Latin America Advisor | Can Meade Keep Mexico's Presidency in the PRI's Hands?

Q: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Nov. 27 backed his finance secretary, José Antonio Meade, to be the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s candidate in the presidential election to be held next July. Why did Peña Nieto choose Meade, and will Meade’s close affiliation with the relatively unpopular lame-duck president hinder his candidacy? Does Meade have the support of the PRI at large? What will it take for Meade, often described as a U.S.-educated technocrat, to garner enough popular support to become Mexico’s next president?

A: Carin Zissis, editor-in-chief of AS/COA Online at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas:

“José Antonio Meade, a lesser-known candidate who’s never run for office, is up against leftist former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a familiar face making his third go at the presidency and who leads polls in part thanks to voter dissatisfaction with the political status quo. So it seems like Meade, who has PhD from Yale and polls well with elites, could struggle to win popular support in time for election day. But it would be a big mistake to count him out. For starters, Meade’s ‘unknown’ status can be overcome, particularly given that political advertising is crucial to media outlets’ bottom lines in Mexico. Since Meade revealed plans to run, he has gotten nonstop coverage, proving the PRI machinery is gearing up for battle. Second, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration hopes that what makes Meade different will also make him the victor. The PRI is tainted by corruption, but Meade remains untarnished. He’s held top cabinet posts, ranging from foreign relations to finance, under Peña Nieto, but also during the presidency of Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party, meaning he can siphon votes from the conservative PAN. In fact, Meade isn’t a PRI member; the party opened the door to his candidacy in August by changing its rules to allow non-priistas to run. Finally, Mexico has no runoff vote, and there could be more candidates this time around, given the possibility of some high-profile independents. Meade, or whoever wins, might do so with a third of the votes—or less. And the PRI is, at least publicly, projecting unity while other parties fall victim to infighting. There’s a long way to go between now and July 1, and the PRI is a formidable political force in Mexican politics, regardless of Peña Nieto’s approval rating.”

Read the full Q&A here.

World Politics Review | Trump's Trade Threats Have Pushed Mexico and China Closer Together

World Politics Review | Trump's Trade Threats Have Pushed Mexico and China Closer Together

With talks to renegotiate NAFTA deadlocked this week over the hard-line positions of the Trump administration, Mexico was again left pondering the fate of its biggest trade relationship. Negotiations over the trade deal will now extend into next year, heightening both the economic uncertainty and Mexico’s desire to branch out, as countries like China look to expand their stake in the Mexican economy. In an email interview, Carin Zissis, editor-in-chief of AS/COA Online, the website of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, discusses the evolving nature of Mexico’s ties with China, how a change in NAFTA could affect them, and why Mexico is looking to wean itself off the U.S. market. 

WPR: What is the nature of Mexico and China’s political and trade relations, and how have they changed in recent years? What impact has the Trump presidency had?

Carin Zissis: Looking back at the recent history of China-Mexico ties, the two countries have been rivals—particularly when it comes to trade. In 2001, when China sought the unanimous vote to gain accession to the World Trade Organization, or WTO, Mexico was Beijing’s last obstacle. In September of that year, China and Mexico worked out a bilateral deal that paved the way for Beijing to win its WTO membership, but also allowed Mexico a six-year grace period, later extended to 2011, to maintain countervailing duties on hundreds of Chinese products. 

A major reason for Mexico’s hesitation about China joining the WTO came down to the fact that the two countries compete as exporters. There is evidence that Mexican concerns were well-founded. In the 16 years since it joined the WTO, China has replaced Mexico as America’s second-largest trading partner. At the same time, Mexico developed a gaping trade deficitwith China to the tune of about $65 billion in 2015, while receiving a fraction of its total foreign direct investment from the Asian powerhouse.

But now they share something in common: Both are being attacked by the Trump administration over trade deficits and as part of Donald Trump’s “America First” policy. Still, well before Trump began repeatedly hurling abuse at the southern neighbor, Mexico was already showing interest in boosting ties with China....

