The Best University Student in Mexico is an Inmate?

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “The Best University Student in Mexico is an Inmate?“, published on March 6th, 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.

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The penal system does not work; criminals that do jail time do not reform. We’ve heard these arguments in Mexico before—and for the most part, they seem to be true.

Stories abound of drug lords continuing to run their operations from within their cells by using unauthorized mobile phones, and of youth that are imprisoned for minor crimes, only to turn  into full-blown criminals once they enter the penal system.

However, one case in Baja California sheds a beacon of light that could be a sign of better things to come in the Mexican penitentiary system.

Pedro Antonio Gerardo Acosta is a 29-year-old inmate in the El Hongo jail near the city of Tecate in Baja California, serving a 20-year sentence for kidnapping. This convicted criminal also recently obtained the highest score in the countryon the national academic test for higher education (public and private), administered by the Centro Nacional de Evaluación para la Educación Superior A.C. (National Evaluation Center for Higher Education—CENEVAL).

Gerardo Acosta is one of the first inmates to graduate from a pilot program run by the Baja California State Penitentiary and the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC), which allows people serving a sentence in El Hongo to receive higher education while incarcerated.  Along with Gerardo Acosta’s amazing achievement, two of his inmate classmates also received special recognition for outstanding academic performance in 2013.

Rosaura Barahona, renown editorialist for El Norte newspaper, commented that El Hongo’s educational program is part of a number of changes in the state’s penal system, which is migrating away from a “lock them up and throw away the key” strategy toward a transformative strategy of rehabilitation-and-reinsertion.

“Educating someone is never a waste of time” said Barahona, noting that Gerardo Acosta earned his degree despite having eleven more years to serve behind bars.

Felipe Cuamea Velázquez, Dean of the UABC, agrees with Barahona and congratulated Gerardo Acosta for this achievement. “It represents a great step in his life and an important tool towards his reinsertion into society,” said Cuamea Velázquez.

Of course, the educational program will never be bulletproof, and there is no evidence to say that someone who goes through it will never commit a crime in the future—but there is no arguing against the fact that it is better than the alternative of doing nothing.

Moreover, the three students’ success is proof of the seriousness with which the state penitentiary is taking this program seriously. It is not a PR ploy for authorities to boast that they are trying to reinsert convicts into society, but is actually a legitimate project that provides access to top-level education to people who never had it before.

The way I see it, a person who is in jail but who is studying hard enough to receive better scores than non-criminals is also an inmate who is staying away from trouble; someone looking to better himself because he wants a different life after he serves his sentence.

Baja California’s El Hongo is the first state penitentiary to initiate a program like the one with the UABC—and although it has only graduated ten students thus far, imagine the possibilities if this program were to be implemented at a national scale.

What if a young guy who committed a minor crime served his sentence—and instead of having learned to be a more effective gang-banger, he came out a university graduate?

Transforming Monterrey’s Landscape

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I had forgotten to post a link to this article on AQBlog, titled “Transforming Monterrey’s Landscape“, published on February 26th, 2014. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Also, 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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Monterrey, one of the largest cities in Mexico, has recently become a hotspot for criminal activity and host to a number of violent incidents. An ambitious urban development initiative, however, is set to change the city’s deteriorating reputation.

Seventy years ago, an institution that transformed the educational system in Mexico was bornTec de Monterrey, an icon of entrepreneurial spirit and industrial development success based in the city of Monterrey. Dubbed by many of its alumni as the “MIT of Latin America”, Tec was founded in 1943 by Don Eugenio Garza Sada, an MIT graduate himself.

Tec de Monterrey is much more than a university, it is a nation-wide system of high school, university and post-graduate campuses with a common mission: to develop human and professional potential in its students. Its headquarters and most important campus is the Campus Monterrey, located in the valley of the famous Cerro de la Silla of southern Monterrey, an  area that has hosted violence, including the tragic deaths of two students in a 2010 shooting.

However, Tec de Monterrey recently presented a 500 million dollar urban development project which will, among other things, reclaim public spaces of 17 neighborhoods in the vicinity of the Monterrey Campus. The money funding the project will come predominately from donations and proceeds from the annual Sorteo Tec,  a lottery system similar to state-run lotteries, that is privately organized by Tec de Monterrey.

