AS/COA Online | What to Expect from AMLO's Meeting with White House Top Brass

AS/COA Online | What to Expect from AMLO's Meeting with White House Top Brass

In Mexico, the transition period from election to inauguration is anything but short: all in all, it will be five months from the time Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the presidential election until his December 1 inauguration. But he's looking like he's ready to take office, and one hallmark is that, less than two weeks since his victory, he already has a high-level meeting slated with top White House officials. On Friday, in his headquarters in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood, the future president many simply refer to as AMLO will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and U.S. President Donald Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Joining AMLO will be Marcelo Ebrard, his pick to be Mexico’s next foreign secretary who, like the president-elect, is a former Mexico City mayor. Ebrard also worked on helping U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton court Latino voters in 2016. Other representatives on the Mexican side will include Alfonso Durazo, AMLO's pick for chief of public security; Jesús Seade, who is set to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); Martha Bárcena, AMLO's possible choice for ambassador to the U.S.; and Graciela Márquez Colín, the president-elect's pick for economy secretary.

Here’s what to know before the July 13 meeting.

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AS/COA Online | Four Takeaways from AMLO's Victory in Mexico

In his first speech as president-elect of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for reconciliation in the wake of a divisive race and amid discontent over large-scale violence and  corruption that sparked a devastating loss for the sitting government. “I will not fail you,” López Obrador, or AMLO, told supporters in a subsequent victory speech in a packed Zócalo, Mexico City's main plaza. His remarks repeated past pledges to respect the independence of the central bank, review oil contracts, avoid raising taxes or gas prices, and battle corruption.

It remains to be seen how the leftist will solve the grave problems that drove voters to give him what appears to be a landslide win, and final official results could take days. But here are quick takes from the ground on his win in his third go at the presidency.

1. The outcome was smooth and peaceful on the night of July 1.

In the past, fraud allegations marred Mexican elections. Andrés Manuel López Obrador himself challenged the results of the 2006 vote when he narrowly lost to Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN).

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AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Millennials' Big Role in the Mexican Elections

At 64, Mexican presidential frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the oldest candidate on the ballot, but that’s not stopping 51 percent of millennials from backing him. And their support matters, because that age group has the potential to account for nearly half of the electorate on Mexico’s July 1 election day, says Pancho Parra, editor of polls for millennial-focused news site Nación321.

The fact that younger voters back López Obrador, or AMLO, to a greater degree than do other age groups may seem contradictory. Besides the age factor, millennials consider solving crime and violence to be a top issue but disagree with his proposal to give amnesty to criminals.

So why does the largest portion go for AMLO? One reason is rejection of the sitting government. In Nación321’s millennial poll, respondents were asked to qualify current President Enrique Peña Nieto with a happy or angry emoji, and 89 percent went with latter. But Parra tells AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis that AMLO’s “direct and easy” manner of speaking that compares to ex-President of Uruguay José “Pepe” Mujica—famous for his austere way of living—or former U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

On the other hand, Mexican millennials don’t wear their politics on their sleeve. They say they wouldn’t want to post a selfie with a candidate or chat with one of them on WhatsApp. And they don’t see themselves allied with parties: 59 percent don’t identify as belonging to any party.

Parra says that 2018 marks Mexico’s first social media race, and that’s resulted in a race defined by memes and viral humor. But, in covering and polling millennials, he found they are looking toward the future rather than for quick fixes to problems like the economy and better public safety.

So what comes after the July vote? “Everything’s been promised to the young people: That they’re going to have jobs, that they’re going to be better paid,” says Parra. “But if [the next government] doesn’t accomplish those kinds of things, I think there will be a big democracy fail.”

This episode was produced by Luisa Leme.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Why Mexico's Election Will Redraw the Country's Political Map

The closer we get to Mexico’s election, the more Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s poll lead grows. The three-time presidential candidate better known as AMLO gets called everything from a nationalist to a firebrand to a populist. Still, he’s ahead of Ricardo Anaya, his closest challenger, by more than 20 points, per Oraculus’ poll aggregator. Many question the numbers or posit that undecided voters could make the difference on Election Day.

Do they have a point? We’ll have to see on July 1, but Jorge Buendía, director of polling firm Buendía & Laredo and founding partner of Oraculus, thinks not. “The people that are saying ‘Don’t trust the polls’ are the ones who are supporting candidates who are in second or third place,” he told AS/COA Online Editor-in-Chief Carin Zissis in Mexico City.

On top of that, Buendía explains that these elections could well redefine Mexico’s political scenario, upending past alliances and traditional political rivalries in both Mexico’s North and South. Why? Across the country, more than 3,400 seats are up for grabs—about 60 percent more than in the last general elections. And that helps MORENA, the political party that AMLO started since he lost the 2012 election, and which the frontrunner is encouraging voters to select all down their ballots. “MORENA will have a lot of jobs to offer,” says Buendía. “And the question here is, then what are going to be the checks and balances on López Obrador?”

