Mexico: The Best Politicians Money Can Buy


January 6, 2008: Tourism remains Mexico's third-largest source of hard currency, earning about $12 to $14 billion a year. It should be no surprise that the tourist industry is very worried about drug-related violence, gang violence, and crime. Acapulco's important tourist industry has suffered from the narco-cartels' "turf wars." The number of foreign visitors dropped off in 2006 and Mexican business analysts believe 2007 will show another decline. The Mexican government is trying to convince would-be visitors that Mexico's Caribbean tourist spots (Cancun, Cozumel, etc) are safe. It is also encouraging visitors to come to Mexican archeological sites (eg, Chichen Itza). Jobs in the tourist industry are considered "high wage" service jobs. If the tourists don't show up the entire economy suffers. But the Internet buzz for potential tourists is decidedly negative. Because of the Internet, each tourist related crime gets more exposure to potential visitors. Type "Crime Mexico Cancun" into your favorite search engine and prepared to be scared, rather than sold.

January 4, 2008: Mexican officials accuse drug cartels of trying to influence political campaigns in the state of Baja California (Norte), Michoacan, and Tamaulipas. This should come as no surprise. The Drug cartels have hundreds of millions of dollars in funds; in some places they have "bought" police departments and courts. Pumping money into political campaigns is, for the gangs, another form of bribery. Cynics point out that, in the US, campaign cash amounts to a legal bribe and it should be no different in Mexico. However, the new Mexican prosecutor's report said that the cartels have used kidnapping and violent intimidation to "influence…the behavior of candidates." The drug cartels, like all criminal organizations and, for that matter, insurgent groups, need "space" in which to operate. Bribed cops and courts create space. Controlled politicians create space. The drug cartels fear Mexico's President Felipe Calderon's war on drugs. Calderon's war is more than bullets. His war includes strengthening the judiciary, weeding out corrupt police, and firing or jailing corrupt officials, what the Mexican authorities have called "building strong democratic institutions." Strong, clean government threatens criminals and rebels. The cartels don't like being threatened.

January 1, 2008: The Merida Initiative is the, more or less official, name of the new US-Mexico counter-narcotics, counter-terror and anti-crime program. When the new $1.4 billion, three-year program was announced in 2007, it was jokingly dubbed it "Plan Mexico" (a reference to the US-Colombia counter-drug and counter-terror program, "Plan Colombia"). The Mexican government bridled at the nickname and pointed out that Mexico would not have US soldiers operating on its soil – the Mexican Army can handle the drug cartels and criminals, thank you. Subsequently, the US government assured Mexico that it would not send US troops or private security personnel (think Blackwater or similar firms) into Mexico. Still, Mexican reaction to the nickname "Plan Mexico" is indicative of Mexican worries about US infringement on Mexico sovereignty. Many critics note that while the initiative may curb some cross-border crime and improve counter-terror cooperation, stopping drugs may be impossible since the drug business is driven by US demand. North of the border, the US Congress is concerned about Mexican corruption undermining the various programs. Leaders in both the US and Mexico want the Merida Initiative to work but also want "transparency." In US terms transparency means knowing where American money goes and getting positive results (criminals arrested, drugs off the street). In Mexican terms transparency means several things, among them: (1) full and complete government to government consultations and decision-making on cross-border law enforcement issues; and (2) no US involvement in Mexican counter-drug and anti-crime strategy decisions (ie, no meddling). But many Mexicans ask, if the US Congress demands to know how money is spent, isn't that meddling? US and Mexican political leaders must navigate these complex issues. The diplomatic code name that has emerged is "co-responsibility," but the definition of "co-responsibility" will be tested on a daily basis. In some areas a definition may emerge. Mexican and US law enforcement officers hope that the Merida Initiative will help improve their ability to work together and share intelligence about criminals and criminal activities. Mexico is concerned about international terrorism and the possible involvement of international organizations in Mexican rebel groups (eg, the EPR). The US has declared war on terrorism. Improved law enforcement and security cooperation between Mexico and the US could be the Merida Initiative's real pay-off.




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