 

“District Tec” as it is being called, will include drastic improvements to surrounding roads and infrastructure to be built over the next 15 to 20 years. A large public park is part of the project, as is the renovation of the campus’ library. The old football and soccer stadium, currently home to the Rayados de Monterrey professional team, will be demolished and replaced by sports facilities, leisure areas and an underground parking lot.

José Antonio Fernández, President of the Tec de Monterrey Board, said that the university “will work hand in hand with the community and authorities in order to transform this part of the city into a safe, attractive and inspiring place where talent can be attracted and retained.”

District Tec is a scarce but valuable example of visionary collaboration between the private and public sector and the communities. It will certainly pose its set of implementation challenges, but while many efforts to curb violence and insecurity—such as government crack downs on illegal casinos and brothels—have been short-lived, the brilliance of the District Tec is its focus on a long-term solution.

Mexican society has traditionally played the victim when it comes to dealing with issues of insecurity. It is far too easy to blame the government while we see our communities deteriorating. District Tec shows only too well what city leaders should be paying attention to—if you’re not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. Congratulations to Tec de Monterrey for its commitment to this bold effort in making their neighborhood safe again. I look forward to my children enjoying their university experience the way that I did back when it was much safer to live in Monterrey.

Narcocorridos Drum up Support for the Knights Templar in Michoacán

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Narcocorridos Drum up Support for the Knights Templar in Michoacán“, published on February 6th, 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.

Narcocorridos—songs that celebrate drug dealers as folk heroes—have been a part of Mexican culture for as long as the illicit activity has existed in the country.  Attempts to censor them from reaching radio airwaves have triggered debates over freedom of speech, as well as outcries from the more liberal media.

But as a recent concert in Morelia, the capital city of Michoacán, shows, there is a fine line between painting a pretty picture of criminality and actually engaging in direct support for organized crime groups that have brought parts of Mexico to unmanageable levels of violence.

The state of Michoacán has been in the spotlight for almost a year now, due to a complete degradation of the rule of law. A clashing arena for a number of criminal organizations including the Familia Michoacana, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, the Zetas and the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar), Michoacán is a case study where criminality has grown larger than the state itself.

Given the dire situation, self-defense groups have taken up arms in rural areas throughout the state, claiming they are ready to do the job the government won’t in order to protect their families and communities.  José Manuel Mireles, one of the leaders of the Consejo Ciudadano de Autodefensa (Citizen Council of Self Defense Groups), famously said that the self-defense movement “[…] started when the narcos started abusing our women and daughters.”

However, organized crime is so embedded in Michoacán life that on February 2, one of the capital city’s main entertainment venues hosted a Narcocorrido lineup whose outright and explicit support for the Knights Templar would chill any law-abiding citizen. The concert was approved by the state authorities and state police officials were on hand to ensure that the event ran smoothly.

The headliner group, “Los de la A,” started their concert by yelling out to an audience of nearly six thousand: “If they chop off my head, I won’t care. Knights Templar all the way!” receiving cheers and jeers from the riled-up crowd.

“Los de la A” originate from Apatzingán, Michoacán, one of the towns currently controlled by the self-defense groups.  After a couple of songs, the lead singer known as “El Komander” addressed the crowd, encouraging them to support the Knights Templar in reclaiming control of that town: “We’re recruiting people to go to Apatzingán and kick some a** over there!”

Half-way into the show, envelopes filled with cocaine started making their way through the crowd. Concert-goers snorted the drug right in front of police officers, who did nothing to stop them, even after the lead singer of the band cheered, “Bring out all the drugs! Let’s all get crazy tonight!”

Granted, the violence and drug problem in Michoacán and the country will not disappear by censoring narcocorridos, in the same way that inner-city violence has not disappeared since they stamped those “Warning: Explicit Lyrics” stickers on gangsta rap CDs in the U.S., but when a person is allowed to take the stage in a state-owned forum and motivate his fans to take up arms and shoot civilian groups to support a drug trafficking organization, the issue is larger than freedom of speech.

