culinary skills reportedly prepared the feasts for their wealthier counterparts, who, the Mexico City daily said, "Are known as godfathers." An inmate known as Juan "N" told Reforma that guards got in on the act, too, but in a far less festive fashion. He said that the guards charged less-fortunate inmates double to be marked "present" during roll call because they needed money for Christmas bonuses and didn't want to have to disrupt the prison parties.

Christmas, unfortunately, was bleak for many in Mexico's working and lower classes, who have suffered through an economic crisis in 2009 that has been marked by rising prices, lower wages and record unemployment.

El Universal interviewed one of the Santas moonlighting in Mexico City's Alameda Central, who said he took the gig because his construction job wasn't giving him any hours. The 15-year-old Santa said that his temporary gig paid 130 pesos per day and that he liked the work - even though his reasons for saying so seemed truly dismal.

"They pay me less here, but I like it more," he said. "I remember my childhood [while working as a Santa], although Santa never brought me anything."

One person grumbling about the big Santa better known as the federal government not bringing anything for anyone was López Obrador - the so-called "legitimate president" and self-styled champion of the downtrodden. Not one to avoid mixing disparate happenings and holiday events with his pet causes - recall his August 2008 proposal to solve insecurity and kidnappings by avoiding the "privatization, open or disguised, of the national petroleum industry" - López Obrador invoked Jesus Christ in his Christmas Twitter remarks.

"According to history, a day such as today, 2009 years ago, Jesus Christ was born, the most important defender of the poor that has ever existed."

Naturally, Mexico's religious institutions weighed in on Christmas - but not with the usual tidings of comfort and joy. Bishop Raúl Vera López of Saltillo - a man, who, like López Obrador, shows frequent disdain for the country's political class - delivered a Christmas Day rebuke to the federal government's recent scalping of cartel kingpin Arturo Beltrán Leyva.

Members of the Mexican Navy shot Beltrán Leyva dead during a Dec. 16 raid in Cuernavaca. That raid, and the subsequent papering of the body with bank notes by crime scene workers, upset the good bishop. He told inmates at a women's prison that the federal government appeared to have no interest in capturing Beltrán Leyva, only executing him.

"They went to execute, not to apprehend," the bishop said.

"They went to execute, in a way to exhibit the executed people in the same way they exhibited those that were killed and left hanging from trees in the era of the Revolution.

"Now they're smearing them in bank notes."

Bishop Vera has been critical of the federal government's war on drugs from outset and told me in June 2007 that soldiers should be sent back to their barracks since they lack the proper training for dealing with the public.

The Archdiocese of Mexico City differed. Cardinal Norberto Rivera - who seldom sees eye-to-eye with Bishop Vera - told reporters Dec. 20 that he favoured keeping soldiers in the streets since there wasn't another organization ready to take their place.

But the cardinal became far more animated by the Mexico City Assembly (ALDF) approval last week of same-sex marriage laws and the last-minute changes to the legislation to allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

Archidocese of Mexico City publication, Desde la Fe, reported Dec. 24 that during the archdiocese's annual posada, the cardinal "expressed his discontent with the recent approval by the (ALDF) of 'marriages' between persons of the same sex and the adoption of children by theses couples." (Bishop Vera, for the record, backed a 2007 initiative in Coahuila state, site of his diocese, that approved same-sex civil partnerships. He also has blessed the formation of a gay Catholic youth group in Saltillo.)

The salvo against the ALDF for its approval of same-sex marriage was only the latest in a series of tart editorials and statements from the archdiocese against the ALDF and the Chamber of Deputies. Past salvos have taken issue with lawmakers' lavish salaries, partisan political posturings, and their supposed frivolity in the face of the serious economic and social problems facing the country. The archdiocese went even further than just blasting the ALDF for approving same-sex marriage, however. The archdiocese issued an especially grumpy Christmas statement blasting the recently approved Mexico City budget, which increases taxes and metro fares and imposes a new water tariff regime that is meant to stave off forced water rationing in 2010.

"Why is the [majority] PRD, a fierce opponent of federal taxes, such a thief on local (taxes)?" the archdiocese asked.