Read the full text of the article at World Politics Review or via AS/COA Online

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AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Getting Ready for the Next Big Earthquake in Mexico City

One month ago, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook Mexico City to its core. Hundreds lost their lives, and hundreds more their homes. As time passes and the capital recovers, what are some of the lessons learned? The fact that the disaster took place on the anniversary of the devastating 1985 earthquake—in which approximately 10,000 people died—showed how far Mexico City has come in the past three decades, as well as what needs to happen to prepare for future disasters.

“The 1985 earthquake was a wakeup call,” says Eugene Zapata-Garesché, 100 Resilient Cities’ regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, explaining that that disaster proved there were two choices: either start preparing for future earthquakes or get out. “I don’t think there’s a possibility of moving 20 million people out of this valley,” Zapata-Garesché told AS/COA Online Editor-in-Chief Carin Zissis.

The earthquake that struck on September 19 showed strides made, thanks to changes in policies around water, power, and building codes, coupled with the fact that city’s residents know how to respond. In fact, the earthquake hit just a couple hours after a citywide drill. “Thirty years later, there’s evidence that following these protocols showed that they worked,” says Zapata-Garesché. “There is, of course, always room for improvement.”

You can’t just sit and think that what you did 30 years ago is enough.

Even with progress, many Mexicans have expressed frustration with the government, particularly when it comes to corruption related to the skirting of building codes that resulted in collapses and deaths. “The population cannot wait for the government to do it, but the government cannot also expect the population to do it alone,” says Zapata-Garesché, noting that a policy of resilience is now enshrined in Mexico City’s new Constitution. “This is an opportunity also for the city to rethink all its protocols, rethink all its building codes, its civil protection emergency response codes, and dialogue with the public.”

He also explains that earthquakes are a region-wide phenomenon, affecting everywhere from Baja California to Patagonia, but Latin America also has what he describes as a “love and hate relationship” with water, thanks to hurricanes, floods, and disasters. “We’re seeing how San Juan today is going to have to start from zero,” says Zapata-Garesché. “They have already understood that this is an opportunity to rethink completely how the city is structured.”

This podcast was produced by Luisa Leme.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: What to Watch in NAFTA Negotiations

Within days of the first round of North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations in August, President Donald Trump was once again threatening to withdraw the United States from the 23-year-old pact. But, aside from comments at a rally or some Sunday-morning tweets, can the president actually do that?

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, argues that, yes, he can—and that’s what he might do if his administration can’t secure the kinds of concessions he needs from Mexico and Canada to claim a political win. Leaving the deal, a move only 6 percent of Americans support, would come at a cost, though. “There will be a huge backlash if he terminates, both by the business community, which is benefiting, and workers who will discover that they were benefiting from NAFTA,” Hufbauer told AS/COA Online Editor-in-Chief Carin Zissis.

Still, Hufbauer suggests there is a good likelihood that the three countries will “muddle through” the talks, making minor concessions that might not leave any of the three parties satisfied but giving the appearance of a political win for all. One reason it will be hard to do much more is that both Mexico and the United States hold elections next year, meaning the talks can’t go much past January. “This notion of this five-month quickie is pretty optimistic,” said Hufbauer, who adds there’s a chance that provisional agreements will be made this year and then new rounds will commence in 2019, after elections conclude.

There will be a huge backlash if [Trump] terminates.

Setting aside political wrangling, negotiators will have to sit down and work out the technical details. Given that the United States will likely be looking for changes reflecting a “Buy American” protectionist streak, Mexico could find itself facing tough decisions over how to handle U.S. demands to trim a $64 billion trade deficit.

Hufbauer outlines what Mexico’s steps might be as the country prepares to host the second round of talks from September 1 to 5.

This podcast was produced by Luisa Leme.

AS/COA Online | Five Things to Know about the Big Edomex Governor's Race

AS/COA Online | Five Things to Know about the Big Edomex Governor's Race

With just four of 32 Mexican states holding regional elections on June 4, the votes are far from national in scope. But the results of one race—the much-prized gubernatorial seat in Estado de México, aka Edomex—is of national importance, given that its outcome serves as a preamble to next year’s presidential election. A month before the election, here’s what you need to know about the race.

