NEWS AND ANALYSIS FEBRUARY 7-13, 2011

1 - JOURNALIST FIRED FOR DISCUSSING CALDERON'S ALCOHOL PROBLEMS
2 - US GENERAL SPECULATES ON MILITARY INVOLVEMENT IN MEXICO
3 - PAN WINS GOVERNOR'S RACE
4 - CORN PRICES TAKE OFF

1 - JOURNALIST FIRED FOR DISCUSSING CALDERON'S ALCOHOL PROBLEMS
Highly respected journalist Carmen Aristegui was fired on Monday for addressing President Felipe Calderon's excessive alcohol consumption during her daily radio program on MVS News.  The previous week, several congressmen unfurled a banner in the Chamber of Deputies featuring a photo of Calderon and the statement "Would you let a drunk drive your car?  No, right?  So why would you let him run the country?"  Calderon's fancy for excessive consumption is an open secret among Mexico's political class, not a group known for its teetotalers, but when Aristegui addressed the question on her Friday morning show, she quickly lost her job.  Calderon's press office and his personal secretary, Roberto Gil, rushed to distance the President from the decision.  But at a news conference on Wednesday, Aristegui claimed she was fired after refusing to apologize, and the demand for the apology came directly from Calderon's press office.  MVS Radio is currently awaiting government approval to renew its concession, a decision that is now clearly in the President's hands.  "I realize that the subject matter is difficult, but it is in no way abusive or defamatory," said Aristegui.  "There was never a transgression of the code of ethics.  The health status and degree of equilibrium of a president is a clear matter of public interest."  The firing harkens back to a not-so-distant era when many journalists collected weekly envelopes from politicians stuffed with cash - a practice that is less widespread but probably still happens all too often today.  Aristegui also hosts a popular nightly interview show on CNN Espanol and is one of the most respected journalists in Mexico.  Demonstrators in favor of Aristegui creatively encapsulated the dispute with chants like:  "Carmen sí, borracho no" [Carmen yes, no to the drunk] and "Carmen a la cabina, Calderón a la cantina" [Carmen to the radio, Calderon to the tavern].

2 - US GENERAL SPECULATES ON MILITARY INVOLVEMENT IN MEXICO
Speaking at Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics on Tuesday, the second highest ranking civilian in the US Army referred to Mexico's drug cartels as an "insurgency" and speculated that one day "armed and fighting" American soldiers would be sent to "our border, in violation of our Constitution, or to have to send them across the border."  Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal, participating in a question and answer session after his prepared remarks, demonstrated his ignorance of Mexico: "This isn't about drugs and about illegal immigrants.  This is about, potentially, a takeover of a government by individuals who are corrupt."  The clear implication is that either Mexico's current government is not corrupt, or the current corruption is of a type acceptable to the US.  Westphal's statements follow those of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who characterized the drug war as an "insurgency" last September.  Mexican officials quickly condemned the statements and Westphal issued a hasty public retraction, but the repeated characterizations by high ranking US officials indicates a disconnect between carefully prepared public statements and real life discussions within US diplomatic circles.  Diplomatic cables released recently by Wikileaks lend credence to the impression of public-private doublespeak.  In the cables, officials repeatedly question the capacity and willingness of Mexican officials, police and military to effectively combat drug cartels: "official corruption is widespread, leading to a siege mentality among 'clean' law enforcement leaders."  Yet publicly, Clinton is quick to defend President Calderon's war on drugs, even providing US$1.4 billion in equipment and training to the "corrupt" military and police.

In related news, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano dropped another bomb on Thursday during a Congressional hearing: "All I will say in an open setting is that we have, for some time, been thinking about what would happen if say Al Qaeda were to unite with the Zetas - one of the drug cartels - and I'll just leave it at that."  She said nothing more about the possible alliance during the public hearing and no member of Congress questioned her further.  Napolitano presents us with another example of the great divide between governmental analysis behind closed doors and what officials think the public should know - another strong argument for the existence of groups like WikiLeaks.

 3 - PAN WINS GOVERNOR'S RACE
The PAN won last week's election for Governor in Baja California Sur - sort of.  PAN Governor-elect Marcos Covarrubias left the PRD late last year after party leaders passed him over for the governor's race.  The PAN quickly snatched him as their candidate, despite his regular and often pointed criticism of President Felipe Calderon.  The PRD had controlled the state since 1999.

4 - CORN PRICES TAKE OFF
Corn prices in the speculative futures market increased between 18 and 40% this week as weather-related losses in Sinaloa cornfields were confirmed.  Uncharacteristic freezes last week destroyed up to 3 million tons of white corn, the principle ingredient in tortillas which provide about 40% of the caloric intake of a typical rural family.  Development Secretary Heribeto Guerra called it the worst agricultural disaster in the history of Sinaloa, considered the grainbelt of Mexico.  About 100,000 seasonal farmworkers are expected to lose work as a result of the disaster.  The losses follow last year's price increases of about 50%, due mainly to increased corn use for ethanol production.  Cargill, which sold corn last May at 3,000 pesos per ton, marketed the same corn last week at 4,500 pesos per ton, with prices expected to reach 4,700 pesos next week.