NEWS AND ANALYSIS MAY 9 - 22, 2011

1 - SICILIA'S MOVEMENT CRITICIZED BY POLITICAL CLASS
2 - IMMIGRATION AGENTS IMPLICATED IN KIDNAPPINGS
3 - OBAMA VISITS BORDER
4 - MEXICO WILL NOMINATE CARSTENS FOR NEW IMF HEAD
5 - CORRUPTION INCREASES IN MEXICO

 

1 - SICILIA'S MOVEMENT CRITICIZED BY POLITICAL CLASS

Poet and journalist Javier Sicilia, who launched a national movement against violence and corruption in the political class in the wake of his son's murder, has come under attack by - to no one's surprise - Mexico's political class.  Two Sundays ago, Sicilia convened the largest protest in recent memory in Mexico City's zocalo, where he reserved particularly harsh criticism for President Felipe Calderon and his failed "war on drugs."  Sicilia's national movement enjoys strong support from the Zapatistas and many other groups largely because of its profound analysis that attributes many of Mexico's current problems to corrupt, ineffective and self-centered political elites.  Sicilia is not simply calling for an end to the violence, as the 2004 "March against Insecurity" which mobilized over 100,000 people for a one-day march but quickly faded when leaders failed to offer an analysis of the problem.  In contrast, Sicilia directs much of his critique at the linkages among politicians, security forces, and drug cartel members, and the inability of the political class to deliver social programs that address problems like unemployment, especially among youth.  Now Mexico's elites are concerned Sicilia's message is finding resonance.  Mainstream columnists and political leaders, particularly from the PAN and PRI, have been critical of Sicilia, calling him an unrealistic dreamer.  Meanwhile, the PRD is working hard to infiltrate the movement and divert its energy into votes for the 2012 presidential elections.  Yet, in the midst of all the turmoil, and still reeling from his son's murder in March, Sicilia remains resolute, demanding an end to the militarization of the country and a purge of corrupt politicians.

 

The National Citizen's Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, organized by Sicilia and community based organizations, is scheduled to depart Mexico City and Cuernavaca (Sicilia's hometown) on June 4 and arrive in Ciudad Juarez on June 10.  There, participants will hold several days of meetings and issue a statement formally initiating a national movement.  People from the US are encouraged to participate, either joining the Mexican caravan or organizing a caravan leg from the US side.

 

2 - IMMIGRATION AGENTS IMPLICATED IN KIDNAPPINGS

A group of Central Americans kidnapped during their journey to the US border accused six federal immigration agents of pulling them from a public bus and turning them over to a criminal gang, according to lawyers from the Federal Institute of Public Defenders.  All six agents were apparently arrested last month and are currently in custody, though authorities refused to confirm this information.  The Central Americans were among 120 immigrants freed by Mexican soldiers in raids on organized crime cells over the past month in the state of Tamaulipas.  Public defenders are advising the immigrants under a new law passed in February mandating free legal assistance for kidnap victims.  At least 168 immigration agents have been suspended or fired since last September for violating the rights of immigrants, though this falls far short of the promised internal shake-up targeting corruption among high level officials as well as rank and file agents.

 

3 - OBAMA VISITS BORDER

With the 2012 election firmly in mind, President Barack Obama traveled to El Paso last Tuesday for a highly politicized speech on border security.  Appealing to the right wing, Obama assured, "we have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible," while his appeal to Latino voters included a hollow promise to rally support for a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.  Obama boasted 20,000 Border Patrol agents, more than twice the number only six years ago, and he highlighted the US version of the Berlin Wall, extending almost 700 miles along the border.  Obama criticized Republicans, joking that, "maybe they'll need a moat.  Maybe they want alligators in the moat."  The families of over 400 immigrants who die each year trying to cross the border likely found the jokes to be as cynical as the rest of the speech.  Obama offered no new legislation, instead outlining four principles that sounded like George W Bush revisited: more border security, punishment for companies hiring undocumented workers, streamlining legal immigration procedures, and creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.  Not to be outdone in the cynical department, Senate Democrats announced they would re-introduce the DREAM Act, a bill that provides a path to citizenship for many undocumented college students, as well as undocumented youth willing to join the armed forces.  The same Democratic-controlled Senate defeated the bill last year after Congress had approved it.  Meanwhile, Obama could use his administrative powers to, in effect, implement certain provisions of the DREAM Act by deferring the deportation of college students.  Instead, the Obama administration is setting records for deportations - 392,862 in 2010 - while President Bush deported 369,221 in 2008.

 

4 - MEXICO WILL NOMINATE CARSTENS FOR NEW IMF HEAD

Breaking with tradition, Mexico plans to nominate Agustin Carstens to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the International Monetary fund.  Traditionally the IMF head comes from Europe while the US appoints the World Bank president.  Carstens was a deputy managing director at the IMF from 2003 to 2006, then served as Secretary of the Finance in President Caderon's cabinet.  He is currently the head of Mexico's central bank.  He is a graduate of the University of Chicago, home of the infamous "Chicago boys" who were largely responsible for developing neoliberal theory.  Strauss-Kahn was indicted on rape charges in New York on May 19 and resigned his post at the IMF a few days later.

 

5 - CORRUPTION INCREASES IN MEXICO

The cost of corruption in Mexico surpassed US$2.8 billion last year, according to a study published by Transparency International that looked at 35 typical transactions between government officials and the public.  The report estimates over 200 million individual acts of corruption in 2010, with an average of 165 pesos (about US$14) per "mordida" (illegal payment, or literally "little bite") for police, government permits, garbage collection, immigration documents, social services, import permits, and other services.  Corruption amounts to an illegal tax of about 14% of the income of an average household and 33% for a household living on minimum wages.  Mexico City and Mexico State are considered the most corrupt areas of the country.  The levels of corruption did not depend on which party governed a particular state.