1. Edomex is the country’s crown jewel of governorships, and the PRI’s held on to it for almost nine decades.

Edomex, known as the State of Mexico in English, is the country’s most populous state and, with roughly 11.3 million voters, accounts for more than 13 percent of Mexico’s electorate. Edomex is also the second-biggest contributor to the country’s economy after the capital, which it borders.

The state’s location and size contribute to it being a political launching pad for governors, who have gone on to become cabinet members, party leaders, and even—in the case of current head of state Enrique Peña Nieto—president. Since the party’s founding 88 years ago, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has never lost a gubernatorial race in the state. In fact, current PRI candidate Alfredo Del Mazo’s father and grandfather both served as Edomex governors and he’s also Peña Nieto’s cousin...

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AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Jorge Castañeda Portends Changing Times for Mexico

What's the next step for Mexico in its 10-year-old drug war? What would it take to end the country’s corruption epidemic? And who will be the winner of the much-anticipated 2018 presidential election? Jorge Castañeda, a Mexican academic and former foreign secretary, spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis in Mexico City, sharing his answers to these questions and how they relate to a turbulent turn in U.S.-Mexican ties under the Trump administration.

For one thing, he says that Mexico does not have to help Washington carry out deportations and can block such moves by requiring the United States to prove deportees’ Mexican citizenship before repatriation. “Why should we let in people who they say are Mexicans, but who they cannot prove are Mexicans?” asks Castañeda, who served as a negotiator on U.S.-Mexico immigration reform during the government of Mexican President Vicente Fox. “This is an unfriendly American government. It makes no sense for Mexico to cooperate with them.”

Castañeda also says that Mexico’s next president would ideally be familiar with the United States and international issues, and who isn’t bogged down “by complicity with corruption of the past.” But, forecasting the winner, he says the 2018 election won’t deliver that result. “I think it will largely be a disaster,” he says. “But it’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Read a transcript of this interview.

World Politics Review | Fear of the Unknown as Mexico Awaits the Trump Era

Summary: On the morning after the U.S. election, the front pages of Mexican dailies responded to Donald Trump’s win with shock, and those fears aren’t unfounded. While it’s uncertain whether Trump will make good on his campaign promises, Mexico—and the U.S.—should brace themselves for the economic fallout.

MEXICO CITY — On the morning after the U.S. election, the front pages of Mexican dailies responded to Donald Trump’s win with shock. Given that Mexico found itself in Trump’s crosshairs throughout the race, Mexicans’ fears aren’t unfounded. But the U.S. president-elect might not be able to make good on every threat he made on the campaign trail. 

Consider the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Trump will face plenty of challenges to building the infamous wall that was a centerpiece of his candidacy. First off, physical obstacles abound, including the Algodones Sand Dunes in southern California; the Coronado National Forest in Arizona and New Mexico, home to 9,000-foot mountains; and, not least, the Rio Grande. Next are the legal barriers: Roughly two-thirds of the border area is private- or state-owned. Then there’s the price tag, which could be as high as $25 billion, and which the Mexican government says it won’t cover, despite Trump’s campaign assertions that he would go so far as to block remittances unless it does. That’s no small threat. Mexican immigrants sent over $20 billion home in the first nine months of 2016 alone. 

Read the full text of the article at World Politics Review or via AS/COA Online

Americas Quarterly | Why Mexico's PRI Is Cleaning House

Americas Quarterly | Why Mexico's PRI Is Cleaning House

Just four years ago, Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto, then a candidate for office, considered Javier Duarte part of a “new generation of politics” that would help shepherd his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) toward a more transparent future. On October 12, facing charges ranging from embezzlement to document forgery, Duarte stepped down as the governor of Veracruz to fight what he called a “campaign” against his leadership. 

He will have to wage that fight without the support of his party. In September, the PRI stripped Duarte of his membership rights, a prelude to removing him from the party entirely. Duarte is not the only PRI politician whose standing is in jeopardy; over the past three months, the PRI has begun processes to remove at least two other governors accused of corruption from its ranks.

