Human Trafficking in Mexico

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Human Trafficking in Mexico“, published on June 14th, 2013. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protection

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

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

Prevention

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

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

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

Prosecution

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

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

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

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Visit to Mexico

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Visit to Mexico“, published on June 5th, 2013. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama and Peña Nieto Focus on the Economy Over Immigration and Security

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Here is a link to my latest article on Americas Quarterly, titled “Obama and Peña Nieto Focus on the Economy Over Immigration and Security“, published on May 7th, 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 articles, etc. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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Building up to their meeting in Mexico City on May 2, the administrations of both U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hinted that economic ties would be the focal point of their one-on-one meeting. In an interview with Americas Quarterly prior to the trip, Obama reiterated this, saying that he would “be discussing with President Peña Nieto how we can continue to reduce barriers to trade and investment.”

With commerce and economic cooperation pushing immigration and security to the backburner of the agenda, the two leaders made a strategic decision to avoid some of the more difficult issues gripping each country.

It comes as no surprise that the two leaders would want to play it safe. There is just too much at stake in the countries’ economic interdependencies: Mexico is the United States’ third-largest trading partner, while the U.S. is Mexico’s largest trading partner. These ties have grown stronger (and Mexico’s asymmetrical dependence on the U.S. economy has grown larger) since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was put into place, and pave the way toward even greater cooperation under the auspices of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could be completed by the end of this year.

Moreover, there would be no political gain for either Obama or Peña Nieto with a focus on security and/or immigration.

On immigration, President Obama does not have the leeway to promise anything or deliver on that promise as comprehensive immigration reform will depend on the extent to which the U.S. Congress can continue to work in a bipartisan manner in the months ahead.

In Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto has not been as vocal as his predecessors about the urgent need to tackle the immigration problem perhaps because he understands that a vocal push for reform from the Mexican president may be seen as foreign meddling in what is often seen as a domestic issue. Like all Mexican presidents, he has used the scripted language about defending our countrymen’s rights outside of our borders. But he has not committed to steps such as requiring proper documentation for travelers along Mexico’s southern border that would help reduce the number of Central Americans who illegally cross into Mexico on route to the United States.

At the same time, agreement and mutual understanding on how to improve security is not the same as when the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) was in power. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón was more willing to work hand-in-hand with U.S. authorities on security issues, with U.S. drone planes often flying over Mexico’s national borders and information exchange and training common between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials. These practices are now under scrutiny by Peña Nieto. His administration has recently announced plans to reevaluate Calderón’s war on drugs strategy, including an intention to “restrict U.S. involvement in [Mexico’s] security efforts.”

Peña Nieto’s stated reason for reassessing Mexico’s security strategy is to focus on reducing violence rather than continuing a head-on war against the cartels. However, for a president still struggling with establishing legitimacy, and aware that the largest stain in Calderón’s legacy was the close to 70,000 deaths related to the war on drugs, it is also an intelligent political choice to throw a disappearing cloak over the issue of security. His priority is to focus the public’s attention on quick wins and success stories.

Obama, for his part, faces few domestic pressures when it comes to Mexico’s security issues and must justifiably focus his attention on Syria, North Korea and domestic challenges. When Obama was asked about security collaboration after his meeting with the Mexican president, his statement that “the nature of that cooperation will evolve” and that Mexico and the U.S. would “cooperate on a basis of mutual respect” is no coincidence. This is definitely a step back from what Obama referred to as “a shared responsibility” in 2009.

During their photo-op after Thursday’s meeting, Obama tried to focus on the commitments that he and Peña Nieto made for economic development. “Too often, two issues get attention: security or immigration,” he said. Unfortunately for both Mr. Obama and Mr. Peña Nieto, there is a reason for that: these issues are closer to constituents’ hearts than the promise of better macroeconomic levels, which may or may not trickle down and actually improve their daily lives.

The promise of a closer trade relationship, joint investment on competitiveness and a forecast of economic growth for both countries should positively affect the security environment in Mexico and the future flow of undocumented immigrants to the United States. But bilateral agreements on how to frame a common strategy to tackle both of these critical issues will have to wait for another day.

Seven lessons from Mexico’s electoral process

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Seven lessons from Mexico’s electoral process“, published on July 2nd, 2012. 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.