"Will it be that they need more money to sustain corruption in the boroughs and the scandalous budgets of local deputies that they only use to approve criminal laws such as the one for abortion, immoral ones such as weddings between homosexuals and unjust ones such as the adoption by couples of the same sex.

Going beyond the ALDF, the archdiocese took issue with federal lawmakers, too. A Dec. 1 editorial asked federal lawmakers "to set the example" and take less generous Christmas bonuses, known as an aguinaldos.

The 500 deputies took their usual bonuses - a pro-rated sum of 65,000 pesos this year. The bonuses also included 9,157 pesos in coupons for a Christmas dinner.

At least there was no re-run of last year, when the deputies were reimbursed the money from their aguinaldos that had been deducted in taxes.

16 December 2009

PRD kingpin quits party


A PRD senator on the losing end of a power struggle in the Mexico City borough of Iztapalapa has quit the left-wing party.

Sen. René Arce - PRD power boss in Iztapalapa, one of the biggest local-level jurisdictions in Mexico and one of the party's most populous bastions of support - announced his departure Dec. 15 in a move that had been expected, but underscored the ongoing disunity and disarray in the Mexican left. In an open letter to PRD president Jesús Ortega, Arce expressed dismay with the refusal of the party's hardline factions to negotiate with political rivals - such as the PAN and PRI, parties that former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador brands, "The mafia" - or advance structural reforms in areas such as taxation and the petroleum sector.

"Our country requires a left, that, without fear of the taboos of the old marxist left or of the anachronistic revolutionary nationalism, is willing to reach broad national agreements, including [agreements] with those in all sectors of society and with our political adversaries," Arce said.

The comments were pointed directly at López Obrador, who has admonished PRD members to avoid all dealings with the PAN and PRI and crusaded tirelessly - and unsuccessfully - last year against plans to allow greater private sector participation in the state-controlled petroleum sector.

Arce had crossed swords with López Obrador over the years, but the feuding between the two intensified after the latter narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election.

The senator had been a key organizer in a PRD faction known as the New Left, which is loyal to Ortega and narrowly prevented López Obrador's preferred candidate, Alejandro Encinas, from winning the 2008 internal election. (The electoral tribunal [Trife] overturned the annulled internal election and awarded the PRD presidency to Ortega.)

López Obrador, aided by ace Mexico City organizer René Bejarano and the PRD's IDN faction, took revenge on the New Left and Arce in the March 2009 primary election for PRD borough chief candidate in Iztapalapa, however. (Arce and his brother, Víctor Hugo Cirigo, were previously borough chiefs in Iztapalapa and Arce's ex-wife Silvia Oliva competed in the 2009 PRD primary.)

The former Mexico City mayor later ousted the Arce clan from Iztapalapa. He promoted the successful primary candidacy of Clara Brugada, although she was disqualified in June by the Trife due to irregularities at some of the polling stations in the primary election. The Trife decision set in motion the "Juanito" saga in which López Obrador co-opted the PT campaign of Rafael Acosta and had Acosta promise to step aside for Brugada if the PT won the election. Juanito won on July 5, held office briefly, but took leave so that Brugada could take his place. (Read about the Juanito saga here and here.)

López Obrador's Iztapalapa coup severely weakened the New Left. Ortega also appeared to be weakened as party president and unable or unwilling to intervene in Iztapalapa on Arce's behalf. According to some columnists, Ortega has stayed out of Iztapalapa in an attempt to make peace with the López Obrador factions so that he could launch a bid for the Mexico City mayor's office in 2012.

Arce is reportedly trying to form a new local party with former Chamber of Deputies speaker Ruth Zavaleta - who also resigned from the PRD - that would most likely align itself with the PRI.

Already, Adrián Rueda wrote in his La Razón newspaper column that Arce has a political association that could be converted into a political party. But even before any party is formed, Rueda reported Dec. 16 that Arce was creating headaches for the local PRD in the Mexico City Assembly, where three Arce loyalists also quit the PRD. Their departures deprive the PRD of a majority in the Assembly and thus means that the leadership in the Assembly will be rotated among the represented parties - the PRD had been in position to hold the Assembly leadership for the next three years.

