2,190 y contando…

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Calma, cordura, inteligencia, compromiso y muchos huevos.

Este país nos necesita y nos va a necesitar. La esperanza mesiánica irracional de las masas en muy poco tiempo se desinfla y se vuelve desilusión (los ejemplos de esto son demasiados, en México, en LATAM y en el mundo)… entendamos qué y quiénes somos los responsables de haber desilusionado tanto al país, que el mismo fuera vulnerable a otra venta de espejitos más. Entendamos las razones y ataquémoslas. Si no lo hacemos, Cuauhtémoc Blanco en 6 años…

Recordemos que cuando llegue el momento en que la burbujita truene (y va a llegar), muchas y muchos van a necesitar que los apoyemos en su regreso a la realidad. Como nos ha pasado en tantos otros momentos, nos vamos a tener que tender la mano, a apoyar, a darnos un abrazo y decir “sigamos adelante”.

En México hay MUCHO talento, mucho ingenio, mucha inventiva, mucho emprendimiento, mucha capacidad. México ha avanzado a pesar de sus gobernantes y lo seguirá haciendo si queremos que así sea y nos comprometemos con encontrar las formar de construir. Ningún Mesías falso lo va a hacer por nosotros.

Tienes derecho de encabronarte, de lamentarte, de seguir sintiendo ese malestar en la boca de tu estómago, porque te preocupa tu país, tu estado, tu ciudad, tu comunidad y tu familia… y sí, la incertidumbre está cabrona y no quiero ni pensar en lo que le va a pasar al peso mexicano en el corto plazo…

Pero quienes tenemos el privilegio de haber tenido acceso a una educación universitaria, quienes tenemos la capacidad analítica para tener prospectiva, quienes tenemos la mínima solvencia económica de no caer en la venta rapaz de un populismo que es la única luz de esperanza que les han dejado a las clases bajas de este país, NO TENEMOS DERECHO a claudicar. Y esto no lo dice un personaje imaginario en una bicicleta, lo dice un mexicano de verdad que quiere a su país y quiere verlo mejor.

Un presidente y su retórica no tienen derecho a robarte de tus ideas, de tus proyectos, de todos los planes que has diseñado y que estás ejecutando para seguir adelante. ¿Acaso te detuvo Peña? ¿Calderón? ¿Fox? ¿Salinas? Los obstáculos solo son diferentes… que bueno que tenemos la capacidad de adaptarnos y la seguiremos teniendo. Y seguiremos progresando a pesar de los gobernantes… a lo mucho, esto nos exige ser más creativos. Y si tenemos suerte, igual y este loco y su equipo hasta contribuyen en algo, pero no nos quedemos sentados esperando que así sea. No veo que tengamos razón para hacerlo y no la tendríamos si hoy estuviéramos viendo a Meade o a Anaya diciendo “Me canso, ganso”…

Calma, cordura, inteligencia, compromiso y muchos huevos.

2,190 y contando.

¡Ánimo!

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.

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.

¿Por quién votarías?

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Hay muchos factores que determinan el voto de una persona en las elecciones presidenciales. Los factores son distintos para cada quién y tienen diferentes pesos.

En México hay quienes votan por el candidato y por su percepción de su “calidad humana” (sí, entre comillas porque la atribución a calidad humana de todo político que llega a estar en nivel de competir por un puesto de elección popular en México tendría que estar en tela de juicio).

Otros votan por la plataforma o proyecto de cierto candidato. Los que siguen esta vía generalmente acaban decepcionados al medir promesa contra mandato. Los políticos mexicanos son especialistas en promesas incumplidas.

Otros más favorecen a un partido en particular, ya que se sienten ideológicamente identificados con los valores que lo respaldan teóricamente. O en el peor de los casos los que votan por partido lo hacen “porque me gustan sus colores”.