With an estimate of around 37 percent of the votes, Enrique Peña Nieto’s victory in Mexico’s presidential race will be analyzed from multiple angles, including what this will mean with regard to the war on drugs, the economic model in place, relations with the U.S. and the rest of the world, and many other topics.

For the most part, Peña Nieto’s tenure will not imply radical changes in Mexico, for better or worse but the return of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) to power does say a lot about the way Mexico’s society thinks and operates. This electoral process has opened up an interesting window into the Mexican collective psyche. These are some of the lessons from the 2012 election.

Debates are not yet a vehicle for voter decision in Mexico.  There were three presidential debates (two official ones and one organized by #YoSoy132 to which Peña Nieto did not attend) during the presidential race. Peña Nieto’s participation in these dialogues was considered lukewarm at best. His rhetoric was empty but his poor performance was not enough to shift voter preference away from him and toward a second viable option.

We still have a long way to go to build political awareness and education. Peña Nieto’s success cannot be attributed to a strong and enriched political platform or to his superiority as a candidate over his competitors. One could not say that he is smarter, better prepared or better equipped to be president than his competitors. Peña Nieto’s success shows that Mexican voters can easily be manipulated (or convinced) through robust campaigning, a large TV presence and looks. As different media showed when they interviewed people at political rallies (for the three major candidates), a large quantity of voters had no idea of where candidates stood on relevant issues. “I trust him,” “He’s cute” and “I’ll vote for him because the other one is crazy” were some of the compelling arguments that gave Peña Nieto a victory on July 1. Sadly, we still have a long way to go to create an informed voter base. The candidate you saw more billboards and TV ads from, is the one that came out on top in voter preference.

Short-term memory plays a more important role than long-term memory. Peña Nieto won for many reasons but one of them was definitely that voters wanted to punish the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) for its performance in the past 12 years and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) for his lack of respect for the rule of law during his 2006 post-election shenanigans. Mexico was willing to forgive and forget and make peace with the PRI because as many voters put it “we were better off with PRI,” for the most part referring to the increasing levels of organized crime violence resulting from the active war on drugs set forth by President Calderón.

There is e-Mexico and then there’s Mexico. There is a clear divide among Mexicans with access to social networks and those without. On Twitter, users were appalled with the results. Even when all polls signaled Peña Nieto’s victory, Internet users were not willing to believe them. Conversations on Twitter and Facebook had been significantly dominated by AMLO and Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) followers.  A popular tweet on the night of the election was “I have no idea how they did it. Does anybody here know anyone who voted PRI?” For the most part, the answer was no. Peña Nieto was elected for the most part, by people who do not actively participate online. For upcoming elections, candidates should know that the segment of Internet users in Mexico will only become larger and they will need to actively engage them during the campaign.

The return of PRI does not mean the return of absolutism. This is not optimism; it’s just a very likely reality. Pessimists are evaluating the return of the PRI as a step back in our democracy because they remember the 70 years of absolutism; instead, it is yet another building block in our system which will put to the test whether or not we are a mature enough society to deal with altering power. The PRI will rule a very different Mexico from in the past. Civil society will be more vigilant and we will hold Peña Nieto accountable for his performance as president. Technology will play a significant role in maintaining a non-official discourse, with freedom of speech and free flow of information empowering a growing sector of society. Even with a party majority in Congress, Peña Nieto will have to answer to Mexicans who will either reward or punish his party in future elections.

PRI holding both the executive and a majority in Congress will be an acid test on government efficiency. Both Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón of the PAN had a very good excuse when their effectiveness was questioned. They could just say (and many times they would have been right) that Congress was blocking their ability to operate and put forth structural reforms.  Peña Nieto will have no such excuse with a PRI majority Congress to not pass and implement the labor, energy, security and political reforms that society has demanded and that have been paralyzed by a non-cooperative legislature during the Calderón government. This will also lead us to question if Mexico’s democracy could actually work and be effective if a real system of checks and balances is in place.

