Mexico’s “Radical Economic Transformation” due to Energy Reform, Rescued Kidnapping Victims, and Electoral Reform

coffee-by-flikr-user-samrevel1The 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 a Forbes article defined Mexico’s Energy Reform as a “radical transformation”: Not only will it be bigger than the revolution in shale drilling and fracking in the United States, it will be the most “significant change in Mexico’s economic policy in 100 years”. But the Reform will come at a high price for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). According to the New York Times, Mexico’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) has signaled it is ready to compromise over demands for electoral reform that risk impeding a government bill to liberalize the oil industry.  The PAN proposed an electoral reform that seeks to curb the power of the PRI, which has dominated Mexican politics for most of the past century.

Bloomberg noted that Mexico is finding that its abundant natural resources also appeal to investors in solar energy. According the news outlet, the Country plans to generate 35 percent of its power from clean sources by 2026, up from less than 15 percent now, to curb emissions and diversify its energy mix. A global surplus of solar panels has made them cheaper, while the costly oil-fired plants common in areas such as Durango, Sonora and southern Baja California make solar a competitive option.

In another topic, Seventy-three suspected kidnap victims were rescued in northern Mexico near the border city of Reynosa after police followed their alleged captors to a house and heard frantic calls for help. News of the rescue came as public worries over lawlessness have increased in Mexico. The latest public security report, released by Mexico’s statistics bureau (INEGI), reveals the extent of the country’s rampant and unpunished kidnapping problem. According to the report picked up by Quartz, 105,682 kidnappings were committed in Mexico last year, of which 1,317 were reported to local or federal authorities. In other words, 99 percent of kidnappings in Mexico flew under the radar last year.

On immigration, Democrats in the House of Representatives unveiled a bill Wednesday that would overhaul U.S. immigration laws by tightening border security and provide a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. But GOP critics immediately panned the bill and said it was unlikely to get a vote, especially as Capitol Hill legislators remain deadlocked over the federal budget.

On a similar note, Forbes published an article stating that Congress can start to fix the immigration system by returning power to employers through expanded guest-worker programs. Often referred to as the “Red Card Solution,” this plan would create an unlimited supply of guest-worker visas that foreigners could use on a short-term basis to fill seasonal jobs. Since red cards would be temporary in nature, they would come with no pathway to citizenship attached, and thus would not be “amnesty” for those who have entered the country illegally.

What Mexican columnists had to say…

Mexican columnists covered a range of issues this week. Energy reform was once again featured. Early in the week, Jesús Silva Herzog Márquez wrote a commentary on the energy reform debate in the Mexican senate. He affirmed that the debate has been clouded by accusations that those who support the reform are “anti-Mexican” and wish to sell Mexico’s natural resources to exploitative foreign companies and governments. He urged the Mexican people must not confuse nationalism with patriotism, and to not let ideas be automatically discredited for fear of appearing anti-Mexican. José Antonio Crespo wrote that both Cardenas and AMLO have asked that the PRI’s energy reform be summited to popular vote – arguably in the hopes that this will undermine plans to move the reform forward. Cardenas, he wrote, has proposed that the reform be evaluated by citizens in 2015, after it has been put in place. This is perfectly constitutional. Contrastingly, AMLO wants Mexicans to vote on the reform proposal in the next few weeks or months. The commentator argued that this is unconstitutional and dangerous; as it would require legislators to change existing laws in order to make it permissible, interrupting the on-going debates on electoral-political reform, and asking citizens to vote on something that does not yet exist. Finally, he argued, Mexico needs experts and legislators to make the (democratically sound) decision regarding the reform.

Denise Dresser penned an op-ed on the failed transformation of Mexico’s political structure since 2000. She argued that Mexicans now live in a hybrid system: the contradictory mixture of authoritarianism and democracy. Despite the changed rhetoric, focused on change, reforms, and economic progress, she argued that the PRI continues to act in the way that it did, continuing to allow (and engage in) impunity, to spend money without justification and to use social programs to buy votes. She concluded that Mexicans – and Latin Americans in general – are increasingly skeptical of democracy, as they are overcome by memories, and by feelings of disillusion and disappointment. Also writing on the topic of democracy, John Bailey explained that in Mexico, the informal economy and the economy of crime are organically interconnected, presenting a unique set of challenges to democracy and to the rule of law. He explained that criminal organizations often control the informal sector – providing merchants with items to sell, and, free from any government supervision, extorting them to do as they wish. Additionally, Mexico has Latin America’s largest informal economy, because Mexicans willingly purchase goods from informal markets, and because many informal markets and merchants have links with political parties. These two facts, Bailey wrote; make the eradication of the informal economy difficult, as nobody wishes to “criminalize the poor”. The author wondered if the increased IVA proposal will increase or reduce the public’s participation in the informal economy, and guessed that tackling this issue will not be a government priority anytime soon.

A number of articles focused on the future of the IFE and the electoral reform proposals presented by the PAN and PRD. An article pointed out that three electoral advisors will end their terms at the IFE on October 31st, meaning that, unless Mexico’s political parties put aside their differences and elect four new advisors, the world-renowned IFE will be left in charge of the four remaining advisors. The article also stated that the PRD and PAN electoral-reform proposals insist on changing the IFE into the National Institute for Elections, which would oversee not only federal elections, but state elections too. This, they argue, will prevent governors from manipulating state elections. María Amparo Casar, in an article titled Nuevas normas, mismas conductas argued that even if they are implemented, the electoral-reform proposal presented by the PAN and PRD will not be effective unless political parties commit to abandoning fraudulent activities. Jorge Fernández Menéndez argued that the electoral-political reform – which matters relatively little to Mexican people – is extremely important, as it will dictate the context and the terms of the other reform debates.

Writing about the fiscal reform proposal, José Woldenberg wrote that there are many opposition groups that sustain that the new reform is unequally affecting the middle class. However, the fiscal reform will not affect the middle class; it will affect the upper one. On a separate issue, Jorge Castañeda, pointed out that Mexico must do more to improve its FDI so it can think of growing at a 5% GDP rate. Finally, Rosario Green questioned why Vice-President Joe Biden came and went without discussing a very important issue in the bilateral agenda: immigration and immigration reform. She stated that the lack of action of on the part of the US government to provide a dignified life to immigrants is unacceptable.

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