Hay un grupo más que vota por “el menos peor”, evaluando implicaciones de la llegada de un candidato versus otro, la composición del Congreso con el que le tocará convivir y atendiendo fobias respecto a lo que sucedería en torno a un voto útil y sus intenciones de que cierto candidato no llegue al poder.

Y así como éstas, hay muchísimas más razones por las que definimos nuestro voto.

El día de hoy estuve pensando mucho en el momento político, económico y social por el que pasa México y me surgió un cuestionamiento que muchas veces he visto en los medios, pero que hoy más que nunca, me preocupa la conclusión a la que llego para responderlo:

Si las elecciones presidenciales fueran el día de hoy, ¿por quién votarías?

Me tocó ver los aciertos y desaciertos de dos Presidentes del PAN. Fui testigo de cómo desaprovecharon su ventana en el poder y no fueron capaces de contrarrestar o negociar con Congresos en los que no tenían mayoría. Vi la miopía detrás de su administración de una supuesta guerra contra las drogas y la manera en que el crimen organizado los superó sin vuelta atrás. No los culpo por la manera en que recibieron el país tras más de 70 años en los que más que pactar con el narco, se co-gobernó con él. Los culpo por su inhabilidad de transicionar a un modelo en que no nos diera miedo cruzar la puerta de nuestras casas. Me tocó ver cómo al ser derrotado y abrirle la puerta de regreso a la bestia, en lugar de reagruparse y armar una estrategia de concentración y fortalecimiento, el PAN se desmoronó al punto de que hoy no tiene un líder que pudiera considerar ni candidato ni presidenciable.

Me tocó ver al viejo PRI y al nuevo PRI. Me tocó ver la forma en que hoy “disentir” es una palabra prohibida en el Gobierno Federal. Me tocó ver el regreso y la exacerbación de viejos vicios y toxicidades de nuestra nación de antaño. Me tocó la dictadura perfecta reloaded y los escándalos con sus respectivos deslindes. Me tocó ver la represión en manos de un grupo que ha sabido estirar la liga y faltarle completamente al respeto a las personas que gobierna, llevándolas al punto del hartazgo y la frustración. Me tocó ver a este partido sembrando en las nuevas generaciones un nivel de alienación, resignación y rechazo al quehacer político que genera una completa desconexión e incapacidad de trabajo conjunto efectivo entre sociedad civil y autoridades.  Me tocó conocer niveles de descaro que no sabía existían en la condición humana.

Me tocó ver a un líder moral de un partido de izquierda decirle a su actual Comité Ejecutivo que debería renunciar y que su partido ya no sirve. Me tocó ver cómo de dicho partido emanaron personas que hoy son señaladas en Guerrero y Morelia como criminales y la irresponsable respuesta institucional a dichos señalamientos por parte del partido que los llevó al poder. Me tocó ver cómo al dejar de ser opción viable, uno de los mayores bastiones del PRD, hambriento y embriagado por su sueño de poder, decidió fundar un nuevo modelo de idolatría a su persona y propagar un discurso gastado y destructivo. Me tocó ver cómo el romanticismo detrás del pensamiento de izquierda hoy se traduce a facciones descarriadas, que aspiran a provocar mayor caos e inestabilidad con el único propósito de hacer así más probable su llegada al poder, por regla de eliminación.

Me toca ver los gritos y reclamos por justicia, así como las exigencias de renuncia al actual mandatario. Y no es que quiera que renuncie o que no renuncie esa persona por la que no voté y no votamos la mayoría de los mexicanos (con o sin fraude o monederos Monex).  El mayor problema es que HOY, buscando dentro del espectro partidista, simplemente no veo ni partidos ni posibles candidatos ni figuras presidenciables. Hoy en la clase política de México, ni siquiera encuentro al “menos peor.” Si las elecciones presidenciales fueran el día de hoy, ¿por quién votarías? POR NADIE.

Sí, sí me dueles México. Exactamente tres chingos.

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.

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.

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.