Sharing is caring: Mexico Lindo y Querido, Playing for Change

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Human Trafficking in Mexico

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Human Trafficking in Mexico“, published on June 14th, 2013. 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.

On June 4, the Mexican Army raided a house in the border town of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, Tamaulipas and rescued 165 people being held against their will by a 20-year-old identified as Juan Cortez Arrez. Testimonies from some of the victims show that they had been kidnapped for nearly three weeks.

News of their rescue has drawn praise for Mexico’s armed forces, which responded to an anonymous call and implemented an operation that resulted in zero casualties and one arrest.  However, this event should also serve to bring attention to a problem which has become graver in recent years: trafficking in persons (TIP).

The group rescued comprised 77 Salvadorans, 50 Guatemalans, 23 Hondurans, one Indian, and 14 Mexicans, all of whom had contacted a supposed “pollero” (a person who assists unauthorized immigrants in crossing the border) in the hopes of reaching the United States. The pollero was really a member of a criminal gang who had other plans for the group.

After the rescue, the Mexican  government’s spokesperson for national security, Eduardo Sánchez Hernández, stated that many aspiring migrants end up “being delivered to the hands of criminal organizations,” rather than taken safely across the border. These criminal groups then use their captives for sexual trafficking and prostitution, forced labor, as drug mules, and—as the narcofosas (clandestine mass graves) tragically show—execute kidnapping victims in initiation rituals of new gang members.  In 2011, 236 bodies were discovered in narcofosas  in the border town of San Fernando, Tamaulipas. Granted, there is no proof that all of the victims were  intended migrants and some might have been killed in other gang-related activities, including inter-cartel wars, but the problem remains.

Human trafficking is not new to Mexico, but it was not until 2004 that the first anti-trafficking in persons law was passed, making this activity a crime punishable by up to 18 years of incarceration. In 2008, the Attorney General’s office created the Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia Contra Las Mujeres y Trata de Personas (FEVIMTRA), a special prosecutor’s team designated to work on crimes against women and human trafficking and whose members have received training from international outfits specializing in these matters. And last year, then-President Felipe Calderón passed a new law  making femicide a crime punishable by up to 60 years in jail. Some radio ad campaigns have been launched at a national level to focus on prevention.

These are important steps toward addressing the TIP problem, but clearly more needs to be done to put a dent in this very lucrative business of human exploitation. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), human trafficking is a $32 billion a year business.

According to the U.S. State Department’s TIP Office, there are three “p’s” to tackle to effectively combat human trafficking: protection, prevention and prosecution.

Protection

The legal framework for protection is more or less in place in Mexico, and the aforementioned laws protect victims. However, putting the laws in place is only the first step, and local institutions treating victims are a long way from providing proper care to address the problem effectively. The 2012 U.S. State Department’s TIP report notes that Mexico has relied heavily on NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments “to operate or fund the bulk of specialized assistance and services for trafficking victims.” The message is clear: Mexican authorities need to invest more in building local capacity instead of depending on non-sustainable foreign aid.

There is also a huge amount of work to be done to properly habilitate shelters and migrant houses and  to train staff how to properly identify and treat victims. According to the State Department report, victim services are often inadequate and some shelters for migrants and domestic abuse victims are reluctant to house trafficking victims “due to fear of retribution from organized crime.” Anonymous anecdotal testimonies of people working in some of these shelters also tell the story of migrant houses actually hosting traffickers who pose as victims.  

Prevention

On the prevention track, educational campaigns need to hit home through better and more effective channels than a few superficial TV and radio spots. Unfortunately, the Mexican government’s budget allocation has shown other priorities: in 2011, the government reduced the anti-trafficking budget from $4.2 million to $313,000.  

Prevention is not just about making sure people understand the crime of trafficking, but also about addressing its causes.

In this regard, immigration reform in the United States is crucial. Robust temporary worker programs that disincentive illegal work would allow the U.S. to meet its demand for certain types of labor and protect those who are willing to fulfill it. Addressing the TIP problem in Mexico without strengthening bilateral cooperation with the U.S.—which draws migrants to their dangerous journey—would  be futile.

