Thursday, June 30, 2011

Crime and politics in Mexico

A turning tide

With a year to go until the presidential election, voters are tiring of the drug war

FOR most of Felipe Calderón’s four-and-a-half years as Mexico’s president, voters have worried more about jobs than crime. Since 2001 average income growth per person has been below 1% a year, one of the lowest rates in the world. Whereas the drug war has raged mainly along the cocaine trail, with two-thirds of its estimated 40,000 killings occurring in just 3% of the country’s municipalities, economic hardship has touched nearly everyone.

That is changing. For the first time under Mr Calderón, security is now a greater concern for Mexicans than the economy is. That is partly because GDP is growing again: last year it rose by 5.5%. But it is also because the violence caused by the crackdown on gangs continues to spread. Last year the government recorded more than five times as many mafia-linked murders as in 2007. A tally by Reforma, a newspaper, suggests that this year has been worse still. In March Mr Calderón’s approval ratings dipped below 50% for the first time.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Illegal drugs

Home-grown highs

The narcotics business is changing from an international trade to a local affair

Climatic conditions still dictate where some drugs are grown. Virtually all the world’s cocaine comes from Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. Three-quarters of global opium production is in Afghanistan, with Myanmar and Mexico making up most of the balance. But cannabis plants, by far the world’s most popular illegal drug, are as happy in a Western window box as on a Himalayan hillside. Likewise, synthetic drugs—amphetamine, methamphetamine and ecstasy, plus a growing list of new potions—can be cooked up in factories anywhere (and increasingly with harmless ingredients: researchers at Harvard University are trying to make lysergic acid, the basis for LSD and many other pharmaceuticals, from baker’s yeast).

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Security in Central America

Rounding up the governments

Central America’s leaders and their neighbours are at last starting to co-operate. But the mafias still lead the way in regional integration

THE Central American isthmus is smaller than Texas. But the seven countries crammed onto the bridge between the Americas seize nearly 100 tonnes of cocaine a year, more than all of Europe does. Another 200 tonnes or so make it through undetected, supplying 90% of consumer demand in the United States. The drug trade, combined with mainly weak states, brings a grim human harvest. In 2009 the isthmus saw nearly 19,000 murders—or 45 per 100,000 people, making it the most violent place in the world.

While the mafias are untroubled by national boundaries, Central America’s governments bicker over them. Last year Nicaragua and Costa Rica almost came to blows over a border incursion by a Nicaraguan river-dredging party. A coup in Honduras in 2009 caused a regional rift that was only patched up last month. Co-operation has been woolly. A first effort to produce a joint-security strategy last year came up with more than 200 “priorities”. In contrast, the drug mobs (who also traffic everything from people to historical artefacts) are experts at regional integration. Last month 27 farmworkers were beheaded in Guatemala’s northern Petén province by a Mexican gang.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Honduras's indebted economy

The cost of a coup

The country’s financial woes will last longer than its political ones

 Their makers want support, too

AMONG the unexpected problems caused by a coup in Honduras in 2009 was a reeking shrimp mountain. In the days after the army’s ousting of Manuel Zelaya, the president, a strict curfew stopped traffic circulating after dark. This disrupted the transport of shrimps (Honduras is Latin America’s second-biggest exporter) from the Pacific, where they are caught, to the Caribbean, from where they are exported. Hence the stench.

The shrimp trade is back in business and Mr Zelaya is back in the country, though now in opposition. His return paved the way for Honduras this month to rejoin the Organisation of American States, a regional group that suspended it after the coup.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mexican book reviews

Soul-searching amid the debris

Mexican individualism and violence

Mañana Forever?: Mexico and the Mexicans. By Jorge Castañeda. Knopf; 320 pages; $27.95. Buy from

Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields. By Charles Bowden. Nation; 320 pages; $27.50 and £15.99.Buy from,

LAST year should have been one long fiesta for Mexico, which celebrated both the centenary of its revolution against Porfirio Díaz, its walrus-moustached dictator, and the bicentenary of its independence from Spain. Instead, the country found itself in a funk: the opening of its economy to foreign trade in the 1990s had not led to the leap in living standards many had hoped for, and the arrival of real democracy in the same decade had not solved many of the country’s old problems. Added to that, the government’s crackdown on drug-trafficking cartels had led to a surge in violence, with apparently little pay-off. It was time for some serious soul-searching.

The Mexican soul holds the answer to many of the country’s problems, writes Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister who now lectures at New York University. Mr Castañeda, who grew up partly overseas, and combines local insight with an outsider’s perspective, sets out to show that the national character—in which he identifies an individualist streak, a discomfort with confrontation, and a suspicion of foreigners (principally los gringos)—is incompatible with the country’s rebirth as an open, competitive economy. Mexico’s institutions have been transformed in theory, but a better mañana will never dawn unless Mexican attitudes change too.

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Drug policy

Supply and demand

The argument over treatment is being won. Now for the battle over supply

Calls for a rethink of the 50-year-old policy of prohibition have been growing. As the report pointed out, drug consumption has continued to rise, even as billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives have been spent trying to stamp it out. In the ten years to 2008, the most recent data available, the number taking cannabis worldwide increased by 8.5%, of cocaine by 27%, and of opiates by 34.5%. America’s federal government alone spent $15 billion in 2010 on drug control; perhaps $25 billion more went in other public spending.

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