Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sense from Sectur

Sectur, Mexico's tourism ministry, has finally selected Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit (aka Nuevo Vallarta plus a few beaches just north of there) as the seat of the annual Tianguis Turistico in 2012. The event has traditionally been held in Acapulco but given that resort's problems with violence in recent years and the reality that Acapulco may not best represent all that Mexico has to offer in terms of attracting international travelers these days, it was a long overdue decision. The municipality of Acapulco contested the loss but was finally overruled by the Supreme Court with a decision favoring Sectur's move to make the tianguis an itinerant event. The choice of PV and Riviera Nayarit just makes good sense. The area has also undergone tremendous renovation in PV and new development north of the city in Nayarit, making it one of the few sites in the nation that can handle the event properly. They have also been relatively insulated from narco-related crime, although there's also a fair amount of denial about the amount of activity in the region. What PV and Nayarit can legitimately claim is that the violence has not affected tourists. Cancun could make the same claims, but unfortunately, the international press has picked up on a number of gruesome stories involving locals and several of its former governors have been at least implicated, if not prosecuted, in drug trafficking and money laundering activities, which suggests that Quintana Roo is up to its ears in illicit business. Puebla will host the 2013 event and then, one suspects, Sectur is banking on Quintana Roo having cleaned up its act enough to handle things in 2014.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Global Commission on Drug Policy: "Break the taboo on debate and reform"

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a kind of who's who think tank of Latin American politicos, intellectuals and other folks from around the world thrown in for global street cred (see the roster here and note the presence of three former LA presidents and two of the region's most famous living writers), has issued a report condemning the drug policies currently embraced and pursued by most nations on the planet. In short, they recommend decriminalization with respect to users and those at the lowest level of the trade and the provision of education and treatment services to those at risk or already using. They are not incorrect to point out that the victims of the international drug economy, whether one means the addicts or those coerced into participating in the production, transportation, and commercialization of such products by the dearth of viable alternatives for economic sustenance, have paid the greatest price over the course of the so-called war on drugs. The cost has been no less than their personal freedom, security, and health, with their respective societies footing the bill for prisons and expanding penal systems, to little or no avail in terms of overall drug use. And the authors are also sadly right to point out that there's a pretty strong historical record suggesting that a strictly law enforcement approach to the problem generates more rather than less violence. Interestingly enough, Mexico, the most obvious contemporary example of that tendency, is not mentioned until nearly the end of the report (p.15), but in a rather sweeping condemnation worth quoting at length:
"...[P]oorly designed drug law enforcement practices can actually increase the level of violence, intimidation and corruption associated with drug markets. Law enforcement agencies and drug trafficking organizations can become embroiled in a kind of 'arms race', in which greater enforcement efforts lead to a similar increase in the strength and violence of the traffickers. In this scenario, the conditions are created in which the most ruthless and violent trafficking organizations thrive. Unfortunately, this seems to be what we are currently witnessing in Mexico and many other parts of the world."
Predictably, the Mexican left is having a field day with this one. La Jornada picked up the story late yesterday and pushed it again today (check it out here), as it serves their continued attack on President Calderon's policies. I hate to take the cliche copout of an historian on this one, but only time will tell if his choice, to pursue the narcos rather than let them be, a la the so-called pax narco of the PRI era, was the right one or not. The death toll of Mexico's drug war, running in the tens of thousands, is damning, but so would have been allowing the narcos to operate at will, as they did before the rise of the PAN. And who is to say that the cartels would not have splintered anyway, or faced the challenge of new rivals not unlike the Zetas, who are the most notoriously violent upstarts?
What the report does call attention to in the case of Mexico, is the lopsidedness of the current policy, which is almost exclusively dedicated to law enforcement. And sadly, what Mexico will, I predict, find itself regretting ten years from now, is the failure to address the question of addiction among its own citizens. In Guadalajara, we are witnessing the creation of a domestic market for meth at the same time that the city becomes a point of production and transportation for that drug and others. Pass by any of the busier intersections where the window washers and street vendors work, and the numbers among their ranks who show the wasted bodies, crumbling mouths and hollow eyes of a meth user grows daily. The cheapness of a fix will make it (although it's likely already a fait accompli) the drug of choice among the un- and under-employed in the ZMG's colonias populares and all over Mexico, with devastating effects for all involved. And, given what a disaster Mexico and many other countries are facing in terms of the drug problem, it wouldn't hurt to start talking about alternatives to just putting more patrols on the streets.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Postdata on the "Plan for Human Reordering"

