The legacy of La Quina

November 13, 2013

The Economist, 11/13/2013

justice - gavel and bookThe arrest in January 1989 of Joaquín Hernández Galicia, the veteran head of the oil-workers’ union, was played up for maximum dramatic effect because it was meant to be opening salvo of a tireless crusade for economic modernisation in Mexico. It pitted a new, weakly supported president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, against one of the symbols of the corrupt old Mexico that he was trying to reform.

Almost 25 years later, Mr Hernández, known as La Quina, has died aged 91 after being freed from jail in 1997 under an amnesty. It must have been a great comfort to him in his old age that Mr Salinas, in exile at the time of his release, still rarely returns to Mexico. It is perhaps fitting that Mr Hernández has died just as the government is embarking on a reform of the oil industry whose monopoly—which he milked for his own benefit for several decades until his arrest—he fought tooth and nail to protect. It has given him a grave in which to turn in.

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Mexico Leader’s Next Push Is to Tackle Energy

March 13, 2013


The Wall Street Journal, 3/12/ 2013

In his first 100 days, the new Mexican president has surprised many with the momentum he has gathered toward achieving a major economic overhaul.

Enrique Peña Nieto has revised Mexico’s 40-year-old labor code and its dysfunctional education system. He jailed a union boss once considered untouchable and submitted legislation to attack corruption by stripping away public officials’ immunity from prosecution.

On Monday, he presented to Congress proposals to reform Mexico’s telecommunications sector that would give the government for the first time the power to force asset sales of monopolies and challenge the world’s richest businessman, Carlos Slim, who controls more than 70% of Mexican phones.

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Mexico: A hard road for reforms

March 12, 2013

Enrique PeñaNieto 2AULA Blog, 3/11/2013

During the campaign, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proclaimed in thousands of advertisements, “Me comprometo y cumplo” – I make a promise and I keep it.  Offering a list of potentially transformative reforms – regulations, security, telecommunications, energy, and more – he began with one of the most intractable:  the struggling public education system.  In December, at his instigation, the Mexican congress passed a constitutional reform to create stricter standards for teachers and move hiring authority from the teachers’ union to the government.  Enough states had ratified the amendment by the end of February to make it law.

After years of stagnation and interest-group politics, education reform suddenly became politically expedient, passing with support from the PRI, PAN, and PRD.  Last week, the government put an exclamation point on the reform by arresting the teachers’ union boss, Elba Esther Gordillo, on charges of using her post for illicit gains surpassing $100 million.  A PRI apostate whose opposing alliance was credited with helping former President Felipe Calderón win his razor-thin victory in 2006, she was not just expendable, but an obstacle.

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Infographic: Key moments from Peña Nieto’s First 100 Days (In Spanish)

March 12, 2013

peña-nietoReforma, 3/10/2013

Some of the key moments from Peña Nieto’s first 100 days in office have included: the Victims Law, the arrest of Elba Esther Gordillo, Florence Cassez’s release, the announcement of a new security strategy, among others.

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A traditionalist shines through Mexico’s fresh new face

March 11, 2013

peña-nietoLos Angeles Times, 3/10/2013

They elected a youthful president, a self-styled defender of democratic principles who promised to bring the country up to 21st century standards. But many Mexicans suspected that an old-fashioned dinosaur heart was beating beneath Enrique Peña Nieto’s smartly tailored suits, an inheritance from his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose top-down, quasi-authoritarian rule defined much of Mexico’s 20th century history.

On Sunday, after 100 days of living under Peña Nieto’s rule, the Mexican people have a better idea of the ways in which their 46-year-old president, and his vintage political party, plan to manage the future of the United States’ southern neighbor, a country rife with promise and peril. They are also discovering that Peña Nieto may be a kind of hybrid political creature, intent on effecting change while hewing to some of his party’s older ways.

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Weekly News Summary: March 8th

March 8, 2013

Coffee by Flikr user samrevelThe Mexico Institute’s “Weekly News Summary,” released every Friday afternoon summarizes the week’s most prominent Mexico headlines published in the English-language press, as well as the most engaging opinion pieces by Mexican columnists.

What the English-language press had to say…

At its national assembly last Saturday, PRI members voted to end the party’s opposition to constitutional changes that would allow increased private participation in the oil sector, and reversed their previous position on the application of value added tax (IVA) to food and medicine. Leaders of the three main political parties continued to work on a “game-changing” telecommunications reform that is expected to shake up a highly monopolized sector of the Mexican economy. The Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer addressed the recent optimism surrounding the Mexican economy, pointing out that many Mexicans remain skeptical. TIME’s Tim Padgett echoed the sentiment, drawing a parallel between current headlines labeling Mexico “the New China” or “the Aztec Tiger” and similar hype preceding Mexico’s 1994 peso crisis.