15 December 2009

President unveils political system overhaul

Calderón's proposed political reforms include reelection, run-off elections and fewer federal lawmakers

President Felipe Calderón unveiled a proposal on Dec. 15 for staging run-offs in future presidential elections. The process would pit the two biggest vote-winners in a run-off election to determine a clear victor - and presumably avoid a rerun of the narrow 2006 presidential contest, when Calderón narrowly won by less than a single percentage point and the scorned runner-up, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, derided the process as rigged.

The president unveiled the proposal as part of a 10-point plan for overhauling an oft-maligned political system that is dominated by powerful political parties and, according to some observers, run by an irresponsible political class that lacks both professionalism and accountability to voters.

The 10-point plan
fulfilled a promise made earlier this fall to advance reforms such as the reelection of legislators and mayors, introduce the possibility of holding referendums and allowing for the election of independent candidates.

Calderón's proposals include those ideas, but, if the version he sent to Congress is approved, it would also eliminate the Senate seats distributed through proportional representation and reduce the number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies by 25 percent.

Other proposals call for allowing citizens and the Supreme Court to propose laws and creating a mechanism for the president to critique legislation already approved by Congress before signing it into law. (Torreón-based writer Patrick Corcoran of the Gancho blog compares this to a version of the line-item veto.)

One proposal could potentially imperil the nation's minor political parties - the Green Party, Labor Party, Convergence party and New Alliance - by raising the minimum-vote threshold necessary for them to maintain their registrations with the Federal Electoral Institute from two percent to four percent.

Opposition lawmakers greeted the president's plan with muted enthusiasm. Senate president Carlos Navarrete of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) groused about the president sending the plan to Congress on the final day of the ordinary sessions. (The permanent commission of Congress begins sitting next week.)

"The president likes to wait until the minute and send it in a nick of time, well, he needs to understand that Congress will take its time evaluating the proposals," he told reporters.

Navarrete - described in news reports as being "bothered" by the president's timing - said debate would likely begin in February.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), meanwhile, questioned the president's motives and timing and suggested that Calderón was pursuing diversionary tactics.

"It seems that this change of direction comes after the adverse and precarious results with which the executive arrives at the second half of its government ... in the economic and security matters that were its priorities" said PRI Sen. Pedro Joaquín Coldwell, president of the constitutional points committee.

Still, some in the PRI appeared open to holding discussions with the president, although Coldwell raised the possibility of his party pursuing other reforms such as an overhaul of the presidency itself and giving Congress more of a role in vetting presidential appointments. (PRI heavyweight, Sen. Manlio Fabio Beltrones has long called for creating a "cabinet chief" position, while Coldwell said the PRI wanted to end the "cronyism" in Calderón's cabinet selections.)

State of Mexico Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto appeared even more cautious that his Senate counterparts. He told reporters that he opposed reelection for historical reasons that go back to the national mythology that constant reelection during the rein of Former President Porfirio Díaz provoked social unrest and led to the Revolution.

Peña Nieto, an early favority for the 2012 PRI presidential nomination, previously has said that he instead favours extending legislative and mayoral terms from three years to four years. His support for any proposals could be key as he reputedly wields enormous influence over the roughly 40 PRI lower-house lawmakers from his home state.

For his part, López Obrador blasted the Calderón proposal for a run-off election. In a Twitter posting, he said, "The mafia want a run-off in the elections. They think that with Televisa and their two parties [PAN and PRI], they're going to keep themselves in power forever."

Calderón and López Obrador both claimed 35 percent of the 2006 popular vote; most analysts say that a run-off would have undoubtably gone in favor of the PAN.

12 December 2009

Influence of Our Lady of Guadalupe still strong

Sandcastle in Puerto Vallarta
A sand sculpture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on display in Puerto Vallarta

A majority of Mexicans still confess a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, according to a survey published in the Spanish newspaper, El Pais.

The telephone survey by Mexico City pollster Maria de las Heras found 64 percent of respondents “confess a strong devotion” to Guadalupe.

Another 40 percent of respondents “profess that they have personally received a favor or miracle” from Guadalupe, de las Heras said. Some 28 percent of respondents reported that they visit the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe at least once per year, while a similar number say they visited the site multiple times each year.

The survey reflects the enormous influence of Guadalupe over Mexican society. As de las Heras put it: "It's impossible to understand Mexico without knowing Mexicans' devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe."