This episode was produced by Luisa Leme. 

AS/COA Online | Mexico's 2018 Election: 5 Things to Know with 1 Month to Go

As we enter the final month of Mexico’s presidential race, the polls keep repeating the same results: Andrés Manuel López Obrador holds a solid lead. The latest Reforma survey gives the frontrunner, known as AMLO, a 2-to-1 advantage over his next closest rival, Ricardo Anaya, while the governing-party candidate, José Antonio Meade, stays third. So, aside from parsing presidential poll numbers, what are trends to watch with the July 1 vote looming? Writing from Mexico City, AS/COA Online's Carin Zissis takes a look at five election issues.

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AS/COA Online | The Races for Mexico's Powerful Gubernatorial Seats

Most of Mexico’s electoral fervor is focused on the top seat in the land—the presidency. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other highly coveted posts up for grabs: nearly a third of Mexican states will select new governors to single, six-year terms on July 1. And perhaps no other posts better exemplify voters’ frustration with corruption.

Back when the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ran the country for more than seven decades straight, governors were deferential to the presidency. Since that period ended in 2000, they’ve become increasingly powerful, thanks to near-unfettered access to public funds, which many of them exploit. Across the country—from the border states of Chihuahua and Tamaulipas to the Gulf Coast’s Veracruz to the tourism paradise of Quintana Roo—several governors ransacked state coffers and ran for the hills in recent years. Some 14 current or ex-governors are under investigation.

Although corruption extends beyond any one political party, many of these scandals involve the PRI, meaning they play a factor in the weak approval ratings of President Enrique Peña Nieto and the fact that PRI presidential candidate José Antonio Meade generally polls third. The party already took a hit in 2016 during the last big round of gubernatorial elections, when it lost six of the nine governorships it held.

But while many speculate as to how much more ground the PRI will lose in this gubernatorial round, it’s not the only party that stands to lose. The left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) experienced high-stakes defections when current presidential frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, exited the party to start his own, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA). The PRD holds three of the nine seats up for election and could find itself handing over the crown jewel, Mexico City, for the first time in more than 20 years. Overall, MORENA, which holds none of the country’s 32 governorships at the moment, appears well-placed to win at least four this time around.

From family members to a fútbol star, here’s a look at the candidates and competitions to govern eight states (Chiapas, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Morelos, Puebla, Tabasco, Veracruz, and Yucatán) and Mexico City.

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AS/COA Online | Viewpoint: Four Takeaways from Mexico's First Presidential Debate

The anticipation leading up to Mexico’s first presidential debate of 2018 felt akin to waiting for a heavyweight championship fight. Viewers wanted to see if the April 22 five-way faceoff would budge the needle in a race in which Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO, dominates polls. The debate launched a thousand memes, but did it change the course of the competition? In the lead-up to the July 1 election, here’s what was covered and major takeaways from the first of three debates.

1. The debate covered three weighty topics for Mexicans.

The format was broken into three topics: violence and security, corruption, and democracy and vulnerable populations—topics at the forefront of the public’s mind. Violence and corruption have been among top voter concerns. 2017 was Mexico’s most murderous year on record, and the situation isn’t improving in 2018: last month the homicide rate rose 23 percent compared to March 2017. Worn out by one corruption scandal after another, Mexicans see matters getting worse in this area; the country dropped 12 spots in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index to spot 135 out of 180. At the same time, voter discontent runs high, given that 9 in 10 Mexicans say they’re dissatisfied with democracy.

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AS/COA Online | Explainer: Mexico's 2018 Election and Presidential Candidates

Mexico’s presidential campaigns officially started March 30, but the frontrunner has been competing for the country’s top post for more than 12 years. A large portion of polls give Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, a formidable double-digit lead as candidates hunker down for what’s promising to be a dirty fight to the July 1 finish. Does that kind of poll lead mean we can call it at this point? Not necessarily, as past elections show. Mexico has no runoff and the last two elections were won with less than 40 percent of the vote, so divided electorates and undecideds have a major role to play in this race. Still, widespread discontent among voters is playing in AMLO’s favor: he’s painted himself as an outsider candidate at a point when 4 out of 5 Mexicans feel the country is on the wrong path.

But, given that there are more seats up for grabs in this election than any other in Mexico’s history, what’s at stake goes beyond the presidency. Here’s a look at the election basics, as well as profiles of the presidential candidates and coalitions.

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AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Put a Little Trust in Mexico

It’s an election year in Mexico, and that means mudslinging and memes. It also means an unhappy electorate. In fact, Mexicans are more distrustful of government institutions than people in any of the other 27 countries surveyed in Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer.

“Sadly, it’s not new,” says Edelman México’s General Manager Mariana Sanz. She told AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis that the annual study, first released in 2001, has been uncovering Mexicans’ lack-of-confidence issue for years—and for all levels of government. But it’s not just politics facing this lack of faith: Mexicans are particularly worried about fake news, and Sanz says the media isn’t “playing the role that we as citizens need.”

