Mexico News and Analysis: May 25 - June 7, 2009

1. Obama administration announces new anti-drug strategy
2. inFluenza results in health insurance – for tourists
3. Experimental GMO corn in Mexico
4. Influenza update
5. Remittances decline
6. Officials arrested in Michoacan and Nuevo Leon  


1. Obama administration announces new anti-drug strategy

The Obama administration announced a new counter-narcotics strategy for the US-Mexico border on Friday.  The 65-page document, entitled “White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Document,” calls for increased coordination with Mexico, employment of new surveillance technologies, and increased interdiction of drugs, cash and guns.  The initiative does not resolve the long-standing turf battle between the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice.  Homeland Security is seeking permission to involve more border agents in drug interdiction, but the Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is resisting.  And the initiative does not offer funds for drug addiction treatment that would reduce demand in the world’s largest narcotics market.  The administration will move 450 additional federal agents to the border, mainly to staff newly installed screening devices.  Obama is requesting US$350 million this year largely to send equipment and training personnel to Mexico as part of the three year, US$1.4 billion Merida Initiative.  Both the House and Senate approved even largely packages (House US$820 million and US$666 million), and the final bill awaits reconciliation.


2. inFluenza results in health insurance – for tourists

In an effort to recoup tourist dollars after the recent influenza outbreak, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard plans to offer free health insurance for tourists visiting Mexico City.  While most of Mexico’s population suffers from inadequate health care, which exacerbated the influenza epidemic, as of July 11, tourists will be fully covered for diseases contracted during their stay in Mexico City.  Just register in a hotel in the nation’s largest metropolitan area and you’re automatically enrolled in a program administered by ACE Group, an international insurer.  The insurance will cover everything from migraines to broken bones, and even emergency heart surgery in private hospitals throughout the city, though the plan will not cover pre-existing conditions.  Enterprising Mexico City residents may decide to register for a night in a cheap hotel to gain access to first rate health insurance.


3. Experimental GMO corn in Mexico

Mexico, the birthplace of corn with more than 10,000 native varieties, is reviewing more than two dozen requests to begin experimental planting of genetically modified crops, according to the Secretary of Agriculture.  The government published regulations last March that allow experimental plantings, and authorities are currently reviewing applications from Monsanto and other companies.  Four of the requests are near the final review stages and planting could begin as soon as September on plots of up to 500 acres in northern and western Mexico. More than 70% of US corn is genetically modified, but so far Mexico has experienced only isolated cases of contamination of native varieties by GMO genes.


4. Influenza update

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta issued an update this week on the A/H1N1 outbreak in Mexico that notes a leveling off of cases with continuing localized areas of transmission, similar to patterns in the US and other countries.  Mexico reported 5,563 confirmed cases of A/H1N1, with 103 deaths attributed to the influenza.  Influenza peaked in Mexico in late April, at least several days after authorities activated a national pandemic plan on April 24 which lead to school closures and a virtual shut down of Mexico City’s economy.  Most experts now say the outbreak would have leveled off without the extreme measures, which caused an already sinking economy to decline by about 8% during the last quarter.


5. Remittances decline

The US economic crisis is affecting Mexican migrant workers and their families disproportionately.  Migrant remittances, an important survival resource for millions of families and the country’s second largest source of foreign currency, declined by 19% in April compared to a year earlier, marking the twelfth consecutive monthly decline.  Temporary construction and light manufacturing, sectors of the labor force with high percentages of migrant workers, were particularly hard hit, according to the Bank of Mexico.


6. Officials arrested in Michoacan and Nuevo Leon

Federal police and army troops arrested ten mayors, a judge and 17 high level state employees in Michoacan on May 26, accusing them of links to La Familia, one of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels.  The arrests were the result of months of investigation, according to the Federal Attorney General, though opposition parties suspect political posturing in anticipation of national elections in July.  Governor Leonel Godoy of the PRD was not informed of the arrests until after the fact.

On June 1, at least 36 police from Monterrey and surrounding municipalities were arrested, accused of links to organized crime.  A total of 78 police officials are under investigation, including several commanders, according to the Federal Attorney General.  The arrests coincided with a new advertising campaign by Fernando Elizondo, PAN candidate for governor, in which he promises security for citizens of Nuevo Leon state.