On Saturday, President Felipe Calderón announced a cabinet reshuffle, with an eye to the 2012 election. Juan Molinar Horcasitas, one of Calderón’s closest political advisers, resigned as Secretary of Communications and Transportation in order “to participate intensively in political-party work that is important for the life of the country” according to the President’s statement. He is being replaced by Dionisio Pérez-Jácome, who has been Undersecretary of Finance for Expenditures and who also briefly served as presidential chief of staff.
Molinar’s record as head of SCT was not stellar. The ministry continued to be bedeviled by technical problems in executing the government’s ambitious transportation infrastructure program. And little headway was made in the area of telecommunications policy, where the award of a large bloc of wireless spectrum to a Nextel-Televisa consortium was drowned in a sea of lawsuits and the withdrawal of Televisa.
The President also named congressman Roberto Gil Zuarth as his new private secretary, replacing Luis Felipe Bravo Mena. Gil Zuarth had been widely seen as the President’s preferred candidate to take over the PAN in the party’s recent election of a new leader (an election won by Senator Gustavo Madero). Bravo Mena is returning to the private sector.
As noted by El Universal’s Bajo Reserva column: “Inside and outside his party, the PAN, the reading [of the changes] was the same: it is a signal that Calderón is not packing his bags and ready to give up power, perhaps to a political adversary. [The appointments] announced yesterday were a demonstration that he will give battle to everyone, including those within his own party.”
Georgina Kessel moves from Secretary of Energy to the President of Banobras, the development bank. She replaces Alonso García Tamés, who returns to the private sector.
José Antonio Meade, Undersecretary of Finance, becomes the new Secretary of Energy. Meade becomes the last of the senior level technocratic ‘old guard’ of the Ministry of Finance to leave, a process that started with the appointment of Ernesto Cordero as Finance Secretary in December 2009.
In a rare use of his veto power, President Felipe Calderón vetoed a change in corporate law that would have allowed for single shareholder corporate entitities. The President vetoed the measure not because he opposed the substance, but because the legislation that emerged from Congress created a new category of entity, with special rules, rather than just eliminating the requirement for more than one shareholder. “The Federal Executive power under my command has stated that it is in favor of a minimal regulation that gives agility to the mechanisms for setting up and operating companies; the legislation does not do this,” he said in his veto statement. The measure was originally submitted to Congress in March 2008 by the PAN and PRI and was quickly passed by the Senate, but has languished and been modified in the Chamber of Deputies. Congress can change the draft law based on the President’s observations, let the veto stand, or try to override the veto with a two-thirds majority. (Reforma 11/9)
Less than two weeks after President Calderón declared that “the prestige of all three levels of government depends on the rescue of Ciudad Juárez,” the slaughter Friday night of 14 youths at a birthday party underscored the inability of the authorities to bring order to Mexico’s most violent city, where at least 2,421 persons have died this year.
The outgoing mayor of Juárez, José Reyes Ferriz, (and who lives in El Paso) gave an interview to Proceso just before leaving office in which he summarized the tally from his three years in office:
“7,000 dead, including 190 police officers; 10,000 orphans; 250,000 people who have emigrated from the city because of the violence; 10,000 businesses closed; 130,000 jobs lost; 25,000 homes abandoned; and 80,000 addicts. (Reforma 10/26)
Meanwhile in Tijuana, recently celebrated for a modest decrease in killings, the murder of at least 13 persons at a drug rehab clinic Sunday is being viewed as revenge for the much publicized seizure and destruction of marijuana by forces under the command of police chief Col. Julián Leyzaola Pérez. Messages broadcast on the police band said, “Remember there were 135 tons; there will be more dead.” (Reforma 10/26)
Supreme Court Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero ordered the suspension of the presidential decree issued on Sept. 2 that would have accelerated the transition to digital TV in Mexico to 2015 from 2021. Sánchez was acting on a petition by the Congress to rule on the constitutional issues. Speaking at a business forum, President Calderón said, “We are pushing forward, with determination, and despite the resistance, for the transition to digital television in Mexico, in order to … give higher quality and more options to consumers.” The full court could take many months before ruling on the substance of the constitutional controversy. (Reforma 10/26)
Acting on a long proposed initiative, President Calderón sent to Congress the constitutional legislation to create 32 unified state-level police forces that would do away with most of the 2,000 municipal police forces and establish uniform standards for recruitment, training, and control. “It is necessary to make a sharp change in course in the model for police organizations that will permit the Mexican State to guarantee public safety across the entire country,” he said. Municipalities would be able to keep their own police forces in some cases, if they demonstrated that their forces met the minimum standards. “On the day that, in addition to having a reliable, well-trained, and professional Federal Police to confront criminality, we also have in each of the 32 states reliable, well-trained, well-paid, well-armed police forces, that day we will be able to decisively close the space for criminality,” he concluded. The 2011 budget proposal already includes Ps. 2.4 billion for funding the initiative. PRD Senator Carlos Navarrete cautioned that the legislation would be subject to “exhaustive analysis” and “modification if needed” in the Senate. Meanwhile, Aguascalientes became the first state to create on its own unified police force. The mayors of the 11 municipalities in the state signed the agreements to cede control of their police forces to the state’s Secretary for Public Safety. (Universal 10/7, 10/11, Reforma 10/11)
