What more do you need?

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Ah, the simple things in life…

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The Credibility Vacuum: Mexico’s 2012 Presidential Race

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “The Credibility Vacuum: Mexico’s 2012 Presidential Race” , published on Nov 28th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

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No matter the outcome, Mexico’s next president will not have the needed credentials to effectively run this country and neither will the majority parties that compose Congress. Mexico’s political system has entered a credibility vacuum.

These first lines sound fatalist but the real intention here is to prepare and alert the Mexican citizenry of the ever-present need of their active involvement in placing the country on the right track. It has always been simplistic to leave this up to the government and now more than ever, it will be futile to think they would be able to at a federal level.

The 2012 presidential race in Mexico will have three relevant frontrunners: Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD) and if the most recent polls stay the same until February, Josefina Vázquez Mota for PAN.

Vázquez Mota is facing an upstream battle. Of the three, she is the candidate with the least experience, the least media exposure and she has never occupied a publicly-elected government position. Moreover, she carries with her allegiance to a party which in the eyes of many, has failed to capitalize on the democratic transition. The political cost of Vicente Fox’ dormant presidency and Felipe Calderón’s war on drugs-related fatalities puts her in the worst position to win the race. Recent state elections in Estado de México, Coahuila, Nayarit, and Michoacán where the PRI came out victorious, foreshadow PAN’s likely inability to maintain the presidency after 2012. On the off-chance that she could pull it off, Vázquez Mota would govern with a PRI-majority Congress, which most likely would hinder her ability to put forth any relevant changes (same as what happened to Vicente Fox). Vázquez Mota may be the right woman for the job, but she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Though López Obrador’s abandoning of his divisive rhetoric from 2006 gained him a second attempt at the presidency from leftist parties (against my forecasting, I might add), today his flip-flopping positions make him the least credible candidate. His impeachment when he headed the Mexico City government, his irresponsible indebting of the city for his populist gains and his sketchy financing for the past five years make his track record and his current platform incompatible. Moreover, those with a bit of memory will not forgive his utter disregard for the rule of law during the last post-electoral period. 

In the last elections Calderón was able to beat López not because of votes for the PAN candidate but because Calderón was perceived as the “useful vote” for people who wanted to keep a radical López out of the presidency at all costs.  Ironically, with the PAN’s current weak position and López’ confrontational delivery toning down, in 2012 he will likely be the recipient of many anti-PRI votes, possibly enough to get him to power.

If this is the case, Mexico will have yet another demagogue as president; one who has promised too much to too many divergent interest groups in order to try to get a critical mass of support; he will face a real challenge in being able to deliver. His bold statements on creating “a Republic of Love,” getting the armed forces off the streets in six months and creating 4 million jobs in six weeks have been called irresponsible by respected analysts. Add to this the fact that like Vázquez, his every move would most likely be blocked by a PRI Congress.

The third player is Enrique Peña Nieto, the custom-built candidate from the PRI. Called out by López as a “junk-food candidate,” he currently has the favored standing position to win the presidency, though it will most likely end up being a very close race.

Peña’s slick young look and his recent marriage to soap opera star Angélica Rivera equate the couple to the Ken and Barbie of Mexican politics. But what does Peña represent? For one, the return of a party where over 70 years of absolute rule is considered by many the root cause of the current organized crime proliferation in the country. PRI has been gaining ground at a state and municipal level under the banner of “we did know how to govern” and “we controlled (co-opted) the narcos” because citizens have not been able to grasp the benefits of a transition in power and they are tired of the war on drugs.

Related to this, President Calderón has been candid in warning Mexico of the possibility of collusion between drug lords and the PRI should they regain power. As recent allegations of organized crime intrusions favoring PRI in elections in Michoacán show, Calderón’s warnings may not be so far-fetched. Peña Nieto’s candidacy is also tainted by the fact that he will run under a coalition with the PANAL (Partido Nuevo Alianza) supported by Elba Esther Gordillo, president of the SNTE, the combatant teacher’s union and one of Mexico’s most despised political characters.  Rumors of Carlos Salinas de Gortari backing Peña’s candidacy and accusations of Peña’s involvement in the death of his first wife, Monica Petrelini, also warn us of the return of the PRI of old. In addition, TV media moguls and other oligarchs will side with Peña Nieto in order to push him into Los Pinos.