Municipal authorities are taking some heat for the alleged discussions of social cleansing in preparation for the Panamerican Games at a recent meeting. The so-called "Plan de Reordenamiento Humano," which sounds like something out of a twisted communist regime or dystopian science fiction novel, has given the opposition parties all the necessary fodder for an absolute field day in the press. Criticism of municipal authorities has run the predictable gamut from outrage at the injustice of such a plan, discussions of its pragmatic absurdity (as it would be pretty tough to actually accomplish such a feat in the historic center without really getting into some human rights hot water), and even a crudely drawn parallel with the Nazis. Ouch. Not a good PR day for the city's current administration.
Meanwhile, the incident has drawn attention to the plight of the city's most vulnerable citizens (and keep in mind that this is only about the city center of Guadalajara proper, and tells us nothing about the conditions that so many of the poorest citizens of the greater metropolitan zone experience in the colonias that surround GDL). Jalisco's DIF office, Mexico's main social services agency, claims that it has recently removed 300 families from the city center (one hopes, to some sort of shelter or subsidized housing) but that 350 remain on the streets. Given that those are families, that's a lot of homeless people for a city this size. And for those of us living in the city, although it's merely anecdotal, the increase in window washers and street venders at many major intersections has been palpable in recent months as Mexico's economy continues to struggle. Ironically, the games themselves must be generating a fair amount of local employment, as the city is absolutely torn to pieces with beautifcation and repaving projects in preparation for the event. Even under the best of circumstances, it would be hard to hide the fact that Mexico's index of inequality continues to be a scandal in the hemisphere--and Jalisco and its capital are no exception. (See "No se escondera a nadie: alcalde" and "Niegan "limpia social" para mejorar imagen durante los Juegos")
Oh, and by the way, a national survey on discrimination just found that in a society that is in general intolerant of such things, Guadalajara is the least tolerant city in the nation with respect to adoption by gay couples. (see details on the survey here)

A little pre-Panamerican Games social cleansing and homophobia

While US culture has experienced a rather extended phase of political correctness that now approaches the comedic at its most extreme, Mexico could still use a course in the basics. It should come as no surprise that municipal authorities in GDL might very well be discussing a little social cleansing in preparation for the upcoming Panamerican Games. Sex workers, the window washers who swarm the cars at major intersections, and the homeless were allegedly topics of discussion, which should not surprise anyone, as you would no doubt find that similar conversations have taken place amongst those in charge of hosting such events in virtually any city in the world. It's a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless, that a city might seek to conceal these particular members of its citizenry from the gaze of outsiders, as they call attention to the uglier side of Mexico's socioeconomic contours. One additional group was the topic of much concern as well: Guadalajara's gay population. Apparently, preventing any public displays of affection among gay men and women is a matter of public import, in yet another striking example of this city's conservatism. While Aristoteles Sandoval, the mayor of GDL, denied any and all of the above and argued that GDL is a tolerant city, officials interviewed by Milenio journalists suggested otherwise. "Mi política y mi filosofía es de respeto, es de tolerancia, sí es de un orden, pero el orden no es con represión, [...] siempre he sido muy respetuoso de las preferencias sexuales. No será [...] Guadalajara quien reprenda o reprima, sí el que ordene," responded Sandoval. He'll go far if he keeps that kind of politicaly artistry up when faced with tricky questions from the press. (see the article here: "Denuncian plan de "limpieza social" del Centro para Juegos")
In an unrelated but nonetheless relevant incident, if only because it again illustrates the climate in the region toward gay people, the head of Colima's Human Right's Commission (CDHEC), Roberto Chapula de la Mora, declared that the Colimense government is full of closeted gays. It was actually said in a much more colorful way that defies translation without offending both myself and my readers, but you can take a stab at it on your own: "hay mucho puto tapado en el gobierno, que se toman dos, tres cervezas y piden hombre; empiezan de compadres y terminan de comadres." This tidbit was offered in an interview with a local paper just days before the celebration yesterday (or non-celebration, I would imagine, in this town), May 17th, of the International Day Against Homophobia and the story was picked up by the latest edition of Proceso (""Hay mucho puto tapado en el gobierno", declara Ombudsman de Colima"). How comfortable would one feel reporting an incident of homophobia to this agency after hearing that from its director?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Foot in mouth disease

