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Our security, and yours…

22 November 2016

I honestly didn’t have the time (or energy) for more than a rough translation of “Trump, ave de tempestades para México en materia de seguridad” in the latest issue of Proceso (Issue: 2090, 20 November 2016, pp 14-19) … on the newsstands today… but it was important to bring Jorge Carraso Araizaga’s reportage on the possible effects of the incoming Trump Administration’s effect on Mexico, in economic issue and our “war on  (some popular US consumer favored) narcotics” as seen by US experts out in English as soon as I could.

I skipped several paragraphs that were just detailed examples of various points, or paraphrased them (usually indicated in brackets:  [ ] ).

The Trump administration will be a hurricane for Mexico. It threatens to demolish our security. Its simplistic ideas – building a wall or deporting migrants – will translate into major problems for this country. Add to that the uncertainty and contractions of Trump’s discourse, and the Mexican goverment will need to reshuffle its own priorities and prepare for scenarios that might arise. U.S. experts agreee.

MEXICO CITY (Proceso) .- The Enrique Peña Nieto administration must prepare for the worst. Security experts agree that Donald Trump’s hard line towards Mexico has to be taken for granted.

At best, even if some of its measures are merely cosmetic, the profile of the new US administration may lead to greater militarization in the fight against drug trafficking – a strategy that at present has left about 200,000 people dead in Mexico.

In fact, the Mexican president and his security cabinet will have to consider retaliatory measures even if Trump and his collaborators – given their tilt to the radical right – are determined to foster a hostile relationship, diverging on questins of migration and drug trafficking.

We are likely to see a return to the situation of the 1980s, defined as that of “distant neighbors” by the American journalist Allan Riding in his book of the same name, documented mistrust and confrontation between governments of Miguel de la Madrid and Ronald Reagan.

Now it may be even worse, warns Vanda Felbab-Brown, Senior Fellow at the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Insititute, one of Washington’s most influential think tanks.


Felbab-Brown has no doubt that the previous and present Mexican administrations been improvising and done very little to consolidate a long-term drug policy. She says the two presidents [Calderón and Peña Nieto] have put repression of “cartel” leaders over institutional reforms, With the Trump victory, things will get worse. Or at least, more uncertain, she said in a telephone interview.

The ties built during the decade of “Plan Merida” in cooperation in the areas of security, including military assistance and intelligence, could be undone by the arrival of white supremacists in the White House, according to Maureen Meyer, director of the Mexico Program at the non-governmental Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA).


“I dont know hw cooperation can continue,” says Meyer. Trump has in his view NAFTA as well as migration and border security. During the campaign, he said almost nothing about foreign policy, and even les about Latin America. He refered to narotics trafficking, specificially about Mexican heroin, but from the perspective that it wasn’t good for Mexico.

Felbab-Brown agrees: “It is very difficult to say what will happen. The president-elect has said so many contradictory things during the campaign, and gave few specifics… [other than] reiterating his wish to deport undocumented persons and stop drug trafficking, without mentioning the internal issues in Mexico, where various gangs struggle for control of the [business]”

imagesBut, “The only sure thing is that he will take a hard line with Mexico”. This could be cosmetic, or it could have real impact. The first might be something like constructing an extremely costly wall, which would then require more National Guard units, helped by better technology. Taking a hard line, but of little impact.

But, he would also be capable of … destroying NAFTA, imposing tariffs on the Mexican market, which would signficantly damage the country’s economy, raisie the levels of unemployment and underemployment, stimulate crime, and force more people to emigrate to the United States. That would be a contradictory policy, destroying NAFTA while making the border less secure.

[Two or three years of that and Trump’s contradictory policies would force] business and institutional interests to seek cooperation with Mexico. “I hope he applies the most cosmetic of measures, before he implements a policy that would be a disaster for both nations”.

[… Speaking about boreder security, an issue where Felbab-Brown thinks that Trump is particularly ill-informed, believing that a wall or fence, and not cooperative intelligence and legal work will resolve issues, she uses the phrase “distant neighbors”, the title of Alan Riding’s 1985 book about Mexican-US relations, during the de la Madrid (in Mexico) and Reagan (in the United States) era, one in which relations were] “hostile, or at least distant. It was a difficult time, but I imagine much of what went on then is applicable to this scenario.”

Should Trump adopt an agressive policy [towards Mexico] Peña Neito’s government — facing an election in 2018 — might respond: “If you’re not going to work on a joint security policy, nor focus on institutional development, nor intelligence agencies here, then thanks… but no thanks”.

