Is Peña Nieto Facing a Mexican Spring?

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on December 4th, 2014.

Two years ago, Enrique Peña Nieto took office as Mexico’s president, under the banner of a renovated Partido Revolucionario Institucional(PRI) and with a promise of a brighter economic, social and political future.

Only two months after he took office, Thomas L. Friedman remarked on that promise in an article titled “How Mexico Got Back in the Game.” And who can forget Timemagazine’s February 2014 cover, featuring Peña Nieto with the headline “Saving Mexico”? In that feature, author Michael Crowley said that on the security issues, “alarms are being replaced with applause” and that the social, political and economic reforms package steamrolled through a PRI-dominant Congress were preview of great things to come.

The media prematurely started calling this era “Mexico’s moment.” Granted, we are living quite an interesting moment in Mexico’s history, but not for the reasons the 2012 optimists foresaw.

A recent series of events and decisions stemming from the political elite at local, state and federal levels has detonated into what could evolve into a Mexican version of the Arab Spring. In Friedman’s piece, he quoted the president of Monterrey’s Center for Citizen Integration saying that “Once a citizen feels he is not powerless, he can aspire for more change. […] First, the Web democratized commerce, and then it democratized media, and now it is democratizing democracy.”

This is exactly what’s happening. A newly empowered Mexican civil society is reacting and saying enough is enough.

Some of the things I will discuss in this piece are not making their way to mainstream media, or they are being distorted and minimized, but they are gaining momentum in the open forum of Mexican social media—clearly demonstrating the growing divide between institutions and a fed-up and empowered rebellious citizenry.

The apparent state-sponsored mass murder of 43 rural students from Ayotzinapa was not the result of Peña Nieto’s mandate or decisions. The horrible events occurred in the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD)-run state of Guerrero, and the alleged intellectual authors of the massacre where the now-deposed and incarcerated PRD mayor of Iguala,José Luis Abarca, and his wife.

However, the president’s reaction to the crisis is proving to be more than a challenge for his office. Protesters are holding him accountable and expecting answers from him and only him.

When the massacre reached mass media, political groups in the elite saw it as an opportunity to attack their opponents. Two-time presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for Peña Nieto’s resignation, saying the president was not equipped to deal with the Ayotzinapa case. The PRI apparatus returned the blow, flooding the Web with a picture of Abarca and López Obrador hugging during a political rally and arguing that the two politicians were not only members of the same political party, but close friends and political allies.

While this game of political finger-pointing was going on, the families of the 43 students—and, quite frankly, most Mexicans—were more interested in what the federal government was doing to advance the investigation and to deliver credible results.

When days turned into months and the public still had no answers, two incidents collided and became a perfect storm for the president.

On November 7, 33 days after the Ayotzinapa students disappeared, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam gave a press conference in which he declared that the students’ bodies had been thrown in a mass grave and cremated, citing confessions from local gang members as evidence. Families of the students, who had expected empathy and hope, were instead subjected to a crude account of how their loved ones had been abducted, transported, tortured, maimed and murdered.

Murillo continued to share testimonies of apprehended criminals, describing the way the bodies were doused with gasoline and set ablaze. At the conclusion of the press conference, Murillo dodged questions challenging the credibility of his statements, only to abruptly end the session by getting up from his chair and murmuring “I’ve had enough” (Ya me cansé).

Though Murillo later said that his words were an expression of his frustration with the violence, #Yamecansé immediately became a trending topic on Twitter. Enraged Mexicans shouted they, too, had had enough of the political elite, of organized crime in bed with the government, and of being lied to and patronized.

The second PR disaster came two days later, when journalist Carmen Aristegui uncovered acase of alleged corruption and nepotism involving Peña Nieto’s wife, Angélica Rivera. Aristegui revealed that the construction company Grupo Higa, which had won a  multimillion dollar bid to construct a high-speed rail project in the PRI-governed state of Nuevo León, had also built Rivera’s now famous $7 million “Casa Blanca” mansion.

As if the Casa Blanca accusation wasn’t bad enough, Peña Nieto decided not to directly respond to it. Instead, the strategy from the president’s office was to have the First Lady provide an explanation, in a failed attempt to put distance between the accusation and the president.  The Rivera’s nonsensical YouTube video explanation of how she came to possess enough money to buy the house through acting in telenovelas, created an outcry on social media, showing that nobody bought the First Lady’s explanation. Instead, the video became yet another symbol of the effrontery with which the political class approaches their constituency, stirring up frustration and indignation.