The governor of Jalisco, Emilio Gonzalez Marquez, has long suffered from the tendency to shoot off at the mouth without much thought for the consequences. Take, for example, his homophobic condemnation of gay marriage, which resulted in a still pending inquiry into his behavior by the state's human rights commission (the infamous "asquito" comment). Now he has stuck his foot in it, by not just implying, but rather accusing the PRI of complicity with the narcos. They (the PRI, as he is PAN), he claimed, do not cooperate in approving legislative initiatives because they "still feel a taste, memory, or nostalgia for negotiating with the narcos." His party, of course, does not engage in such activities, he then argued, although the retorts to that assertion have been heated. It's an interesting use of the pax narco thesis, this idea that under the PRI, a sort of peace prevailed because the PRI had been willing to accommodate the narcos. According to the theory's proponents, the election of the PAN and their subsequent pursuit of the narcos upset the balance that the PRI had delicately maintained (at the price of their own integrity, of course). Not surprisingly, the Priistas are up in arms, with the mayor of Guadalajara, Aristoteles Sandoval, at the head of the pack. What gets their hackles up is not just the accusation, but the ambition of the governor, who is said to be considering a presidential run. Que asquito, one might say, about the whole brouhaha.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The good news/bad news debate and Mexico's tourism industry

As the federal government, specifically the ministry of Tourism, SECTUR and state governments signed an accord to promote the tourism sector, or in more realistic terms, salvage the industry in the wake of the recession, the swine flu epidemic, Oaxaca's teacher strikes and most significantly, the narco news, the governor of Nayarit, Ney Gonzalez, pleaded with the press to make more of an effort to cover positive news of Mexico rather than emphasizing the "nota roja," or crime news. This plea, which has been made by many in the industry as well as politicians and government officials hoping for the industry's recovery, sometimes sounds strangely akin to the entreaties made by the right for "good news" from Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's also a great deal of reason to their arguments (the tourism folks, not the US right-wingers). As the American press, or more specifically, the cable news networks, has seized upon the story of narco-violence, increasing numbers of potential tourists have dropped their plans for a stay at one of Mexico's many beach resorts, although in many cases it would be like dropping one's plans to visit Miami because a gang shooting had occurred in New York City. But the dilemma is also the perennial problem of dealing with American tourists, notoriously skittish for reasons of their geographic ignorance, fearful of all that is remotely distinct from their own culture, and simply not the seasoned travelers that their European counterparts have long been. (As an aside, would be interesting to know if European tourism numbers are down by the same percentages as American ones--will have to dig around for an answer to that one--and Canadian figures would likewise make for an interesting comparison)
Mass tourism has been the third most important earner of export dollars since the 1980s, right behind manufacturing and oil, and many coastal states, with few alternatives for development, have come increasingly to depend upon the industry, both in terms of real revenues and imagined futures.  Quintana Roo, the home of Cancun and now the Riviera Maya, was not so long ago ranked dead last, along with Chiapas, in terms of poverty, and now consistently ranks as one of the wealthiest states in the nation. Cancun, still the crown jewel, however tarnished, of Mexico's tourist sector, and the neighboring coast have long been the site of narco-related homicides but such stories rarely register with the tourists themselves, even as they make front page news in local papers. One would think that Acapulco is largely done for due to the ugly stories of beheadings and disappearances but its numbers, recently put at about 75% occupancy as we near spring break season, could be worse. Cabo rarely appears in narco-related news, perhaps because the narco-trafficking moves northeastward along the mainland coast, compromising Mazatlan more than destinations in Baja California. Nayarit's coast, starting just north of Puerto Vallarta, has grown tremendously in the last few decades and saved a state that otherwise depended heavily upon a flagging agricultural sector for the majority of its earnings. The Riviera Nayarit, along with Puerto Vallarta, remain relatively untouched by the stories of narco-related horrors, although the grenade thrown at employees of Jalisco's attorney general's office lunching in Puerto Vallarta, even if the site was at a remove from the tourism zone and led only to the death of one of the perpetrators (the grenade did not go off, and the agents gave pursuit) is cause for concern. There's certainly evidence that several cartels are active around PV/NV but so far, they've kept their heads down and stayed away from the tourist zone (well, in terms of conducting their dirty business--there's surely plenty of money laundering going on in both PV and NV). Ultimately, most of the major beach resorts are still safe and enjoy very low crime rates compared to many similar destinations around the world (as well as in comparison to many US and European cities, as those within the industry and those supporting the industry have frequently pointed out in recent months). But all it will take is a particularly gruesome incident, publicized by the news outlets up north, to sow more fear among Mexico's primary clientele.