Despite these low points, there are sources of trust in Mexico, and one is the private sector. “It’s very good news for companies if they own this responsibility…if they understand that people are waiting for them to take positions, to be more active, to speak up,” says Sanz.

Mexicans also have confidence in civil society. The outpouring of citizen support in the wake of last year’s devastating earthquakes showed why, and the latest survey was conducted a few weeks after the one that struck the capital. “Civil society was at its peak in terms of what we’re doing for each other,” says Sanz. In a world facing what she calls “an implosion of trust,” the bright spots in results for Mexico mean the country doesn’t fall as low as others in the overall study.

Another example of citizens taking up leadership is Méxicos Posibles, an initiative that started in 2015 and brought together 180 leaders across the country and sectors to envision potential futures for the country by 2030. The group held its launch in the capital’s historic center on March 21 to share its findings and goal of tackling the three biggest risks facing Mexico: inequality, insecurity, and illegality. “What really is very clear for all of us is we want the best for our country,” explains Gabriela Hernández Cardoso, an independent board member whose career spans the public and private sector, on the sidelines of the launch. 

Elizabeth Gonzalez produced this podcast episode.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Back to the Future in Chile and El Salvador?

In Chile, center-right Sebastián Piñera retakes the helm to replace center-left Michelle Bachelet as president on March 11. Meanwhile, El Salvador’s March 4 legislative and municipal elections saw conservatives picking up seats at the governing party’s expense. But, in both cases, to what degree did voters turn right and to what degree did they turn against the party in control?

In this episode of Latin America in Focus, AS/COA Online's Carin Zissis speaks to Héctor Silva Ávalos, founder of Revista Factum, about why El Salvador’s governing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front—the one-time guerilla group best known as the FMLN—lost a key number of legislative seats.

He says voters were disappointed with the FMLN’s handling of everything from violence to corruption to Washington’s cancellation of Temporary Protective Status for Salvadoran migrants. “What happened in general is that the FMLN hardcore voter didn’t go to vote,” says Silva Ávalos, who is also a researcher for American University and InSight Crime. He and Zissis discuss how the election made President Salvador Sánchez Cerén a lame duck and what the FMLN loss of the mayoralty of San Salvador indicates for next year’s presidential race.

As for Chile, Sebastián Piñera’s first 100 days in office will focus on pension, tax, and education reforms, political scientist Patricio Navia tells Elizabeth Gonzalez. But while the center-right leader’s coalition, Let’s Go Chile, gained the most seats in the congress, it fell short of a majority and will have to contend with an emerging leftist Broad Front. As such, Piñera is unlikely to backtrack on some of outgoing President Michelle Bachelet’s social reforms, including abortion and gender identity legislation. Navia, a professor at New York University also commented on Chileans’ consensus on reforming immigration law to better regulate an influx of Haitian migrants, as well as the chances of expanding regional trade ties depending on upcoming elections in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.

Co-hosted with Elizabeth Gonzalez.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Giving Women the "Right Space to Thrive"

In Mexico, men have an average of 10 or more hours of time for sleep and leisure per day. For women, it’s six hours or less.

“So, a working woman who also has unpaid duties and caregiving in the home doesn’t even have enough time to make it to six hours of sleep every night,” explains Dr. Felicia Knaul, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Americas and a professor of public health at the University of Miami. She talked with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about a report she co-authored for The Lancet about women’s outsized role in healthcare and the fact that, despite the scope of service they provide, they face obstacles to making it into leadership positions in the global health sector.

The international health expert also spoke about her experience getting breast cancer treatment in Mexico and why she founded breast cancer awareness organization Tómatelo a Pecho. Giving a human face to the disease, she charts a before and after in how Mexico’s public health insurance program Seguro Popular makes a difference in the lives of women. As a woman from Jalisco state named Guillermina, who experienced a recurrence of breast cancer, told her, “Round one: my kids went bankrupt and they had to sell their business. Round two: I have health insurance and I can take care of myself.”

But first, AS/COA President and CEO Susan Segal talks with Luisa Leme about why 2018 is the year of the woman, what inspired her to start our Women’s Hemispheric Network (WHN) six years ago, and why we need to bring men into the conversation on building women’s leadership. “If we limit women’s mentors and networks to only women, we’re not going very far,” says Segal, who talks about mentors and obstacles during her finance career, during which she was actively involved in restructuring of the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Chile’s Michelle Bachelet helped launch WHN. Next month she steps down from office, leaving Latin America without a sitting woman president. But Segal explains that women’s empowerment is about more than having a female head of state. “When you can fill in the ranks so you have a lot of women engaged and participating—that’s when you’ve really created change,” she says.

Both interviewees talk about the #MeToo movement and how it’s created a space for dialogue about women in the workforce, from being what Knaul calls “passionate professionals” to giving women, particularly in Latin America, “the right space to thrive,” says Segal.

Luisa Leme produced this podcast episode.

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.

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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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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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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