The #Yamecansé and #CasaBlanca hashtags sparked massive social mobilizations and marches in the state of Guerrero, in Mexico City and in major cities across the country and abroad. Some have compared these mass protests with the #YoSoy132 movement of 2012.

The similarity between the two movements is the fact that Peña Nieto is the main target of criticis—but it would be more accurate to compare the current movement with the Arab Spring. #YoSoy132 was fueled by electoral politics, with the goal of preventing Peña Nieto from winning office. After Peña Nieto was elected, the movement did not die completely, but it became more symbolic than effective.

Today, enraged and politically alienated youth are amassing in a more organic way, and their reasons for protesting will not dissipate after electoral polls close. Local, state and federal incompetence and corruption have created more reasons than ever for people to take to the streets and demand a change.

There is no sign of this trend reversing. In fact, all strategies used by the government to tackle the protests only seem to aggravate them.  With accusations of police beating up and arresting peaceful protesters, Peña Nieto’s presentation of a security reformthat would unify local police forces was met with skepticism. The spokesperson for the relatives of the Ayotzinapa victims called the measure “like his words—false,” and a move by Mexico’s lower house of Congress to revise rules on social mobilization (Senate approval pending) was received as a threat to freedom of speech and freedom of movement.

Why aren’t these strategies working? In part, because they were the wrong solutions to begin with. In his recent op-ed in El Economista, the founder and president of the Mexican think tank Instituto de Pensamiento Estratégico Ágora A.C. (IPEA ), Armando Regil Velasco, identified the root cause of the prolonged problem:

“When your moral authority is so fragile, it doesn’t matter what you say. Skepticism will impose itself and little to nothing will be believable. [The Federal government] lacks honesty, courage and determination.”

The Mexican political elite, with Peña Nieto heading the list, has lost whatever  trust the citizenry once had in them. The phrase “more crooked than a politician” has risen to new heights in today’s Mexico, and those brave enough to mobilize are finding more and more reasons to do so as more cases of corruption and inadequacy develop.

After two years of Peña Nieto’s government and with the current social chaos the country is facing, I wonder where those 2012 notions of “Saving Mexico,” “Mexico’s moment” and “getting back in the game” have ended up. The best place to look for them is probably in the gutter.

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Why I Wasn’t a Fat Kid in Mexico

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Nov. 27th, 2014.

I grew up in Manzanillo and Monterrey, two Mexican cities that are opposites in many ways. Manzanillo is on the southwest coast of Mexico; Monterrey is in the dry northeastern desert. Manzanillo is a small town; Monterrey is one of the country’s most important urban industrial centers. In Manzanillo, people are laid back and relaxed, whereas Monterrey’s citizens are famous for being laborious, high-strung and dynamic.

When I was growing up, Monterrey and Manzanillo did have one thing in common, though: the general rule was that children played outside. Without even asking for permission, we would leave the house (which was always unlocked), and the world was our playground.

We did have some rules: don’t talk to strangers, don’t go farther than two blocks from home—but that was about it. We rode bikes and skateboards, played soccer in the street, set up a lemonade stand, and played tag and hide-and-seek. We also had videogames and TV, but they were limited to a couple of hours a day, and we really didn’t complain about it (mostly because TV programming and videogames were so limited back then).

In 2013, Mexico surpassed the United States as the most obese nation in the Americas. Because I was born with asthma, I wasn’t the most active kid. Yet I still grew up extra-skinny, and so did most of my friends.

What happened to Mexico’s children in the last 30 years? Based on my personal experience and observations, here are a few of the multiple causes of child obesity in Mexico today.

The school system: It is no mystery that Mexico’s school system is in trouble. We have substandard teachers, no accountability, and funding that is often diverted to teachers’ unions—the list goes onl. If you go to a public school during recess in Mexico, you’ll find a basketball court, which will add to numbers mentioned in any government report. Yet those numbers tell a half truth: the court will have baskets with no backboards and broken rims—and, most likely, the school won’t have basketballs available for the kids to play with. Usually, you’ll just see the boys playing kickball on a dirt patio with improvised goals (usually two rocks set apart from each other), and the girls will be on the sidelines, chatting and eating chips.