Most people did not vote for Peña Nieto. There were more votes against Peña Nieto than in favor of him. Just like Calderón, Peña Nieto will preside over a country that for the most part, did not want him to be president and did not choose him. This is why last night he went on national TV to say that we should “set aside our differences and privilege our common goals […] we may have different preferences but we have something that binds us together: our love for Mexico […] we share the same challenges and must work together to overcome them.” While his inclusive rhetoric is exactly what Mexico needed to hear last night as it attempts to move forward from electoral campaigning divides, the fact of the matter is that winning by a relative majority surfaces yet again the need to implement a run-off electoral process, just like Calderón proposed to Congress (and was blocked). Given the results of last night’s election, would Peña Nieto have won in a second round of elections running only against López Obrador?

Mexican Electoral Politics Hit Rock Bottom

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexican Electoral Politics Hit Rock Bottom”, published on Apr. 17th, 2012. 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 2012 electoral process is the most uninspiring we’ve seen in recent history. Therefore it’s no surprise that Mexican society is increasingly disenfranchised with the political system. In fact, trust in the political elite is at an all-time low. Where interest groups saw possibilities of working hand in hand with the government in 2000 and 2006, the division between those governing and those being governed grows day by day.

The age group most alien to the electoral process this year will be young adults. A recent UNDP-sponsored study carried out by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) posits that 7 out of every 10 voters ages 18-29 will not turn out to vote due to “disenchantment with Mexican democracy.” Enrique Cuna Pérez, the head of the sociology department at the UAM, points out that Mexican adolescents do believe in democracy but not in the way it is implemented in the country. “Young people are not shying away from democracy as a system, they are shying away from Mexican democracy. They consider themselves as democratic people. They understand the importance of voting but they are not willing to participate in Mexican democracy as it stands today,” says Cuna.

There are many reasons for this. For one, people are finding it harder to believe in and rally for the different candidates. The turn that political campaigns have taken—toward destructive criticism, finger-pointing and whining—is far from inspiring. Since the actual political platforms and proposals show nothing new, candidates are focusing on projecting their persona, trying to get people to believe in them, but they are doing it by saying “you can’t believe in the other candidates” as opposed to showing the country why they are fit to lead.

Enrique Peña Nieto, who according to the latest BGC-Excelsior poll leads the race at 50 percent of voter preference, is doing what he does best: photo-ops with as little speech as possible in the different states he visits. He continues to be the one to beat, though the reason is based more on publicity saturation than substance. Doing what his Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) does best, towns all over the country are now flooded with enormous billboards showing the candidate as a man of the people, hugging an over-eager supporter.

Josefina Vázquez Mota’s party, the ruling Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), has recently launched a tactical attack toward Peña Nieto’s credibility, running radio and television spots that label him a liar based on commitments made during his tenure as governor of Mexico state and presumably did not deliver on. While this may be effective in bringing Peña Nieto’s numbers down, the campaign does nothing to engage young voters or to build up a constructive conversation on the future of the country. The candidate will likely use the upcoming presidential debate to take a stab at Peña Nieto’s list of undelivered promises.

And Andrés Manuel López Obrador? He’s been gradually abandoning his more moderate stance and become militant and combatant. Slowly but surely, we start to see the López of old. Worried about the growing trend of this election becoming a two-person race and himself being relegated to a respectable—but distant third—player (the same poll places him dropping to 20 percent of voter preference, 9 points behind Vázquez Mota), he has chosen to go back to accusing “the system” of being against him and the PRI and PAN of working together to minimize his participation in the race. Most recent outbursts include saying that the upcoming presidential debate structure somehow favors the PRI candidate and that the current PRI-PAN confrontation over Peña Nieto’s credibility is “a smoke screen to detract attention from Peña Nieto’s campaign spending.”

But the presidential race is not the only reason young people have stopped believing in Mexican democracy. A lot of it has to do with the negligence shown by the Mexican Congress, which has hijacked President Felipe Calderón’s proposed structural reforms for political means and become completely stagnant. Add to this the level of impudence shown by all parties with regard to the candidates they’ve put forward for upcoming legislative elections and you start to see why a low voter turnout is likely in 2012.

The party lists include such individuals as Dolores Padierna, wife of René Bejarano who in 2004 was the subject of a video scandal showing him taking wads of cash from a shady Argentine businessman. There’s also Fernando Larrazabal, the mayor from Monterrey whose brother Jonás until recently presumably ran an extortion scheme charging casinos for their right to operate. Emilio Gamboa was the subject of a political scandal in 2006 due to a leaked phone conversation linking him to child pornographer Kamel Nacif.  With this representing part of the future of Mexico’s Congress, it’s no surprise that young voters want nothing to do with it. 

