06/12/2013

Rats? Only a cat can bring order

Mexican activists, with a healthy sense of irony, have put forth a candidate for the July 7 mayoral elections in Xalapa, Veracruz state – Morris the cat.

In these videos, they call Morris ‘el candi-gato’ – a play on words that makes him a ‘candi-cat,’ rather than a candidate.

In one video, an interviewer off camera asks the cat what he thinks of various politicians in Xalapa, some of whom are considered “rats” because of their corruption. In each case, the cat pushes an item onto the floor. The other video is a sing-along with a “meowing” Morris.

Morris has already made Time Magazine’s website here, and has a Facebook page that lays out his platform: "Given the number of rats that lurk around these posts, only a cat can bring order. The 'candigato' promises nothing more than the other candidates: To rest and frolic."

According to a CNN iReport, he has more “likes” on Facebook (99,889, as of this writing) than three of the four main candidates running for mayor in Xalapa.

Veracruz is one of Mexico’s most beautiful states. But it’s also terribly corrupt and afflicted by organized crime. Nine journalists have been killed there in a little more than two years, and I chose it as the focus of one of a series of articles on Journalists under Threat in Mexico.

08/29/2012

Tomatoes, apples and U.S. swing states

Let’s take a moment to ponder tomatoes, apples and U.S. electoral swing states. They are related. And Mexico plays a role.

We’ll start with tomatoes: In June, a group of Florida tomato growers appealed to the Obama administration saying they’d been subject to unfair trade practices by Mexican tomato exporters. They asked for the end of a pact that had governed the price of Mexican vine-ripened tomatoes since 1996.

Tomatoes are big business. The U.S. imported well over $1 billion worth of tomatoes last year from Mexico, the main food import from South of the Border. They are also big business in Florida.

And of course, Florida is a swing state in this election year. So a trade war may be in the offing as President Obama looks to secure key Florida votes. The Commerce Department is accepting comments on what it should do until Sept. 4.

Business is weighing in. On the pro-import said is the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

“Special interest groups are using election-year politics to try to start a trade war that will disrupt a 16-year track record of success for bringing fair prices to consumers and healthy variety to family dinner tables,” the group’s president, Lance Jungmeyer, said in a statement a week ago.

Florida’s commissioner of agriculture, Adam Putnam, is backing Florida’s growers. He sent a letter early last month demanding relief for growers from his state.

“Already suffering from weak demand in a difficult economy, Florida’s tomato growers cannot compete in a market flooded by unprecedented imports of tomatoes from Mexico at prices well below the cost of production,” Putnam wrote.

So where do apples fit in? Well, Mexico is a major importer of apples from Washington State. But Washington is not a swing state in this election. It is solidly democratic. If the Obama administration favors the Florida tomato growers, Mexico may retaliate against apple growers from Washington.

Here’s what a columnist for something called The Wenatchee World wrote:

“Trade war talk should scare us. Trade is a two-way street. Washington apples go in while tomatoes go out. Tomatoes are Mexico’s largest agricultural export, and Mexico is the largest export market for Washington apples. When Mexico is upset, apples can get nailed.”

Also from the department of unintended consequences, this Spanish-language story notes that 350,000 Mexicans are employed in the tomato industry, many of them in Sinaloa state. If they lose their jobs, where will they head? North?

07/05/2012

Did the PRI buy votes with gift cards?

Photo
Just a few moments ago, I got an anonymous email from someone with a photo of a receipt from the Soriana grocery store. The receipt is dated July 4th and was printed at about 10 p.m. from a Soriana store in Monterrey.

The sender artfully placed a red arrow on a line of the receipt that reads: “PRI benefits.”

So is the PRI behind a vote-buying scheme that tilted the outcome of the July 1 presidential election? I can’t answer that. But certainly the evidence indicates that in some parts of the country – Mexico City, the state of Mexico, San Luis Potosi and now Monterrey – people went to the Soriana grocery chain with gift cards and bought foodstuffs thinking that the cards were a gift from the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Was this a “donation” from Soriana to buy goodwill for the PRI? I don’t know that either. Click here, here and here to read more about this case.

