Drone flights over Mexico

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Drone flights over Mexico”

http://americasquarterly.org/node/2356 , published on March 31st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here’s a copy of it:

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The recent news published by The New York Times on unmanned drone planes doing reconnaissance flights over Mexican territory has already spurred aggressive reactions by the legislative opposition to Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or PAN). Practically in unison, civil society is responding to these reactions and sending a message to Congress: get your head out of the gutter and do something for our country.

The Times article stated that Calderón and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed earlier this month to continue allowing surveillance flights over Mexico, collecting information and turning it over to Mexican law enforcement authorities. The report also discusses a “counternarcotics fusion center” already operational in Mexico City and the possibility of a second one being established in the near future.

Gearing up for federal elections, political parties like Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD), Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) and Partido del Trabajo (Labor Party, or PT) jumped at the opportunity to accuse Calderón of violating Mexican law by allowing drone flights.

Former Foreign Minister—and current PRI Senator—Rosario Green was one of the more vocal: “I find it barbaric… What else is Calderón going to do in order to hand over the reins of the country to foreign interests?” PRD Senator Ricardo Monreal added: “This violates the Constitution, our national sovereignty and quite simply submits the country to a state of indignation, a subordinate and defeatist attitude.”

What is most interesting about this story is not the questionable legality of the secret agreement, but the public’s reaction to the opposition’s accusations. Rather than further taint Calderón’s image, readers of online newspapers like El Norte and Reforma have responded to these types of remarks with disgust. Civil society has demanded that politicians stop wasting the country’s time and resources in party politics and start instituting viable solutions to the widespread gang violence and narcotics problems.

Select reader comments of these online dailies include: “I would rather have Calderón hand over Mexico to the U.S. than PRI hand it over to the drug lords”; “National sovereignty being violated? What do you think the drug cartels have been doing for the past two years? The enemy is inside our home. You should worry about that”; and “Calderón’s is a brave decision aiming to weaken the filth that hurts real citizens and not the thieves that hide behind a Congress seat.”

Although Senator Green may ask why the Mexican Congress was not consulted on the Calderón-Obama agreement, I suggest she look into the way that she and her colleagues vote—not any way in representing their constituencies but rather moved by political objectives. And when Senator Monreal talks about “a state of indignation,” he conveniently forgets the ongoing investigations of his alleged money laundering scheme in 2006 and alleged ties to mafia groups.

The message is clear. Civil society is tired of the political discussions. They are tired of excuses and debates on whether or not a bold solution to an even bolder problem is constitutional. Instead of facing accusations, the action of Calderón and Obama—if proven to be true—should be hailed as a symbol of bilateral cooperation toward combating a common foe which has tarnished the Mexican way of life.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

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Mexican President Targets Corruption

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexican President Targets Corruption” http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2315 and published on March 15th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here’s a copy of it:

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Felipe Calderón is changing the rules of the game for fighting corruption. Earlier this month, Calderón announced a series of initiatives targeting corrupt practices in public service and for the first time, providing rewards to whistleblowers and citizens who provide information leading to identification of these practices.

Mexico’s President recognized that “the depth at which corruption has penetrated our society is a problem we can no longer permit.”  These types of declarations, which candidly and honestly recognize our fragile state, are unbecoming of what we are accustomed to hear from him.

Possibly wanting to shift public discourse away from the violence and crime dialogue (which is obviously linked to corruption), Calderón talked about this new legal framework and what it looks to achieve in more economic terms: “we must not allow corruption to continue hurting Mexicans, reducing our competitiveness or blocking our country’s ability to grow.”

Calderón praised the effectiveness of a process called Denuncia Ciudadana through which citizens denounce public officials for illegal practices such as corruption. However, actual follow through on these claims is the real problem in Mexico. Enforcement and the capability to prosecute is a definite must if we are to see a successful outcome of these initiatives. Reforma newspaper recently ran a story on the fact that out of 1,779 public officials who have been denounced for corrupt practices only one has been prosecuted and was set free on bail. The rest of the cases continue piling up on the docket.

What is new and sends out a powerful message to all of our citizenry is the fact that the federal government is actively seeking and promoting more civil participation in this battle by offering economic stimuli to individuals denouncing offenders.  He did not mention amounts of money, but if implemented correctly, this change in the game could prove to be most successful in a country where people do not denounce crimes, partly because of lack of trust in the system.

Another part of the initiative, the Ley Federal Anticorrupción en Contrataciones Públicas (Federal Anticorruption Law on Public Contracts), targets the private sector by setting sanctions against companies that offer public officials any type of gifts (usually money or some type of benefit) in favor of winning public contracts. These sanctions include removing the company’s eligibility to obtain contracts for up to eight years and a fine of up to 30 percent of the contract in question.

It seems Felipe Calderón was holding off on some of the most important and popular governmental initiatives until they became relevant toward the next presidential elections. Recently, we’ve seen a more publicly active President being the spokesperson for transformational efforts that could give the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN) a better shot at retaining power. With the PRI swinging back, the PRD falling apart from within and PAN-PRD alliance talks still up in the air, the 2012 process could prove to be one of the most interesting elections we’ve seen in recent history.

We can only hope that pre-election jitters become the catalysts for many more of these very needed reforms and that they are actually and successfully implemented. It’s unfortunate that we always have to wait until election times to get the ball rolling but for now, let’s enjoy a step forward.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

White House to Revive Mexican Commercial Trucking Program

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Les comparto una interesante noticia. Calderón y Obama acordaron tomar pasos para liberar las barreras no arancelarias que han bloqueado el acceso a camiones de carga mexicanos hacia los Estados Unidos. Aquí la liga con el detalle:

http://americasquarterly.org/node/2285

¡Aplausos!

Mexican economy bouces back

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexican economy bounces back” http://americasquarterly.org/node/2275 and published on March 1st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a copy of it:

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Amidst growing national concern and international coverage of the violence in Mexico, a bit of news on the macroeconomic scale talks wonders of our country’s capabilities to overcome even the biggest obstacles.

Last week, Bloomberg ran a story on Mexico being the second economy in Latin America to bounce back from the 2009 recession with the highest pace of growth in the last decade. Our economy expanded by 5.5 percent in 2010.

Granted, it is not China’s double digit performance. But for a country that is largely dependent on an economic relationship with the our neighbor to the north—80.5 percent of our trade is with the United States—and is still facing important trade challenges, the GDP expansion at a 0.2 percent rate larger than expected for the fourth quarter of 2010 is excellent news. In a way, it is also good news for the United States. It shows that consumer spending is recovering in spite of the housing situation and the still present issue of unemployment (9 percent in January).

There are obvious advantages of being one of the United States’ most important trading partners. But it doesn’t take a genius to also see that dependence of over 80 percent of our trade with this partner also puts Mexico at a vulnerable state. This is even more worrying when we’re competing for this trade position with economies such as China.  Since the early 1990s, Mexico has been constantly promoting an open policy on trade. We currently hold 11 trade agreements with 41 countries. But we still need to act on them and actually reap the benefits of spreading our risk by diversifying commercial relations.

Mexico also needs to urgently focus on investing in and then maximizing the returns on innovation. We need to understand that wealth today is based on knowledge and ownership of that knowledge (patents). If we are able to tap into this, then our future will look even more promising than what we were able to do in 2010. I may be overoptimistic but continuing on this track would provide the first steps toward bridging the gap between our poorest and richest. This could go a long way toward reducing the crime that is partly a result of this present divide.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.