According to the Federal Program for Sports and Physical Culture 2014-2018, some of our national sports system’s flaws include the lack of school and municipal sports leagues, deficient attention to school sports programs, insufficient federal funding, obsolete state legislation to promote sports, social inequality and a scarcity of female participation in sports, and the absence of physical education in the school curricula.

The food industry and NAFTA: Before 1994, if I wanted to eat a box of Lucky Charms, I had to cross the border into the United States. We did not have direct access to many of the U.S. food products that are now available in every supermarket nationwide, thanks to NAFTA.

A pre-packaged “Lunchable” is much easier to stick in a lunchbox than what I grew up with. When I went to primary school, my lunchbox was full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and my thermos bottle contained lemonade squeezed from real lemons. Today, kids are taking artificially flavored drinks and foods to school on a daily basis.  According to pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig, the U.S. food industry is in great part responsible for turning sugar into a staple food in Americans’ diets. Thanks to NAFTA, all that sugar is now easily accessible to Mexicans, and we’re devouring it.

TV on demand and the technological revolution:  I recently took my kids on vacation and we were staying at a hotel. My three-year-old son told me he wanted to watch a specific kids’ program. We have TV on demand at home, so it was a challenge to explain to him that the only programming available was what was playing in real time: live TV (none of which was interesting to him). Videogame consoles and TV programming for children have existed for much longer than the obesity problem, so the difference has to be the availability and portability of entertainment that encourages kids to be sedentary. I had my first cell phone when I was 17 years old. “Let me get my iPad” is now commonplace talk among middle- and upper-class eight to ten year olds.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Health and Nutrition, children and young adults are straying from physical and recreational activity. Instead, they play videogames, watch television and spend time on the Internet. The survey estimated that 58.6 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 14 do zero physical or sports activities.

Insecurity and loss of childhood independence: Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that insecurity—and the perception of insecurity—has turned children into hostages of playdate agendas.

When I was 12, I would get home from school, have lunch and then say goodbye to my folks, only to see them again after 7 pm. My everyday life included walking to a bus stop eight blocks away, getting on a bus in order to go to a friend’s house, then walking to a basketball court and playing for a couple of hours—and getting into trouble in multiple creative ways.

Were my parents irresponsible? Was I a neglected child? Of course not. I was free, because the era in which I grew up in allowed me to be. My parents had little to worry about.

My kids are not as fortunate as I was. Unless they live in private, gated communities, Mexican kids are no longer allowed to walk out their door unattended—because today, parents have serious reasons to fear for their kids’ safety. The rise of violence and crime in hotspots in the country has made us (reasonably) more paranoid, so kids now have play dates—specific and limited times during the week when they can get together with their friends. Hopefully, they engage in some physical activity and don’t just glue themselves to game consoles in the living room.

In this new Mexico, where child obesity is a reality, parents need to play a more active role in making sure their kids get out and play, eat healthy food, and detach themselves from their gadgets and TV. No one else is going to do it for them.

A Focus on Security Sidelines Education in Mexico

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Nov. 19th, 2014.

This was supposed to be a banner year for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. In the last quarter of 2013, his party was able to push through what were then called historical structural reforms to modernize the Mexican education system and boost the national economy and energy sector.  If 2013 was the year for lawmaking, 2014 was supposed to be the year for implementing reforms and beginning to reap their benefits.

However, instead of the anticipated stability, the end of 2014 has proven to be one of most politically turbulent times in Mexico’s recent history. There are no stories of a buoyant economy or a modernized education system to speak of.  On the contrary,  a flurry of disturbing stories have dominated the Mexican news cycle: the state-sponsored mass murder in Guerrero;  strikes at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (National Polytechnic Institute—IPN); protests and police violence at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico—UNAM);  a railway contract scandalimplicating Peña Nieto;  and waves of viral videos showing police repression, abuse and violence throughout the country.

Against this clamorous background, the $4.7 trillion peso federal budget approved last week by Mexico’s Lower House of Congress allocates 188 billion pesos to police and security projects—a 3.3 percent larger investment than the government made in 2014. Congressman Pedro Pablo Treviño Villarreal, who presided over the budget committee, specified that a portion of these additional funds would help harmonize the police and security forces among the different states and municipalities of Mexico.

The sectors taking a hit in 2015 will once again be education and tourism. In 2012, Education represented 5.2 percent of the country’s GDP. The approved budget for 2015 drops this figure to 2.8 percent, and the Tourism Ministry will receive a 9.1 percent budget cut from last year.