Moments ago, the PRI sent out an indignant communiqué saying it wants prosecutors to investigate whether its opponents committed a crime by alleging that the PRI had bought votes in what is quickly being dubbed “Soriana-gate.”

A PRI spokesman, Eduardo Sanchez, said videos that have been circulating on YouTube about the alleged vote buying contain only one interview with a person who said a PRI official offered them the gift card.

“It’s part of the lies and the farce. They brought people to the stores and told them they were from the PRI, which is false,” Sanchez said in the statement.

05/02/2012

Keeping a debate off the air

A storm is brewing over the first of two major debates between the presidential candidates in Mexico. One of the two major networks says it won’t air the debate. The other has not publicized a decision yet.

The debate comes Sunday night at 8 o’clock and is a major event in the campaign that ends with July 1 elections.

Given the 50,000+ deaths in the past six years, the onslaught from organized crime, lackluster economic growth, and a myriad of other issues, it’s hard to argue that this is not a major moment for Mexico.

Yet TV Azteca owner Ricardo B. Salinas (Twitter: @ricardobsalinas) has cast his bet that viewers will prefer to see a first-division quarterfinals soccer match between Tigres and Morelia at the appointed hour. 

“Now this is a debate! (It is) between an small authoritarian group of Twitter users and a citizenry free to vote for what they want to view,” Salinas tweeted yesterday.

Earlier Salinas tweeted: “If you want debate, watch it on Televisa; if not, watch soccer on Azteca. I’ll show you the ratings the next day.”

Opponents to PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto see a nefarious plot brewing. Televisa has not confirmed that it will air the debate. If neither of the two networks broadcast it, then very few viewers will see it.

“If Televisa and TV Azteca don’t put on the debate, it is because they have decided in favor of Pena,” leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said this morning.

Pena is far ahead in the polls, and a debate opens the door to the possibility he may stumble. So having Mexicans watch him in an impromptu back-and-forth with two other candidates poses many risks for vested interests favoring the return of the PRI.

04/26/2012

A deficit of honest campaign debate

A lot isn’t getting talked about in this presidential campaign.

For one thing, the three main candidates are providing little information about how they’d change public security strategy. Rather, they basically simply say they’d do things “better,” and get “more results.”

But security – a big issue that has seen more than 50,000 violent deaths during the current presidential term – is only one of many issues not getting talked about much.

Some Mexican commentators are noticing this. One, Victor Sanchez Banos, wrote a column about it on the Quadratin website, citing a number of “hot potato” issues which might not bring benefits to a candidate staking out a firm position.

“It’s like watching a soccer game in which the 11 players from each team stand around their own goal posts without trying to score a goal on the other side,” he wrote.

He went on to say that the “true national issues are not being addressed … All the candidates … want to maintain the hard votes and win over votes from their adversaries. But they don’t want to make bets or show their true faces.”

Here are 15 issues on which Sanchez says candidates hide their positions:
1) Abortion
2) Same-sex marriages
3) Adoptions by same-sex couples
4) Impunity
5) Drug addiction
6) How to combat public insecurity
7) How to create jobs
8) When to end the war on narcos
9) An increase in the value-added tax, and elimination of the “flat tax on business operation” and “tax on cash”
10) A new constitution and form of government
11) Life sentences for corrupt public officials
12) An end to state monopolies like the Pemex oil company and the CFE power company
13) Reduction in size of the Senate and Lower House
14) End to legal privilege, or fuero, to avoid prosecutions
15) End to abuses by electoral authorities

10/27/2011

Big year for Mexico coming up

France G20 Summit_Nost
President Felipe Calderon will head to France in a few days to attend the G-20 summit in Cannes. Mexico, Argentina and Brazil will hold up the banner for Latin America among the world’s most powerful economies. Protests, like one today in Paris seen in AP photo above, are likely.

For Calderon, it’s a big summit. He’ll come home as the rotating president of the G-20, taking the baton from France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, and presiding over the group at a time of global economic instability.

Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa spoke out about this at a press briefing yesterday, noting that Mexico will host the next G-20 summit June 18-19 in Los Cabos, the Baja California resort city.