Mireles says that self-defense groups will “put their weapons away once rule of law is re-established in Michoacán.” The essential ingredient for this to happen is the generalized adoption of—or at least, sympathy for—a culture of lawfulness in the communities.

As long as there are people who are convinced that the narco way is best, there will be no peace in Michoacán. Unfortunately, those who would support the re-establishment of order and harmony in the state don’t have folk musicians to hold concerts at their beck and call.

Mexican Drug Cartels use Christmas to Expand their Fan Base

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Here is a link to an article I published in January for AQBlog, titled “Mexican Drug Cartels use Christmas to Expand their Fan Base” I had forgotten to re-post it in my personal blog so here it is in case you missed it. I’m posting a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it here, but I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

They might be taking their cues from legendary Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was famous for helping out numerous communities in Colombia and donating parks and recreation centers to unprivileged communities. Or maybe they’re inspired by the legend of Jesús Malverde, the so-called narco-saint folk hero from Sinaloa, sometimes seen as a Mexican version of Robin Hood. On the other hand, they may feel threatened  by  the “self-defense” groups spawning in Michoacán and Colima—civil vigilante groups  that have taken up arms against the cartels after declaring that local authorities are unable or unwilling to tackle organized crime battles head-on.

For whatever reason, drug cartels in different parts of Mexico took to the streets this holiday season in order to “give back,” and—ironic as it may sound— spread holiday cheer.

In the southern state of Oaxaca the impoverished communities of Viguera, Bugambilia and Calicanto were surprised on Three Kings Day (January 6) withbundles of toys, which mysteriously appeared in different points of the city, some with signs explaining that they were left there “so that people can see that the Zetas support humble people. ” Not surprisingly, these images did not make it into mainstream national media but were shared via Twitter.

The eerie irony behind these charitable acts is that the Zetas are known for being one of the most cold-blooded criminal groups of the country, often resorting to torture and public displays of their victims.

On the other side of the country, in Tampico in the northern state of Tamaulipas, theCártel del Golfo (Gulf Cartel—CDG) took to the streets on Christmas Eve and handed out gifts, food and money. The CDG had the gall to parade in pickup trucks and set up different distribution points throughout the city, never fearing an attack from the authorities. In what would seem like a well-thought-out, below the line marketing strategy, they recorded, edited and uploaded videos that later went viral on YouTube.

One of the videos shows pickup trucks outside of hospitals, the main bus station and other parts of the city, distributing food bags and giftwrapped boxes. The crowds gather around and some of the cartel members try to organize the distribution as if they are conducting an aid campaign. The clip then transitions to another part of the city, outside of a public clinic, where members of the CDG deliver dozens of pizza boxes to people who not only thank them for the gift, but even organize to yell out a “hip, hip, hooray”-style cheer: “A la bio, a la  bao, a la bim bom ba, ¡el Cártel del Golfo, ra, ra, ra!”

The video shows how children run to these criminals with smiles on their faces and exchange a thank you for a plastic toy trinket. Unbeknownst to them, the toy was bought with blood and drug money. The fact that parents would let their kids get close to the cartel members is the perfect illustration of how engrained organized crime has become in underprivileged communities in parts of Mexico.

The larger problem is not that the cartels have the audacity to do these charity runs. The real and critical situation is that, given their lack of opportunities to survive otherwise, abandoned communities have embraced the cartels and come to regard them as semi-gods and role models. Mexico has become a place where, inside a posh shopping mall in Mexico City, a soccer mom can tell her kids to take a picture with Santa Claus, while a less privileged mother might invite her own children to ask the nice drug dealer for a handout.

What an unfair situation to put a kid in. What a terrible way to sentence our children’s futures.

Mexican Drug Cartels use Christmas to Expand Their Fan Base

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexican Drug Cartels use Christmas to Expand Their Fan Base“, published on January 9th, 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.

They might be taking their cues from legendary Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was famous for helping out numerous communities in Colombia and donating parks and recreation centers to unprivileged communities. Or maybe they’re inspired by the legend of Jesús Malverde, the so-called narco-saint folk hero from Sinaloa, sometimes seen as a Mexican version of Robin Hood. On the other hand, they may feel threatened  by  the “self-defense” groups spawning in Michoacán and Colima—civil vigilante groups  that have taken up arms against the cartels after declaring that local authorities are unable or unwilling to tackle organized crime battles head-on.