Following the excitement of last week’s arrest of Elba Esther Gordillo, journalists began focusing more closely on Peña Nieto’s education reform and the much-needed changes to the country’s lagging public education system. Carlos Slim topped the Forbes billionaire rankings for a fourth consecutive year, while drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was left out. The Christian Science Monitor reported Slim’s large share over the telecommunications sector has kept broadband connection costs high, and internet connectivity rates low, compared to the rest of Latin America. Also this week, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled two common anti-gay words constitute hate speech and are not protected under freedom of expression.

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In Mexico’s “Alcatraz” High, students, parents dream of overhaul

March 7, 2013

education - classroomReuters, 3/6/2013

“Alcatraz jail” is scrawled in graffiti by the compound’s entrance. Inside, tales abound of drug abuse, bribes and beatings doled out by mini-mafias who charge for access to the toilets. But this gray block an hour east of Mexico City is no prison. The stories that filter out of Jose Maria Morelos, a 1,000-student high school in Nezahualcoyotl, a ragtag, million-strong town on the edge of Mexico City, highlight the problems of an education system that languishes near the bottom of proficiency tables among advanced economies.

“The system’s rotten from the inside out,” said Ivon Romero, a 35-year-old former public school teacher, as she left her 12-year-old daughter at the school’s drab white gates. In interviews with dozens of parents, students and teachers at the school and others like it, a picture emerges of crumbling facilities, a lackluster, protected teaching corps and a scrappy student body left largely to its own devices.

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Op-ed: Taking Back Mexico’s Schools

March 4, 2013

education - classroomThe Dallas Morning News, 3/3/2013

Mexico’s decrepit public education system is heading for a historic and long overdue shake-up. If President Enrique Peña Nieto is successful with a bold new reform effort and bid to break the powerful national teachers union, he could engineer the biggest societal transformation in Mexico since seven decades of one-party rule ended in 2000.

The 1.5 million-member teachers union has a long and well-deserved reputation for corruption. Leading it is Elba Ester Gordillo, 68, who has a penchant for luxury living, expensive cars, multiple face-lifts and Neiman Marcus shopping sprees. Gordillo was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of embezzling $156 million from union funds.

After 25 years of her education leadership, here’s where Mexico’s education system stands: In standardized measurements among all 34 member nations of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Mexican 15-year-olds rank dead last in literacy, dead last in math, dead last in science.

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Weekly News Summary: March 1st

March 1, 2013

Coffee by Flikr user samrevel

The Mexico Institute’s “Weekly News Summary,” released every Friday afternoon summarizes the week’s most prominent Mexico headlines published in the English-language press, as well as the most engaging opinion pieces by Mexican columnists.

What the English-language press had to say…

This week, Elba Esther Gordillo, the powerful leader of the SNTE, Mexico’s teachers’ union was arrested for allegedly embezzling over $150 million in union funds to support her lavish lifestyle. The arrest shocked the nation and came only a day after President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law a new education reform package. Many interpreted the move as an attempt by the Peña Nieto administration to reassert state authority over special interests, and as a warning to other industries (e.g. telecommunications and energy) that reform is on the way. NYT columnist Thomas Friedman gave much to talk about following two very optimistic pieces. He suggested Mexico will become a dominant economic power in the 21st century, and praised Mexico’s young ‘just do it’ generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya mirrored Mr. Friedman’s optimism by suggesting a reinvigorated energy sector will transform Mexico into the world’s “new Middle East.” Meanwhile, north of the border, looming automatic budget cuts prompted ICE to release several hundred low-risk immigrants from deportation centers across the country.

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Powerful Mexican Teachers’ Leader Accused of Embezzlement

March 1, 2013


The New York Times, 2/27/2013

She offered 59 brand new Hummers to regional union leaders to buy their loyalty. Mexican newspapers have closely tracked her displays of wealth, from California mansions and $5,000 Hermès bags to noticeable shifts in her looks as she went under the knife.

But the love for luxury flaunted by Elba Esther Gordillo, the most powerful woman in Mexico, might have been her undoing. She was arrested Tuesday night on suspicion of embezzling $200 million in union funds for her personal use, including plastic surgery, multimillion-dollar spending sprees at luxury department stores and those seaside mansions near San Diego.

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