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.
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)
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)
As expected, the Ministry of Communications and Transportation (SCT) awarded a 20-year concession to operate and develop a high capacity fiber optic network that will provide an alternative backbone to the one provided by dominant telecom operator Telmex (and its sister company, cell phone operator America Movil). The winning consortium—and sole bidder—is owned in equal shares by Televisa, Telefonica, and Megacable. They will pay the government Ps. 884 million (just over the minimum price) for the ‘dark fiber’ network of state-owned utility company CFE, and plan to invest Ps. 1,400 million to build out and light up the network, which can carry voice, data, and video. Minister of Communications Juan Molinar said,
This will be a significant increase in the telecommunications infrastructure in our country, which will provide enormous benefits for telecommunications operators and, above all, for Mexican consumers…. This will increase competition, coverage, and convergence, the three ‘Cs’ that orient the public policies of the Government of President Calderón in the communications area.
Francisco Gil Diaz, the head of Telefonica in Mexico (and former Secretary of Finance) noted:
Among the many things that are lacking in this country, one is the lack of competition. The fact that [the existing] fiber optic network is under the control of one sole operator signifies that everyone else that participates in the telecommunications market has to accept the prices and conditions of service that this operator provides us. Now we will have competition, and this fiber network will be … available to everyone in the industry.
The first anniversary of the ABC child care center fire in Sonora was declared a national day of mourning by President Calderón. Thousands marched in Hermosillo to remember the dead and demand reforms. Forty-nine children died and 74 were injured in the disaster. Supreme Court minister Arturo Zaldívar issued a draft report on the tragedy. Zaldivar’s report, which must be voted upon by the full Court, found 14 public officials at fault, including Minister of Communications and Transportation Juan Molinar Horcasitas, who was then the head of the Social Security Institute (IMSS), under whose auspices the child care center operated. Others named include current IMSS head Daniel Káram and former Sonora governor Eduardo Bours. The Supreme Court has the power to investigate violations of individual rights, but not to sanction individuals. However, the naming of Molinar, one of Calderón’s closest advisors, could have consequences. Noted columnist Rene Delgado, “Juan Molinar Horcasitas should see that his time is up. He should have presented his resignation months ago. If he isn’t going to do so now, President Calderón should remove him from his post.” (Universal 6/6, Reforma 6/6)