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Will Mexico's Telecom Reform Hurt Internet Freedom?

April 22, 2014

by Arjan Shahani

On March 24, Enrique Peña Nieto presented the Mexican Senate with a bill for a new telecommunications law that complements the constitutional reforms he approved in 2013. The legislation proposes, among other things, to promote competition in the sector, improve telecom services, and regulate the radioelectric spectrum through the new telecommunications regulator, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Federal Telecommunications Institute—IFETEL).  The bill is now being revised, and is expected to be approved in the coming days.

However, the proposal is already raising eyebrows and creating waves in the digital sphere, where it’s being labeled as a form of government censorship.

According to Article 2 of the bill, the legislation is intended to “protect the nation’s security and sovereignty,” and the most controversial articles in the initiative are preceded by mentions of criminal prosecution and promoting the public interest. There is room for discussion on the potential effectiveness of this objective, but much like the current debate in the U.S. over the NSA’s capabilities vs. individual freedoms and privacy, citizens in Mexico are worried about ceding too much power to the federal government.  The far-reaching legislation has created a number of trending topics on Twitter, under hashtags like #EPNvsInternet #ContraElSilencioMx and #NoMasPoderAlPoder (roughly translated to #PeñaNietoV.Internet, #AgainstSilenceMx and #NoMorePowerToTheOnesInPower).

One of the most popular bloggers in Mexico, “Sopitas,” criticized Peña Nieto’s proposal by stating that social media has been the only widespread communication channel where the public can express its dissent with the current government.  On April 21, #EPNvsInternet became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter and, as these words are being written, “netizens” in Mexico City are organizing a massive demonstration at the Ángel de la Independencia monument in downtown Mexico City, which also hosted many of #YoSoy132’s protests against Peña Nieto’s alleged alliance with Televisa in the 2012 presidential elections. When the neutrality of the largest news media conglomerate in the country is in question, citizen journalism becomes crucial.

Attempts to control speech on the Internet are not new. One need only consult Global Voices’ Advocacy project to see that, when given the power to do so, governments unequivocally use Internet restriction as a means to block and control dissent.

But how would the president’s telecom law proposal trample on free speech? What are netizens protesting against? Here are some highlights:

  • Article 145, Paragraph III states that Internet Service Providers (ISP) “will be allowed to block access to content, applications or services upon express request by the user, per order of authority...”
  • Article 189 proposes that ISPs be forced to provide real-time geolocation of specific devices to public officials “awarded the faculty of requesting it...”
  • Article 190 states that ISPs will be “obligated to permit […] intervention of private communications…”  
  • Article 197, paragraph VII states that, if requested by authorities, ISPs will “temporarily block, inhibit or nullify telecommunication signals in events and locations critical to public or national security...” 

Supporters of the proposed telecom law might argue that these new attributions would allow government to better combat organized crime, but the other side of the story shows that if the legislation is approved as-is, any government would be legally awarded the power to read emails exchanged between its detractors, know their location and cut off their communications.

Would the government consider a mass protest on Avenida Reforma to be an event against public security, and thus block cell phone communications in the area? Those opposing the new law seem to think this is a possibility.

This developing story has caused outrage on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Will this outrage help write a different conclusion—one in which the proposed telecom bill is overturned? Or will Mexico join the ranks of censorship-friendly countries such as Cambodia, Turkey and Venezuela?  

Tags: Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico, Telecom

Politicians Under Fire in Mexico

April 17, 2014

by Arjan Shahani

This week, two mayors in the state of Michoacán were arrested by the Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Michoacán (Attorney General of the State of Michoacán—PGJE ). Uriel Chávez, the mayor of Apatzingan and a member of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), and Noé Aburto Inclán, mayor of Tacámbaro and a member of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN), were detained on suspicion of extortion and embezzlement, respectively. 

As if Mexicans needed more reasons to distrust their elected officials, two other cases this month, coming from the PRI, show just how low some publicly elected officials are willing to stoop in a country plagued by impunity.

Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez was the president of the PRI in Mexico City until April 2, 2014. Gutiérrez is the son of the late Rafael Gutiérrez—a former council member for the PRI in Mexico City known as the “The King of Trash” because he led the capital city’s trash collectors’ union for more than 20 years.  Rafael Gutiérrez’s wife, Martha García, confessed to having the “The King of Trash” murdered in 1987. She justified the murder by saying she had endured 11 years of physical abuse from her husband, and also said that Gutiérrez had sexually abused his underage niece.

Apparently Cuauhtémoc has followed in his father’s footsteps. A recent investigation by Noticias MVS radio journalist Carmen Aristegui  reported that Gutiérrez’ office ran ads to hire 18 to 32-year-old women as hostesses that were also expected to provide Gutiérrez sexual favors in exchange for higher pay. In recorded testimonies, four victims mention performing sexual favors for Gutiérrez inside Mexico City’s PRI offices, as well as accompanying him on business trips and to nighttime events. The Procuraduría de Justicia (Justice Department) in Mexico City is now investigating the case.

