South America

What to Expect From Mexico’s Election

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Enrique Peña Nieto, político mexicano.

Enrique Peña Nieto, político mexicano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interviewee: Shannon K. O’Neil, Douglas Dillon Fellow for Latin America Studies

Interviewer: Brianna Lee, Production Editor June 29, 2012

Mexicans head to the polls on July 1 to vote in a presidential election that looks likely to return to power the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ran the government from 1929 to 2000. Polls show PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in a wide lead over rivals Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and Josefina Vazquez Mota of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), despite the emergence of the “YoSoy132” student movement that has rallied against the PRI’s legacy of corruption. Peña Nieto’s “rhetoric is that he is from a different generation, it’s a different PRI,” says CFR Mexico expert Shannon K. O’Neil, but, she says, “it’s hard to tell.” The new president will need to accelerate the economy’s “stable but fairly slow growth” and will inherit a violent drug war that has led to increasing insecurity for Mexicans, O’Neil says. On combating the drug cartels, she says that “the focus will probably change, but the actual policies implemented will see a lot of continuity.”

Is it a foregone conclusion that Enrique Peña Nieto is going to win, or is there still room for surprises?

It’s becoming increasingly hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t win. There is still, depending on the polls, roughly 15 percent of the population that says they’re undecided, and for most polls that would be enough of a percentage to change the results, assuming that that whole 15 percent didn’t go to Peña Nieto, but that’s kind of a large assumption.

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After Chávez, the Narcostate

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Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez has tried for 10 months to conceal the fact that he is losing his bout with cancer, determined to appear in command of his revolutionary regime and the nation’s future. This past Holy Week, however, television cameras captured him pleading for his life before a crucifix in his hometown church, his mother looking on without the slightest glint of hope on her face. Chávez’s raw emotion startled his inner circle and led some to question his mental health. As a result, according to my sources inside the presidential palace, Minister of Defense Gen. Henry Rangel Silva has developed a plan to impose martial law if Chávez’s deteriorating condition causes any hint of instability.

Pretty dramatic stuff. So why isn’t anyone outside Venezuela paying attention? Some cynics in that country still believe Chávez is hyping his illness for political advantage, while his most fervent followers expect him to make a miraculous recovery. The democratic opposition is cautiously preparing for a competitive presidential election set for Oct. 7 — against Chávez or a substitute. And policymakers in Washington and most regional capitals are slumbering on the sidelines.

In my estimation, the approaching death of the Venezuelan caudillo could put the country on the path toward a political and social meltdown. The military cadre installed by Chávez in January already is behaving like a de facto regime determined to hold onto power at all costs. And Havana, Tehran, Moscow, and Beijing are moving to protect their interests. If U.S. President Barack Obama were to show some energetic engagement as Chávez fades, he could begin to put the brakes on Venezuela’s slide, reverse Chávismo‘s destructive agenda, and reclaim a role for the United States in its own neighborhood. But if he fails to act, there will be hell to pay.

Sources close to Chávez’s medical team tell me that for months, his doctors have been doing little more than treating symptoms, trying to stabilize their workaholic patient long enough to administer last-ditch chemo and radiation therapies. In that moment of Chávez’s very public prayer for a miracle, he set aside his obsession with routing his opposition or engineering a succession of power to hardline loyalists. Perhaps he knows that his lieutenants and foreign allies are behaving as if he were already dead — consolidating power, fashioning a “revolutionary junta,” and plotting repressive measures.

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Latin Leaders Behaving Badly

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The buildup to this weekend’s sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, has been rife with drama. Ecuador’s left-wing president, Rafael Correa, announced that he will skip the 34-country conference because it excludes Cuba, which does not belong to the Organization of American States (membership requirement: democracy). The presidents of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua sparred publicly with the president of Guatemala over a drug legalization proposal. And not to be outdone, Cuba’s Fidel Castro ridiculed U.S. President Barack Obama‘s reported plan to wear a guayabera — a light tropical dress shirt originating in Cuba — at the summit.

Yet for all the hoopla, the summit will likely produce little of substance. There are already reports that officials will sidestep hot-button issues such as drug policy and the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. In fact, this is in keeping with the way these gatherings typically play out in Latin America, a land in which a dizzying array of acronymed intergovernmental organizations host an endless but ultimately empty parade of summits.

Sure, there have been some successes. The inaugural Summit of the Americas in 1994 marked a high point of goodwill between the United States and Latin American countries (Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and his like-minded allies had yet to assume power) and launched a proposal — never realized — for a free-trade bloc stretching from “Alaska to Argentina.” The third Summit of the Americas in 2001 produced the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which emphasized the importance of democratic institutions in the Americas.

But the summits are more often remembered for temper tantrums and mischievous antics by government leaders — with Chávez in particular at the center of many of the tempests. If past Latin American summits are any guide, we should expect some serious sparks to fly in Cartagena. Here are some of the least auspicious moments from summits past.

THE NO-SHOW

What: Ibero-American Summit

When: 2011

Where: Asunción, Paraguay

Meltdown: The annual gathering of leaders from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations of Europe and the Americas was marred by the absence of several heads of state, including Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who claimed they had to prepare for an upcoming — and implicitly more important — G-20 summit in France.

The poor attendance — and surely the optics of their king and prime minister mingling with lower level officials — enraged Spanish news outlets, which deemed the summit a demoralizing failure. “The summit has become redundant for Latin American powers, who already have their own voice in other, more global forums,” La Voz de Galicia lamented.

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Jalisco Cartel Promises Mexico Govt it will Take Down Rival Gang

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Jalisco Cartel Promises Mexico Govt it will Take Down Rival Gang It’s not always clear what is motivating this tendency for gangs to paint themselves as the good guys and their enemies as the villains. Sometimes, it’s clearly in a group’s interest to distance themselves from a particularly heinous crime or assuage fears that they might seek to overthrow the government, to try deflect the attention of the authorities. But most citizens, to say nothing of the government, will put little stock in any group’s proclamations that they are the noblest of the gangsters. 