For whatever reason, drug cartels in different parts of Mexico took to the streets this holiday season in order to “give back,” and—ironic as it may sound— spread holiday cheer.

In the southern state of Oaxaca the impoverished communities of Viguera, Bugambilia and Calicanto were surprised on Three Kings Day (January 6) withbundles of toys, which mysteriously appeared in different points of the city, some with signs explaining that they were left there “so that people can see that the Zetas support humble people. ” Not surprisingly, these images did not make it into mainstream national media but were shared via Twitter.

The eerie irony behind these charitable acts is that the Zetas are known for being one of the most cold-blooded criminal groups of the country, often resorting to torture and public displays of their victims.

On the other side of the country, in Tampico in the northern state of Tamaulipas, theCártel del Golfo (Gulf Cartel—CDG) took to the streets on Christmas Eve and handed out gifts, food and money. The CDG had the gall to parade in pickup trucks and set up different distribution points throughout the city, never fearing an attack from the authorities. In what would seem like a well-thought-out, below the line marketing strategy, they recorded, edited and uploaded videos that later went viral on YouTube.

One of the videos shows pickup trucks outside of hospitals, the main bus station and other parts of the city, distributing food bags and giftwrapped boxes. The crowds gather around and some of the cartel members try to organize the distribution as if they are conducting an aid campaign. The clip then transitions to another part of the city, outside of a public clinic, where members of the CDG deliver dozens of pizza boxes to people who not only thank them for the gift, but even organize to yell out a “hip, hip, hooray”-style cheer: “A la bio, a la  bao, a la bim bom ba, ¡el Cártel del Golfo, ra, ra, ra!”

The video shows how children run to these criminals with smiles on their faces and exchange a thank you for a plastic toy trinket. Unbeknownst to them, the toy was bought with blood and drug money. The fact that parents would let their kids get close to the cartel members is the perfect illustration of how engrained organized crime has become in underprivileged communities in parts of Mexico.

The larger problem is not that the cartels have the audacity to do these charity runs. The real and critical situation is that, given their lack of opportunities to survive otherwise, abandoned communities have embraced the cartels and come to regard them as semi-gods and role models. Mexico has become a place where, inside a posh shopping mall in Mexico City, a soccer mom can tell her kids to take a picture with Santa Claus, while a less privileged mother might invite her own children to ask the nice drug dealer for a handout.

What an unfair situation to put a kid in. What a terrible way to sentence our children’s futures.

The No Re-election Taboo is Lifted in Mexico

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “The No Re-election Taboo is Lifted in Mexico“, published on December 12th, 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 the midst of a heated national debate on political reform, December 4 marked a milestone in Mexico’s electoral politics, as the upper house of Congress voted on legislation modifying 29 articles in the country’s constitution to allow consecutive re-election for mayoral and legislative positions.

Re-election will go into effect in 2018, and will allow mayors to run for two consecutive terms, while legislators can run for the same position for up to 12 years—though they’re required to run under the same political party they originally ran under. (This raises a number of questions regarding officials running under flimsy party alliances, which come and go faster than the seasons.) The president of Mexico and the mayor of Mexico City will be limited to serving one six-year term, however.

One of Mexico’s most ingrained mottos, born during the Revolution, has been “Effective Suffrage; No Re-election.” Back then, it was understandable that the country would unite under such a slogan, as the revolutionary objective was to overthrow Porfírio Diaz’ 31- year presidential tenure (with only one four-year break from 1880 to 1884).

Since then, however, political life in Mexico has evolved in ways in which allowing re-election could be positive.

On the one hand, the electoral framework has advanced enormously since the revolution. While the Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Elections Institute—IFE) still has a lot of room for improvement and electoral fraud is far from extinct, the Mexican political system and its institutions guarantee that free elections will take place.

As part of the political reform, IFE will actually evolve into a new institute, the Insituto Nacional de Elecciones (National Elections Institute—INE), which promises to reduce local electoral institutes’ power and supposedly bring training and electoral logistics together under one roof.

That’s apparently the positive side of the story.