As a result, Mexican electoral politics have hit rock bottom. The political elite would do well to stop ignoring this important trend and work to regain the public’s trust. Otherwise, Mexico’s emerging democracy could prove to be more fragile than they think.

Mexico needs a runoff election process

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexico Needs a Runoff Process” , published on Jan 13th, 2012. 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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On July 1, Mexicans will choose their president for the next six years. This will be the fourth time the electoral process is not organized by the government but by a supposedly non-biased institution, the Instituto Federal Electoral or IFE.

Mexico likes to boast (especially since 2000) that we hold free, fair and transparent elections. And while that may be the case to some extent, the country could learn a lot from its Latin American neighbors with regard to the process in itself. More than ever, Mexico would benefit from the implementation of a two-round runoff election as opposed to its current majority rule system.

Prior to 1994, general elections were but a façade to legitimize the perpetuation in power of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Without an independent regulatory body to observe the process, elections results were heavily and systematically manipulated, voting booths with opposition preference were ransacked and official tallies always placed the PRI as an absolute majority winner. Under these circumstances, the official rules of the process were irrelevant and a second round of elections would have never made sense as the PRI would always get over 50 percent of the supposed electorate preference. 

The PRI’s control over elections had been so blatant that the country was led to believe that José López Portillo had won fairly in 1976 with an impressive 87 percent of the vote. In 1988, Carlos Salinas de Gortari was the last president to win an absolute majority (50.7 percent) of the vote.

Not by coincidence, and after four years of the IFE existing, the first non-government organized elections saw Ernesto Zedillo win with only 48.69 percent of the votes in 1994. Besides recovering from the 1994–1995 crisis, which started with the so-called “Error de Diciembre ,” Zedillo’s most important legacy was probably to pave the way for the IFE’s full independence, and thus allow for the democratic transition of power. In 2000, Vicente Fox of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) won the election with 42.52 percent of the votes. He was the first president to take power in a situation in which the sum of votes from the two other major parties was actually larger than those awarded to him (52.75 percent between the PRI and a Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD)-led alliance). The trend continued in 2006, where President Felipe Calderón (PAN) took power with only 35.89 percent of the votes—a less than 1 percentage point advantage over one of his closest competitor.

Single election, majority rule voting systems work in situations of a two-party system or when one of the candidates is able to conjure up an absolute majority on the first try. But as Mexican electoral history has shown, it’s time to reassess the situation for the country and consider second-round voting.

Mexico has developed into a multiparty system and that system is here to stay. The country has seen the strengthening even of previously discarded small parties such as the PT, PVEM and PANAL. But, more importantly, three major players have emerged and none looks to be going away anytime soon.

Thus, 30/30/30 scenarios become more likely; in fact, since 1994 the country has been run by a person most of its citizens voted against.  This is not just a problem of mathematical relative majority, but  it also reflects on the ability of the leader to govern. It raises the probability that the president might not have been a voter’s second choice had they been given a shot at a runoff.

A two-round system like in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and many other Latin American countries would permit citizens to express their real preferences on round one. Then when two front-runners are left, they could vote for the “least bad” alternative, or as we say in Mexico “el menos peor.”

It would also eliminate the vice of the “useful vote” in which voters cast their vote based on how they think the majority will. In 2006 when Calderón took power, he did so in great part due to “useful votes.” These people did not necessarily agree with Calderón’s proposals or principles but they thought he would be the only one to be able to beat Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD) so they gave him their support as a means of blocking the PRD from taking power. While it is understood that in a two-round process the useful vote predicament does appear in the latter round, at least citizens can freely vote their conscience initially. Their first choice can be made for the right reasons and their votes are not thrown out on a whimsical guess.

Runoff elections also provide the elected leader with a level of legitimacy we have not had in Mexico since Zedillo took power. Further, if you consider the fact that elections were fixed before him, one could say that it is a legitimacy no Mexican president has ever had. In clearer terms: no Mexican president has been freely elected by an absolute majority (on a first or second round).