Prosecution

Prosecution against human trafficking has made some progress in Mexico, but still falls drastically short. In 2011, 14 sex traffickers were convicted, a massive difference from the one conviction achieved the previous year. But effective prosecution is impeded by a lack of law enforcement and embedded corruption.

Effective prosecution also has a long way to go with regards to training public attorneys on the differences between trafficking, prostitution and other related crimes. There is not enough transparency to provide effective statistics on convictions vs. dropped cases in Mexico, but in a conversation with a former employee of the American Bar Association working on anti-TIP projects in Latin America, I learned that most traffickers who are caught go free because of procedural errors during prosecution.

So kudos to the 165 rescued in the first week of June. But if these 165 victims were found just in one location, it does paint a grim picture of the dimensions of the problem in Mexico and of the lack of adequate resources allocated to address it.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Visit to Mexico

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Visit to Mexico“, published on June 5th, 2013. 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.

In 2002, former Mexican President Vicente Fox was recorded telling Cuban leader Fidel Castro over the phone, “You’ll eat and then you’ll leave” (“comes y te vas”) days before the UN Financing for Development Conference was held in Monterrey. Fox was referring to an evening dinner for heads of state hosted by the Mexican government and the reason for his request for a quick departure was to avoid George W. Bush and the Cuban leader crossing paths.  

These four words became symbolic of the National Action Party’s (Partido Acción Nacional—PAN) abandonment of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (Partido de la Revolución Institucional—PRI) long-standing diplomatic tradition, which positioned Mexico as one of the leaders in the non-aligned movement during the Cold War and promoted self-rule through what became known as the Estrada Doctrine.

A recently-retired member of Mexico’s foreign service, who asked not to be identified, stated in an interview for this article that “during the 12 years the PAN was in power, both Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón led a bilateral diplomatic agenda which brought the country closer to the U.S. but farther away from its own independence and from the rest of the world. Both presidents directly intervened in the SRE [Mexico’s foreign affairs ministry]; they did not allow us to operate in what we considered to be Mexico’s best diplomatic interest.”

Barack Obama’s recent visit to Mexico is the first hint that with the PRI back in power, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government will not shun its important relationship with the United States. But it does intend to diversify Mexico’s international agenda and change the rules by which the country will play in the global arena. Washington can expect more resistance on a number of bilateral issues than during the Fox and Calderón years—including the ability of U.S. police forces and drone planes to operate within Mexican borders.  

Slowly but surely, from a diplomatic standpoint, Mexico is taking steps to reestablish itself as an outspoken, independent and active player, and is engaging emerging and established world powers beyond its neighbor to the North.  In April, Peña Nieto’s participation in the conference of the Boao Forum For Asia—a China-based forum similar to the World Economic Forum—and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Mexico this week are a clear example of Mexico’s global pivot. President Xi’s visit, foreshadows a stronger bilateral commercial and diplomatic relationship.

Fox and Calderón did very little to maintain the strategic alliance that the PRI had built with China, and Calderón angered the Chinese government in 2011 when he received the Dalai Lama at the presidential residence.

But now, officials from the federal government and representatives from the private sector involved in President Xi’s visit are predicting the launch of a strategic, integral and functional alliance between China and Mexico. They are not exaggerating: as agreements reached during the visit show, this is much more than Xi making a courtesy call.

Amapola Grijalva, vice president of the Mexico-China Chamber of Commerce, told journalist Darío Celis in a June 3 radio interview that “agreements reached between the two delegations will help narrow the commercial balance gap between the countries, will open up a huge market for Mexican exporters, and will allow China to provide financing for important heavy infrastructure projects in the near future.” Grijalva estimates that “during Peña’s administration, up to $81 billion coming from China could go into financing new industrial naval port complexes, airports, telecom projects, and railway transportation systems.” 

A joint declaration signed and issued by Peña Nieto and Xi on June 4 summarizes the amount of work already invested in the renewed Mexico-China relationship. The two leaders signed memorandums of understanding to formally establish cooperation in energy, mining, emerging industries, infrastructure, private sector collaboration, university alliances, trade, banking, and even the oil industry. In addition, it was announced that sanitary measures have been met to reopen the Chinese market to pork from Mexico, and an agreement was reached to allow all forms of tequila into China.

