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.

Mexico’s First Lady among the best dressed… and that’s about it for now

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexico’s First Lady among the best dressed… and that’s about it for now“, published on March 22nd, 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 a recent online article, Vanity Fair mentioned Angélica Rivera –wife of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto–among the top-10 best dressed first ladies in the world. The piece was innocent enough and not unlike the lighthearted articles usually included in this publication. And yet, the article caught wildfire and was highlighted in Mexico’s mainstream media and newspapers, as if making the list was an incredible achievement and a coveted award.

Why is this? My best guess is that since Ms. Rivera has been out of the spotlight since she married and campaigned with Peña Nieto, the President’s PR team grabbed ahold of what they could to give her some sort of national print exposure. If this is the case, staying true to her past as a telenovela star, it seems the most we should expect from her in the coming years will be a pretty face in a pretty dress and a lovely TV smile.

The first 100 days of Peña Nieto’s presidency have come and gone and any political analyst would likely conclude that, whether you agree with his politics or not, the President’s team is doing a good job of portraying him as a hands-on leader who gets the job done. In recent weeks he’s made headlines by pushing forward a much-needed Education Reform, a Victims Protection Law and new Telecom policies.  Getting rid of Elba Esther Gordillo, the leader of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Teachers Union—SNTE), certainly boosted Peña Nieto’s numbers as well.  And while I would not argue that the first lady’s role should be as relevant as the elected official’s, a look back at Rivera’s track record after the first 100 days in the Presidential residence of Los Pinos, reveals a blank slate and missed opportunities.

Traditionally, Mexico’s first lady is awarded the honorary position of president of the Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia México (Integral Family Development National System Advisory Board—DIF).  Rivera accepted the role just a couple of weeks ago, having remained in the shadows up until then.

In Mexico’s history, the role of first lady has had its ups and downs, but in general, civil society does not expect the wives of Mexican presidents to be protagonists. In fact, most people tend to forget them a couple of years after their husbands’ terms end. But Rivera is not your run-of-the-mill first lady and if Peña Nieto’s team is intelligent, they will know that this time different rules apply.

Unlike other Mexican first ladies, Rivera was famous long before she became Peña Nieto’s wife, due to her career as a Televisa actress. Her nickname, “La Gaviota,” refers to a character she played in the telenovelaDestilando Amor.” When she married Peña Nieto, the public perceived it as an arranged marriage, thought out by the big heads in the PRI party and the telecommunications giant Televisa, to create the perfect candidate to return the PRI to power. After series of public gaffes, the public perceived both Rivera and the President as incompetent, shallow (but very handsome) puppets of the powers that be. After their marriage, social media went crazy, portraying Rivera as a bimbo who’s only positive attributes where her looks. Old pictures of her wearing a bikini inspired a series of jokes and memes.

As a former pop celebrity with a Barbie doll façade, Rivera is and will be under much more pressure and public scrutiny than her predecessors. Selling her to the Mexican public and the world as “one of the best dressed” just makes it easier for PRI detractors to continue accusing the couple of being a PRI-Televisa precooked dish, served specially for a dumbed-down, but hungry for junk food, citizenry.

In its article, Vanity Fair placed Rivera among good (and very stylish) company, including Queen Rania of Jordan and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. But whereas Obama has taken a leadership role in the U.S. by advocating healthy living and exercise and Queen Rania’s education and social work has arguably made her even more popular than King Abdullah II himself, La Gaviota’s past as a model, actress and failed singer, is not something a lot of first ladies would brag about.

If harnessed correctly, Rivera’s stardom could actually catapult her to a new role as a promoter of Mexico’s social well-being. Look at Shakira’s and Ricky Martin’s incursions in nonprofit causes in the region. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that fame is a great catalyst for driving the social agenda in Latin America—and arguably the world (greetings, Bono). But it seems that with Rivera, the PR team that created the Presidential match-made-in-heaven has not yet picked up on this potential.

If the Atlacomulco and Azcárraga puppet-masters want to ensure their investment works and the PRI remains in power longer than six years, their strategy has to be bullet-proof. Among other things, if they really want to make sure that people buy this “new” PRI that’s got its act together, they can’t allow Mexico’s low expectations of Rivera’s performance as first lady to come true. A pretty dress will only get you so far.

The Path of #YoSoy132

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “The Path of #YoSoy132“, published on June. 27th, 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.

#YoSoy132 has been called many things: “the voice of a new generation;” “the Mexican Spring;” and “young people manipulated by the PRD [Partido de la Revolución Democrática, or Party of the Democratic Revolution]” are just a few. Whatever its true nature, this youth movement has left a new mark on electoral processes in Mexico—one which could shape not only the outcome but the aftermath of the 2012 Mexican elections next Sunday.

