Mexico News and Analysis: February 16-22, 2009

1. Senate modifies electoral reform to suit media giants
2. Cartels coordinate demonstrations against army
3. No change in immigration policy


1. Senate modifies electoral reform to suit media giants
The Senate modified last year’s electoral reform this week in a quick response to demands by Mexico’s television duopoly. TV Azteca and Televisa pushed for changes in the law that would remove the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) from fining media outlets for illegal political advertising.  The IFE will be limited to “notifying” the Secretary of Communication and Transportation (SCT) of irregular or illegal advertising.  The fast track legislation came on the heals of a protest by Mexico’s two major television networks in which they interrupted  nationally televised soccer games, the Super Bowl, and children’s programming to run up to six minute blocks of constitutionally mandated political ads.  Normally, the stations run political announcements during regular commercial breaks, but in this case they coordinated their protest by running the ads simultaneously in the middle of scheduled programming, citing the IFE mandate as the reason for the interruption.  The new law also allows media corporations to seek protective injunctions in federal courts, which could all but disable the IFE’s ability to control political advertising during campaign seasons.  Protective injunctions are often part of long, drawn-out legal strategies that can prolong cases for years.  Currently radio and television outlets are required to broadcast 48 minutes per day of free political ads during election seasons.


2. Cartels coordinate demonstrations against army
A series of apparently coordinated demonstrations on Tuesday in Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Veracuz blocked highways, international bridges and toll booths.  Demonstrators called for removing the army from street patrols and drug enforcement activities.  Drug cartels were reportedly behind the demonstrations, offering $1,000 pesos for mothers with children and $500 pesos for young people, plus transportation to the demonstrations. 

The Left in Mexico has been divided over the demonstrations.  The army has clearly been responsible for serious human rights violations that include home searches without warrants, beatings, robberies and several murders of innocent civilians, and there is general recognition that many police and government officials are on the cartel payrolls.  In this context, many on the Left also call for removal of the army from internal policing activities, but without supporting the drug cartels.  Many on the Left are afraid to speak publicly about the cartels, but those who take a position call for no cartel influence in the State, the police or the street.  The so-called “narco-protests” allow the State to criminalize all anti-State protests and enforce draconian laws that will be applied more against legitimate social movements than against cartels, who in any case own much of the State apparatus, especially at the local level in the border region.

The increasingly violent war on drugs promises to be a major campaign issue in this summer’s elections.  The PRI and PRD are staking out positions highly critical of the Calderon administration’s ineffective strategies.  Former President Ernesto Zedillo of the PRI went so far as to call for legalization of marijuana this week, while the PRD has been critical of army troops patrolling streets in at least eleven states.  PAN President German Martinez accused the PRI, which is expected to do well in the mid-term elections, of “giving up” in the war against organized crime.  And Secretary of the Economy Gerardo Ruiz announced in Paris that the next president of Mexico could be “a narcotics trafficker” if Felipe Calderon had not begun actions against the cartels.  Expect a campaign that pits fascist-like enforcement measures promoted by the PAN against calls for “more effective strategies” and respect for human rights by the PRD and PRI, while hundreds, perhaps thousands, of officials from all three parties remain on the cartel payrolls.


3. No change in immigration policy
Immigrants expect little change in immigration policy under an Obama administration.  With newly appointed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at the helm, a continuation of the Bush administration’s draconian enforcement measures at the US-Mexico border will result in at least ten migrant deaths per week.  With Mexico’s economy in a free-fall and unemployment reaching record levels, many migrants find little option but to attempt the dangerous journey to the North.  And undocumented workers already in the US are poised for new roundups and workplace enforcement measures, as the administration uses migrants as a convenient scapegoat for an economic crisis similar to 1930s depression.  With Democrats in control of both Houses and the Presidency, some optimists expected policy changes, but those hopes are quickly disappearing.  For a good analysis of Democratic Party strategies around immigration reform, see http://americas.irc-online.org/am/5884.