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.

AS/COA Online | Infographic: What's at Stake in Mexico's Midterm Vote?

Click image to view full infographic.More than 21,000 offices are up for grabs in Mexico’s midterm elections on June 7, including all 500 seats in the lower house of Congress. That means the election could determine President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ability to usher through legislation in the second half of his term. The governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has seen support fall in recent months in the wake of a housing scandal and outcry over the disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero. But polls show the other two main parties—the right-leaning National Action Party (PAN) and the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party (PRD)—failing to gain ground against the PRI, with other new or minor parties playing a role.

This voting round also marks the election of nine governors, and Nuevo León is emerging as a battleground state with an important feature: an independent candidate stands as a leading contender. In fact, this is the first midterm election that allows for independent candidates to run following a 2012 constitutional amendment.

AS/COA Online shares polls, numbers, and data for the election, as well as how Mexicans view government and democracy.

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AS/COA Online | Get the Facts about Mexico's 2015 Midterm Election

Updated June 3, 2015 - In this challenging election round, who will win sway in the lower house and what are the key gubernatorial races? AS/COA Online takes a look at what's at stake in the June 7 midterm vote. 

How many seats are up for grabs?

All 500 seats in Mexico’s lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, are up for election to three-year terms on Sunday, June 7, as are nine governorships, 17 state legislatures, and some 300 mayoral seats across the country. In total, there are over 2,100 posts up for election across the country. 

What are the main parties?

The governing party is the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held power for over seven decades until 2000, then recaptured the presidency in 2012, when Enrique Peña Nieto took office. Mexico’s two other main parties are the right-leaning National Action Party (PAN) and the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). Smaller parties playing important roles are the Green Party (known by its abbreviation in Spanish, PVEM), with which PRI candidates are frequently allied, and the National Regeneration Movement, commonly known as MORENA, which is an offshoot of the PRD started during the last presidential elections in 2012 by former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Thanks to a 2012 constitutional reform, this is the first midterm election in which independent candidates can run.

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AS/COA Online | The Tequila-Caipirinha Axis: Rousseff Visits Mexico

When Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff paid a visit to her Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto this week, the two signed agreements at a time when their countries’ economies could each use a leg up. Rousseff, president of Latin America’s biggest economy, headed to Mexico, the region’s second largest, for her first state visit with her homologue there, as well as the country’s Congress. In an interview with Mexican daily La Jornada ahead of her Monday departure, Rousseff said the trip “opens a new chapter in our relations” that could give rise to a “tequila-caipirinha axis.” Meanwhile, Brazilian outlet Folha de São Paulo interviewed Peña Nieto via email; the Mexican head of state, like Rousseff, forecast commercial and investment agreements during the meetings. Accords would build on March’s crucial automotive deal that, according to Peña Nieto, accounts for 46 percent of bilateral transactions. 

A visit in challenging times

The heads of state of the two Latin America giants came together at a moment that’s not without its economic challenges. International Monetary Fund (IMF) projections indicate that Brazil’s economy could shrink by 1 percent in 2015. Unemployment was up in the first quarter of the year and, through the first week of May, year-on-year daily trade rates were down 16 percent.

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U.S. News & World Report | Why the Americas Need More Women Leaders

Come Sunday, Brazilians will turn out for an election in which the top two candidates are women. That President Dilma Rousseff and former Environmental Minister Marina Silva are competing to lead Latin America’s largest economy now comes as little surprise in a region that accounts for a third of the world’s women presidents.

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U.S. News & World Report | Learning from a Troubled Gang Truce

A wave of Central American children crossing the U.S. border caused President Barack Obama to label the crisis an “urgent humanitarian situation” earlier this month. With more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors making the dangerous journey since October last year, the tide of migration also draws attention to the crisis these children leave behind. Most come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, a crime-addled area considered one of the most dangerous regions in the world.

But despite bleak crime figures, one country — El Salvador — experienced a notable drop in homicides after a 2012 gang truce. Over time, the agreement between the gangs Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 frayed and, last month, then-President Mauricio Funes declared the truce dead. His successor, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, has disavowed it as well. Still, the truce offers a chance to examine lessons learned in combating the violence leading young Central Americans to seek escape.

The agreement began in March 2012, when Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 leaders were transferred from maximum-security prisons to lowen security ones...

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

AS/COA Online | El Salvador Update: Security Top Challenge as Sánchez Cerén Takes Office

Salvador Sánchez Cerén takes the helm as El Salvador’s new president on June 1, but his government will face the old problem of security as a major public concern. An uptick in violencemarked the period leading up to the former guerilla commander’s presidential inauguration. And although his soon-to-be-predecessor President Mauricio Funes leaves office with positive approval ratings, more than two-thirds of Salvadorans feel crime worsened under his watch.

Keeping a Gang Truce at Arm’s Length

For a period of Funes’ administration, El Salvador did see homicide rates drop. The national police reported that the murder rate decreased by 41 percent between 2012 and the prior year, and attributed the sharp decline to a truce between rival gangs Mara Salvatrucha (M-18) and Barrio 18. The agreement gained the support of the Organization of American States, while the Funes administration denied serving as an architect of the truce. But six months into the agreement, General and then-Justice Minister Munguía Payés admitted a direct role—though Funes continued to reject the idea that his government organized the deal, instead saying it served as a “facilitator.” Munguía Payés was removed from his post in May 2013 and, while total homicides remained lower in 2013 compared to 2012, the murder rate began to creep back up by the end of last year.
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U.S. News & World Report | Net Neutrality Lessons from Latin America

Will U.S. Internet users soon find themselves paying the price for the fast lane? The Federal Communications Commission is preparing to vote on regulations governing Net neutrality — or the lack thereof. Open-Internet advocates, along with over 100 internet firms, warn the new rules will stifle innovation by allowing large companies to pay internet providers for preferential treatment and faster Internet speeds, thereby creating roadblocks for start-ups and small enterprises. Opponents make the case that, had the same regulations been implemented a decade ago, we would have been stuck using Friendster and AltaVista.

Coincidentally, while the Net neutrality debate heats up in the United States, Latin America’s largest economy has tackled the issue of Net neutrality and Internet access. Brazil just passed a new law internationally hailed by advocates. And Chile passed a landmark Net neutrality law four years ago. What lessons does Latin America have for the United States when it comes to open Internet?....

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

This article was co-authored with Rachel Glickhouse.

AS/COA Online | Panama Race Narrows ahead of May 4 Vote

As the candidates approach the May 4 finish line in Panama’s presidential race, the winner remains unclear. There are seven competitors, but three lead the pack: José Domingo Arias of the ruling party Democratic Change (CD), former Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), and Vice President Juan Carlos Varela of the Panameñista Party (PP). Earlier polls gave Arias a wider lead, but some of the final surveys show that lead shrinking, as shown by poll numbers below by firms Ipsos/Panamá Opina, Dichter & Neira, and Quantix. (The three polls estimate a margin of error of roughly +/-2 percent.). 

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AS/COA Online | El Salvador Prepares for a Close Presidential Competition

El Salvador's presidential candidates wrapped up their campaigns this week in preparation for the country's February 2 election. While there are several candidates in the running, the race is coming down to three main contenders. Who are they and can any of them get the required 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election on March 9? AS/COA Online takes a look at the election.

The Candidates...

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