In laymen’s terms Mexicans will have a choice in 2012 to vote for the woman who can’t win, the demagogue who can’t deliver or the pretty boy with shady friends.  In Mexico we are used to voting for the lesser of evils but this time it might be the hardest choice of all.  Given the current scenario, the real challenge will be for the rest of the relevant actors (private enterprise, NGOs, special interest groups, media, universities, trustworthy state and municipal authorities, etc.) to build and achieve progress in spite of the credibility vacuum at the top of the government… and hope for a better race in 2018.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. 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.

Michoacan is gonna be a mess…

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With 22.56% of the votes tallied, the Michoacán elections show a technical tie between the PRI and PAN candidates, with the PRD candidate not far behind. It’s almost a 30/30/30 split and the three of them have already declared themselves winners.

Just as the voting booths opened this morning, some of the parties involved were already screaming about fraud taking place. More than 40 arrests have occurred in relation to attempts to manipulate voting processes, plus we have the fact that the electoral authority’s website was hacked while the elections were taking place. The IEM declared that the vote tallying system was not affected by the attack but these days, can you really trust them?

Here’s what’s gonna happen in the next hours:

100% of the votes will be counted and they will show a very very close race between the PRI and PAN candidates, probably with the PRI candidate as the first place, with less than 2% of a difference. The PRD candidate will have lagged behind but that won’t stop him from claiming victory.

All three candidates will maintain that they won and none of them will back down. They will then start declaring that certain booths were compromised so a bunch of them will be cancelled out. Even after that, we will still have no clear winner. This will end up in the courts and in all likelihood, the PRI will be declared winner. PRD will take to the streets screaming “fraud” once more and either Ebrard or López Obrador will use this case as leverage for the presidential race. They will hold that PRI stole the election and use this to tarnish the PRI’s already dirty image. Cocoa Calderón will fade into the background. 

It’s going to be quite a mess and it’s never going to be about the will of the Michoacanos.

Viva México.

Hacking for Freedom in Mexico: The Anonymous Movement #OpCartel

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Hacking for freedom in Mexico: The Anonymous Movement” , published on Nov 4th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

PS. I posted an earlier version of this article on this blog yesterday. This is the up to date version given the fact that the story has evolved since I first wrote  it.

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On November 5, if the threats posted are real, Mexico could be witness to a new kind of civil resistance to the status quo and political system. Mexican and international members of the hacker group known as Anonymous, have published through different media (interviews to news papers, YouTube videos and twitter accounts) that although #OpCartel has been cancelled, a former member of the network and independent journalist will divulge information of ties between specific high-level government officials and the criminal organization Los Zetas, initially in the state of Veracruz but potentially in all of the country.

Anonymous officially backed down from unleashing #OpCartel allegedly due to the fact that their kidnapped member was released by the Zetas, but also due to threats from this group of a tenfold retaliation against the families of members in the hacker organization. Barrett Brown’s (@BarrettBrownLOL) decision to reveal information on the drug cartel on his own volition might just be a way to protect the Mexican Anonymous members while continuing to carry out the hacker’s intended agenda. If the campaign is successful, the actions initiated by Anonymous and supposedly continued solely by Brown, could lead to a nationwide political scandal at incisively interesting pre-election times for the country.

In recent articles published here, I’ve posited that regardless of the people in power, Mexico’s core problems are systemic. The political structure in place not only allows, but even invites corrupt practices to take place. Collusion between politicians and criminals is widely suspected. Mexicans know the story all too well and the constant element present in each of the challenges we face as a country is lack of accountability and immense impunity, which is now being challenged by the actions of a rogue hacker group who could open up Pandora’s box and shed some light on the subject.

It would be myopic and pessimistic to say that Mexico’s democracy has not progressed in the last 80 years but in some ways, the country has also taken steps back. Elections have become more free and fair and transparency is advancing to a certain point, but law enforcement has not been able to follow through accordingly. Civil liberties have been strengthened officially but given the state of violence and insecurity in many regions of the country, society would likely tell you that today they feel less free.

