News and Analysis: October 17-23, 2011

1 - POLITICAL PARTIES SPAR AHEAD OF ELECTIONS
2 - NEARLY 1,000 POLICE FIRED IN VERACRUZ
3 - ALABAMA IMMIGRATION LAW WREAKS HAVOC IN SCHOOLS AND FARMING
4 - CALDERON COMPLAINS ABOUT DUMPING CRIMINALS AT BORDER
5 - FORMER PRESIDENT FOX CALLS FOR NEGOTIATIONS WITH CARTELS
6 - CALDERON SUGGESTS ADVENTURE TOURISM FOR INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) filed a largely ritual complaint this week with the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), accusing President Felipe Calderon of interfering with the 2012 presidential elections.  In an October 15 New York Times interview, Calderon suggested the PRI may cut deals with drug cartels, similar to agreements reached by party members when they ruled Mexico for seven decades.  Mexican law technically prevents sitting presidents from influencing elections, but complaints of this type are typical in election seasons.

Meanwhile, Enrique Pena Nieto, the likely PRI presidential candidate, called for privatization of Pemex, Mexico’s national petroleum monopoly.  The PRI nationalized petroleum in 1938 under President Cardenas, perhaps Mexico’s most beloved political figure.  Now 70 years later, Pena Nieto appears to have contracted the neoliberal bug, claiming the country would benefit from foreign investment – and ownership – in the oil sector.  Historically this has not been a popular position, either within the PRI or in the broader society.  This may be part of Pena Nieto’s campaign strategy to distance himself from the historic PRI while benefiting from the political clout and national structure of the party.

2 - NEARLY 1,000 POLICE FIRED IN VERACRUZ
Nearly 1,000 Veracruz state police officers were fired in recent weeks after failing mandatory lie detector and other tests, according to an announcement on Tuesday by police Chief Arturo Bermudez.  To date, only 27% of the 6,000-member force has completed the tests.  With 980 fired, this means a failure rate of about two-thirds.  Veracruz has been in the news recently after a series of cartel murders, leading President Felipe Calderon to claim the state has been turned over to the Zeta cartel.

3 - ALABAMA IMMIGRATION LAW WREAKS HAVOC IN SCHOOLS AND FARMING
Alabama is experiencing the effects of the strictest immigration law in the US – increased bullying of Latino school children, parents afraid to sign rental agreements and abandoning jobs, and unharvested vegetables rotting in fields.  Implemented on September 28, a federal appeals court ruled last week that certain provisions are unconstitutional, including a requirement that schools check the immigration status of students and that all immigrants carry alien registration cards.  But police can still detain anyone “suspected” of being an undocumented immigrant, and arrest undocumented immigrants on felony charges for entering into lease agreements or other business transactions.  Despite the modifications, the Justice Department reported “increases in bullying that we’re studying” and established a bilingual hotline to handle complaints.    So far, US citizens have shown little interest in the backbreaking, low wage work in vegetable harvests and corporate poultry farms traditionally occupied by undocumented workers.  Thousands of Latino families left the state over the past three weeks, including documented immigrants, rather than face increased racism from police and neighbors.

4 - CALDERON COMPLAINS ABOUT DUMPING CRIMINALS AT BORDER
President Felipe Calderon complained this week the Obama administration is dumping criminals at the US-Mexico border rather than prosecuting them in US courts, leading to increased crime in Mexican border cities.  “There are many [deportees] who really are criminals, who have committed some crime and it is simply cheaper to leave them on the Mexican side of the border than to prosecute them,” said Calderon.  On Tuesday, the Obama administration reported record deportations of nearly 400,000 people during fiscal year 2011.  More than half had felony or misdemeanor convictions, though often this amounts to nothing more than traffic violations, and the number of deportees with criminal convictions nearly doubled since 2008.  When undocumented Mexicans finish prison terms in the US, they are bused to border cities and dumped south of the border, often long distances from family or community.  The Obama administration tries to walk a fine line on the deportation issue.  On one hand, Obama is courting the Latino vote in 2012, so the justification based on deportation of mainly criminals, however weak the argument, may buy him some understanding.  On the other hand, he wants to appear tough on undocumented immigration in the face of high unemployment in the US, using migrant workers as scapegoats.  In many ways, this is a replay of the 1930s when the US deported hundreds of thousands of Mexican-Americans, even though many were US citizens.

5 - FORMER PRESIDENT FOX CALLS FOR NEGOTIATIONS WITH CARTELS
Former President Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) called this week for negotiations with cartels as a way to reduce violence in Mexico.  Fox has become somewhat of an embarrassment to other PAN leaders, not least of all current President Felipe Calderon who has staked his political career on his “war on drugs.”  But Fox is joining an increasing chorus of voices who pine for a return to the good old days, when government officials took bribes while allowing cartels to deal drugs, with the caveat that violence was kept out of the headlines and kidnapping was largely off limits.  Of course, the bribes continue today, estimated at one-quarter of cartel profits or about US$8 billion annually, but the political class under the leadership of the PAN has lost control of cartel enterprises.  Never known as the brightest light in the parlor, Fox drew comparisons between federal negotiations over the social justice demands of the Zapatista movement and potential dialogue with criminal cartel leaders.

6 - CALDERON SUGGESTS ADVENTURE TOURISM FOR INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES
During a visit to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, this week, President Felipe Calderon suggested indigenous communities invest in adventure tourism as a way out of poverty.  Calderon inaugurated the World Summit of Adventure Tourism, inviting indigenous communities to consider the job opportunities and profits available to landowners through use of their forests, jungles and rivers for the entertainment of foreign tourists.  Calderon waxed eloquent on the hospitality of indigenous communities: “I have visited … the poorest huts in the poorest communities in the country, here, in Chenalho, or in other places where the poverty is truly grave.  But the indigenous that live there, the poor family that receives visitors, cleans the house, puts everything in order, and invites the visitor to make use of the home, and when they say ‘my home is your home,’ they say it seriously.”  Given Calderon’s policies vis-à-vis the Zapatistas over the years, it appears that he takes the invitation literally.  There are still 5,000 internally displaced refugees living in Pohlo, some 13 years after they were displaced by government and paramilitary actions in the wake of the infamous Acteal massacre.

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