The other thing to consider is that elected officials often enjoy a level of impunity that almost invites them to use any number of means at their disposal to fatten their wallets. While print media is relatively effective in denouncing these abuses, a crooked politician rarely ends up behind bars.

Politicians also have little accountability in delivering on promises and providing results. Since there is one shot at a given position, once elected, many try to get as much personal benefit while in office as possible.

The possibility of getting re-elected could change that, becoming an incentive for incumbents to run based on a proven track record of results.

Yet while re-election is a step in the right direction, there are still a number of decisions that need to be addressed for the will of the people to be truly represented in Mexico’s political arena.

Chief among them is the elimination of “plurinominal” legislators, which only serve political party interests and generate an unnecessary and quite expensive payroll in Congress. Plurinominales are legislators who are not directly elected by voters but assigned to lists created by political parties. The number of people who make it from the lists to actual seats in Congress is determined by the proportion of votes the parties receive during elections.

If directly-elected legislators don’t normally feel accountable to the people in their states and districts who voted for them (since they don’t vote according to  their constituents’ interests, but by party bloc), it appears that plurinominal representatives are lucky politicians awarded what some might view as highly-paid vacations in office (senators, for example, are paid close to 150,000 pesos a month—roughly $11,700).

For a number of years now, Pedro Ferriz de Con, one of Mexico’s most influential journalists, has been a leading voice against plurinominales through something he calls“the Revolution of Intellect,” and has collected more than 7 million signatures from Mexicans supporting his fight to eliminate these public figures—but to no avail. Once again, legislators currently debating the political reform have agreed to sidetrack the issue because it does not serve their parties’ interests—and that is not only a missed opportunity, but also another broken promise from President Enrique Peña Nieto’s electoral platform.

The other missed opportunity in the political reform debate is the implementation of a run-off election process—at the very least, at a federal level. I’ve written about this and the reasons to consider this process in the past.

It seems counterintuitive that you need a majority for decisions to pass through Congress but not for a person to be elected president.  Since the IFE was created, there has not been a single president of Mexico elected by  the majority of the citizens he/she leads. There is simply no valid argument to maintain the status quo.

In conclusion: re-election, good. Comprehensive political reform? Not really.

Women in Mexico’s Workforce

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Women in Mexico’s Workforce“, published on November 1st, 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.

“Women are not doing well because they want to do it all. They want to study, go out and get a job and be housewives as well. Well, that is really difficult to achieve.”

These were recent and controversial words spoken by Ricardo Salinas Pliego, president of Grupo Salinas and owner of TV Azteca, one of the two television media conglomerates in the country. Salinas made the remarks during the Mexico Cumbre de Negocios (Mexico Business Summit) on October 20-22.

Salinas went on to say that women should receive a salary from their husbands “so that their work at home as caretakers […] is monetized and better valued.”

Unfortunately, his ignorant point of view on gender equality is not as unusual in Mexico as some may think. Even in this day and age, many talented Mexican women face such myopic views as an obstacle to their professional development.

Given the growing number of women with advanced graduate degrees in Mexico—currently 50.4 percent, according to a recent study by the Asociación Nacional de Universidades e Instituciones de Educación Superior (National Association of Universities and Higher Educational Institutions—ANUIES)—forward-thinking companies have begun to understand the need to tap into a talent pool they didn’t used to, given prejudices in hiring and professional development processes.

These companies are breaking ground by incorporating gender quotas into their talent attraction and training processes. Some have also begun to explore work-from-home and flextime schemes to help working mothers split their time between professional and personal responsibilities. But are these strategies fair and effective in tackling the real problems preventing Mexican women from attaining greater professional opportunities, or are they simply temporary solutions?

The effectiveness of gender quotas is highly debatable. Those who favor them say that they allow for greater participation of women in the workforce and that they are an essential starting point for changing deep-seated behaviors in business organizations.

Those opposed to gender quotas say that they don’t promote real equality, risk attracting inferior talent and are condescending toward women.

My problem with inclusion quotas is that they don’t tackle the real issue at hand, which is the need to change the mindset of industry leaders who hold similar views to those of Mr. Salinas Pliego.