The Ministry of Communications and Transportation (SCT) sought to end the seemingly endless controversy surrounding the award of 30MHz of nationwide wireless spectrum to a Televisa-Nextel consortium by delivering the concession deeds immediately after a federal judge overturned an injunction blocking the move. Iusacell, controlled by TV magnate Ricardo Salinas, had filed some 69 suits trying to block the delivery of the concessions. SCT Secretary Juan Molinar denied that the concessions were being delivered “furtively,” but the SCT clearly decided to act before any more injunctions could be issued. President Calderón spoke directly on the subject, saying, “I know that this is a controversial solution, but it is giving us a much clearer framework for the [telecommunications] sector and much greater competition.” The conclusion by many commentators that the issue is not yet resolved was strengthened by the cautious statement issued by Televisa, saying that “discussions are ongoing … as to whether certain closing conditions have been or can be satisfied.” (Universal 10/3, 10/8, Televisa 10/4)
A new Mitofsky poll shows preferences for the 2012 presidential election largely unchanged. Based on party choices (without naming specific candidates), the PRI is preferred by 38% of those surveyed, the PAN 20%, and the PRD 10%. (The rest are undecided or favor minor parties.) There has been a slight uptick in support for the PAN, which is consistent with an increase in President Felipe Calderón’s poll ratings in recent months. When voters are asked whom they would like to see as President, Enrique Peña Nieto, the PRI governor of Mexico State, outpolls all other contenders by a 3:1 margin. (www.consulta.com.mx)
Even as the PRI leadership – Manlio Fabio Beltrones, Beatriz Paredes, and Francisco Rojas – met privately with President Calderón to discuss budget priorities, the party published an open letter to the President calling for an economic package with no new taxes and a rollback of the value added tax (VAT) from 16 to 15%. Undersecretary of Finance José Antonio Meade said the budget, to be delivered on the 8th, would keep all taxes unchanged from current levels and called the proposal to cut tax rates “irresponsible” given the decline in oil production. Meade said the budget to be proposed would have a deficit of about 0.4% of GDP, and that a 1% cut in the VAT would cost about Ps. 35 billion. (Universal 9/7)
Simultaneously with the Informe, Calderón issued a decree accelerating the conversion from analog to digital TV. According to the President, this “transcendent measure” will free up the 700 MHz band (currently used for analog) for other uses that will speed the convergence of telephone, Internet, and television services. The recapture of spectrum, sure to be challenged in court by the broadcasters, is now set to begin in 2012 and be completed by 2015. José Antonio Crespo writes, “If carried out as proposed, [the decree] could become the greatest legacy of the Calderón government and would have media-political implications of the greatest importance. The competition between the electronic media and telecommunications providers constitutes a reform of great depth, which could contribute to democratization, opening up new information options … in order to reduce the enormous political influence that the media and communications conglomerates have in Mexico.” (Excelsior 9/3)
President Calderón’s fourth Informe largely focused on highlighting the ten initiatives announced in last year’s message, and called for Congress to pass blocked reform legislation. The greatest emphasis was put on security, with the capture of Édgar Valdez Villarreal, aka “La Barbie,” providing a much-needed exclamation point. The President, however, warned: “Today, crime is the greatest threat to peace, security, and the freedom of Mexicans. … The fight for security calls for and requires the commitment of all. We have to close ranks to fight it. It is a cause that should be above particular interests, of ideologies, of parties. We need to understand that the common enemy of Mexicans is the criminals, not the authorities who fight the criminals. I have said that this is not, nor can it be, the fight of the President only. It needs to be part of a policy of the State that, as such, corresponds to the three levels of Government and the three powers, to the media, to all society, with each acting in its area of responsibility, and each according to his means.”
On the eve of the bicentennial of Independence, the President closed with an emotional call for unity and for taking up the challenge to close the gap between “the two Mexicos”: the Mexico of world leaders and the Mexico of extreme poverty. “Our generation has the opportunity to change Mexico. A peaceful change, that will overcome inertia, that will overcome resistance. A profound change that will make Mexico into a nation that is strong, just, prosperous, secure, clean, free democratic; the nation that we want it to be.” (Presidencia 9/1)