That is, Mexico could lose interest in cooperation, especially if there is a border wall. Drugs would continue to flow north, by sea or air, although without collaboration between the two governments, it would also be more difficult to inspect trucks entering the United States as well.

If the Trump administration turned to an even more hostile policy, acting unilaterally in economic

matters, such as abrogating NAFTA, the Mexican government could take reprisals in several ways. For a start, it could terminate “Plan Merida” and cancel any security cooperation, or cooperation in controlling migration from Central America …


WOLA’s Maureen Meyer […] says that the United States could return to trying to erradicate and detect drugs, in place of the evolution [within Plan Merida towards institution and justice reforms, the focus would return to military activity. Whether the Department of Defense or the State Department has the upper hand in Latin American-US relations would be an open question. The Proceso article notes that spending by the Pentagon for training in America tripled between 2007 and 2014. Mexican forces have received training from the Green Berets, among others, recently].

Mexico needs to define what it wants from the United States, and negotiate on that basis. Meyer expects that Mexican anti-narcotics assistance would be cut to levels similar to that of other countries [which under Plan Merida was a focus of US spending: 2.5 Billion dollars between 2008 and 2015].

[… Next February, when the State Department prepares its foreign assistance budget, there will be some idea of how cooperation the Trump Administration is willing to provide for these types of programs. Asked about the possiblity of returning to the old “certification” programs … under which Mexico and other country’s were “certified” based on their own cooperation with US demands for narcotics control… Meyer answered that the anti-immigrant thrust of the Trump campaign could have an effect in Congress, which could make assistance funding conditional on other matters. But, in the short term] Mexico’s priority is NAFTA, whether renegotiated or abrogated.


But, also important is what the Peña Nieto adminstration will want to propose, when it comes to cooperation….

“We ope that it [the Mexican administration] decides to work on insitutional weaknesses, like in the police and judicial system, which require much more than mere equipment”

Regarding human rights, … the President elect was supprted by torture supporters, making it difficult to see him taking up the cause as one of his priorities.



Not a bad idea, really

20 November 2016

One assumes that with Morena and PRD in control of the district assembly, this will probably be shot down, but it seems perfectly reasonable to me. (My translation from NOTIMEX):

jamThe PAN faction in the Federal District Assembly (ALDF, for its initials in Spanish) has proposed retiring the “tenencia” (property tax) on  private vehicles, including those that cost more than 250 thousand pesos, that is, the so-called luxury cars.

In place of the tenencia, Local deputy Andrés Atayde Rubiolo suggests taxing private autos on the bases of two factors:  the amount of contaminants per unit, and yearly mileage.

This would be a proportional tax, with a rising rate:  those who use their cars more, and who pollute more, would pay a higher tax.  y.

Atayde added that the tax would be “corrective”, in that it compensates for the damage in the city caused by excessive use of private vehicles, said to be the largest contributor to pollution, as well as an incentive to reduce the use of private autos.

The chairman of the ALDF Finance Committee clarified that the tax would not be on cumulative mileage on the auto, but on mileage during the corresponding year.  That is, a car that has been in use for several years would not be taxed at a different rate than a new car with very low initial mileage.

The National Action Party (PAN) believes that putting a tax on the savings or investment of the city’s families distorts consumption, savings, and investment in the medium and long terms, Ayayde Rubiolo added, calling the tenencia a “distortion” in that ownership of an automobile was a investment.

Atayde Rubiolo also reported that according to his data, 50 percent of the tenencia in the capital comes from middle class and lower middle class taxpayers.

indexHe stated that the intention of the proposal is that families who, with effort and savings buy a car for mobility, will no longer pay this tax.  However, luxury and larger autos, which tend to pollute more, would pay a higher tax rate.

The proposal, as presented, would earmark revenue from the new tax primarily to the Fondo de Movilidad (“Mobility Fund), given that currently seven out of every 10 trips in the Federal District are made by public transport.

The Fondo de Movilidad presently spends seventy percent of its budget on roads for cars, and only thirty percent on pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.

While I think any proposal that encourages people to drive less (and stop hogging the road with large luxury vehicles) is worth considering, a few possible suggestions might be to give a lower annual mileage rate for electric or flex fuel autos; ignore the expected demands from luxury car services (like Über and the like); use some of the “Mobility Fund” for low-cost loans for buying more energy efficient taxis and alternative fuel autos; and earmarking a higher percentage of the fund to pedestrian and bicycle transportation needs.