Does all this mean that the PRI, so known for corruption and cronyism as it dominated Mexican politics for the better part of the past century, is ready to clean up its act? Recent moves suggest the party may be coming to terms with the fact that, if they don’t, Mexicans will hold them to account at the voting booth.

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World Politics Review | The Trump Effect: Why Mexico's Image Problem Spells Trouble for the U.S.

Summary: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has derided Mexico and Mexicans since his campaign began. His proposals are unfeasible and ignore the reality of robust and vital bilateral ties. For its part, Mexico has challenges that undermine its international image, but that's not the whole picture. 

During a June 30 campaign stop in New Hampshire, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump pointed to a plane flying overhead and quipped that it could be a Mexican aircraft “getting ready to attack.”

It’s not a small thing for the potential future U.S. president to casually suggest that neighboring Mexico is planning to launch an assault, given the close historical, security and commercial ties between the two countries. A third of U.S. territory used to belong to Mexico. Americans travel to Mexico more than any other foreign destination, and over twice as much as they do to Canada. Bilateral trade has hit more than $1.4 billion a day. The 2,000-mile border between the two is the world’s busiest, with 350 million people crossing—legally—each year. Even with that volume of people, there has not been one documented case of a terrorist getting into the United States from Mexico...

Read the full text of the essay at World Politics Review or via AS/COA Online

Univision Noticias | Why Mexicans Are Saying "No More" to Corruption

Scandal-plagued Brazil may appear to be descending into political chaos, but Mexicans look on with envy as Latin America’s other big economy prosecutes high-ranking officials. They wonder: “Why can’t we do that here?”

Mexicans are fed up with corruption, and public officials rank high as a reason. Seven in 10 Mexicans consider the public sector more corrupt than the private sector, 83 percent don’t trust legislators, and 91 percent don’t trust political parties. It’s not hard to see why when considering that 98 percent of corruption-related crimes go unpunished in the country. The time is ripe for Mexico to demonstrate a commitment to accountability.

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AS/COA Online | Five Points on Ley 3de3 and Battling Corruption in Mexico

AS/COA Online | Five Points on Ley 3de3 and Battling Corruption in Mexico

What are the three words that Mexicans think of when they hear the word “Mexico”? Country, culture, and corruption. Nearly 78 percent consider corruption as the factor that’s most damaging to the economy, per a 2014 nationwide survey of 32,000 people. On top of that, seven in 10 surveyed consider the public sector to be more corrupt than the private, and that it’ll be difficult for Mexico to do away with corruption. 

It may be hard, but one piece of legislation, known as Ley 3de3, or the “3for3 Law,” was designed to help Mexico move closer to that goal. The bill faces tough obstacles in Mexico’s Congress, but the citizen-backed measure seeks to hold officials accountable. AS/COA’s Carin Zissis spoke about the initiative with Max Kaiser, anticorruption director at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) and one of the bill’s authors, about what’s involved and why the law’s timing is so important.

1. Ley 3de3 has its roots in an online platform seeking transparency from public officials. 

In the months leading up to Mexico’s midterm vote of June 2015, IMCO and another civil society group, Transparencia Mexicana, launched an online platform called 3de3, named as such because it asks candidates to disclose three pieces of information: personal assets, possible conflicts of interest, and taxes. Only a couple hundred officials made these declarations, but Kaiser says it drew huge public interest to the tune of tens of thousands of daily website visits, with voters checking to see if candidates had disclosed their financial information. 

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Americas Quarterly | AQ Top 5 Young Chefs: Elena Reygadas

"Cooking doesn’t have to have a flag,” said Elena Reygadas. The menu at Rosetta, her Mexico City restaurant, with choices ranging from gnocchi tonopales, proves her point: It doesn’t just cross boundaries between countries, but between sweet and savory. Chicozapote, a fruit that’s often a Mexican ice cream flavor, makes its way into a salad appetizer. A mole, typically served with pork, appears in a dessert. Explained Reygadas, 39, “I love the idea of breaking the rules.”