It all began on May 11 when Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), belittled a group of student protesters that had gathered at the Universidad Iberoamericana to repudiate his presence there. Peña Nieto called them a small group of rabble-rousers, accused them of not being actual students and minimized their protest to opposition made up of only 131 people.

This led to the students uploading a YouTube video showing their university IDs and claiming that their cause was shared by many more young people. The video went viral and the story spiraled into Twitter via the hashtag #YoSoy132 (“I Am 132”). Without a cohesive agenda or clarity with regards to what “being 132” really meant, people sympathized with the students and began retweeting that they too were 132.

A series of strange events followed, making the nature of the movement even less clear and more confusing. Initially, it seemed that the movement’s sole purpose was to demand objective coverage from the largest television news outlet in the country, which allegedly has given favorable coverage to Peña Nieto’s candidacy. However, allegiance to PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) from some of the movement’s leaders despite being a nonpartisan movement, an inconsistent rhetoric of formally campaigning against Peña Nieto while calling for media objectivity, and conflicting messages from its members have left most Mexicans wondering what it actually means to state that Yo Soy 132

Students attempted to organize; they took to the streets and demanded that the second presidential debate be broadcast over the main TV channels; they held an assembly in order to look for an aligned, common vision. Judging from their concluding declaration and the following fallout of rogue mini-groups, they failed at this objective—but the movement continued to grow in a somewhat chaotic manner. #YoSoy132 was even able to hold a presidential debate on June 19 with an innovative format and the use of internet to connect different students from their homes to pitch questions to candidates. Playing it safe, Peña Nieto declined the invitation to participate.

Recently, the hacktivist group Anonymous, through its Mexico branch, published a video which calls out the federal electoral authority—Institudo Federal Electoral (IFE)—of apparent intention to manipulate the final voting tally in favor of Peña Nieto.

The “preparation for fraud” discourse has been heightened not only by Anonymous, but coincidentally by #YoSoy132 and by AMLO himself. While #YoSoy132 has been threatening that “Si hay imposición habrá revolución” (if there is imposition there will be a revolution), López Obrador has stated that he knows that the PRI is preparing a fraud but his team will be more vigilant to prevent it, similar to his accusations six years ago when he was the presidential runner-up to Felipe Calderón. To make matters more worrisome, the Ejército Popular Revolucionario (Popular Revolutionary Army—EPR) guerrilla group has recently applauded #YoSoy132 and stated that they would take AMLO at his word and support taking arms in order to avoid “a neoliberal candidate” seizing power.

For the sake of any functional democratic state, electoral fraud must be avoided. A system of checks and balances which is actually built in to the Mexican democratic system—including observers and scrutinizers, exit polls, citizen participation in the actual vote counting, and other mechanisms—seems to be insufficient. And while one should not be disingenuous and think that that these mechanisms fully prevent fraudulent practices from taking place from any candidate, a bigger danger is now present: What if #YoSoy132, Anonymous, EPR and others simply don’t like the outcome of the election because their choice did not come out on top, fraud or no fraud? What if Peña Nieto actually and fairly wins but AMLO, as in 2006, does not recognize defeat?

In the first weeks of #YoSoy132 emerging, people started comparing the movement to the Arab Spring and specifically the Egyptian deposition of Hosni Mubarak. While there is simply no comparison between the Mubarak regime and Mexico’s current political and institutional reality, there is one thing in common: Whenever a grassroots movement with no clear agenda, vision, values, or follow-through plan is able to cluster different groups together in order to eliminate or threaten a common enemy, it may be effective in damaging or removing the unwanted player from the mix—but dangerously ineffective in providing a long-term outcome which benefits all those who pulled together. Given the current state of Egypt, Mexicans should learn from this example.

Today, apparently #YoSoy132 means “I don’t want Peña Nieto to win”—but for different reasons. Some support the group because they feel traditional media should not be biased. Others like it because they want AMLO to be the next president. A few think that they support Josefina Vázquez Mota, candidate of the incumbent Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) by saying they are 132. Anonymous seems to want the IFE to be impartial and EPR says that being 132 means taking arms and not supporting the world’s predominant economic model. Some consider being 132 good and active citizenship; others a call to arms against the establishment.

While I applaud the awakened spirit of youth taking a more active role in this election and hope this will mean a larger young voter turnout than what was projected prior to the movement, as long as there is no consensus about what being 132 means, Yo No Soy 132 and I hope for avoidance of post-electoral violence, no matter who Mexico elects as its president this Sunday.