Monday, February 21, 2011


In the last few weeks, Guadalajara has experienced its fist narcoblockades, a grenade attack in a bar on one of the city's main thoroughfares that killed six, a shooting last night in a hotel just down the street from that same bar that killed three, and in addition to the usual murders among low-level gang members, the killing of two lawyers. The first lawyer, the brother of the Secretary General of the municipality of Guadalajara, was carrying a briefcase with approximately US$4,000 when he was executed, while the other was the son of the head of the department of transparency in the municipality of Tonala. There appears to have been some relation between the two, but the press has so far not been able to shed much light on the case. Add the videos,  really press releases, sent to El Blog del Narco (this site is not for the faint-hearted and the ads are likewise offensive, so visitors beware) sent by the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion and countered with another clip issued by their rivals, La Resistencia MFG (Milenio Familia Golfo) in which public figures are named and threatened for their complicity with one or the other of said groups, it's been a rough couple of weeks here in Guadalajara. While life goes on as before for most residents, there is a nervousness in the city about what these events signal for its future. All we are lacking is a rash of kidnappings (which will focus on local business people, politicians, government officials, and/or their relatives) and GDL will start to look very much like Monterrey a year or so ago.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Five tons of pot confiscated without a single arrest

You might think, when first reading the headline that the Mexican army confiscated approximately five tons of marijuana in a small town in northern Jalisco without making a single arrest, that this incident is just another example of the impunity that characterizes this nation's judicial system. But read further, and you will discover that much of the pot was handed over voluntarily by the town's 200 residents. The general in charge of the operation was forced to admit that he could not arrest virtually the entire pueblo, and that given the limited economic opportunities in this region, the practice of growing the drug crop was widespread. These farmers ultimately are making the same kind of rational economic decisions that their counterparts in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia (and many other parts of the world) have made, growing the commercial crop, be it pot, poppy, or coca, that holds the best promise of allowing their families to overcome the vicious poverty of subsistence agriculture. Are they criminals? That's a tough call, given their choices.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Flat-footed in GDL