It also comes on the eve of Dec. 12, when millions of followers converge on the basilica to celebrate the anniversary of Guadalupe’s appearance at Tepeyac Hill in what is now northern Mexico City.

Father Jose de Jesus Aguilar Valdes, director of radio and television for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, said that the number of visitors to the basilica has increased over the past year due to the economic crisis in Mexico that has sent unemployment to record-high levels and plunged millions of families into poverty.

Local officials in the borough of Gustavo A. Madero - which includes the basilica - estimated that 5.1 million pilgrims visited the Basilica de Guadalupe this year.

Catholics believe that Guadalupe appeared before Juan Diego – then an indigenous farmer – at Tepeyac Hill in 1531. Juan Diego was canonized in 1999, although a former rector of the basilica, Guillermo Schulenburg, was against the canonization and didn't entirely accept the story of Guadalupe making an appearance at Tepeyac. He also doubted the existence of Juan Diego.

The influence of Guadalupe on Mexican society has been strong for nearly five centuries, however. Her influence extends beyond Mexico, too. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega fulfilled a campaign promise to visit the shrine after winning power in 2007. Former FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt visited the basilica in 2008, saying that she had prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe while being held in the Colombian jungle.

De las Heras wrote, “(Our Lady of Guadalupe) is more than a religious symbol,” and that for 42 percent of Mexicans, “She is also a patriotic symbol like the flag or national coat of arms … that more than a few social movement leaders throughout our history have taken advantage of.”

Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the father of Mexican Independence, was perhaps the most prominent of those leaders; he adopted a Guadalupe banner in 1810 to rally followers to the cause of overthrowing Spanish colonial rule. More recently, the leadership of a union representing fired utility workers adopted a similar banner for its protest marches that attempted to shut down Mexico City.

Church leaders in November condemned the use of Guadalupe by any group pursuing political ends.

Our course, foreigners also try to leverage Guadalupe's popularity. Then-presidential candidate John McCain made a well-publicized appearance at the basilica during the 2008 election campaign - perhaps an attempt to win favour with Latino voters and shave the rough edges off of a party known for negative views toward undocumented migrants. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited the basilica in 2009 as part of a trip to Mexico that was marked by her insisting that Mexico was not a failed state.

11 December 2009

Adios Juanito

Casa de Campaña
Juanito's campaign office and home in Iztapalapa

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard finally snookered Rafael Acosta, the vendor-turned-politician better known as "Juanito," by forcing his departure from the borough chief's office in the capital's most populous borough, Iztapalapa.

His unceremonious departure ends a colourful political run for the headband-wearing antihero, whose ascent to the top job in one of the country's most populous jurisdictions was both improbable and unseemly.

The mayor proposed that Clara Brugada - the Andrés Manuel López Obrador loyalist that the electoral tribunal disqualified from the July 5 borough chief election - take over in Iztapalapa. Brugada had governed in Iztapalapa for 59 days until Juanito ended a leave of absence in late November. He later fired her as judicial director after taking his office. (Taking a leave of absence fulfilled a promise he made during the election campaign, when he lent his candidacy for the Labor Party (PT) to Brugada.)

Media reports say that Juanito met with Ebrard earlier in the week, when he was presented with evidence showing that he had supposedly registered for the election with a false birth certificate. Juanito apparently used that false birth certificate - unwittingly or not - to obtain an IFE voting credential and CURP identification. How the mayor and Clara Brugada obtained the documents is still unknown, although officials in the capital were quick to also produce evidence that one of Juanito's closest collaborators failed to declare her full net worth while she held a position in the PAN-run borough government of Miguel Hidalgo.

Juanito apparently quit upon learning that he potentially faced up to eight years in prison - double for being a public servant - for the local and federal crimes of using false documents.

He told Radio Formula on Dec. 11 that the PT handled his documents for registering as a candidate in the July 5 election. But Juanito denied that the prospect of prison motivated his departure - and suggested that the PT lost his original document. Instead, he said, he left because of "the problems that were taking place every day in Iztapalapa.

"When I was a candidate, I wanted peace and quiet and if I wasn't personally well received, I prefer to step aside so that for someone other than Clara Brugada."

Brugada's supporters had surrounded the Iztapalapa borough offices and had hindered access to the building at times last week.