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Tags: Mexico, corruption, Mexican politics

Two Mexican Mayors Arrested

April 16, 2014

by AQ Online

The mayors of the Mexican cities of Apatzingan and Tacámbaro, in the state of Michoacán, were arrested last night by the Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Michoacán (Attorney General of the State of Michoacán—PGJE ) on suspicion of extortion and embezzlement, respectively.  

Uriel Chávez, the mayor of Apatzingan and a member of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), is accused of pressuring city council members to pay $1,500 out of their salaries to the Knights Templar cartel, which has a strong presence in the city. The prosecutors said they received a number of complaints by council members who allege that in January of 2012, Chávez took them to a rural area where armed men demanded money for weapons. Chávez denies the claims.

Meanwhile, Noé Aburto Inclán, mayor of Tacámbaro and a member of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN), was also arrested last night for reportedly embezzling money from city coffers.

Michoacán has become a stronghold for the Knights Templar cartel. Last year, a number of civilians began organizing themselves into fuerzas autodefensas (self-defense forces) to combat the cartel’s infleucne. The Mexican government initially tried to integrate the groups into formalized units called the Rural Defense Corps under control of the military. But few of the self-defense forces obliged, causing the interior minister to set a May 10 deadline for autofedensas to register their guns and join the Corps or face arrest.

Tags: Mexico, Autodefensas, Michoacán

The Candigato is back in Mexico

April 3, 2014

by Arjan Shahani

In 2013, Morris, the Candigato (Cat Candidate) gained notoriety in Mexico’s social networks and news outlets after launching a successful online campaign via Facebook and Twitter, in a mock run for the position of Mayor of the city of Xalapa, Veracruz. The Candigato’s comedic slogans, such as “Tired of voting for rats? Vote for a Cat,” became popular among the online community and almost instantly his account on Facebook gained close to 250,000 followers. Morris, the Candigato, is a perfect reflection of Mexico’s idiosyncrasy: many Mexicans will laugh at their tragedies.

The online campaign lasted for two months and only cost as much as the registry for the web domain. Yet after the votes were counted, CNN reported that Morris had bested at least 3 of the 8 actual candidates running for office. The creators the Candigato were recognized by the Victory Awards, winning the “Best Political Innovator” during the 2014 Marketing Político en la Red (Political Online Marketing) Conference—an unusual selection for an award usually won by political consultants.    

Unfortunately, while the Candigato’s online success may be amusing, it is also points to Mexican society’s apathy and callousness for its political leaders. Now Morris is back with a different mission.

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Tags: Mexico, Morris El Candigato, Veracruz

Head of Mexico National Security Commission Resigns

March 18, 2014

by AQ Online

Manuel Mondragón y Kalb, Mexico’s head of the National Security Commission, resigned on Monday. He had served in the position since 2013 and was in charge of crime control and prevention.

Although the motive for Mondragón y Kalb’s resignation is unclear, sources speculate that it was in part because Mondragón  was far behind schedule on heading an anti-drug National Gendarmerie paramilitary force that was to be organized by September of 2013 with 10,000 officers. As it stands, the group will now will have an estimated 5,000 officers in its ranks.  President Enrique Peña Nieto appointed Mondragón y Kalb as part of his promise to crack down on crime and drug related violence.  However, while homicide and murder rates have decreased, other forms of violence have spiked. Between January and November of 2013 there were 32 percent more kidnappings in Mexico than during the previous year.

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong is expected to make an official announcement  of Mondragón’s resignation today. No replacement has been named yet. A trained plastic surgeon, Mondragón y Kalb held several federal positions prior to becoming the national security commissioner, including Police Chief of Mexico City.

Tags: Manuel Mondragón y Kalb, Mexico

La Captura del Chapo Guzmán

March 3, 2014

by Rodrigo Borja

El pasado sábado 22 de febrero de 2014, en el estado mexicano de Sinaloa, fue capturado en el puerto de Mazatlán Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán, el narcotraficante más buscado del mundo.

Nadie en su sano juicio podría estar en contra de su captura. Como líder del cartel de Sinaloa, se le achacan infinidad de muertes desde su fuga en 2001, además de ser el responsable de la introducción de gran parte de la droga que cruza la frontera hacia los Estados Unidos.

Sin embargo, la forma en que se llevó a cabo su detención ha generado muchas suspicacias, algunas sin fundamento y otras que mueven a la reflexión.

Lo que más extraña es el hecho de que el famoso capo estuviera acompañado tan solo por un guardaespaldas, además de su familia, siendo que era conocido que tenía un grupo de más de 300 personas para cuidarlo. Sorprende mucho que ni siquiera hubiera algunos de sus hombres, de los llamados “halcones,” apostados en las cercanías para avisarle de la llegada de las autoridades.