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.

Michoacan is gonna be a mess…

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With 22.56% of the votes tallied, the Michoacán elections show a technical tie between the PRI and PAN candidates, with the PRD candidate not far behind. It’s almost a 30/30/30 split and the three of them have already declared themselves winners.

Just as the voting booths opened this morning, some of the parties involved were already screaming about fraud taking place. More than 40 arrests have occurred in relation to attempts to manipulate voting processes, plus we have the fact that the electoral authority’s website was hacked while the elections were taking place. The IEM declared that the vote tallying system was not affected by the attack but these days, can you really trust them?

Here’s what’s gonna happen in the next hours:

100% of the votes will be counted and they will show a very very close race between the PRI and PAN candidates, probably with the PRI candidate as the first place, with less than 2% of a difference. The PRD candidate will have lagged behind but that won’t stop him from claiming victory.

All three candidates will maintain that they won and none of them will back down. They will then start declaring that certain booths were compromised so a bunch of them will be cancelled out. Even after that, we will still have no clear winner. This will end up in the courts and in all likelihood, the PRI will be declared winner. PRD will take to the streets screaming “fraud” once more and either Ebrard or López Obrador will use this case as leverage for the presidential race. They will hold that PRI stole the election and use this to tarnish the PRI’s already dirty image. Cocoa Calderón will fade into the background. 

It’s going to be quite a mess and it’s never going to be about the will of the Michoacanos.

Viva México.

The Costs of Mexicana’s Bankruptcy

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Here’s a link to my AQBlog article “The Costs of Mexicana’s Bankruptcy”, published on October 13th, 2010.
http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1872

Here is a copy of it:

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On August 2, Mexicana de Aviación wrote the first pages of its version of Gabriel García Márquez’ Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Foretold Death) as it successfully filed for bankruptcy. Mexicana argued that rising energy costs and the effects of H1N1 on air travel became too much for the company to bear. However the airline’s business practices have also been questionable for a long time.

Just like in García’s novel, the end result (the death of Santiago Nasar, the main character) became apparent immediately after the bankruptcy announcement. Anyone who had access to a newspaper, TV, radio, or the Internet knew this was the beginning of the end for Mexicana. What we did not know was the amount of time, and more importantly, government resources, this operation and its fallout would require.

Pilot and staff layoffs, air travel chaos, rising prices from Aeroméxico (its main competitor and now the only truly reliable source for national air transportation) and a myriad of customer complaints characterized the weeks that followed the bankruptcy declaration. On October 12, the Senate even announced the creation of a bicameral committee to deal with the break up, acquisition and restructuring of this business mammoth. As Andrew Ross Sorkin would put it, the government decided that Mexicana de Aviación was just too big to fail.

Unfortunately, this situation comes at a time when all major events in Mexicoare being politicized and used by the parties as a means to strengthen their positions ahead of the 2012 presidential election. Such is the case with the recent populist statements by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) regarding lowering the value added tax back to 15 percent from last year’s 1 percent increase. This would force the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) and the federal government to publicly announce that it would veto such a proposal as it would result in an unsustainable hit to the government’s budget.

The newest bit to come out of the political turmoil surrounding Mexicana is an agreement being discussed in the PRI-led Senate (to be voted on October 19) , which would effectively request that the Ministry of Economy reimburse all unfulfilled travel costs to customers. PRI member and President of the Senate Communications and Transportation Committee Fernando Castro Trenti recently said that the current situation is the result of the federal government not stepping in and doing things properly earlier on. “The truth is that someone is paying for this [government] negligence and that someone is every person who paid three, five thousand pesos [for unused tickets]. It seems appropriate that we create a legislative determination which can solve this situation,” according to Castro yesterday.

The senator’s proposed solution will make the affected customers happy. It will probably give a boost to the Senate and specifically to the PRI for stepping in for the lay man. The problem is that the PRI’s solution actually sets a terrible precedent for the relationship between private business and government, in the end, making civil society pay for the failure of companies too large to be left to their own demise.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that asking the Ministry of Economy to pick up the tab is an indirect way of prorating the airline’s liabilities to all tax-paying Mexicans. After all, where does the money from the Ministry of Economy’s budget come from?

In late 2008, the laser hair removal company Neoskin went bankrupt, leaving thousands of women who had paid for lifelong treatments in the mud. Should we all pay for their losses? It’s not a popular point of view, but the Mexican people have no more an obligation to cover the losses from unused plane tickets then they do for hairy legs.

If this agreement does go through, the costs for the funeral of Mexicana’s foretold death will come out of our taxes.

*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.