Ebrard has proposed that Brugada take over again in Iztapalapa. The Mexico City Assembly still must approve his proposal, but the PRD is divided over her return. The factions loyal to López Obrador and the PT only have 32 of the necessary 34 votes, according to the Reforma newspaper. The PAN, PRI and Green Party all want nothing to do with Brugada.

Seven members from the PRD's New Left faction hold the balance of power, but it's uncertain if they would back Brugada. Iztapalapa, of course, had been the main power base of the New Left and its Mexico City lieutenant, Sen. René Arce.

Ironically, Arce's ex-wife, Silvia Oliva, was defeated by Brugada in the PRD primary. Later, the electoral tribunal overturned Brugada's primary victory and named Oliva the candidate. López Obrador and Brugada extracted their revenge, however. They co-opted Juanito's campaign and ousted the Arce clan from the Iztapalapa borough government. Why the New Left members would now do any favors for Brugada is uncertain - especially with Arce on the brink of leaving the PRD.

05 December 2009

Juanito takes over

Desde la delegación Iztapalapa

"You're fired!" Rafael Acosta - aka, "Juanito" - said that in so many words to his stand-in, Clara Brugada, after he took over the Iztapalapa borough offices last week.

Juanito, of course, is the elected borough chief of Iztapalapa, who ended a leave of absence that he took after taking his oath of office Oct. 1. Brugada, meanwhile, was the judicial director of Iztapalapa and, for 59 days, the acting borough chief. She was borough chief until Juanito took back his office. He subsequently fired Brugada from her judicial director post and relieved many of her closest collaborators in the Iztapalapa government, too.

The return of Juanito to his elected post - a move that broke a non-binding promise made in public June 16 to step aside for Brugada if he won the July 5 election - has revived an ongoing political soap opera over control of the capital's most populous borough. It also deepened divisions in the country's political left and exposed some of the more unseemly staples of Mexican political culture.

Juanito - to recap - was registered as the PT candidate in Iztapalapa, while Brugada was registered as the PRD candidate. The electoral tribunal disqualified Brugada in June, but López Obrador - who is staunchly backed by the PT - co-opted the Juanito campaign, and had Juanito swear an oath that he would take leave after winning the election in favor of Brugada.

Juanito won, but had second thoughts and ultimately turned on López Obrador.

He acknowledged his sly acts at a press conference last week, saying that he "pulled a coup" on the "López Obrador mafia," and that the Brudada camp would accuse him of just about anything to win his ouster.

"Juanito is accused of everything," he told reporters. "If Clara Brugada gets pregnant, they're going to say it was Juanito."

For her part Brugada refuses to go quietly. Her supporters - many culled from the so-called "frentes" that agitate for housing and run political machines in run-down areas of Iztapalapa - have occupied the esplanade outside the Iztapalapa borough offices since Juanito's return and have blocked access to the building on at least once. They even prevented Juanito from lighting the borough's Christmas tree on Dec. 4 - or so Juanito said after canceling the event.

Flanked by the Frente Popular Francisco Villa - the same frente linked to the pirate taxi business in Mexico City - Brugado marched Dec. 1 from the Zócalo to the Mexico City Assembly (ALDF). Arms locked, her followers chanted slogans to the effect of, "Juanito go to hell," and waved acerbic placards that demanded Juanito's ouster.

Brugada and her allies branded Juanito, "Crazy" - something they failed to fully recognize when they struck a deal with him to take office and then take leave.

Chamber of Deputies rabble rouser Gerardo Fernández Noroña branded Juanito, "A presta nombre," or someone that lends their name or license to another person to circumvent the law. (In fact, Juanito was a "presta nombre" for López Obrador, but withdrew his consent.)

PRD Assembly spokesman, Alejandro Sánchez, went so far as to say Juanito should be ousted because he was not "morally apt" to hold office. His comments drew a sarcastic response from La Razón columnist Adrián Rueda, who pointed to Sanchez's standing within the PRD's IDN faction - the same faction founded by ace organizer Rene Bejarano. Bejarano, of course, was caught on tape in 2003 stuffing wads of cash from a developer into a suitcase. (Bejarano was exonerated on all charges stemming from the incident.)

