Mexico: Behind the Peña Nieto-Fidel photo-op

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto attended CELAC last week and sat with Fidel Castro for the cameras. Carlos Puig explains what’s behind the photo-op:
Mexico’s Pena Nieto Is for Reform, Just Not in Cuba

The picture released afterward by the Cuban government — Pena Nieto talking, Fidel listening — didn’t come cheap. Last year, Pena Nieto’s administration erased $340 million of Cuba’s debt to Mexico, or about 70 percent of the total amount. That’s more than the value of trade between the two countries, which reached $297 million over the first nine months of last year; $274 million of that represented Mexico’s surplus. The bilateral relationship is otherwise limited. From the Mexican side, at least, the main issue may be the influx of Cubans who use Mexico as a way station to the U.S.

Puig poses the question,

Yet it isn’t clear what Mexico gains by ignoring the reality that Cuba has no elections, no political parties, no free press or freedom of expression, and that dissidents are harassed and jailed. Certainly, Mexico stands to gain little economic benefit.

Pena Nieto’s choice also raises interesting questions about the character of a government willing to ignore such human-rights violations in a neighboring country. Isn’t such a government more likely to excuse its own human-rights problems, such as the tens of thousands of murders and disappearances during the last decade of drug war?

Meanwhile, in Mexico, there’s a lot going on in Michoacán’s Tierra Caliente. Enrique Krauze describes Mexico’s Vigilantes on the March

The epicenter of the present vigilante confrontation with the Knights Templar is the area known as the Tierra Caliente, a relatively isolated zone that, since colonial times, has been marked by its torrid climate, fertile soil, aggressive animals, poisonous plants, and a tendency toward violence among its inhabitants. Fray Diego Basalenque, who composed chronicles of Michoacán in the 17th century, wrote about the Tierra Caliente: “For someone not born here, it is uninhabitable. For its natives it is unbearable.” It has become a preferred sanctuary for the Knights.

The national government recently sent a substantial federal force (both military and police) to the region. Corrupt municipal police officers have been stripped of their authority and national troops have established a modus vivendi with self-defense groups. The vigilantes have the support of the majority of the population and of respected clerics.

Unverified rumors have it that some of the self-defense units are connected with a narco gang in a neighboring state called Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación). Regardless of whether that is true or not, President Enrique Peña Nieto, who came to power in 2012, would be wise to press for the incorporation of the vigilantes into a legal entity, as two powerful presidents in the 19th century, Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz, did when they were dealing with crime. They developed a mobile strike force (Los Rurales) that suppressed rampant banditry. The elimination of a gang like the Knights Templar, however, will require much intelligence-gathering and coordination among various law-enforcement agencies. And it will take time.

Joshua Partlow, on the other hand, last week posited that A Mexican militia, battling Michoacan drug cartel, has American roots.


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