Additionally, to promote tourism in both countries, Peña Nieto and Xi expressed their mutual interest in expanding international flights connecting Mexico and China and in establishing a working relationship between their tourism ministries.

In the political arena, Peña Nieto took the opportunity to amend Calderón’s diplomatic gaffe by ratifying the “One China” principle. Peña Nieto stated that it is Mexico’s position that both Taiwan and the Tibet are part of Chinese territory and Tibetan affairs are an internal issue for China.

In the statement, both parties declared that “given the improvement of diverse mechanisms in the bilateral cooperation, the conditions are such that Mexico-China relations can be elevated to a new level of benefit to both nations.” They also established a calendar of working visits from high-level government officials to implement the agreements and scheduled future meetings during upcoming international forums including the UN, APEC and the G20.

As President Xi’s visit shows, the coming years are certain to bring Mexico and China diplomatically closer and to catalyze economic growth, trade and development in a mutually beneficial way—while breaking Mexico’s trade dependency on the U.S. market.

Di no al sedentarismo sampetrino… (y comparte este blogpost)

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El día de hoy desperté a leer la noticia de que la administración del municipio de San Pedro, NL ha decidido romper los compromisos previamente adquiridos con empresas serias como Benavides, Sport City, GNC, Cemex y Nike para autorizarles organizar sus carreras de atletismo 5 y 10 K en los circuitos que normalmente han utilizado, incluyendo tramos de la Avenida Humberto Lobo, Calzada del Valle y Lázaro Cárdenas.
La excusa que dio la administración de Ugo Ruiz para mostrarse como un grupo falto de palabra, por voz de Raúl Alcalá, director de Deportes en San Pedro, fue “Cada lunes, después de cada evento había como 50 quejas (y) llegó un momento en que el Alcalde (Ugo Ruiz) dijo: ‘No estamos en contra del deporte, estamos en contra del desorden.” Esto, damas y caballeros, es una reverenda estupidez.
Aclaro: soy corredor y ello pudiera apuntar a que mis comentarios estén sesgados por mi afición a este deporte. Probablemente lo estén pero aun buscando partir desde un punto de vista de objetividad llego a la misma conclusión. Lo explicaré en las próximas líneas:
• He tenido el gusto de participar en una buena parte de las carreras con las que el municipio ha decidido mostrarse como falto de seriedad y visión. Me consta que todas ellas se llevan a cabo buscando afectar a los vecinos en la menor manera posible.
• El día antes del evento en la entrega de números siempre buscan espacios que cuenten con estacionamientos para que el flujo no se vea interrumpido. Al inicio de las carreras mantienen los megáfonos a volumen bajo.
• Las carreras se llevan a cabo los domingos, temprano en la mañana antes de que la gran mayoría de los carros de la zona estén en circulación. A esas horas los únicos automóviles que están transitando en San Pedro son los de la gente que busca un estilo de vida sano y ha encontrado gusto por el deporte. Independientemente de ello, en TODAS se trazan trayectos que permiten rutas alternas o mantienen abiertos carriles para que el tráfico pueda seguir fluyendo.
• Con la excepción del 21K, que por su distancia requiere más tiempo para recorrer, generalmente para las 10 am las carreras han terminado y se han limpiado los trayectos para que no quede rastro de lo que sucedió ni basura en las calles. Es más, es gracias a las carreras que dichas avenidas reciben continuamente servicios de limpieza. Humberto Lobo específicamente, nunca luce tan limpia como después de una carrera.
• El Sr. Alcalá menciona que recibe 50 quejas después de cada carrera. Supongo que esas quejas son de personas con suficiente apellido y renombre para que le den la importancia que les han dado, ya que si su termómetro fuera sólo el número, con gusto le consigo no 50 sino miles de quejas de todos los corredores que han sido agraviados por esta decisión miope. Y el argumento imbécil de “los corredores que participan en estos eventos no son residentes del municipio” (que ya he escuchado de personas en la administración Sampetrina) no sólo es falsa sino que es una prueba más del egoísmo elitista que ha caracterizado a recientes administraciones y que ha validado la estratificación social que hoy nos aqueja. Sigan siendo asombrados por la emergencia de ‘lords’ y ‘ladies’… en San Pedro es semillero.
