Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mexico Wraps Up Presidential Campaigns

Mexico’s presidential campaigns ended Wednesday, with a victory by Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) all but ensured for the July 1 election. According to the Mexico Institute’s latest election guide, Peña Nieto is leading by 17 percent, and is predicted to earn 45 percent of the national vote.

Peña Nieto formally ended his campaign in Mexico state, where he formerly served as governor, in a rally that Reuters describes as “subdued.” In an interview published Wednesday in El Universal, he emphasized that he represents the new face of the PRI. “There is a new PRI ... It's the others who have not changed. They are living in the past," he stated.

An op-ed from the New York Times makes a compelling argument that while the young Peña Nieto was selected as the PRI’s candidate in order to represent a break from the party “dinosaurs,” it is worth remembering that the PRI will not rule Mexico so much as the political bureaucracy will:

“[The PRI] ran a skilled vote-gathering (or vote-fixing) operation, but the country was run by a political bureaucracy in league with other power centers, such as banks, labor unions, the army, television magnates and industrial moguls.”

This power structure has remained largely intact, the op-ed asserts, and thus the more important question is “whether a ‘new’ PRI will dare confront the near monopolies — in energy, telecommunications, finance, cement, food and television — that support its return to power and have long profited from the noncompetitive marketplace.”

The most likely outcome is that “Peña Nieto will try to please everyone and will disappoint many,” the op-ed concludes.

More interesting analysis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, with a report examining gubernatorial races in six states -- the Federal District, Chiapas, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Morelos, Tabasco, and Yucatán -- and what they suggest about the widespread public discontent that is helping bring the PRI back to power.

The AP reports from the Zocalo square in Mexico City, where supporters of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador congregated. The AP focuses on the question of whether Lopez Obrador will accept the election results, quoting one analyst: "Lopez Obrador is Lopez Obrador and he will not recognize the result no matter what.” The LA Times reports that Lopez Obrador told a business group that in case of a loss, he will retire to his ranch in Chiapas.

According to the AP, Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute is urging candidates to sign a contract promising “civility” whatever the results of the July 1 vote may be. The next few days should also allow for a closer examination of whether Mexico’s vote-counting technology is up to speed. The computers that will be used to tally Sunday’s votes have already been reviewed and tested for glitches, the National Autonomous University of Mexico told EFE.

National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota rallied in Guadalajara and promised to make current President Felipe Calderon the next Attorney General if elected. New Alliance candidate Gabriel Cuadri ended his campaign in Zacatecas.