Faced with systemic prejudices and severe gender disparities, 30 percent of working women in Mexico feel that they are stuck in their profession and do not have opportunities to grow, get a salary raise or receive appropriate recognition from their employers and peers.

The message is clear. You can try to reach out and attract female talent, but you’re setting yourself up for failure if that talent is brought into a hostile environment and diseased bymachismo that can’t be cured by a quota. In fact, having a quota system could actually exacerbate discrimination by men who think quotas give women an unfair advantage.

Conscious businesses that truly want to make a positive change need to do more than just debate quotas or consider special concessions for working mothers  that would enable  them to thrive professionally. Rather, businesses should promote a cultural change that values talent regardless of gender, and that helps employees modify the often unequal gender roles at home.

Businesses must also understand that their decision to promote gender equality should not be viewed as a public relations campaign. It simply makes sense for businesses to attract, grow and retain the best talent available to them, regardless of gender. Business leaders should look to the numerous studies that have proven that a gender-diverse workforce provides better business results.

As the European Project on Equal Pay posits, there is extensive research showing “a strong correlation between a strong record of promoting women into the executive suite and high profitability.” Catalyst, a U.S. nonprofit, found in its 2011 research that there is a 26 percent difference in return on invested capital (ROIC) between companies in the top-quartile of women board representation and those in the bottom quartile (with zero women directors). According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the profitability of Fortune 500 companies with three or more women executives is 5 percent higher than that of their competitors.

Rather than simply implementing quotas, businesses must ensure that their male executives learn these important facts. Ongoing gender inclusion efforts, such as flexible work schemes, should not be discarded or undervalued. But if companies in Mexico are serious about effectively capitalizing on women’s professional potential, they should start with their own employees.

Peña Nieto’s Challenges: From Teacher Strikes to Energy Reform

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Peña Nieto’s Challenges: From Teacher Strikes to Energy Reform“, published on August 29th, 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.

The first nine months of Peña’s administration have kept the press busy and all of the country’s eyes and ears focused on what will happen next. He’s been characterized as bold, action-oriented and dynamic but clearly, not a team player.

He was celebrated by many (yours truly included) in February when he presented an ambitious and much needed education reform but disappointed just as many after having this effort easily thwarted by militant and disgruntled unionized teachers from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), which has taken Mexico City hostage in the last week to avoid needed secondary laws to enact the reform passing through Congress.

The inability to prevent and the lack of resolve to disperse a non-justified blockage of Congress as well as a blockade of the city’s main arteries—including those giving access to the airport and the Zócalo—has proven once again that political leaders are taking decisions not based on the greater good, the rule of law or the citizenry’s interests, but on a political agenda serviced by interest groups holding more power than they should and unable to cooperate with each other.

Mismanagement of this situation could soon spark violence and create a larger-than-ideological divide. The affected citizenry in Mexico City will only stand so much. In a recent poll by BCG-Excelsior, 52 percent of Mexicans stated that they are so fed up with the CNTE’s irrational resistance to the education reform and their militant actions that they would justify use of public force to disperse the picketers.

And while the teachers take to the streets, both Peña Nieto and the city’s government cower out of taking necessary action because of the political cost it would imply. Mexico City is not the only thing that’s paralyzed because of this—a broken education system puts the nation’s future talent pool at risk.  

The other current hot topic in the president’s agenda is energy reform. As recently described by Christian Gomez on AS/COA, “the proposal includes constitutional changes that would open up Pemex, the 75-year-old state oil monopoly, to profit-sharing contracts and foreign investment.”

This new notion of natural resources no longer belonging exclusively to the nation poses a huge shift in paradigm. Reactions from the nation’s Left include accusations related to autonomy, national patrimony and the role of government vs. private investors in extraction and having access to revenues from one of the nation’s most important sources of income. The opposition understands that PEMEX’s inefficiencies and the plague of corruption need to be addressed but they propose that a problem should not be fixed by creating another one.

One of the most respected voices from the Left, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, has recently stated that both PEMEX and CFE (federal electricity company) can become highly productive without having to edit the Constitution and without allowing foreign and/or private hands in the nation’s riches. If national patrimony is challenged due to reforms to articles 27 and 28 of the Mexican Constitution, Cárdenas has warned he would call for nationwide protests and he would even take to the streets along with López Obrador’s Morena (National Regeneration) movement.