Brugada loyalists in the ALDF have filed a motion that would remove Juanito from his post due to "ungovernability" in the borough. The measure needs two-thirds support to pass in the ALDF.

The motion seemed improbable, considering that its backers decried similar attempts in 2005 to strip then-mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador of his immunity from prosecution - a process known as the desafuero - and prevent him from running in the 2006 presidential election.

An ALDF committee is studying the removal of Juanito and is expected to report back by the end of December. Juanito's critics allege that his entering the borough office through a back door - and thus not having a proper transfer of power ceremony - bringing a locksmith to gain entry to the borough chief's office and not presenting a report on the state of the installations that he took over are serious enough transgressions to support his ouster.

They also accused the PAN of being behind Juanito. The man that launched Juanito's improbable run to the borough office, López Obrador, meanwhile, blamed a familiar whipping boy: former president Carlos Salinas. He blamed his latest target, State of Mexico Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto, too.

During a radio interview with Joaquín López Dóriga, López Obrador denied allegations that he coveted Iztapalapa because of its more than three-billion-peso budget, saying that he only cared about the "wellbeing" of residents in the capital's most downtrodden borough.

Juanito has accused López Obrador of wanting to use Iztapalapa's budget as his "piggy bank" to finance another presidential run in 2012.

The PAN, meanwhile, has denied being behind Juanito, but his ascent has stirred some discomfort for the No. 2 party in Mexico City - one that generally performs well in the wealthier parts of the capital and does poorly in places such as Iztapalapa.

Juanito appointed Alejandra Nuñez, a former head of markets in the borough of Miguel Hidalgo under then borough chief Gabriel Cuevas - who is now president of the Federal District committee in the Chamber of Deputies - to Brugada's old job. But Nuñez ran into controversy almost immediately as it was revealed that she never fully disclosed her full net worth during her time in the Miguel Hidalgo post.

Mexico City comptroller almost immediately found Nuñez unfit for her position - an act of "unusual efficiency" for the comptroller, according to Rueda.

Cuevas and other Panistas seemed to waver on the issue, saying that that Juanito couldn't ensure governability in the borough.

The PAN also appeared to come out in favor a position outlined by the PRI - which has eight members in the 66-seat ALDF - that said it would back neither Juanito or Brugada and would prefer a third option.

That might just come to pass as analysts say that the Brugada supporters in the ALDF lack sufficient support to depose Juanito. One report in the El Universal political gossip column, Bajo Reserva, suggested that some in the PRD viewed Brugada a poor political operator; she lost her grip on the borough to Juanito - a former vendor, actor and waiter.

Juanito picked up one improbably endorsement, however. The business group Coparmex-DF said Juanito should govern since he won the election - even though it's highly doubtful its members would have trusted Juanito to so much as wash their cars prior to his turning against López Obrador, whom business groups savaged with attacks in the 2006 election campaign and branded a danger for Mexico.

01 December 2009

Increasing Decentralization Stirs Disquiet in Mexico

Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto

State of Mexico Governor, Enrique Peña Nieto, arrives Nov. 12 for a meeting with Mexico's Catholic bishops' conference in Cuautitlán Izcalli.

David Agren | 01 Dec 2009
World Politics Review

MEXICO CITY -- Lower house lawmakers convened into the wee hours of the Revolution Day long weekend, Nov. 16, to approve the spending portions of Mexico's 2010 budget, which had been bogged down by demands for increased spending on the beleaguered rural economy from campesino groups linked to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

The campesino groups got most of what they asked for, but according to the subsequent media spin, the PRI's 19 state governors emerged as the real winners in the budget process -- the first since the PRI and its ally, the Green Party, won control of the lower house in the July 5 mid-term elections.

The governors received funding for highways and public works projects such as plazas and charro rings -- the outdoor arenas that host Mexican-style rodeo events. Conveniently, they also extracted more money for states staging gubernatorial races in 2010 -- as well as for the populous state of Mexico, whose governor, the PRI's Enrique Peña Nieto, is the early favorite for the party's 2012 presidential nomination. The governors even secured concessions that loosen some of the accountability for funds flowing to the state and local levels, where discretion spending can be the norm and transparency is often lacking.

The rest of the article can be viewed here, at World Politics Review.