Revolutionary Changes

20 November 2016

¡Feliz Día de la Revolución!

amelioIt isn’t unusual to find that veterans of the the ten-years of revolution ended their service in an army completely different than where they had started out. Besides those professional soldiers who defected from the old Federal Army (like the artillery expert, Felipe Angeles — ) and those whose ideological commitment led them to transfer their allegiance from one to another revolutionary faction (like the Constitutionalist turned Villista, Rafael Buelna), there were those whose motives might have been opportunistic, but who fought all the same, within what would later be dubbed the “Revolutionary family”.

But very few made the radical change Amelio Robles did.

Born in rural Guerrero state in 1889, Robles joined the Zapatistas in 1912 as an irregular messenger and forager, taking on more and more duties, promoted to Captain, and … upon joining the regular (Constitutionalist) Ejército Mexicano, was promoted to Colonel. A decorated war veteran, Colonel Robles would outlive several wives before dying in 1984 at the age of 95.

Did I mention that Amelio Robles was born Amelia?


(more here)

All in all, no way you’ll build a wall

15 November 2016

I’m still amazed at the number of people who think a wall… or even a fence… along the 3154 Km (1954 miles) of land border between the United States and Mexico is feasible. My best guess is they’ve seen photos of the less than half that’s a more or less straight line.

Nothing to fear but fear itself

9 November 2016

I haven’t been posting much on this site, and … as I generally do… stayed away from any discussion of US politics or of my personal life.  For the record, while there has been an absurdly long delay in completing my naturalization here, I hadn’t planned to vote in the US anyway, and really didn’t have more than a theoretical interest in the outcome, the same as any other foreigner.

While I think the outcome of the US election had more to do with the inability of the losing candidate to connect with the voters (and her party’s reluctance to deal with very real distrust for the status quo), the election of a President who openly appealed to white supremacists, and who made anti-Mexican rhetoric integral to his campaign is likely  to affect me personally.   Some thoughts at three in the morning.

I first moved to Mexico the first of September 2001, in good part because I was tired of racism and I sensed the country was headed for a war.  Which, it was, a mere ten days later.  Coming back to the US a few years later, I didn’t recognize the place… the rampant nationalism and worship of the military you expect in a country at war was all there, but not the sense of a people pulling together, nor any sense of sacrifice for the good of the nation.  Coming back to Mexico was a relief.

Mexico is hardly perfect, and our government is held in even less repute than that of the United States, but still… people speak in terms of “solidarity” and … where we argue or fight with each other… it is with a sense of fighting for the common good, and not personal advantage (even when, in reality, it is for personal gain).   Outside of sports, you don’t hear talk of “winners and losers”.  I like that.

And now… the country of my birth is to be led by an enemy of the country of my choice.  What will happen?

I once had a few rocks tossed my direction by a crazed junkie who was shouting something about Iraq (at least that’s what I think she was babbling about), but I don’t expect any great outbreaks of anti-gringo violence here.  Less willingness in the “gringo ghettos” by municipal governments to make concessions to foreigners, perhaps, and a few more mega-protests outside the US Embassy here, but nothing I’d take personally.

Financially, the country… and myself… will take a hit (and already have).  Perhaps I’ll need to post more and beg for donations again.  As it is, my business is on the brink of closing, and maintaining a middle-class life is becoming something of a challenge:  which leads me to speculate on how Mexico will respond should a Trump Administration attempt to carry out it’s threats to crack down on undocumented aliens… or in Trump-ese, “Mexicans”.

It wouldn’t affect me directly, but the first response I’d expect from the government would be a movement against those “permanent tourists” and “border jumpers” that are easily discouraged from staying in the country, and could be removed without much damage to the economy.  How much a rental and maybe a few extra meals at local restaurants contribute to the overall national wealth is probably much less than those snowbirds and border jumpers (who assume they will be given 180 days on a temporary visa every time they cross the border) think they do.

Our visa fees are modest, and a significant raise in prices could be imposed without a problem.  I would expect immigration officers to be more proactive, and perhaps making a public display of deporting gringos working without authorization.

None of which really affects me.  What does are the prices for the goods and services which are now imported from the United States.  “Thanks” to NAFTA, most of my groceries are US brands, or reflect the prices of US imports, and food prices will be going up significantly.  They already have, and that may not be a bad thing.  Should … again as Trump threatened… try changing NAFTA’s terms, we are in a position to reclaim control of our agriculture, and with the US unable to buy as many Mexican food exports, the internal market could absorb much of it (and the prices would reflect much lower transportation costs).

