A Potential Turning Point for Gender Violence in Mexico

July 29, 2015

by AQ Online

The often overlooked struggle to address violence against women in Mexico may have reached a turning point this week, after the country’s secretary of the interior approved “gender violence alerts” for 11 municipalities in Mexico state. The alerts, which some local governments have been requesting for several years, provide municipalities with federal funding and technical assistance to implement programs to combat gender-based violence.                       

The murder of women because of their gender, known as femicide, is an all-too-common occurrence in Mexico. But homicide cases involving women in the country are seldom classified as femicides; a study released earlier this year by the National Citizen Observatory on Femicide (OCNF) in Mexico found that, of the 3,892 women killed between 2012 and 2013, less than 16 percent were investigated by authorities under the classification.

While the alerts are a step forward in the government’s efforts to tackle the issue, some human rights advocates say that more must be done in a country where six women are murdered every day, by some estimates. It is also unclear how much federal funding will be dedicated to preventing violence against women as a result of this week’s announcement.

Still, some observers see cause for optimism. In an interview with SinEmbargo, María de la Luz Estrada, director of the OCNF, expressed hope that this week’s approval would signal a change in the government’s attitude toward gender violence, and called Mexico state governor Eruviel Avila’s push for the gender alerts an “acknowledgement of the existence of structural and systematic gender violence that has worsened with disappearances and femicides."

There may also be signs that the approval of the alerts reflects a broader change to how gender violence is understood in Mexico. On Tuesday, a prosecutor in the northern state of Chihuahua sentenced five men each to 697 years behind bars for the trafficking and murder of six women, a sentence that Telesur called “an unprecedented move in a country where the systematic killing of women often goes unpunished.”

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Tags: Mexico, Gender violence, Women's rights

Oil Companies' Uncertain Return to Mexico

July 15, 2015

by AQ Online

Mexico welcomed international oil companies back into its borders for the first time in 77 years, today, with the announcement of winning bids for rights to explore 14 shallow-water oil blocks in the Gulf of Mexico. Though just two of the available blocks garnered successful bids, the auction was an early step in what will be years-long opening of the country's oil and gas sector—part of a historic energy reform package that president Enrique Peña Nieto hopes will bolster foreign investment and spur growth in the country’s lackluster economy.

But an oversupply of oil and gas in international markets and sustained low prices for crude have made gauging investor interest—and the ultimate impact of reforms—more difficult. Mexico faces tough competition from other oil producing countries in the region, like Brazil and Colombia. The recent deal reached on the Iran nuclear program could also challenge Mexico with the possibility of a glut of new oil entering global markets.

Still, while the downward trend in oil prices limited entrants in the first round of bidding (even Pemex pulled out to focus on later auctions), there remains significant international interest in Mexican oil, especially the deep-water blocks in the Perdido Fold Belt that will be auctioned off in the coming weeks. 

“What has been gratifying is that, despite the low oil price environment, we are seeing a lot of interest,” said the head of Mexico’s National Hydrocarbon Commission (CNH), Juan Carlos Zepeda, in an interview with Bloomberg Business. “The number of companies interested is moving with dynamism and has increased significantly.”

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Tags: Mexico, oil, Latin American oil

Mexico's 'soda tax' leads families to cut back

June 23, 2015

by AQ Online

Nearly a year after former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-soda efforts fell flat in New York City, makers of sugary beverages still have plenty to worry about. In March, the first so-called soda tax in the U.S. went into effect in Berkeley, California, earning the city $116,000 in the first month alone. Legislation to tax sweetened beverages is reportedly coursing its way through statehouses in Connecticut, Illinois, Vermont and Hawaii. And while San Francisco voters rejected a soda tax in November, earlier this month the city's Board of Supervisors approved measures restricting soda advertising and barring the use of city funds to purchase sweetened drinks.

The latest bit of bad news (for soda makers) comes out of Mexico, which passed the world’s first soda tax in late 2013. According to a study released by the University of North Carolina and the Mexican National Public Health Institute (INSP), the nation’s one peso per liter tax on sodas caused an average decline in purchases of 6 percent over the course of 2014.

Contrary to earlier suggestions by Mexican bottling giant Coca-Cola FEMSA that the tax’s effect had waned over the course of the year, the report found that the decline in sales had accelerated over time. The tax especially influenced the country’s poorer households, which cut purchases of sugary drinks by an average of 9 percent.

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Tags: Mexico, Health policy, Economic Policy

Civil Society Groups Decry Education Reform Rollback in Mexico

June 2, 2015

by AQ Online

A group of civil society organizations and ordinary citizens denounced on Monday the suspension of a key provision of the sweeping education reform package signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto in September 2013. The provision—which provided for the evaluation of Mexican teachers and linked raises and promotions to candidates’ performance on these evaluations—was suddenly and indefinitely suspended last Friday by the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Public Education Secretariat—SEP).