In the 2012 elections people will be voting against PRI because they don’t want them back in power, against PRD because they believe López Obrador to be a danger for the neoliberal model and against PAN because they have deemed them ineffective in the war against drugs and organized crime (and yes, a few constituents will vote for their preferred candidate). This conjecture is way too complex for a single majority vote electoral system to resolve in an effective constructive manner.

Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Mexico’s Macroeconomic Strength Improves its Competitiveness

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexico’s Macroeconomic Strength Improves its Competitiveness” , published on Sep 16th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

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Mexico received some excellent news recently when the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Global Competitiveness Report, calling attention to the fac that the country has made significant progress in improving its relative position in the world competitiveness rankings.
From last year to the 2011-2012 ranking, Mexico moved from 66to 58 place, an eight-spot improvement. Only seven other countries had a larger jump in the list. As competitiveness expert Beñat Bilbao explains, “(this variation) is very relevant. Fluctuations from year to year tend to be very low.”

Besides drops suffered by other countries closely competing with Mexico, such as the Russian Federation, Jordan and the Slovak Republic, Mexico’s improvement in the ranking results from progress made in efforts to boost competition and facilitate entrepreneurship by reducing the number of procedures and the time it takes to start a business. The report also mentions Mexico’s large internal market size, sound macroeconomic policies, technological adoption, and a decent transport infrastructure as helping it to move up in the WEF Report.

This is no doubt a great triumph for President Calderón. He has continuously boasted over TV messages and radio spots that his administration has invested more resources than previous governments into improving federal bridges and highways in Mexico. Calderón has also been vocal about an open market economy and sound financial policies as key ways to face the global economic crisis. According to WEF, he’s on the right track.

However, WEF also reports that Mexico’s largest shortcomings continue to hinder its capacity to compete with the strongest service economies in the world in terms of efficiency.

The obvious elephant in the room is security and the concerns it raises with regard to the ability to conduct business. As the Casino Royale tragedy in Monterrey and a number of cases in Reynosa, Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana have shown, extortion and protection quotas paid to organized crime (and presumably colluded municipal law enforcement officials) have reached a point where they have become disincentives for business and job creation in many Mexican urban areas.

Failure to comply with criminals has resulted in a number of arson attacks that have in the best cases end up in total loss for the business owner and in the worst ones, in horrific scenes with multiple civilian causalities. One newspaper in Ciudad Juárez reports that as many as 90 percent of businesses in this city to have fallen victim to protection quota extortion. The business community and government need to urgently work together to find a practical solution to this matter.

The rest of the weaknesses include an urgent need of reforms to improve education and innovation systems. From 149 countries listed in the WEF Competitiveness Index report, Mexico ranks 107th in terms of quality of education. As I mentioned in “Mexico Lowers the Bar on Education” this has less to do with budget issues and more with the system in itself. Professionalization of teachers is urgent. Addressing how the teacher’s union led by Elba Esther Gordillo (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE) has become an obstacle for the effectiveness of the education system is a tough issue to tackle, but clearly a must.

On innovation, if Mexico is to improve its competitive position and continue migrating to a service economy, private enterprise also needs to do its part. Companies and private universities need to risk more and invest in R&D in order to improve the country’s inventive capacity. Obviously, government can help by providing research and development incentives and funding academic investigation in the public university, but historical global experience has proven that the largest breakthroughs come from the hands of private institutions, even in cases when they were government contractors. The business community needs to spearhead innovation development.

Now, while macroeconomic indicators show progress another important issue for Mexico’s long-term competitive position is definitely wealth distribution. At a current 48/100 score in the GINI index, some advancement has been made in the past 20 years but inequality remains a real and relevant issue.

The open market economy has been insufficiently capable of trickling down the wealth to the lower socioeconomic levels of society. As a result, the informal sector and organized crime’s participation in it continue to grow, feeding into impunity in a vicious circle. Raising taxes to the very few captive taxpayers (some studies indicate that only 10 percent of Mexicans pay their taxes) is not the answer. Formalizing the informal sector, thus broadening the taxation base and hence having a larger amount of government resources to development of social assistance programs, unpopular as it may be, is a sounder policy.

One last reflection: if Mexico’s competitiveness is advancing in spite of its current challenges, imagine where the country would be if it was able to effectively address and overcome them.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.