That’s no surprise. With the Ayotzinapa tragedy still unfolding and both the rulingPartido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and thePartido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) taking hard political hits, the Lower House decided to capitalize on the public’s concerns byraising the budget for the Victims Treatment Executive Commission from 186 million pesos to 958 million pesos—more than five times the amount proposed by the Executive Branch. Congressman Miguel Alonso Raya from the PRD said that the additional money will be used to set up an assistance fund for the families of victims of organized crime, but did not specify whether or not the families of the 43 student-teachers murdered in Guerrero would have access to the fund.

Meanwhile, the relative cuts in the education and tourism budgets stand as clear evidence that the budget is short-sighted, insofar as it focuses on throwing money at the manifestations of a problem instead of investing in long-term solutions to it. While energy and economic reforms were flying through Congress with relative ease last year, I pointed out the shortcomings in education reform, which are now beset with a lack of development funding.

Congresswoman Lucila Garfias has argued that deciding to allocate only 2.8 percent of the GDP to education reveals how little progress has been made: “When resources in the country are insufficient and the challenges are many, it is essential to prioritize the quality of public education. The decision to restrict these funds places the success of education reform at risk.” Another one of the few voices opposing the 2015 budget, CongresswomanLuisa María Alcalde Luján, chimed in to say that the composition of the budget was fueled by short-term electoral interests and that “…this budget, like the one for 2014, punishes our public universities, schools and research centers.”

It is easy to go for the apparently popular solution. It is easy to say that it is in public interest to favor short-term security over long-term education and job creation. Like many Latin American countries, Mexico is not free of populist rhetoric in its political class, regardless of which side of the political aisle you sit on. Unfortunately, the 2015 budget is once again a populist solution. And like Argentinian journalist Mariano Grondona once said, the problem is that “populism loves the poor so much, that it multiplies them.”

The PRI’s leader in Congress, Manlio Fablio Beltrones, called the 97.6 percent approval vote for the 2015 Budget “a historical consensus.” As long as fixing the education system in Mexico continues to be a lower priority, it is a historical consensus that should worry all of us.

A Discussion about Lesbian Roles and Depictions in Mexico

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Aug. 18th, 2014.

LGBT cyber-activists took to the web last week to publically denounce Mexico City’s 3rd International Lesbian Festival. Through acommuniqué posted on Facebook, nearly 20 LGBT organizations and collectives and around 50 individual signatories condemned the festival as a vehicle for perpetuating misogyny and machismo. They also criticized a number of authorities for vouching for the festival and participating in its organization, including Mexico City Labor Secretary Patricia Mercado and Jacqueline L. Hoist Tapia, who is the president of the Consejo para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación (Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination in Mexico City —COPRED).

It sounds counterintuitive that LGBT groups would oppose an event that claims to support their cause and promote equal rights—and which could not even be hosted in more conservative cities in the country today. So why are these groups opposing the festival?

There are a number of reasons: for one, the festival’s promotional materials include highly sexualized images of women clad in lingerie, and the festival’s agenda includes an event called “The Bunny Party,” sparking comparisons to the men’s magazinePlayboy. Also drawing criticism is the festival’s “coronation ceremony” and a workshop on applying makeup.

In their communiqué, groups opposing the festival write that “while it is fundamental to have cultural, artistic, political and leisure space for lesbians, we find it appalling that these spaces are provided under the basis of gender stereotypes that are misogynistic andmachista. Instead of contributing to the empowerment and freedom of lesbian women from the roles that have oppressed us for ages […] the festival reproduces them with singular joy.” According to the communiqué, the festival’s publicity “only represents white, thin women […]showing women as objects the way male adult magazines would.”

La Tortillería Queretana, an organization that originally participated in the festival, publically bowed out of its scheduled theatrical performance, stating that, “our view is both lesbian and feminist. We are not willing to participate in a machista event.”

Parts of the festival’s agenda seem like they could be consistent with the mission to promote equality and LGBT rights. Events such as the screening of a documentary titled“Lesfriendly,” a soccer tournament, and discussions about workplace challenges and professional opportunities for lesbian women in Mexico could all be interesting or useful to those who might have attended the festival, if not for the festival’s insensitive and objectifying portrayal of women.