In a statement released yesterday, organizations including México Evalúa (Mexico Assesses), a public policy think tank, the Instituto Mexicano de la Competitividad (Mexican Institute for Competitiveness) and Mexicanos Primero (Mexicans First) asserted that the suspension of teacher evaluations “nullifies the education reform, betraying millions of students in our country.”

The move has also been denounced by the Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación (National Institute for the Evaluation of Education—INEE), an autonomous organization created by the education reform package. “The measure that has been announced is an assault on the INEE’s competency and a violation of its constitutional autonomy,” the INEE declared in a statement on Saturday.

The introduction of standardized teacher evaluations has been a hot button issue since the beginning, generating strong opposition from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers—CNTE) a dissident faction of the national teachers’ syndicate that largely represents teachers from Mexico’s poorer, southern states. Teachers in the states of Michoacán, Oaxaca and Guerrero remained on strike after the original reform package passed, claiming that the reforms were discriminatory towards teachers from these poorer, more Indigenous regions.

More recently, the CNTE had threatened to disrupt the upcoming June 7 elections. On Monday, CNTE members in Oaxaca reportedly broke into two electoral offices in the state—destroying ballots and other electoral materials—and blockaded several more.

Tags: Mexico, Education reform, Enrique Peña Nieto

Mexico and the United States: Crude Oil Swap?

April 28, 2015

by Christian Gómez, Jr.

On April 24, a bipartisan group of five U.S. congressmen, led by Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul (R-TX), submitted a letter to President Barack Obama urging the president to exempt Mexico from U.S. crude oil export restrictions. This House letter follows the February bipartisan letter from 21 U.S. senators to U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker encouraging the Commerce Department to lift restrictions.

Lifting of crude oil export restrictions would open the door towards a proposed “oil swap” between Mexico and the United States. Mexico would supply heavy crude oil in exchange for U.S. light sweet crude oil. The two types of oil are complementary, as Mexico’s refineries are built for light oil, while the opposite is true in the United States.

Petroleos Méxicanos, or Pemex, would like to import some 100,000 barrels per day of light oil. The rationale is that the light oil may be mixed with Mexico’s heavier oil, allowing for refineries to produce more diesel and gasoline per barrel. In fact, Pemex already sends 700,000 barrels per day of crude oil to the United States, but the proposed deal is in fact a swap of light crude for heavier crude, not a net import of U.S. oil.

Pemex submitted the request in August of 2014 and is expecting an answer from the U.S. Commerce Department very soon. The approval of this oil swap would represent a huge step forward in removing all restrictions on crude oil exports, which have been banned for over 40 years, in response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo.

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Tags: Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Trade, oil, NAFTA

Mexico Next to Last in Global Impunity Index

April 21, 2015

by AQ Online

Mexico ranks second to last, after the Philippines, in an international study of impunity in 59 countries that was published yesterday.

The study, carried out by researchers at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (University of the Americas Puebla—UDLAP), looked at data pertaining to countries’ security, justice and human rights systems, as well as these systems’ efficacy and vulnerability to impunity. The research initially looked at the United Nations’ 193 member states and 14 additional territories, but only 59 countries were deemed to have sufficiently robust data in the three areas measured by the study to be included in the index.

Referring to Mexico, the report states that “Mexico does not need to devote ever more resources to increasing the number of police, but rather to the processes that would guarantee the efficacy of their actions.” Researchers found that while the country’s ratio of police per capita is significantly higher than the global average (355 per 100,000 inhabitants), there were only an average of four judges per 100,000—well below the global average of 17 per 100,000. Croatia, which the study found to have the lowest levels of impunity, had a ratio of 45 judges per 100,000 inhabitants.

Increasing the number of judges in Mexico’s judicial system “would have an immediate impact,” the report claims. “Increasing their numbers could reduce the number of prisoners awaiting sentencing and, consequently, reduce the overcrowding of prisons.” Researchers found that nearly half of Mexico’s prison population (46 percent) consists of detainees who have not been sentenced.

Tags: Mexico, Impunity, criminal justice

Public Hearings Begin for Mexico’s Water Law

April 7, 2015

by AQ Online

The Comisión de Recursos Hidráulicos (Hydraulic Resources Commission) of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies initiated a period of public hearings today to inform a new draft of the Ley General de Aguas (General Water Law), which will regulate the management of country’s water resources.

An earlier draft of the water bill, which appeared to have been “fast-tracked” for approval, provoked concern among civil society organizations, agrarian groups, academics, and some opposition lawmakers about the privatization of water services and the process that produced the bill, which critics said was not transparent. Concerns include the bill’s proposals to limit the human right to water to 50 liters per day, to liberalize water provision and management—including the licensing of private enterprises for the development of large-scale hydraulic projects—and to limit the independent study and testing of the country’s water resources.

