Mexico News and Analysis: March 5-25, 2012

1 - NEWS FROM THE OTHER CAMPAIGN http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/
2 - BIDEN VISITS MEXICO
3 - CARLOS SLIM RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD
4 - RATZINGER VISITS MEXICO
5 - FRENCH CONVICT MAY WIN NEW TRIAL
6 - POLITICAL PARTIES IGNORE GENDER JUSTICE LAW

The Junta of Good Government in Oventic demands the immediate release of Francisco Santiz Lopez, a Zapatista support base, and Lorenzo Lopez Giron, both held in prison since last December.

2 - BIDEN VISITS MEXICO

Vice President Joe Biden, on a hurried two-day visit to Mexico and Central America, tried to tamp down growing calls for decriminalization of drugs in the US. Biden’s message? That won’t be happening, despite the growing impact of drug-trafficking in the region and the inability of southern neighbors to deal with cartels via military force. Biden tried to send a mixed message, intended for both Latin American and US audiences: “It’s worth discussing, but there is no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy.”

Talk of drug decriminalization has reached the highest levels of government, including calls for radical change from former Mexican President Vicente Fox and Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, with strong support from El Salvador and Costa Rica. Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who stakes his legacy on his “war on drugs,” called for the US to control weapon flows to Mexico and combat money-laundering, though his second point could hardly be taken seriously given that perhaps 5% of Mexico’s GNP comes from illegal drug sales. By some estimates, drug money saved Mexico’s banks from financial collapse during the 2007-2009 world economic crisis.

3 - CARLOS SLIM RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD

For the third year in a row, billionaire Carlos Slim Helu topped the Forbes list of wealthiest people with an estimated value of US$69 billion, down some US$5 billion from the previous year. Slim owns a vast telecommunication network based in Mexico, where he controls 80% of landlines and 70% of cell phones, and extending throughout much of Latin America. His transnational empire includes retailing, construction, banking, insurance, railroads and mining, and among his most strategic investments are a 7% share in the New York Times and control of dozens of commercial buildings in the historic center of Mexico City.

4 - RATZINGER VISITS MEXICO

Joseph Ratzinger, known in some circles as the pope, paid a highly political visit to Mexico this week. In the midst of a heated Mexican presidential campaign, Ratzinger spent two days in the National Action Party (PAN) stronghold of Leon before heading to Cuba. Sitting President Felipe Calderon, who is prohibited from running for a second term but clearly hoped to secure the pope’s blessing for the PAN candidate, at times appeared attached to Ratzinger during both public and private meetings. Ratzinger refused to meet with victims of sexual abuse committed by priests, a serious and high profile problem for Mexico’s Catholic hierarchy in recent years. Perhaps the worst scandal involved Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the right-wing Legion of Christ religious order, who is accused of abusing two of his own children born out of wedlock, among others. The Vatican investigated Maciel and began to reform the order but without acknowledging wrongdoing. Crowds welcoming Ratzinger were generally smaller than those welcoming previous popes in Mexico.

5 - FRENCH CONVICT MAY WIN NEW TRIAL

A French woman serving a prison term for kidnapping may win a retrial in a case that calls the entire Mexican justice system into question. Lawyers for Florence Cassez argued successfully before the Supreme court that her constitutional rights were violated when police stage-managed her arrest for television cameras, a common practice in Mexico. A five-member panel of justices ruled 4-1 that Cassez’s right to due process was violated, and 3-2 overturning a lower court ruling sentencing her to 60 years in prison. But in a political decision that allows President Felipe Calderon to appear tough on crime in the lead-up to presidential elections, the justices ruled 2-3 against her immediate release. Most likely the case will sit dormant until after the July 1 presidential elections, at which point some experts expect Cassez to quickly win her freedom. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has turned the case into a personal – and highly political – crusade in the run up to closely fought French elections next month.

6 - POLITICAL PARTIES IGNORE GENDER JUSTICE LAW

Two of Mexico’s three largest political parties, the PAN and PRI, will not comply with a legal requirement that 40% of congressional candidates be women. Previously, parties ran the wives or girlfriends of male politicians, known as “Juanitas,” who would promptly resign their posts shortly after the election, to be replaced by their male counterparts. Apparently, even this subterfuge was unavailable in sufficient numbers to cover the overwhelmingly male PAN and PRI candidates in this year’s July 1 elections.