Yet the outcry that the festival has generated is also a testament to the progress that Mexican LGBT advocacy groups have made in the recent years in order to get their message across.  The LGBT community in Mexico City and its surrounding cities has clearly built up an effective network that not only promotes LGBT inclusion and acceptance, but also seeks to enforce the guidelines, principles and standards of said inclusion. It is no longer about recognizing the LGBT community’s existence; it’s about being portrayed the way they want to be portrayed and defying traditional stereotypes.

Whether one agrees with the collective or not, the fact remains that these conversations are finally taking place out in the open. Hopefully, this level of activism and social engagement will spread to the rest of the country in the years to come. A cultural transformation, in which Mexicans learn to be more tolerant and respect diversity of all kinds, would help alleviate some of our strongest grievances and obstacles for peaceful interaction.

Blood Spilled in Pursuit of Truth in Mexico

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Aug. 12th, 2014.

This June, Mexico’s Procuraduría General de la República (Federal Prosecutor’s Office–PGR) issued a report that paints a gruesome picture of the country’s freedom of the press situation, releasing worrisome numbers on crimes and homicides committed against reporters and journalists for the past 14 and a half years.

Between January 2000 and June 2014, an average of one journalist has been reported assassinated in Mexico approximately every 52 days.  In the 36 months between 2010 to 2012, 35 journalists were killed, and there were 71 homicides against journalists reported between 2006 and 2012, during the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.

Of the 102 murders cited in the report, which occurred in 20 out of 32 Mexican states, 61 percent of the crimes took place in Chihuahua (16 murders), Veracruz (15 murders), Tamaulipas (13 murders) Guerrero (11 murders) and Sinaloa (7 murders).These five states are no strangers to drug cartels and organized crime.

The report also mentions 27 other types of crimes continuously perpetuated against the press—not just by criminals, but also by the police. These crimes include deaths threats, murder attempts, abuse of power from authorities, illegal detainment, kidnapping, corporal violence, theft, intimidation, illegal wire-tapping, illegal seizure of property, and entering journalists’ homes without search warrants. Additionally, from 2010 through June 2014, 14 journalists have gone missing and today are presumed dead.

And it’s not just traditional news media outlets that are under fire. In 2011, citizens were shocked by a number of cases where citizen journalists and bloggers were tortured and killed, and whose bodies were publicly displayed in cities like Nuevo Laredo—sending a message to truth-seekers and freedom of speech activists nationwide.  In 2012, I wrote about the case of the online alias 5anto, a video blogger who shut down his site after receiving numerous death threats.

While each case presents its own particular nuances, it’s undeniable that powerful forces are behind these heinous crimes to control the press. While the crimes themselves and the recent increase in their frequency are reason enough to worry, the message that they send to news media nationwide is even more troublesome.

One needn’t be an expert to understand the level of pressure that journalists face in Mexico today to self-censor out of fear of their lives. I’ve even become more careful with what I say and how I say it, after getting a threatening phone call in 2011 for reporting on the Casino Royale massacre in Monterrey and questioning the venue’s ties to a prominent political family in the city.

Even more famous are cases of prominent personalities like journalist Lydia Cacho, who has survived numerous attempts against her life, as well as physical and psychological abuse during illegal detentions after she published Los Demonios del Éden (The Demons of Eden). The book exposes the alleged involvement of important politicians in a prostitution and child pornography ring.

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) senior Americas program coordinator, Carlos Lauría, has referred to Mexico as “one of the most dangerous places for journalists around the world.” The 570 pretrial investigations opened from 2010 to date, resulting from a variety of crimes targeting journalists, are a testament to Lauría’s claim.

Meanwhile, the 102 murders reported between 2000 and today are a lot more than just numbers on a page—there is a brave Mexican behind each one. There are families, wives, husbands and children who mourn the loss of a dedicated journalist who sought to report on the wrongs of this country because he or she believed it was the best way they could remedy them. Behind each of the numbers on the report are thousands of news stories that will never be written, and truths that Mexicans will never hear about, silenced by bullets.  This piece honors their bravery.

As long as security conditions in Mexico don’t allow for journalists to freely publish their investigations and editorial pieces—for those bold enough to directly report on dangerous subjects and expose public figures as criminals—hiding behind anonymity might be the best course of action. Permanent silence must not and cannot be the road to take. There’s too much at stake.

Mexican Culture and the World Cup

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Here is a link to a recent on AQBlog article of mine, titled “Mexican Culture and the World Cup“, published on Jul 2nd, 2014.

