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.
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)
In a major setback to the Government’s tortured attempt to create a new strong player in the telecommunications sector, Televisa and Nextel announced that Televisa was backing out of the agreement to invest US$ 1.44 billion in Nextel in order to fund the buildout of a nationwide 3G mobile network. Their consortium was the winner of the controversial wireless spectrum auction 21, which was specifically structured by the Government to make it practically impossible for the existing holders of large nationwide blocs of spectrum (Carlos Slim’s Telcel, Telefonica, and and Ricardo Salinas’ Iusacell-Unefon) to enter bids. The spectrum was awarded with the affirmative vote of only two of the five Cofetel commissioners, and the entire process has been challenged in the courts by Grupo Salinas, which has filed more than 70 lawsuits seeking to block the award. On his Twitter account, Emilio Azcárraga Jean, the CEO of Televisa, said simply, “We have to take decisions every day, and I believe that we are taking the best decision for us.” Nextel, which was actually awarded the spectrum, has said it intends to go forward. (Reforma 10/18, Universal 10/18)
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)
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)
As expected, the five Cofetel commissioners met today and elected their newest member, Mony de Swaan as Chairman for the next four years. De Swaan had been chief of staff to Juan Molinar, the SCT Secretary, and was only appointed last week by President Calderón to fill the chair vacated by Héctor Osuna’s surprise resignation. (CNN Expansión 7/7)
SCT Secretary Juan Molinar announced that his chief of staff, Mony de Swaan will be named by President Calderón to the Cofetel seat left empty by the sudden resignation of Hector Osuna last week. De Swaan came to SCT when Molinar was named Secretary, and had also been Molinar’s deputy when the latter was an IFE counsellor. In her business column, Maricarmen Cortés wrote that President Calderón would likely push for the Commission to vote de Swann into the chairmanship. She also noted that the pros for naming de Swaan were the prospect of greater coordination between the Ministry and Cofetel and the likely abolition of the ‘double window’ whereby telecommunications regulations have to be approved by both the SCT and Cofetel. The cons are his “brief but intense” background in telecommunications issues, and the likely de facto reduction of Cofetel’s autonomy.
A 2007 Supreme Court decision removed the Senate’s power to confirm Cofetel commissioners (on the grounds that the Cofetel is, as a body within the SCT, part of the executive branch and not a true autonomous agency). However, a number of parties have threatened to file suit to block de Swaan’s appointment on the grounds that he does not meet the legal qualifications as “having carried out in a distinguished manner professional, public service, or academic activities substantially related to the telecommunications sector.”
(Universal 6/30, 7/1)