Over the long term.. should we be able to withstand the pressure on the peso in the meantime… less dependence on US markets (and a general revulsion throughout the world at the US President) is an opportunity to expand trade with the rest of the world.  US consumers will scream bloody murder is auto prices rise 35% (another Trump threat), but considering we can sell autos elsewhere just as well, and the auto plants here aren’t about to move to the United States, we’d make out well there.

Our oil?  Depending on the month, Mexico is the second or third largest foreign supplier to the United States.  It was suggested a few years ago that, while developing our abundant alternative energy sources (hydro, solar, tidal, wind, etc.) use the oil we have at home to develop our own manufacturing capability.  Thanks Trump.

On a purely political level, the traditional parties here were all openly betting on a Clinton Administration that would, while paying lip service to our sovereignty, used us as an outlet for their military sales and supplies, under the fiction that they were “assisting” us in fighting a war to prevent the sale of drugs to the massive consumer market in the United States.  And, like the Obama Administration, would praise (and reward) those Mexican politicians whose policies benefited the United States and its multinational corporations.  With the despised Trump heading the US government, Mexican officials seen as too pro-US are not likely to find much support.  I’m one who believes Mexico would be better off, financially and otherwise, if it turned to strengthening the internal market, and if it developed closer ties to the Latin American nations at the expense of the northern neighbors.  And traded more with Asia than with the US.

The US has elected an ultra-nationalist (or at least an ultra some-of-the-nation-alist) and the response here might be one of our own… a return to our traditional political non-alignment, freeing us to work for the common good of Mexico, and not the economic benefit of the United States.



Our annual Day of the Dead favorite

2 November 2016

Street-walking wonking

30 October 2016

Mexico City has always had a tolerant, or perhaps, negligent, attitude towards sex workers.

With the exception of a short period just following the Revolution, when the sex workers could (and did) successfully argue that as workers they were entitled to the same rights as any other worker (prostitutes in brothels were successful in arguing that they were entitled to paid days off, and overtime), when decisions have been made to regulate the trade, the most affected — the sex workers themselves — are almost never heard from.   And even with the rulings from the Labor Board back in the 1920s, the rules were always made by the city fathers.

Note I said “fathers.”  While it is true that not all prostitutes are women, the regulations over the last few centuries have always been argued on the assumption that they are to protect women … if not from themselves and their depraved nature (as Archbishop Aguilar y Seixas argued in the 1690s, much to the amusement of those “depraved” workers), then from diseases (the justification for the “yellow card” of the 1890s and later) or in our day from lingering gender inequality.  How this actually affects the mostly women sex workers has been, at most, an afterthought.

A strategic mistake, and one that often leads not to more equality, but less, which we may be able to avoid, according to attorney Claudia Torres, writing in Animal Politico.

On October 12, Mexico City Legislative Deputy Victor Hugo Romo announced he would hold public hearings to discuss sex-worker regulations1 . In light of the hearings, I am taking the opportunity to discuss the politics and law regarding prostitution.

First the politics. Generally, at the global level, when it comes to prostitution, there are two feminist groups seeking to advance regulatory schemes2. On the one hand, there are the neo-reglulators, feminists and organized groups of sex workers, who believe that voluntary prostitution should be regulated as work. Within this group, there are different views on what controls the state can impose on the exercise of prostitution. And these controls can range from registration of sex workers or certification authorities, to compulsory medical supervision. Overall, the underlying ideology in this position is liberal: it seeks to balance the rights of workers and society.

On the other hand, there are the abolitionist feminists, joined with more or less legitimacy by conservative Christian groups. For this group, prostitution necessarily involves exploitation and violates human rights. Therefore, this group argues that the state should abolish the practice3. Towards that end, the abolitionists support a range of measures whose ultimate goal is to eradicate prostitution: criminalize the client and third parties that obtain economic benefit from prostitution; increase criminal penalties for sexual exploitation and trafficking; or even take a more statist action: criminalizing the prostitutes. Overall, the ideology is materialistic. It assumes gender inequality is foundational and, in that sense, inescapable.

Typically, those involved in debates over prostitution are not explicit in their political and ideological biases. Rather than make arguments based on facts, they posture. In my opinion, creating rational and progressive standards in a the context of a democratic political system requires that one (1) articulate the goals and (2) explain the reasons for seeking those goals. To simply rely on tradition, human rights in the abstract, or trends in other countries in creating rules and policies leaves the foundation of our moral judgments in the realm of the unconscious. One must be skeptical about the assumptions underlying different regulatory schemes that deliberately call for a possible reconsideration of the utilitarian value of the proposal. Moral skepticism is the first step towards betterer design standards and public policies on prostitution. In light of new voices and needs, we should open the door to a complete review.