The dates of the summit have become a political hot potato in Mexico.

Earlier this week, the entire Chamber of Deputies passed a motion asking Calderon to postpone the G-20 summit. The reason? It would come less than two weeks before July 1 presidential elections.

“The media exposure that the president would get just days before the election would be unbeatable. Over a period of four days, this event will occupy all the television, radio, print and digital spaces,” the statement said.

Espinosa’s response to the deputies: Fuhgeddaboutit. 

“The days selected were the result of a long process of consultations with all the chiefs of state and government that comprise the group,” she said. “The dates were chosen not only to respect the regularity observed previously but also to maintain the sense of urgency needed during the difficult phase unfolding in the global economy.”

Mexico is determined, she said, to play a decisive role in global economic recovery.

10/11/2011

For politicians, heaven or hell?

Right in the middle of an intense campaign, the latest joke goes, a Mexican politician dies and goes to the gates of heaven, where St. Peter tells him: ‘Look, I’ll give you one day in hell and one day in heaven. Then you choose where you want to spend eternity.’

The politician accepts, and soon drops to the depths of hell at St. Peter’s side. When the elevator opens, he gazes upon an Elysian golf course and sees old friends, who ask him to play. After a few rounds, they head to the clubhouse where they down the finest brandies and, after St. Peter leaves, recall old times of raiding the public till. Beautiful women arrive and the party lasts through the night.

The next morning, the politician rises to heaven. He sees no friends, only elderly women passing from one cloud to the next as harp music plays. He grows bored.

After a day, St. Peter asks him where he wants to spend eternity. The politician waits a pensive moment and declares: ‘Well, heaven has everything a pure soul like mine deserves. But in solidarity with those who have had wretched luck, and forgoing the rewards that my life of service merits, I will choose hell.’

St. Peter accepts the choice, and accompanies him down the shaft. When the elevator opens, instead of green fields all the politician sees is a burning desert. Demons chase poor souls mercilessly, poking them repeatedly. ‘I don’t understand,’ the politician mumbles, ‘this was just fun and fiesta before.’

The chief demon responds amid raucous laughter: ‘That was the day before yesterday, during the campaign. Today, you’ve already voted for us!’

Hat tip to Manuel Ajenjo, the always-entertaining columnist for El Economista, for the laugh of the day.

10/07/2011

Weddings, with an eye toward votes

The mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, is getting married today. 

It was supposed to be a quiet affair. But these things are never hush-hush in Mexico, especially in election season. Call me cynical, but I don’t think it was ever meant to be low key.

Ebrard is an announced candidate in the 2012 presidential campaign. Polls show him lagging behind Enrique Pena Nieto, whose slicked back hairstyle is so unchanging that he’s won the nickname “the helmet.”

In reality, weddings like Ebrard’s today and Pena Nieto’s last November seem packaged to draw the attention of potential voters. They get splashed on the front pages of newspapers and on television.

El Universal’s website has a video here of Ebrard’s bride, the former Honduran ambassador to Mexico. Preparations for their wedding were carried in a spread in Quien magazine, a tattle and society publication. And the coverage seems designed to accentuate Ebrard’s taste in women.

Both Ebrard and his new bride have been married twice before. Ebrard, 51, just divorced his second wife, actress Mariagna Prats, over the summer.

Mexican and U.S. electorates hold their politicians to different standards, for better or worse. In Mexico, a little hanky panky on the side doesn’t bother anyone. On the contrary, politicians consolidate their macho cred.

While married to a previous wife, Pena Nieto fathered two children out of wedlock. The wife later died of cancer. For his next wife, Pena Nieto picked actress Angelica Rivera, who is beloved for her title role in the very popular telenovela, La Gaviota, or The Dove The Seagull. Click here for a photo at their wedding. Pena Nieto could hardly have picked a more popular woman, and the Televisa network, which is completely behind his campaign, gave the union wall-to-wall coverage.

Now, the question for both gentlemen is how long will they stay married?

Coincidentally, Mexico City politicians have the solution if either opts out of wedlock. The city fathers now ponder a proposal to allow marriages with a two-year “expiration date.” At the end of that period, the couple can ratify their marriage or dissolve it in a simple step with no red tape. Who will be first, Marcelo or Enrique?