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.

The World Cup is a lot more than just soccer. It is a global celebration and in many regards, a showcase of cultures, not just from the host country but from all nations participating in it.

While Mexico did not become the World Cup soccer champion in Brazil, international media sources did call it the  champion of social media, as one of the nations with some of the most social media chatter and memes during the tournament. The flourishing of social media has made Mexico renown in all corners of the globe, in ways that traditional media has not.

Unfortunately, not all of our portrayals are positive. During Brazil 2014, some Mexican fans chose to display their “cultural humor” in ways that could be considered hateful or homophobic—including taunting goalkeepers by calling them “puto,” a derogatory term used frequently at soccer matches in Mexico. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) even opened up an investigation to evaluate if the Mexican soccer federation should be fined for promoting discrimination through the use of this taunt (in the end, FIFA decided against it, determining that the federation could not be held liable for spectators’ conduct).

More relevant than the debate over  FIFA’s decision about the chant is the fans’ reaction to it. Instead of questioning the use of the word and our projection of Mexican culture to the world, many Mexican soccer fans decided to bask in the glory of their ability to insult others.

Mexican media headlines glorified the offensive chant; we created hundreds of memesmaking fun of FIFA, and the fans attending a subsequent Mexico match intensified the use of the slur. While some prominent Mexicans—like actor Diego Luna and journalist Álvaro Cueva—spoke out publicly against the offensive slur, the message from many Mexican soccer fans was clear: we don’t care what FIFA thinks, we are going to amuse ourselves by insulting opponents on the international stage.

At times, the Mexican government has had to intervene on behalf of its misbehaving fans. In the 1998 World Cup in France, a Mexican tourist extinguished the eternal flame burning under Paris’ Arc de Triomphe by urinating on it causing an international uproar that ended with a formal apology from the Mexican Minister of Foreign Relations. In South Africa in 2010, a Mexican fan who had spent more than $7,700 on his flight to South Africa, lost the chance to see his team play after being arrested for placing a large sombrero and zarape on a statue of Nelson Mandela. Since this act was taken as an international offense, the Mexican Foreign Ministry had to step up, once again, and apologize to its counterpart in South Africa.

These types of stories are not exclusive to the Brazil 2014 World Cup—nor is offensive behavior exclusive to fans from Mexico. Despite FIFA’s “Say No to Racism” campaign, a man with neo-Nazi markings ran onto the field during the match between Germany and Ghana—where some German fans were seen in blackface—and some Russian and Croatian fans were seen holding anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi banners.  “Hooligan culture” has a long history in many soccer-loving countries.

Mexican culture has always been synonymous with celebration, joy and festivities. We are globally considered free-spirited and happy, and that’s ok. But there is a fine line between being free-spirited and being unruly. When we celebrate and cheer on examples of cultural insensitivity  during an international event such as the World Cup, we should really think about the type of culture Mexico wants to show the rest of the world—and the effect that this might have on our ability to discuss subjects far more serious than a soccer tournament, such as racism and homophobia.

Mexico’s participation in this World Cup is now over and we have four long years ahead of us to build a new project for the tournament in Russia. Can we try to behave and bring less embarrassment to ourselves in the future?

Carlos Slim and Mexico’s Telecom Reforms

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Here is a link to a recent on AQBlog article of mine, titled “Carlos Slim and Mexico’s Telecom Reforms“, published on May 12th, 2014.

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.

Every year around February, Carlos Slim Helú’s name is tossed around in the offices of Forbes magazine. Numbers are crunched, and Forbes’editors determine if they will publish the Mexican businessman’s name with a 1 or a 2 beside it in their famous “World’s Richest People” list.

In a country ranked 88th in the world in GDP per capita in 2013, with 52.3 percent of its population living below the poverty line in 2012, one has to wonder how it is that Slim is able to accrue so much wealth.

Forbes calculates Slim and his family’s net worth at $72 billion dollars. Other publications calculate his worth at around $75 billion, so let’s settle for $73, give or take a few billion. Putting things into perspective, based on last year’s GDP per capita estimates, Slim’s $73 billion net worth is equivalent to more than the wealth of 4.6 million average Mexicans put together.

