Tuesday, June 14, 2011

One-Sided Merida Initiative Debate as a Metaphor for U.S.-Mexico Relations

A number of different civil society groups led by poet-turned-activist Javier Sicilia signed a “Citizens’ Pact” in Ciudad Juarez on Friday in which they set forth a number of ambitious demands, including the cancellation of the Merida Initiative. Now, the Merida Initiative is in the news once again, as select members of the legislatures of both countries will discuss it at the 50th annual U.S.-Mexico Inter-Parliamentary Meeting in Washington, D.C. this Wednesday.

El Universal reports that the meeting will herald a “new stage” in the Merida initiative, and it’s clear that many Mexican legislators feel similarly. According to the head of the PAN party in the Senate, José González Morfin, Mexican legislators will present “from our point of view our mutual problems in an environment of equal respect and work in coordination [to fix them]." The Mexican delegation will be headed by the chairman of the Senate and leader of the PRI caucus, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, and most of the heads of the caucuses of the two legislative chambers, according to El Milenio.

Among other things, it seems that their top priorities will be to discuss the role of U.S. arms in Mexico’s security crisis, as well as Alabama’s controversial new immigration law.

In the lead-up to these meetings, several high-profile members of Mexican society have spoken up about the Merida funds. In a recent statement, the head of Mexico’s Marines, one of the most heavily relied upon branches of the military for counternarcotics operations, sought to downplay the role of the U.S. security funding. He emphasized that the vast majority of Mexico’s military operations are funded by its own government, and claimed that the money from Merida is “not a determining factor in the fight against drugs.”

Former president Vicente Fox also added to the Merida controversy, referring to the U.S. security assistance in the Merida Initiative as “a tip” that Mexicans get for bearing the cost of the United States’ demand for drugs. He also called on both U.S. and Mexican officials to consider the legalization of drug use.

Unfortunately, on the U.S. side, things don’t appear to be matching the Mexicans’ expectations. Despite the massive coverage that the upcoming meetings are receiving in the Mexican press, I could not find a single English language news source that even mentioned them. While this may be due to the fact that the meeting is unlikely to result in major policy changes, it is at least partly representative of a serious disconnect in the public discourse on U.S.-Mexico relations in the two countries.

News Briefs
  • Speaking of U.S.-Mexico relations, three U.S. Senators have authored a new government report on the role that U.S. weapons play in fueling Mexico’s drug war. Of the 29,284 firearms recovered by officials in Mexico in 2009 and 2010, 20,504 (70%) came from the United States, according to data provided to the senators by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. As AP notes, this figure is slightly lower than previous reports –which have placed the percentage of U.S. guns at around 85%–have suggested. Although useful in terms of releasing updated information, the report is not much of a “game-changer.” The debate about gun smuggling from the U.S. has been raging for years now, with Republicans and the gun rights lobby largely dismissing these reports as attempts by Mexico to divert blame for the violence there.
  • President Obama arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico today to make a much-awaited visit to the island. As the first official presidential visit in 50 years, the visit is a major symbolic victory for the island. Although as previously advised the island to hold another statehood referendum, it is unlikely that he will make that the central theme of his visit. Instead, as the Washington Post’s Jerry Bacon points out, the move is likely an early attempt to reach out to Latino voters.
  • As part of a weeklong tour of South America that likely has something to do with his intention to seek re-election, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stopped in Colombia over the weekend, where he was there for the passage of the historic Victims’ Law. The secretary-general then went on to Argentina on Monday, where he was received by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. According to MercoPress, the he will meet with Argentina’s foreign minister today, and the two are expected to talk about the Falklands/Malvinas issue. He will also travel to Uruguay and Brazil, bringing his tour to a close on Friday, June 17.
  • The former director of Colombian intelligence agency DAS, Jorge Noguera, is on trial for alleged ties to paramilitary groups this week. According to Colombia Reports, Noguera told the court Monday that the former government of Alvaro Uribe wants him to be convicted in order to take the pressure off the ex- President. Uribe himself will also face a special hearing on Thursday into allegations that he ordered the illegal wiretapping of opposition leaders.
  • Reuters has the latest opinion poll results for the upcoming October Argentine presidential race. Although President Cristina Fernandez still has sizeable lead over her challengers, the numbers indicate that her support may be slipping.
  • As El Informador reports, the “Slut Walk” phenomenon, a series of marches that U.S. women have used to raise awareness of sexual violence and double standards in sexuality, has taken off in Nicaragua. Apparently, women in Mexico have also recently used the concept to stage protests against machismo there as well.
  • In Venezuela, BBC reports that the government is moving to encourage less energy consumption after a series of major power shortages in the country’s West.
  • It seems that Israeli central banker Stanley Fischer is out of the running for the top IMF position. According to the New York Times, the IMF board will only consider French finance minister Christine Lagarde and Mexican economist Agustin Carstens as candidates. Because Mr. Fischer had worked as the IMF's second-highest official for seven years, many speculated that his entry would preclude Carstens’ candidacy, which is currently backed by developing nations and much of Latin America.
  • In Brazil, A poll by Datafolha suggest that President Dilma Rousseff’s recent corruption scandal has not significantly hurt her in the polls. In fact, as the Latin American News Dispatch mentions, she may even even be enjoying increased popularity
  • The Wall Street Journal highlights Brazil’s credit banks, which it says endangers the country’s developmental trajectory. “For a sense of the scale: The development bank's loans last year, just within Brazil, totaled triple the amount the World Bank lent to more than 100 countries.”
  • Authorities in Chiapas, Mexico found 210 migrants being transported northward in a truck on Sunday, many of which were from Southeast Asia. El Universal  says this is the third largest migrant apprehension in Mexico after last January’s find of 219 people in a trailer and the discovery last of 502 undocumented Asian and Central Americans.
  • In an oddly sudden development, Peru’s outgoing Garcia announced that he wants to build a 37-meter high Rio-type Christ the Redeemer statue over Lima. According to the AFP, the idea is strongly opposed by the mayor of the capital, Susana Villaran.
  • Despite rumors to the contrary, Humala has said that pardoning ex-president Fuijimori senior is “not on the table,” according to La Republica. Still, some analysts have said that President Garcia may consider pardoning him as a kind of parting shot at Humala. But as the BBC notes, Garcia and Mr. Fujimori have a long history of less-than-friendly relations.
  • Meanwhile, Peru’s former anti-corruption prosecutor Luis Vargas Valdivia has said that former officials of the Fujimori regime who have been prosecuted for influence-peddling could seek acquittal by invoking the proposed amendments to the Penal Code supported by President Alan Garcia. 
  • According to La Prensa Grafica, El Savador’s ARENA party is still short of the votes needed to overturn Decree 743, which requires the country’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to make decisions unanimously rather than by majority.
  • The LA Times reports on Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes’ idea of mandating military service for at-risk-youth.
  • El Faro with an insightful piece on the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, which has been considerably altered by the drug trade.