09/30/2011

Romney ad hits Perry on Mexico

Check out this new attack ad in which the Mitt Romney campaign hits at Texas Gov. Rick Perry for supporting a move to let the children of undocumented immigrants attend state universities in Texas by paying in-state tuition.

The ad is interesting on several levels. For one, it allows former Mexican President Vicente Fox to speak at length in praise of Perry. Romney's PR people seem to be playing on a belief of some Americans that anything that Mexicans like Fox may praise is no good. In other words, if it's good for Mexicans, it must be bad for Americans.

It starts off showing photos of Obama, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- all clearly lacking in patriotism for part of the GOP base -- then casts them as agreeing with Fox, who heads a sovereign nation that is not the United States. So the ad also plays off patriotism and loyalty-to-the-country feelings.

Then there's the matter of Romney's ancestry and the way that Mexico opened its doors to his Mormon relatives who fled U.S. territory so they could continue to practice polygamy. There was a great Washington Post story on this a few weeks back. The attack ad was posted at New York magazine's website, and drew the following post from a reader:

... the entire Romney family might at one time have been considered "illegal." See, Romney's great (or great-great, or even great-great-great) grandfathers made a run for the border with his wives and kids in tow when polygamy was made illegal here in the U.S. At least one generation of Romneys, if not more, were born, raised and settled in Mexico. Then another grandfather (great?) headed back across the border, where the family fortune -- and runs for political office by various and sundry Romneys through the years -- was made. I believe Vicente Fox did say at one time that Romney DOES qualify for dual U.S./Mexican citizenship. Fascinating how this whole immigration thing works, isn't it?

This may come back to haunt Romney in a general election (if he is the Republican candidate) as he tries to rally Latino voters, many of whom are of Mexican origin. We'll monitor what other ways Mexico arises as a theme in the campaign.

06/11/2011

Hardball politics and Gov. Peña Nieto

It’s either good investigative journalism or a nefarious “black campaign.”

Whether true or false, Mexico state Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto has been knocked for a loop by a YouTube video that purports to show him as a regular customer of a posh Beverly Hills boutique.

Peña Nieto is far ahead in the polls for 2012 presidential elections, and riding out front makes him an easy target, as this scandal shows.

The video popped up on YouTube earlier this week. It shows the House of Bijan, perhaps Beverly Hills’ most exclusive men’s shop, displaying a wall clock with Peña Nieto’s name on it. The clock is alongside others who are purportedly clients of Bijan, including the Prince of Wales, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and dozens of others.

Peña Nieto’s opponents immediately started bashing him, saying earning a clock on the wall of Bijan is only for those who spend between $2 and $5 million there.

Here’s what Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio (and potential campaign rival) posted on his Twitter account: "Peña Nieto: explain to Mexicans where you got the 23 million pesos to buy clothing in the most expensive store in the world.”

Peña Nieto late this week addressed the controversy multiple times. He said he’d never been to Bijan at 420 Rodeo Drive and called the video a “black campaign.” 

Later, he said such tactics could even threaten the federal government’s relations with state governments and put “at risk institutional relations.” 

Peña Nieto makes an easy target on the personal wealth front. He comes from rather humble stock and has never worked outside government for any significant period. So this scandal feeds the perception of elected officials lining their pockets at the public trough. Moreover, he is from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the former authoritarian party that ruled Mexico as a fiefdom for seven decades.

But imagine for a second that Peña Nieto is right and that he’s never been to the Beverly Hills boutique. Then this augurs for some below-the-belt politicking during the upcoming campaign. Many Mexicans would throw in last weekend’s arrest of Jorge Hank Rhon, the PRIista who is a former Tijuana mayor, as part of election politics. Hank Rhon was charged with firearms violations because soldiers found 88 weapons in his house. With extraordinary speed, prosecutors said Friday ballistics tests show two of those weapons were used in homicides in Baja California. This kind of prosecutorial celerity is uncommon in the extreme in Mexico.

I would expect Peña Nieto’s camp to dish out its own surprises soon. 

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Tim

This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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