Guadalajara awoke Wednesday morning to the nightmarish news that perhaps seven narcobloqueos and grenade and molotov cocktail attacks had occurred during the previous night. Speculation about the provocations of such actions on the part of the gang known as La Resistencia run the gamut from the extradition of Lobo Valencia to anger at a recent drug bust at the airport or the detention of nearly a dozen members of said gang to the nasty but possibly credible accusation, made by Resistencia gang members themselves, that the government has pursued them while protecting members of a rival cartel. The hastily called meeting of municipal and state leaders on Wednesday morning revealed the extent to which the metropolitan and Jalisciense leadership has been snoozing, on the take, or perhaps just in denial. Yet anyone who can read a newspaper, and certainly those living in the neighborhoods, largely to the south of GDL proper, where the majority of the spiraling number of narco-murders have occurred, could have predicted that such events would come the city's way at any moment. The most revealing moment of the press conference entailed a speaker backtracking on his comment that the various levels of government and neighboring municipalities would now begin to cooperate on a greater level in matters of security. Of course, they had already been coordinating efforts, he quickly corrected himself, although the press and the public might well draw their own conclusions from the degree to which the attacks took the multiple police forces in the ZMG by surprise the other night. And as far as the shock and dismay of the citizens themselves, well, again, one must surmise that they have been snoozing, on the take, or in denial as well. The notable presence of narco-money here in the restaurant and construction businesses amongst others, the widely-held belief that GDL has long been a haven for the families of the narcos themselves, and then the death or capture of various narco-capos within the last year who were known to have maintained the peace in the city would all suggest that GDL could easily follow in Monterrey's footsteps. City and state officials, while easy to blame, cannot reasonably confront such a threat with such paltry resources at their disposal. They must either hope that Resistencia is on the run and weaker than one might think in spite of their Michoacanesque show of force the other night or swallow their pride and call in the feds, which will not be pretty either.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cashing in on Playa del Carmen

The city council of Solidaridad, known to tourists/gringos as Playa del Carmen, is currently preparing a new urban development program (what we might call zoning ordinances) that anticipates the growth of the town from about 150,000 inhabitants to a million by 2050, with 80,000 hotel rooms providing the means for supporting those residents (see the article in La Jornada today, "Crecimiento urbano y turistico sin orden amenaza a Playa del Carmen"). In short, Playa's councilmen and women are hoping to replicate the kind of growth that Cancun experienced in the 1970s up through the mid 1990s. Of course, many are scandalized by the lack of sustainability of this plan, which disrespects the environment and the carrying capacity of the tourist industry to a degree that if not so tragic would be laughable. But the end result of a construction boom--the negative impact on the fragile ecosystem, the area's underground rivers and cenotes, the inevitable overbuilding of the area which will ruin the city's current charm (although for some it already passed the mark of being overbuilt some years ago), the cheapening of Playa's cachet among international tourists, as well as the price of its rooms--is not really the point. What the Solidaridad city council knows is that the money is in the construction, the outcome be damned. And it will be damned, as Solidaridad will not be able to count on the steady flow of federal subsidies for infrastructure that made Cancun what it is today. Keep in mind that Cancun, for all its flaws, is still the top earner of tourist dollars in the country. It was able to build the kind of infrastructure for the hotel zone that at least hid the worst of the environmental consequences during the phases of major construction, while in Playa, five years ago, one could already see the sewage seeping into the water table mere meters from Mamita's, a popular beach club just north of the city proper. And without federal monies for urban infrastructure for the city's residents, migrants to Solidaridad will find themselves waiting even longer than Cancun's residents for basic services, especially in recessionary times with a near civil war between the feds and the narcos siphoning off the funding that was once allocated to such social projects. Nor will new jobs materialize for them once the construction work is completed, because much of it will be condos and time shares and most don't even have the skills to make the transition to working in the hotel industry anyway. So it will be a disaster, no doubt, but it will be a profitable one for some. It's a train that is nearly impossible to stop because the money that the construction industry brings into the region creates jobs and provides an easy way to launder money and is highly profitable for all involved at least in the short term, from the developers and their narco financiers to the politicians revising in this case or looking the other way about zoning violations (for a price of course) to the poor Mexicans who so desperately need the work. And as the article correctly noted, with an affirmation from Playa's mayor, there's no choice but to draw up a new plan as this train has already left the station (in my estimation, starting in the 1990s, so it's surprising it's taken the city council this long to formalize the process and cash in while they can).