Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mexico's presidential election

The man to beat

As the presidential campaign officially begins, time is running out to catch up with Enrique Peña Nieto

TWELVE years ago Mexicans voted to boot the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) out of government, in the first fair presidential election in the country's history. The PRI had ruled Mexico uninterruptedly for seven decades through co-option and, when necessary, election-fiddling. But when Mexicans go to the polls on July 1st, they look likely to vote the old ruling party back to power. As the presidential campaign officially begins on March 30th, Enrique Peña Nieto (pictured above), the PRI's candidate, has a poll lead of around 15 percentage points.
He has been helped by the weakness of the most recent occupants of Los Pinos, the presidential residence. Vicente Fox won the presidency for the conservative National Action Party (PAN), but proved a disappointment in office. Felipe Calderón, also from the PAN, whom the constitution bars from running for a second term, is set to leave office with an approval rating lower than those of the PRI presidents of the 1990s. The shock waves of Wall Street's implosion in 2008 were amplified in Mexico, where the economy shrank by 6.1% the following year. It has bounced back. But Mr Calderón's attempts to rein in organised crime have seen a doubling of the murder rate. And the many reforms he promised were either much diluted, or stillborn.
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Saturday, March 24, 2012

The methamphetamine business

Methed up

Attempts to prohibit the drug have caused a cottage industry to scale up

STORMING a ranch south of the city of Guadalajara, Mexican soldiers last month made one of the biggest drug busts in history. They found 15 tonnes of the banned stimulant methamphetamine, which in America retails for more than $100 per gram, seven tonnes of chemicals used to make it, and a laboratory. The manufacturers had fled.
This was the latest sign that meth, once primarily a home-cooked drug, has become a mass-produced one. Unlike cocaine and heroin, imported from the limited regions where coca and poppy are cultivated, meth can be made anywhere. In most countries the ingredients, principally ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, can be bought as medicine for colds. Cooking them is dangerous. But meth is so addictive that the risk of blowing off your hands is little deterrent: in 2010 the authorities discovered 6,768 makeshift labs in America.
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Religion in Mexico

Where angels fear to tread

Evangelicals are swooping on long-ignored regions

POPE BENEDICT XVI will arrive in Mexico on March 23rd to spend three days preaching mainly to the converted. Mexico is one of the world's great Catholic bastions: 83% of its 112m people are loyal to the Vatican, and Mexico City's Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe vies with St Peter's in Rome as the world's most-visited Catholic church. The Pope will stay in Guanajuato, Mexico's most devout state, where 94% of the population is Catholic. Well before his visit, posters went up to welcome the pontiff (though many depict his predecessor).
Yet outside the bunting-lined streets of Guanajuato, the Vatican's grip is weakening. The share of Mexicans saying they are Catholic fell by five percentage points in the decade to 2010. In 1970 the figure was 96%. Many of these souls have been claimed by evangelical Christianity, from imported groups such as Baptists, to home-grown sects such as Luz del Mundo (Light of the World). In the south-east Catholics now make up less than two-thirds of the population (see map).
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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Drug policy in Latin America

Burn-out and battle fatigue

As violence soars, so do voices of dissent against drug prohibition

LATIN AMERICA is rich in sought-after commodities, including narcotics. The coca leaf, from which cocaine is refined, is grown only in the foothills of the Andes. Mexico produces more heroin than anywhere but Afghanistan, as well as much cannabis. Latin American traffickers are even diversifying into synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine.
The illegality of this successful export business means that its multi-billion-dollar profits go to criminal gangs. Their battles for market control have a high cost: according to the UN, eight of the world's ten most violent countries are in Latin America or the Caribbean. Drugs are not the only business of organised crime, but they account for the bulk of the gangs' income and thus their firepower. Honduras, a strategic spot on the trafficking route, has the world's highest murder rate, about 80 times that of western Europe.
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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Brazil, Mexico and trade

Two ways to make a car

A dispute over trade in cars exposes contrasting attitudes to globalisation in Latin America’s biggest economies

OFFICIALS from Brazil and Mexico are arguing over the future of a 2002 agreement that allows free trade in cars between them. For a decade it worked as it was meant to, and to Brazil's advantage, by encouraging carmakers in Mexico to specialise in larger models and those in Brazil to make smaller ones. But last year Mexican exports under the accord grew by 40% to $2 billion, while Brazil exported cars worth just $372m. Brazil has cried foul. This apparently petty dispute says much about how Latin America's two biggest economies think about trade and industry.
By throwing open its market under the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Canada and a host of other bilateral trade accords, Mexico has become a base from which carmakers export to both halves of the Americas, and worldwide. Volkswagen, for example, makes all its Beetles and Jettas there. Although Nissan produces some vehicles at a Renault plant in Brazil, most of those it sells in Latin America come from two plants in Mexico. In all, 2.1m of the 2.6m vehicles produced in Mexico last year were exported.
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Mexico's election

Calderón the campaigner

The president bends the rules

THE candidates in Mexico's presidential election are legally forbidden to campaign until March 30th. But President Felipe Calderón, who is barred from running, is hard at it. Opponents accused him of breaking the electoral rules when, at a bankers' conference last month, he brandished a poll showing the candidate of his conservative National Action Party (PAN) just four points behind Enrique Peña Nieto, the front-runner from the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). (Other polls say the gap is much wider.)
Leaks say that federal prosecutors are investigating three former governors of Tamaulipas, a northern border state where criminals and politicians rub shoulders. All three, who deny any wrongdoing, belong to the PRI. Last year the finance ministry exposed an accounting scandal in Coahuila, another PRI-run border state. That led to the resignation of Humberto Moreira, the PRI's president, who had been Coahuila's governor at the time of the alleged book-cooking.
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