What about perpetuating the status quo? Some feminists argue that gender inequality is the structural basis of prostitution. To regulate prostitution, then, the States’ norms and policies legitimize and reinforce inequality. But, as noted by some post-structuralist theorists, the structures of inequality do not exist prior to social action4. That is, a small deviation in our daily interactions has the ability to alter structures. These deviations can be encouraged or inspired through different mechanisms, including state regulation. If we open ourselves to the possibility of people changing, and giving new meaning to new social structures, regulations can be a powerful tool for social change.

Then, there is the law. As noted by Janet Halley and other authors, contemporary feminism focuses on governance (ie, the most popular and institutionalized form of feminism which I described above as the neo-reglamentarism/abolitionism duo). It generally omits a pragmatic and distributional analysis of the consequences of legal regimes5 . That is, generally, feminist groups have limited legislative discussions to the abstract realm of what should be moral, at the expense of any analysis of how the law would operate, or does operate in the real world.

Sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein explains what happens when we stop paying attention to the effects of legal reform6. Bernstein looks at two cities taken as models of regulatory reform: Stockholm and Amsterdam. In Stockholm, the criminalizing demand was justified as promoting gender equality. However, Bernstein finds that, after the reform, prostitution went simply went underground. underground. According to some respondents, the reform could not have generated more different effects than expected: it encouraged women to move to Stockholm and, given the new clandestine nature of the market, led to increased trafficking.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, which opted to legalize and regulate the administration of brothels, the logic was to convert the black market into regulated one. The results were as follows. Prices fell sexual services, which led to those unable to meet the costs of regulation (mostly migrants) to migrate to countries where prostitution was deregulated and was better paid. Simultaneously, those who could absorb other operating costs (typically, native workers and large businesses) centralized the market.

For both Stockholm and Amsterdam, reforms ended up affecting the interests of those who were promised protection: particularly migrant women. Even today, many people still advocate these regulatory schemes as if they were unambiguous and indisputable successes. They are not. Deficiencies of these and other regimes are evident when analyzing its effects. In the cases that I described, at least some of the adverse effects generated by the reforms were predictable. However, the collateral damage of the reforms were not analyzed enough, not made explicit or not taken seriously either before or after the reform.

The obliteration of this damage could be caused by the fantasy that the legal requirements are automatically reflected in society. However, legal realism suggests that this is impossible7. Legal norms and public policies operate in an intricate network of social practices, existing norms, and market structures. The realists believe that in any attempt to create norms and policies, we need to caluculate both the cost-benefit, and more importantly, monitor the effects of the legal reforms. This also assumes transparency in calculating the costs faced by different social actors.

I believe that the Mexico City Legislature should side with the legal realists, taking into consideration the consequences of any reform, and being open to self-criticism. Where to begin? So far, the ALCM has done well: involving different groups — including sex workers themselves — in crafting legal reform.

1 Call to Open Sessions Parliament on regulation of sex work, Victor Hugo Romo deputy Claudia Torres (October 14, 2016) (on file with author). Hearings will be held on 19 and 26 October and 9 and 16 November in the legislative building located in Ghent # 15, Colonia Centro. Respectively, the issues to be addressed are sex work, trafficking, discrimination and health policy in relation to prostitution.

2 See Prabha Kotiswaran, Burn daub Brothels: Toward a Legal Ethnography of Sex Work in an Indian Red-Light Area, 33 (3) Law & Social Inquiry 579 (2008): 581 (describing the two feminist positions involved in debates on prostitution).

3 See, for example, Teresa Ulloa, Formas veladas de legilzar la prostitution, CIMAC News, October 4, 2016, prostitution-n

4 An example in the field of sociology in the law is Patricia Ewick and Susan Silbey, The Common Place of Law: Stories From Everyday Life (The University of Chicago Press, 1998) (quoting Stuart Henry about structures as emergent property)

5Janet Halley et al, From the International to the Local in Feminist Legal Responses to Rape, Prostitution / Sex Work and Sex Trafficking: Four Studies in Contemporary Governance Feminism, 29 Harvard Journal of Law and Gender 335 (2006): 361 , 368.

6 Elizabeth Bernstein, Temporarily Yours: Inthimacy, Authenticity and the Comerce of Sex (The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 142 et seq.

7 For example, see Robert Hale, Coercion and Distribution in a Noncoercive Supposedly State, 38 Quart Political Science. 470 (1923); Karl Llewellyn, Some Realism Realism About -Responding to Dean Pound, 44 Harvard Law Review