Freedom of speech and of the press might be the clearest example of this duality between progress and retreat. During the PRI (Partido de la Revolución Institucional) monopoly of power, press was controlled by limiting or allowing newspapers access to a basic raw material: paper. If the government didn’t like what you wrote, they would simply not sell you the paper to print it. While those days are over, there are now new tactics to attempt to constrict free press: violence against journalists.

According to a recent assessment by the UN and the OAS Mexico is the fifth most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Other organizations and institutions have ranked it as the most dangerous globally. In 2011, 13 journalists have been killed in the country and while investigations have not yet concluded, there is a clear link between these killings and drug cartels/organized crime. Today, newspapers are officially free to publish just about anything, but it is also evident that there are powerful forces at play which put forth new tactics to silence the media. For this reason, cyber activism and the use of new media to overcome violent censorship thru blogs and social networks have recently flourished in the country. Though not unscathed by criminal intent to silence them as well, these informal media allow culprits to enjoy protection through a certain level on anonymity.

Operation Cartel was reportedly born as a means to pressure a drug cartel in Veracruz to release a member of the Anonymous network who had been abducted. But it quickly evolved and grew into something much bigger than the fate of one of its members. On November 2, a message was broadcast across the network saying that they would cancel Operation Cartel as a way to protect the individual whose life was being threatened by the cartel.

But according to a Brown, a former spokesperson, “shortly thereafter, the assembled people held a vote and decided nonetheless to go ahead with the operation.” This is why, even after the release of the victim, Brown plans to move forward on the canceled operation. Both a flaw and virtue, the fact that Anonymous does not have a clear power structure allows for individuals and smaller cells in the network to act independently whilst maintaining that their efforts are coordinated.

In this regard, cyberactivism becomes a strange new force to be reckoned with and as both Egypt and Libya have shown. It is a catalyst for widespread outcry; however, it is a weak means to organize a movement that can actually follow through after reaching its objective. Thus, the fallout of Operation Cartel could potentially be immensely disruptive and lead to political crisis, but I am unsure that it could lead to a clear effort to fix the system. Members from Anonymous in Mexico have even stated that they are non-political, though they do say they want to create a social conscience. Does Anonymous have the moral and role legitimacy to do this? Are they the new voice of the global people? Does it matter if they are or not?

A bigger question to pose would be if Anonymous’ Operations will always strive for social justice (defined by whom?) and with the loose level of allegiance that a network can create as opposed to a formal organization, what would stop cyber activists from straying away of the group and chasing a different agenda?

For now, Mexico anxiously waits to see what Barret Brown will do. Many champion this effort as a new and creative means to tackle a problem that for too long has been a tragedy of the commons in Mexico. As the tagline from the movie that inspired Anonymous goes, we are about to see if Mexico will remember the 5th of November.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. 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.

History occurs faster than publishing… #OpCartel

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I was going to get a story on Anonymous’ #OpCartel published at AQBlog, most likely tomorrow, but I just learned that the hacker group’s operation has been cancelled due to the fact that the drug cartel released the kidnapped hacker. An independent journalist abroad has stated that he will carry out the operation but independently from Anonymous, as the group has been threatened by the cartel with dire repercussions and retaliation if they follow through on their threats to publish the names of government officials linked to organized crime…

Anyways, I will probably end up editing the story in order to update it before it goes online at the Americas Quarterly blog but I wanted to share with you the original story, as it was written and intended. I’ll let you know when the updated story also goes online.

I hope you like it:
Hacking for freedom in Mexico

 On November 5th, if the threats posted are real, Mexico could be witness to a new kind of civil resistance to the status quo and political system. Mexican and international members of the hacker group known as Anonymous, have published through different media (interviews to news papers, YouTube videos and twitter accounts) that on said date they will unleash “Operation Cartel” informing the world of ties between specific high-level government officials and the criminal organization Los Zetas, initially in the state of Veracruz but potentially in all of the country. If Anonymous is successful, their actions could lead to a nation-wide political scandal at incisively interesting pre-election times for the country.