The video is also interesting for what it says about the Caballeros. The fact that the CJNG targeted them rather than the Familia indicates that the Caballeros have consolidated themselves as Michoacan’s foremost gang, definitively displacing the older organization. It seems unlikely, however, that they have such a firm hold over Guerrero. Acapulco in particular has been contested by a bevy of different groups in recent years, from the

Zetas to the Sinaloa Cartel, the South Pacific Cartel, and the Barredora. The Caballeros, and now the CJNG, are just one group among many trying to win control. 

Finally, the speaker alleges that

Nazario Moreno, who was reported killed in December 2010 in a shootout with government forces, is still alive and remains at the head of the Caballeros. The same claim was made by a captured Mexico City gang boss last year, and previously in posters signed by the Familia. Given that his death was a major success for the government and precipitated the collapse of the Familia, this allegation would be a bombshell if it proved true.</p> <p>Such conspiracy theories are common in Mexico. One popular tall tale is that Amado Carrillo, the Juarez Cartel founder who died in plastic surgery in 1997, faked his own death and remains at large. Anabel Hernandez, in her muckraking 2011 book “Los Señores del Narco,” claimed that the deceased Sinaloa boss Ignacio Coronelwas also still alive. There’s not much evidence to support any of these allegations, and there’s little reason to believe any of them are accurate. 

However, it is also true that while the Hernandez had a clear interest in winning publicity with scandalous stories — a tactic that has landed her in

legal trouble with former Attorney General Jorge Carpizo, who was attacked in the book — it’s not obvious what the CJNG would have to gain by falsely claiming that Moreno was still alive.
via insightcrime.org

Mexico’s Drug Cartels

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Enlarge Graphic

Analysis

According to the Mexican government, cartel-related homicides claimed around 12,900 lives from January to September 2011 — about 1,400 deaths per month. While this figure is lower than that of 2010, it does not account for the final quarter of 2011. The Mexican government has not yet released official statistics for the entire year, but if the monthly average held until year’s end, the overall death toll for 2011 would reach 17,000.

Indeed, rather than receding to levels acceptable to the Mexican government, violence in Mexico has persisted, though it seems to have shifted geographically, abating in some cities and worsening in others. For example, while Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, was once again Mexico’s deadliest city in terms of gross numbers, the city’s annual death toll reportedly dropped substantially from 3,111 in 2010 to 1,955 in 2011. However, such reductions appear to have been offset by increases elsewhere, including Veracruz, Veracruz state; Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state; Matamoros, Tamaulipas state; and Durango, Durango state. Read the rest of this entry »

Iran’s Limitations in Latin America

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January 13, 2012 | 1215 GMT

Summary

ALEJANDRO ERNESTO/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) and Cuban President Gen. Raul Castro in Havana on Jan. 11

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ended a weeklong tour of Latin America on Jan. 12. Tensions between the United States and Iran in Latin America surrounded the visit. While Iran’s influence in the region poses some risks to the United States, those risks are limited by the lack of resources among Iran’s Latin American partners and the fear of U.S. retribution. The main contest between Washington and Tehran will remain in the Middle East.

Analysis

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left Ecuador on Jan. 12 after a weeklong tour of Latin America, during which he also visited Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. This was Ahmadinejad’s fifth visit to the region, and it came amid elevated tensions between the United States and Iran in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Although Ahmadinejad signed many cooperation agreements during his Latin American trip, the visits were largely geared toward garnering international attention.

The ongoing covert war between the United States and Iran generally plays out in the Middle East. However, much like Russia, Iran sees utility in cultivating close relationships in Latin America to maintain involvement in a traditional U.S. sphere of influence. Iran has close diplomatic ties with many of the countries on the left end of Latin America’s political spectrum, primarily because these countries’ relations with the United States are strained. Washington’s objections to Iran’s influence in Latin America have grown in recent years, peaking with the October 2011 allegations that an Iranian agent intended to solicit a Mexican cartel to help assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington and more recent allegations that led the United States to expel a Venezuelan consul general. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Big Atomic Bomb Will Come Out’: Ahmadinejad and Chavez Joke About Nuclear Strike Against U.S

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(The Blaze/AP)– President Hugo Chavez defended his close ally Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday and warned of “U.S. warmongering threats” amid tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program.

chavez-mahmoud

The two leaders met in Caracas on the first leg of a four-nation tour that will also take Ahmadinejad to Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. Their conversation reportedly often focused on anti-U.S. rhetoric, which according to the Daily Mail included Mr Chavez saying that:

“he was hiding a bomb under a grassy knoll before the steps of the presidential palace, saying: ‘That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out. The imperialist spokesmen say Ahmadinejad and I are going into the basement now to set our sights on Washington and launch cannons and missiles… It’s laughable.”

The leaders were apparently serious, however, when discussing the threat they believe the U.S. poses.

“We are very worried,” Chavez said of the pressures being put on Iran by the United States and its allies, which he accused of being a threat to peace.

“They present us as aggressors,” Chavez said as he received Ahmadinejad at the presidential palace.

“Iran hasn’t invaded anyone,” he added. “Who has dropped thousands and thousands of bombs … including atomic bombs?”

Ahmadinejad’s visit comes after the U.S. imposed tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which Washington believes Tehran is using to develop atomic weapons. Chavez and his allies back Iran in arguing the nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.

Both leaders joked that their relationship shouldn’t cause any concern.

chavez-mahmoud microphones

Ahmadinejad said if they were together building anything like a bomb, “the fuel of that bomb is love.” Read the rest of this entry »