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Tags: Narco Trafficking, Joaquín, Mexico

Transforming Monterrey’s Landscape

February 26, 2014

by Arjan Shahani

Monterrey, one of the largest cities in Mexico, has recently become a hotspot for criminal activity and host to a number of violent incidents. An ambitious urban development initiative, however, is set to change the city’s deteriorating reputation.

Seventy years ago, an institution that transformed the educational system in Mexico was born, Tec de Monterrey, an icon of entrepreneurial spirit and industrial development success based in the city of Monterrey. Dubbed by many of its alumni as the “MIT of Latin America”, Tec was founded in 1943 by Don Eugenio Garza Sada, an MIT graduate himself.

Tec de Monterrey is much more than a university, it is a nation-wide system of high school, university and post-graduate campuses with a common mission: to develop human and professional potential in its students. Its headquarters and most important campus is the Campus Monterrey, located in the valley of the famous Cerro de la Silla of southern Monterrey, an  area that has hosted violence, including the tragic deaths of two students in a 2010 shooting.

However, Tec de Monterrey recently presented a 500 million dollar urban development project which will, among other things, reclaim public spaces of 17 neighborhoods in the vicinity of the Monterrey Campus. The money funding the project will come predominately from donations and proceeds from the annual Sorteo Tec,  a lottery system similar to state-run lotteries, that is privately organized by Tec de Monterrey.

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Tags: Tecnológico de Monterrey, Development, Mexico

The Three Amigos and the Lure of Bilateralism

February 18, 2014

by John Parisella

As the North American leaders Stephen Harper, Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto meet in Mexico City this week, we can expect smiles and all the rhetoric about intensifying the relationship between the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners. While the trade numbers justify applauding and celebrating the NAFTA agreement 20 years after its inauguration (January 1994), there remains a lot of “behind the scenes” tension, conflict and unresolved issues.

For Canada, NAFTA has been a positive development. In 2010, trilateral trade represented $878 billion, which is a threefold expansion of trade since 1993. Mexico now represents Canada’s first Latin American partner in trade, and we are Mexico’s second most important trade partner in the world. Bilateral trade has expanded at a rate of 12.5% yearly to attain $30 billion in 2010.  Canadian investment in Mexico is now estimated at over $10 billion. In short, both countries have benefitted from the deal.

This being said, it is generally acknowledged that both Canada and Mexico invest more time, energy, and resources in pursuing bilateral relations with the world’s number one economy, the United States. As a result, some outstanding issues such as Canada’s imposition of visas on Mexican tourists continue to be a major irritant for the Mexican government. The continuing disputes on respective beef import bans also continue to create tension between the two countries.

Just this past weekend, Canada’s highly respected Globe and Mail had the following headlines: “Mexico has stern messages for Harper” and “Canada-Mexico relations merit more than forced smiles”. Clearly, the relationship is strained.

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Tags: NAFTA, Canada, Mexico, United States

Narcocorridos Drum up Support for the Knights Templar in Michoacán

February 6, 2014

by Arjan Shahani

Narcocorridos—songs that celebrate drug dealers as folk heroes—have been a part of Mexican culture for as long as the illicit activity has existed in the country.  Attempts to censor them from reaching radio airwaves have triggered debates over freedom of speech, as well as outcries from the more liberal media

But as a recent concert in Morelia, the capital city of Michoacán, shows, there is a fine line between painting a pretty picture of criminality and actually engaging in direct support for organized crime groups that have brought parts of Mexico to unmanageable levels of violence.

The state of Michoacán has been in the spotlight for almost a year now, due to a complete degradation of the rule of law. A clashing arena for a number of criminal organizations including the Familia Michoacana, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, the Zetas and the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar), Michoacán is a case study where criminality has grown larger than the state itself.

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Tags: Mexico, Michoacán, narcocorridos, Knights Templar

Mexican Government and Vigilante Groups Join Forces

January 29, 2014

by AQ Online

The Mexican government announced a temporary agreement on Monday that will incorporate vigilante groups in the state of Michoacán into national law enforcement.

Over the past year, civilian groups have taken arms to combat the violent Knights Templar drug cartel (Caballeros Templarios) based out of Apatzingan, Michoacán. The government moved to integrate the local groups into the Rural Defense Corps, a preexisting organization that is controlled by the military, after failing to disarm vigilantes in the region earlier this month.

The plan comes after the leader of the Knights Templar, Dionisio Loya Plancarte, was captured on Monday.  Some see the move to combine state forces with the vigilantes as a major development in the fight against drug cartel related violence. “This is the start point of the new dynamic in which we are going to work together, the state and federal governments, with civil society,” said Alfredo Castillo, the federal government envoy to Michoacán.

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Tags: Mexico, Michoacán, Vigilante Groups

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