 In recent articles published here, I’ve posited that regardless of the people in power, Mexico’s core problems are systemic. The political structure in place not only allows, but even invites corrupt practices to take place. Collusion between politicians and criminals is widely suspected. Mexicans know the story all too well and the constant element present in each of the challenges we face as a country is lack of accountability and immense impunity, which is now being challenged by a rogue hacker group who threatens to open up Pandora’s box and shed some light on the subject.

 It would be myopic and pessimistic to say that Mexico’s democracy has not progressed in the last 80 years but in some ways, the country has also taken steps back. Elections have become more free and fair and transparency is advancing to a certain point, but law enforcement has not been able to follow through accordingly. Civil liberties have been strengthened officially but given the state of violence and insecurity in many regions of the country, society would likely tell you that today they feel less free. 

 Freedom of speech and of the press might be the clearest example of this duality between progress and retreat. During the PRI (Partido de la Revolución Institucional) monopoly of power, press was controlled by limiting or allowing newspapers access to a basic raw material: paper. If the government didn’t like what you wrote, they would simply not sell you the paper to print it on. While those days are over, there are now new tactics to attempt to constrict free press: violence against journalists.

 According to a recent assessment by the UN and the OAS Mexico is the fifth most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Other organizations and institutions have ranked it as the most dangerous world-wide. In 2011, 13 journalists have been killed in the country and while investigations have not yet concluded, there is a clear link between these killings and drug cartels/organized crime. Today, newspapers are officially free to publish just about anything, but it is also evident that there are powerful forces at play which put forth new tactics to silence the media. For this reason, cyber activism and the use of new media to overcome violent censorship thru blogs and social networks have recently flourished in the country. Though not unscathed by criminal intent to silence them as well, these informal media allow culprits to enjoy protection through a certain level on anonymity.   

 Operation Cartel was reportedly born as a means to pressure a drug cartel in Veracruz to release a member of the Anonymous network which had been abducted, but quickly evolved and grew into something much bigger than the fate of one of its members. On November 2nd, a message was broadcast across the network saying that they would cancel Operation Cartel as a way to protect the individual whose life was being threatened by the cartel but according to a former spokesperson, “shortly thereafter, the assembled people held a vote and decided nonethless to go ahead with the operation.” Both a flaw and virtue, the fact that Anonymous does not have a clear power structure allows for individuals and smaller cells in the network to act independently whilst maintaining that their efforts are coordinated.

 In this regard, cyberactivism becomes a strange new force to be reckoned with and as both Egypt and Libya have shown, a catalyst for widespread outcry though a weak means to organize a movement which can follow through after reaching their objective. Thus, Operation Cartel could potentially be immensely disruptive and lead to political crisis but I am unsure that it could lead to a clear effort to fix the system.  Members from Anonymous in Mexico have even stated that they are non-political, though they do say they want to create a social conscience.  The question is, does Anonymous have the role legitimacy to do this? Are they the new voice of the global people? Does it matter if they are or not?

 A bigger question to pose would be if Anonymous’ Operations will always strive for social justice (defined by whom?) and with the loose level of allegiance that a network can create as opposed to a formal organization, what would stop cyber activists from straying away of the group and chasing a different agenda?

 For now, Mexico anxiously waits to see the development of Operation Cartel. Many champion this effort as a new and creative means to tackle a problem that for too long has been a tragedy of the commons in Mexico. As the tagline from the movie that inspired Anonymous goes, we are about to see if Mexico will remember, remember the 5th of November.

Countdown to meltdown

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“Remember, remember the 5th of November. The gunpowder, treason and plot. I know of no reason for which the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.” -V

In four days the hacker network known as Anonymous, will make headlines with either successful or failed attempts at attacking various sites, governments and institutions.

It is yet unclear if they will deliver on an unverified threat to take down Facebook and on publishing the names of government officials linked to the drug cartel Zetas in Veracruz. The reason being, that since they are an anonymous group, there is no way of telling whether or not the threats actually come from them or from fans/copycats who want to get their two minutes of fame.

What is certain is that we can expect some sort of activity at a large scale on Nov. 5th, as it is the key date in the Guy Fawkes story, later portrayed in the movie “V from Vendetta” and from which the group takes its visual identity and inspiration.

The question is, how large will the attack(s) be? Is this a countdown to meltdown? Only time will tell.

These are interesting times we are living in.

“Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.
The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.” -V