In 2001, long before Rosetta started showing up on best restaurant lists, Reygadas found herself cooking for different palates when her brother, Ariel Award winning filmmaker Carlos Reygadas, needed a caterer on a set. She had to come up with two menus; the European crew didn’t want corn and the Mexican crew didn’t want pasta.

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AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Alejandro Hope on Drug Policy and Mexico's Marijuana Laws

“This region has been at the forefront of the reform process.” That’s what Alejandro Hope had to say about shifts toward more progressive drug policies in the Americas in recent years. Hope, a drug policy analyst and security editor at the Mexico City-based news site El Daily Post, spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about what the region’s policy changes mean on a global scale as the UN prepares to host a special summit, known as UNGASS 2016, on the worldwide drug problem from April 19 to 21.

The General Assembly last held a special session in 2009 and another one wasn’t slated until 2019. But, in 2012, the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, tired of drug war violence, called to hold the summit sooner. But just because some countries are looking for a new path doesn’t mean UNGASS 2016 will produce major results: even if Latin American countries want more open policies, other parts of the world—such as Asia and Russia—take a more conservative stance.

Still, changes taking place on a national level have an impact on global policy. Hope notes that marijuana legalization by particular U.S. states weakens the ability to enforce drug control treaties, leaving “a gaping hole in the system.”

Shifting U.S. marijuana policy also has a direct effect on Mexico, where the illicit marijuana export market is showing signs it’s contracting as eradication and seizures decline. There’s a political effect as well: it’s harder for Mexico to maintain marijuana prohibition when the United States doesn’t, explains Hope. A Mexican Supreme Court decision in November, while limited in scope, opened the door to more progressive policies. “Marijuana legalization used to be a fringe concern,” he says. “It’s now part of the mainstream conversation.”

And Hope predicts court decisions will keep chipping away at prohibition as cases arise, saying: “I would argue that a large portion of the legislation that underpins marijuana prohibition in Mexico will be declared unconstitutional.”

What does this mean for Mexico’s next presidential election and security policy overall? Listen to find out.

AS/COA Online | The Pope's Mexico Agenda

The Popemobiles are getting blessed and the pilgrims are making their journeys in preparation for Pope Francis’ touchdown in Mexico City on Friday. But his first papal visit to the world’s second-largest Catholic population will take him well beyond the capital; in November, the pontiff said he wanted to make stops where his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI hadn’t. Indeed, his February 12–17 tour takes him to cities reeling from violence, poverty, or both.

The Pope, who will hit states on Mexico’s northern and southern borders, is expected to call for a humane attitude toward immigration at a time when the Obama administration is launchingdeportation raids and some U.S. presidential candidates are pitching what many consider draconian immigration policies. 

The Mexican government may want to steel itself, too. “The Mexico of violence, the Mexico of corruption, the Mexico of drug trafficking, the Mexico of cartels, is not the Mexico that [the Virgin Mary] wants,” said Pope Francis in a Notimex interview ahead of the trip. “Of course, I won’t do anything to cover that up.”

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Americas Quarterly | Why a Mexican Education Program for Syrian Refugees Only Has One Student

Essa Hassan landed in Mexico City in the middle of a media storm. Days after the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed ashore on the coast of Turkey, Hassan became the unwitting symbol of Mexico’s efforts — or lack of them — to assist Syrian refugees, although plans to get him to Mexico started long before the world zeroed in on the crisis.

Hassan arrived last September through the Proyecto Habesha, a humanitarian initiative with the goal of bringing 30 Syrians whose studies were interrupted by the conflict to complete their education in Mexico. The first to be accepted, he quickly found himself the subject of news coverage. “I’m still in the news,” the 26-year-old told AQ.