There are a number of explanations for how Slim got this rich. Some appeal to theromantic story of an entrepreneurial boy who learned to invest from his father at the age of 12. Others, more critical of Slim, point towards the moment that Slim bought Teléfonos de México (Telmex)  in 1990 during the privatizations of former President Carlos Salinas Gortari.  In reality, Slim was a wealthy man well before 1990, but I’m sure that gaining control of the only phone company in the country at the time helped grow his assets, which include ownership and/or shareholder participation in over 200 companies in Mexico.

One of the keys to Slim’s success has been his ability to find his way into companies with little or no competition in the commercial market. Let’s take a look:

Slim is the chairman of Telmex and América Móvil. This means he controls the phone lines, the largest local and long distance phone providers, the largest broadband Internet service provider and the largest mobile phone company in the country (Telcel), which has70.8 percent of the market share, according to IFC estimates.

So, practically every time a Mexican makes a phone call or connects to the Internet, he’s giving money to the second-richest man in the world—and not at a cheap price.  According to the OECD, Mexico’s mobile rates are the fifth most expensive in the world.

But Slim doesn’t just control Mexico’s telecom sector. Quick, think chocolate! Chances are you thought of Hershey’s, right? So do most Mexicans. And every time they buy a Hershey’s bar, they’re also helping Slim accumulate wealth, since he holds a 50 percent interest in the Mexican branch of this company. Does he have any real competitors? Yes, one: Mars Mexico.

Meanwhile, every time a Mexican buys music at a Mixup or Tower Records location, Slim gets a cut.

Mexico also has only two cafeteria chains nationwide. One is Vips, currently in the midst ofbeing acquired from Walmart by the Alsea conglomerate. The other one is Sanborns, with over 125 stores—and helping Slim make money each day. Sanborns is much more than a cafeteria—it’s actually an integrated restaurant/bar/bakery/gift shop/book store concept.

Slim also provides Mexicans the opportunity to contribute to his wealth by shopping at any of nearly 50 Sears stores and the one Saks Fifth Avenue store in Mexico City. Want to open a bank account? If you do it at Banco Inbursa, guess who gets the profits?

Grupo Carso, one of three main holding companies led by Slim (Carso is a contraction of the first letters in Slim’s first name and that of his late wife, Soumaya), is also the umbrella for energy, construction, infrastructure and automotive industry companies such asCondumex and CILSA, to name a couple.

Slim also owns a real estate and hotel company called OSTAR Grupo Hotelero, and an upscale shopping mall in Mexico City called Plaza Carso.

With all this in mind, it may come as a surprise to most Mexicans that Slim hates monopolies and duopolies—especially when he’s not a part of them. That’s why, in March of 2013, he supported the telecom reform, interpreting it as an opportunity to open up the market for him in Open TV and broadband services. Slim recently launched Claro TV, a broadband TV service similar to Netflix, and has been pushing to become the third player in the open TV market for some time now.

Yet the congratulatory words Slim bestowed on the federal government in 2013 have turned into criticism, now that the secondary telecommunication legislation is being discussed in Congress (the final version is set for a vote in June).

When the federal government’s legislative proposal was presented in March, it met public rejection on the grounds that parts of the bill violated freedom of speech and privacy rights. However, Slim had other reasons to be mad.

One of the key aspects of the telecom proposal now opposed by Slim’s mobile company, América Móvil, is the premise that the “preponderant economic actor” will be obligated to provide its competitors free interconnection to its network. In a statement it released to the news media, América Móvil explains that this action “rewards the lack of investment from its competitors and harms end consumers.”

The statement also mentions that the proposed legislation “creates entry barriers to the highly concentrated markets of open and restricted television broadcasting,” and gives theInstituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Federal Telecommunications Institute—IFETEL) a window of up to two years to evaluate if Slim’s Telmex can enter the open television market. In layman’s terms, Televisa CEO, President and Chairman Emilio Azcárraga would be allowed to enter the telephone sector at a lower cost, and Slim’s dream of entering the open TV industry would be put on hold. Azcárraga: 2, Slim: 0.

The telecom discussion-turned-telenovela now includes accusations from Televisa-friendly news pundits claiming that Slim was behind the #EPNvsInternet protests, and responses to those attacks calling Televisa an “ill-willed disinformation provider”.

The fate of the country’s telecom industry will be settled by Congress’ decision in June, while average Mexicans are hooked to their TV sets watching the World Cup—but depending on the outcome, these reforms could be less about opening markets up, and more about which of Mexico’s oligarchs are favored by them.