• Una de las responsabilidades del gobierno es la promoción de estilos de vida saludables. El deporte es un gran componente dentro de este objetivo. Y a menos que hayan decidido que los logros de Don Benito Juárez ya no merecen lugar en la vida de los mexicanos, otorgar privilegios injustificados a las instituciones religiosas y sus feligreses que violan los reglamentos y leyes vigentes (de cualquier denominación), no está dentro de las tareas de las autoridades municipales. Mientras que deciden afectar a los deportistas por “desorden” y por 50 quejas, las administraciones panistas han de manera sostenida solapado la inconciencia y el desorden de quienes se estacionan en doble fila o sobre cordón amarillo para asistir a misa… la Iglesia de Mater, sobre Avenida Vasconcelos con patrulla estacionada enfrente en horarios de entrada y salida a misa, es la campeona en este tema. Dicho templo tiene espacio para a lo mucho 4 cajones de estacionamiento y cada sábado y domingo, los mismos vecinos que se quejan de los corredores no tienen ningún problema con abarrotar calles como Calzada el Rosario, la misma Humberto Lobo o peor aún, ocupar estacionamientos de establecimientos comerciales en detrimento de sus clientes. Ante esto, las autoridades municipales no sólo se hacen de la vista gorda, sino que facilitan el abuso. Estas personas, a diferencia de los corredores que estacionan sus carros en espacios permitidos, semanalmente violan el reglamento de vialidad y tránsito y no lo hacen a las 7 de la mañana cuando no hay tráfico (y ni vale la pena entrar en discusión respecto a las peregrinaciones que toman avenidas de alto flujo durante diciembre y son acompañadas por patrullas policiacas).
• Dice la administración que no está en contra del deporte sino del desorden. Si es así, ¿por qué sacar del circuito a aquellas carreras que por su trayectoria, tradición, recursos y seriedad de las empresas que las promueven, son las que mejor ejecutan las carreras? Un lector del periódico EL NORTE menciona (y estoy de acuerdo) que la carrera más invasiva y que provoca mayor agravio a los vecinos, es la Carrera Duendes. Sin embargo, quienes organizan dicha carrera son los colonos y están en directa asociación con el municipio. La carrera atrae a miles de personas y especialmente en su versión 5K que empieza más tarde que todas las carreras serias, es un imán de personas que no son deportistas pero que aprovechan este espacio “para que los vean.” Se trata de un evento social, cubierto por los medios banales y plagado de los socialité… de los mismos ‘lords’ and ‘ladies’ de los que tanto nos hemos quejado. Y sin embargo, esta carrera es inmune a los reveses de la administración de Ruiz, como también lo es el “San Pedro de Pinta” que se apodera de Calzada del Valle y lo abarrota de comerciantes todos los domingos y no sólo hasta las 10 am.
• Además de promover el deporte, las carreras son motores de consumo e inyección de recursos para el municipio. Es común ver después de una carrera abarrotados los restaurantes, expendios de tacos, de jugos, etc. Adicionalmente, inyectan clientes a gimnasios de la localidad, promueven venta de artículos y ropa deportiva, bebidas hidratantes, etc.
• Si eres el tipo de persona con corazoncito blando, muchas de las carreras vetadas de San Pedro donan sus utilidades a causas de beneficencia. Nike históricamente ha promovido la reforestación, la carrera de Cemex subsidia los programas de responsabilidad social de dicha empresa y Benavides ha adoptado la causa del combate al cáncer de mama. Supongo que a la administración del Sr. Ruiz le es más prioritario atender a un par de vecinos que no entienden que hay actividades que se promueven a favor de los más aun cuando esto incomode a los menos.
En resumen: que efectivos son para escuchar a 50 quejosos. Los felicito por darle en la madre al deporte en pro de ellos. Yo creo que esos 50 serán votos muy útiles en próximas elecciones.