According to a statement released by the commission, the earlier bill—popularly known as the Ley Korenfeld (Korenfeld Law) after the bill’s principal framer, David Korenfeld, the director of the Comisión Nacional del Agua (National Water Commission—CONAGUA)—“must give way to a new one based on public hearings where specialists, officials, community representatives, civil society organizations, research and higher education institutions, business and chamber of commerce representatives and the general public can make their proposals.” Korenfeld is currently under fire for employing a government helicopter for private use.

Meanwhile, proponents of the original bill have rejected claims that the the provisions it contains regarding the licensing of private companies to perform water management and provision services constitutes an effort to “privatize” the country’s water resources. The president of the Comisión de Aguas y Saneamiento (Water and Sanitation Commission) of the Chamber, Kamel Athié, denied that granting such licenses constitutes privatization of the resource and noted that the bill includes language describing water as a national security issue.

Tags: Mexico, Ley Korenfeld, Water Law

Six Months after Ayotzinapa, Search for Justice Continues

March 27, 2015

by Alexandra Délano

March 26 marked the sixth straight month that Mexicans around the world have mobilized to express their dissatisfaction and frustration with the wave of violence, impunity and corruption that has swept the country in the past decade.

According to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, more than 23,000 Mexicans are currently registered as missing, journalists and scholars are threatened and silenced, and everyday spaces are invaded by the various manifestations of this violence. The disappearance of 43 students from the teachers’ college of Ayotzinapa—with the clear involvement of local authorities, police and members of drug cartels in Guerrero—and the deaths of six others in the same protest last September, has stoked the fire of an already actively engaged civil society.

From the Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity), which marks its fourth anniversary this month, to the #YoSoy132 movement that began in 2012, the clamor for peace, justice, truth, and accountability has only grown stronger.

The Mexican government has attempted to put an end to the protests and criticism by bringing the Ayotzinapa case to a quick conclusion and by recently replacing Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, infamous for muttering “ya me cansé” (“I’m tired”) at a press conference after the students’ disappearance—a phrase that was quickly repurposed as the slogan of a massive protest movement on social media under the hashtag #YaMeCansé.

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Tags: Ayotzinapa, Ya Me Cansé, Mexico

Pemex Suspends Deep Water Projects

February 19, 2015

by AQ Online

Emilio Lozoya, the CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (Mexican Petroleums—Pemex), announced Wednesday that some of the company’s deep water exploration projects would be put on hold due to the declining prices of crude oil. In addition to scaling back on research projects, Lozoya said that job cuts would also be part of a spending cut of over $4.16 billion dollars approved by Pemex’s board of directors last week.

The price of oil has dropped drastically in the last year. Although crude prices averaged at $86 dollars a barrel in 2014, prices fell from a high of $100 dollars a barrel in June of last year to a mere $40 dollars in January of this year. This week prices were slightly up at $50.57 dollars a barrel, a price considered $25 dollars below the amount needed to make such deep water exploration projects profitable. “The exploration of some deep water deposits, especially the riskier ones and those that have not yet begun will be suspended,” said Lozoya.

However, despite the pull backs, Pemex insists that it will continue with Round 1 projects, which are investments in shallow-water areas with lower extraction costs bid upon by outside companies. 

Pemex, which is the seventh largest oil producer in the world, has been rocked by a number of changes over the past year. In August of 2014 the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto succeeded in passing an energy reform bill to break-up the Pemex oil monopoly, awarding foreign companies oil contracts for the first time in Mexico since 1938. The oil giant has also had to deal with illegal tapping of its petrol and diesel pipelines, costing the company over $1 billion dollars.

Tags: Pemex, oil prices, Mexico

Mexico After Ayotzinapa: Ya Me Cansé, Por Eso Propongo

January 29, 2015

by Humberto Beck

Translated by Paulina Suárez-Hesketh

The Ayotzinapa case (in which 43 students were disappeared by local government forces in the city of Iguala, Mexico) has galvanized an unexpected amount of social energy in Mexico. The healthy civic agitation that followed the case, along with the countless expressions of protest and dissatisfaction, reveal the desires of a large portion of the Mexican people to become further engaged with the public sphere.

The revitalization of social consciousness and the meaning of public life have resulted in an unexpected effervescence of ideas and proposals that trace alternate routes for Mexico’s future. One such idea, Ya Me Cansé, Por Eso Propongo (I’m Fed Up, Hence I propose) offers citizens a platform through which to channel this energy.

The initiative Ya Me Cansé, Por Eso Propongo seeks to reinforce ties of solidarity between Mexican citizens through the collective re-articulation of popular political imagination. The project invites people to create a postcard that proposes how to transform the country for the better. A few of weeks from now, the postcards will be printed and exhibited at public events. Each and every one of the messages will be delivered to authorities.

Humbero Beck's postcard for #YaMeCansé, Por Eso Propongo. Image courtesy of Humberto Beck.

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Tags: Mexico, 43 Students, Ya Me Cansé, Por Eso Propongo