Given its current party composition, Peña can easily get approval for the energy reform in Congress but he would be naïve to think that this is the only hurdle he needs to jump and he is doing a terrible job at trying to get public buy-in to this proposal through vague infographics on TV.

If there is possibility for effective energy reform, an open and inclusive debate needs to take place. This topic is not one that his team should be discussing behind closed doors and the hard questions will require real answers, not 20-second TV spots.

Peña’s government has been characterized by a “my way or the highway” attitude which is an easier temptation to fall into than trying to build consensus in a country as complex and fragmented as Mexico. This dictatorial style is only possible because of the fact that PRI has a stellar position both in Congress and in the State governments to push its agenda forward, something neither former Presidents Fox nor Calderón had. However, Peña would do well in understanding that his constituency is not limited to the political parties or even the power elites.

Organized teachers have already proven what they can do in Mexico City given enough motivation. Sparked by national patrimony rhetoric, larger, non-organized social mobilizations could easily flare up in different key cities in Mexico and cause larger havoc. As former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza recently wrote, “these red flags, so to speak, are especially relevant given the influence and disruptive potential of many of today’s social movements. The eruption of mass street protests in Brazil is just one recent example of a government being forced to change direction on a policy initiative and find a way to rapidly and constructively respond to the desires, often inchoate, of a newly emboldened and empowered population. It’s a cautionary tale that begins with frustration and finds expression in mass action.”

Even when theoretically, Peña could powerball his reforms forward, both him and the PRI need to wake up and understand that they cannot be the only voice to determine the nation’s destiny. Vargas Llosa sarcastically called the previous PRI era “the perfect dictatorship” but today’s Mexico will not stand for a return of that so-called “perfect” model. Peña needs to learn to play well with others.

Mexico’s New Undead Rapist Mayor-Elect

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexico’s New Undead Rapist Mayor-Elect“, published on July 12th, 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.

Yes, you read that title correctly. The small municipality of San Agustín Amatengo in the Mexican state of Oaxaca has recently attracted national attention due to what is likely the strangest story in electoral politics in the country.

On July 7, Lenin Carballido, the candidate from a Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN)-Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD)-Partido del Trabajo (Labor Party—PT) coalition, raised his arms in victory after winning the race for municipal president (mayor).

But this should have been impossible: an official death certificate announced Carballido’s demise in 2010 from a diabetic coma.

As national newspaper REFORMA reports, the story is even more complex because investigations suggest that Carballido faked his own death to avoid facing charges of gang-raping a 30-year-old woman in the capital city of Oaxaca in March 2004.

On October 12, 2010, a judge issued a warrant for Carballido’s arrest based on “unequivocal proof that the subject at hand [Carballido], using physical violence, assisted by others and against her will, raped [the woman, whose name was withdrawn].” However, the charges were dropped when a public defender informed the judge that Carballido had died that September and thus, could not be apprehended.

Less than three years later, Carballido was healthy enough to run an effective political campaign and narrowly beat his opponent, Alfredo Jiménez Ordaz, a candidate supported by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and Partido Verde Ecologista de México (Green Ecologist Party of Mexico—PVEM). Granted, Carballido only beat Jiménez by 11 votes—but it was an impressive result for a guy who had supposedly died three years earlier.

This story, fit for “Ripley’s Believe it or Not”, illustrates Mexican political parties’ lax policies for vetting candidates, as well as those of Oaxaca’s state electoral body, which accepted Carballido’s candidacy. One would expect that criminal background checks would be part of these processes—let alone ensuring that candidates are not officially dead.

Oaxaca’s Congress has asked the state attorney general’s office to re-issue its arrest warrant for Carballido. Since the story became public, the leader of the PRD in Oaxaca, Rey Morales, has told the press that the PRD was “analyzing the situation in order to determine if they can impede Carballido from taking office,” adding that the candidate “deceived the party, electoral authorities and the citizenry.” Lenin Carballido has not been available for comment.

If we’re going to have zombies running around and campaigning, they should at least be subject to our rule of law.

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.