News Briefs

  • The Washington Post reports from Tampico, exploring how security dynamics may influence voting results in areas more strongly affected by cartel and gang violence. The port city is based in Tamaulipas state, a particularly visible battleground between the cartels where brutal displays of violence have become all too common. The Post notes that Tampico’s local economy is now debilitated because many citizens are too afraid to to do business there, and this fear may motivate many to cast their votes for the PRI this Sunday. “With the PRI, you have lots of dishonesty, lots of stealing, okay?” one rancher told the Post. “But when I was driving to my ranch under the PRI, I didn’t see bodies without heads. Now I do.” The article is accompanied by a photo gallery.
  • In an interview with the AP, Paraguay’s former President Fernando Lugo compared the events which ousted him from office to the 2009 coup in Honduras. He called the country’s  democratic process “broken,” and added that he did not want sanctions imposed against Paraguay as it would disproportionately affect small farmers. Time magazine notes that all the comparisons between Honduras and Paraguay may actually work to Lugo’s disadvantage: if ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya couldn’t return to power “when he had a legitimate coup to complain about, it’s doubtful Lugo will be able to muster the kind of international sanctions that could make Paraguay bend,” Time concludes. The Organization of American States (OAS) Director Jose Insulza may travel to Paraguay next Sunday on a fact-finding mission, and the US State Department will hold off from releasing an official statement on the Paraguay’s political crisis until Insulza releases his report, reports Mercopress. The Mercosur summit, which begins today in Mendoza, Argentina, will likely decide whether Paraguay faces sanctions or not. In the meantime, new President Federico Franco has already overseen changes in command in the military and police, and has presented his governing plan to Congress, stating that his priority was “organizing the house,” reports Reuters
  • Guatemala handed out prison sentences to 36 alleged members of Mexican criminal group the Zetas. The longest sentences of maximum 158 years were issued to two men charged with kidnapping and killing a businessman, Luis Charcon, in 2011 in the Zetas stronghold of Peten state. The two detainees were also charged with killing Charcon’s wife and father when they met with the Zetas and tried to pay Charcon’s ransom. The deaths of the Charcon family were a precursor to another gruesome massacre in Peten that happened just a few days later, when the Zetas attacked a farm in Peten and killed the 29 workers they found there, mutilating the bodies and writing on the walls in blood. Prensa Libre has more details on the recently issued prison sentences. 
  • The Washington Post reports that some observers are already starting to question the official explanation for why a gunfight broke out between federal police officers in Mexico City’s international airport on Monday, which left three agents dead. The government has said the shooting broke out when the federal police moved to arrest two suspects involved in a drug smuggling ring based out of the airport. According to the Post, some media sources are questioning whether it was actually a shoot-out between co-conspirators. The Post: “If it was an operation to capture traffickers in the act, some said, why did it take 20 minutes for additional police officers to appear after the shooting began? Why were only three police officers sent to arrest two armed fellow officers in a crowded airport?” As the investigation continues, authorities have said that they have cleared the airport director of any involvement in criminal activity, El Universal reports
  • President Rafael Correa announced Wednesday that Ecuador will no longer send military personnel to train at the controversial training base once known as the School of the Americas, after meeting with advocacy group SOA Watch, reports EFE. This makes Ecuador the fifth country in the region to cease sending soldiers to the school, which is based in Fort Benning, Georgia. The institute has trained hundreds of military personnel from Latin America who later went on to commit blatant human rights abuses in their home countries, SOA Watch says. 
  • Buenos Aires saw a massive rally of up to 50,000 people, led by union umbrella organization the CGT, reports Mercopress. The strikers demanded lower income tax levels, and their show of force was a clear challenge to President Cristina Fernandez: according to the AP, Wednesday was the first time that the CGT held a general strike since 2003. It was also another display of the influence wielded by CGT leader Hugo Moyano, a former close ally of Fernandez who has since become one of the government’s strongest critics. Moyano was behind the two-day truckers strike last week, in which the union successfully pressured company bosses to raise drivers’ salaries by 25 percent. 
  • After a seven-day strike, Bolivia’s police have come to an agreement with the government, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. Reuters reports that the police were forced to lift their blockade in La Paz in order to allow another group of protesters -- indigenous groups striking against the TIPNIS highway -- to congregate in front of the presidential palace. 
  • Brazil announced a new economic stimulus package that will inject $4.1 billion in the economy and is aimed at helping the GDP grow at least 2.5 percent this year, reports the Wall Street Journal. Reuters reports that this latest stimulus package highlights Brazil’s tendency towards state-led economic growth. Reuters: “Be it through tax incentives for key industries or increased lending by state-controlled banks, the government plays a leading role in Brazil's economy, which surpassed Britain's last year to become the world's sixth-largest.”
  • The New York Times with a feature on the booming medical tourism business in the Mexican border town of Mexicali, where US citizens flock to receive dental and medical treatment they cannot afford north of the border. The US patients helped contribute more than $8 million to the city’s economy last year. With a slideshow.
  • A new front opened up in the Ecuador versus Chevron legal battle, when plantiffs filed a lawsuit against the oil company in Brazil. This means that the legal case against Chevron, concerning the dumping of oil in Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region, is now being fought in multiple courts and countries, including Ecuador, New York, and an international court. 
  • When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao wrapped his week-long tour of South America in Chile this Tuesday, he announced that China would invest an additional $15 billion in development funds for the continent. About $10 billion of these funds would come in the form of loans. 
  • Global Post examines reconstruction projects in post-earthquake Haiti, asking if the money from international donors is being well spent, focusing on a $142 million highway that is supposed to connect Haiti’s capital with the southwest city of Les Cayes.