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AS/COA Online | Chart: Latin America's Ninis

AS/COA Online | Chart: Latin America's Ninis

When it comes to Latin America’s unemployed youth, there’s good news and bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

A new World Bank study takes a look at Latin American youth ages 15 to 24 who neither work nor study, known asninis from the Spanish phrase ni estudia ni trabaja (neither studying nor working). The number of ninis in the region rose by 1.8 million from 1992 to reach over 18 million in 2010. The “nini problem” of generally unoccupied youth contributes to woes like inequality, violence, and a missed economic opportunity as the region’s aging population swells. Women join the nini population due to teen pregnancy and early marriage. Male ninis often drop out of high school to work, and the low-skill work they can get is vulnerable to economic shocks.

But not all the news is grim. While over a quarter of both Honduran and Salvadoran youth fall into the nini group, the figure stands at 10.9 percent in Peru. Moreover, the portion of Latin American youth categorized as ninis is on the decline—and lower than the global share.

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AS/COA Online | Guatemala Update: Presidential Elections amid Political Turmoil

Guatemalans head to the polls to pick a new president on September 6, but someone else will already have taken the helm by then. Months of scandal and demonstrations culminated in President Otto Pérez Molina’s signing a resignation letter on September 2, a day after Guatemala’s Congress stripped him of immunity.

Protests calling for Pérez Molina to step down date back months, to when Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned for her role in the customs fraud scandal known as La Línea. The president’s approval rating sank to a dismal 12 percent but he managed to stay just out of the scandal’s reach.

That all changed starting August 21, when new revelations tying Pérez Molina to La Línea emerged and the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and attorney general took steps toward the president’s impeachment.

One by one the dominoes fell, as did the president.

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AS/COA Online | Five Points on Mexico's El Chapo and the Repercussions of His Prison Escape

For the second time, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, made a dramatic getaway, escaping on the night of July 11 through an elaborate tunnel system below the maximum-security prison just west of Mexico City where he was being held.

AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis, based in Mexico City, talks with a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and security expert about why Guzmán tops Mexico’s most wanted list, as well as the political repercussions of his escape.

1. Guzmán’s criminal syndicate has a transnational reach.

A farmer-turned-cartel leader, El Chapo (“Shorty”) famously acquired his nickname due to his height, or lack thereof. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still loom large as a cartel leader. Mexican magazine Nexos profiled him after his February 2014 capture in the Sinaloan resort town of Mazatlan, reporting that his cartel had the capacity to move 10,000 tons of marijuana—35 percent of the global supply—each month. His syndicate operates in 17 Mexican states and 54 countries. An in-depth 2012 article by The New York Times Magazine put conservative estimates of the Sinaloa Cartel’s share of the U.S. drug market at between 40 and 60 percent, giving it earnings that rivaled those of Netflix or Facebook.

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U.S. News & World Report | 'El Bronco' Bucks Mexico's System

MEXICO CITY – Jaime "El Bronco" Rodríguez survived two assassination attempts, but overcoming Mexico's party politics to become the country's first independent candidate elected governor is no doubt his greatest feat yet. In the June 7 election, Rodríguez exceeded poll expectations by a wide margin, snagging 49 percent of the vote – almost double that of his main rival, Ivonne Álvarez of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI – to win the most important of nine gubernatorial seats up for grabs, the governorship of the economic powerhouse of Nuevo Leon.

Voter discontent with the political status quo surely helped, but how he ran his campaign, in particular using social media as a means to connect with supporters, played no small part in his electoral victory.

A few years ago, El Bronco would not have been able to run at all without being tied to a party. A 2012 constitutional reform allowed for independent candidates, and June 7 marked the first time they could participate in a midterm election. That, in and of itself, is a historic step for a country where the PRI governed for seven consecutive decades until 2000 and recaptured the presidency in 2012. Three parties – the PRI, the National Action Party and the Democratic Revolutionary Party – have dominated Mexican politics up until now. On top of that, Mexico is only in the early stages of breaking up the long-held media monopoly of broadcast giant Televisa, considered by many to be amouthpiece for the PRI. And no party affiliation means no free television spots for campaign ads. The odds are not stacked in favor of independents....

Read the full article in U.S. News & World Report's online opinion section.