Priorities, priorities


Mexico’s President has been battling corruption rumors for years.  I guess now instead of trying to actively combat corruption, he is instead spreading it around more!

Santiago Perez of the WSJ reports that the Mexican government “recently carried out one of the region’s biggest government giveaways: a $1.3 billion program to hand out close to 10.5 million flat-screen television sets to the country’s poor.” Looks like they have their priorities straight.

There are at least two major problems with this program:

First, and not surprisingly, “the process was riddled with corruption in its latter stages…Some contracts to purchase hundreds of thousands of TVs were awarded in no-bid procedures, and a high-ranking Mexican official asked for kickbacks during the process.” 

Second, “critics of the program say the government shunned less expensive alternatives, designed by the previous administration of President Felipe Calderón, for switching the country to digital television. Gustavo Rivera, executive director of Opciona, a Mexican anticorruption advocacy group [notes] ‘It was an overly expensive and flawed plan that showed either negligence or corruption.'” Or both!





Why don’t we do it in the road?

Of course you know I’m talking about planting banana trees, right?  Kenyan boda boda drivers, tired of empty promises by politicians to repair a road, have come up with an ingenious way of protesting.  They are planting banana plants in the road, arguing that if the government cannot bother to keep it up, they might as well turn it into farmland.


h/t to @kenyapundit, who tweeted the photo with the question: “Why are we struggling with such basics?”

Ken Opalo (@kopalo) wins the internet this morning with a reply that is both correct and poignant:  “Because we are all about shiny things. Leapfrogging our way back to 1600.”




Sheep go to heaven, goats become cabinet ministers

The FT notes that former Brazilian President Lula da Silva reportedly said the following as a revolutionary in the 1980s:

“In Brazil, when a poor man steals he goes to jail — when a rich man steals he becomes a minister.”

His words appear to be both true and prophetic:


h/t Ian Bremmer (@ianbremmer)

Title context below:

How Not to Fight Corruption, Mexico Edition

Ernesto Villanueva has a great post up about the uselessness of Mexico’s new anti-corruption scheme currently being debated in the Mexican Senate.  He also has a hilarious (but sadly, accurate) description of the background to this constitutional amendment:

It was precisely a corruption scandal involving the president, his wife and his treasury secretary, Luis Videgaray, that led high-level figures to prioritize anti-corruption legislation in the first place. President Peña appointed Virgilio Andrade — a close friend of Secretary Videgaray from their university days — to investigate a conflict of interest case involving Peña, his wife and Secretary Videgaray. To be clear: Andrade was asked to investigate a conflict of interest case involving a party with whom he had a conflict of interest. The result was predictable.

And here are some reasons he is skeptical about the new amendment:

a. It would “leave the president untouched and outside the scope of the anti-corruption regime except in two cases: a) treason against the nation and b) serious criminal offenses. Since treason is almost impossible to prove in Mexico, and all serious criminal offenses specified in the bill have disappeared from the Criminal Code.”

b.  “In order to protect legislators´ freedom of speech and avoid persecution due to statements made in Congress, legislators were given “fuero,” or immunity, in 1917. The fuero has been distorted and is now used to guarantee impunity for politicians. Aside from the need to eliminate the immunity provided by the fuero, the anti-corruption reforms do nothing to address its misuse, and it remains intact.”

c.  This one might be my personal favorite: “a mandatory declaration of financial assets is not made public unless the public servant agrees to it.”  And it gets even better:  “Although the declaration is made under oath, the financial information is not checked to confirm its accuracy.”  Because no public servant would ever lie under oath!

d. To wit, the amendment would call for a huge new bureaucracy that has little power (it can only “recommend prosecution but cannot actually prosecute”) but will almost certainly increase corruption by incentivizing “the partisan distribution of government jobs.”

Villanueva sums it up perfectly when he says that the reform gives “an impression of change, but not change that is in any way real.”  That pretty much sums up a lot of reform in Mexico.

Truth is Stranger than Fiction, Mexico Edition

and I’m not actually talking about El Chapo’s (second) escape from a “high-security” prison in Mexico.  No, this time it’s Pemex that is providing the hilarious incompetence via an article called “12 Ridiculous Things We Learned About PEMEX’s Insanely Expensive Safety Videos.”

Let’s start with the fact that Pemex has a terrible safety record.  According to the article (and the Reuters investigation upon which it is based), “Mexico has the worst injury rate of all major oil-producing countries.”

Instead of fixing the situation through better worker training, management instead decided to “spend over $40 million to make cheesy safety videos filled with bikini-clad telenovela stars and low-budget special effects.”  Wow, what a great idea for a company that supposedly is trying to get its act together.  Management decided this was a better use of money than actually providing more safety training and apparently a lot more fun for the workers (according to one safety official, “If a woman comes out in a bikini, it is like salt and pepper for the oil workers.”)  Alrightly then.

And how do you manage to spend $40 million on safety videos.  Excellent question.  The article notes that:

“At least part of the budget went toward hiring nine pre-production staffers, 10 stunt doubles, four drivers, two areal cameramen, 37 miscellaneous crew members, actors and extras and mediocre green screen technology. It is not entirely clear where the rest of the money went.”

That last line is classic Mexico.

Cada oveja con su pareja, or the least “green” Green party in the world

Jo Tuckman, author of the excellent book Mexico: Democracy Interrupted, wrote an article for the Guardian yesterday called “Mexico’s Greens: pro-death penalty, allegedly corrupt – and not very green.”

She starts the piece by noting that

(1) Greens traditionally have had to fight the stereotype that they are tree-hugging idealists that will never make much a mark in the rough and tumble political world.


(2) This is not a problem for the Mexican Greens, a.k.a The “False Greens”

Here are some reasons why:

a. “The party have regularly been accused of corruption, selling political favours – and of showing no interest in environmental issues. In 2009, the party ran an election campaign calling for the return of the death penalty. Of the infamous 2009 campaign slogan calling for “Death to Kidnappers”, he said: “It is true that the European Greens would never support the death penalty, but they don’t live in Mexico.”

b. “They [the Green party] have taken a family business to an extreme that borders on organized crime. Their sale of favours has bubbled up like foam.”

c. “Their electoral strategy relies heavily on remarkably slick and well-targeted political advertising that offers apparently easy solutions to major problems, and rarely has much to do with environmental issues. Defending the strategy, Escobar said: “We are the second biggest Green party in the world, after the Germans, so we have to defend the whole range of issues affecting the population.”

d. “The Greens concentrate the bad elements of Mexican politics and take them to an extreme,” said political analyst Jesús Silva Herzog. “There are sinister figures in all the big parties, but there are some respectable ones too. I cannot think of a single respectable figure in the Green Party.”

Like the old cliche that birds of a feather flock together [cada oveja con su pareja!], the Green Party is allied with the PRI.

Burn baby, burn

When Robin and I lived in Mexico, Semana Santa (Easter week) was one of our favorite times of the year. So much less traffic! Easy to get into fantastic restaurants! Burning of giant paper mache Judas figures.


This is a long-time tradition, but Mexico being Mexico, the images can get really creative. For example, when we were there, there were a lot of Carlos Salinas Judases getting incinerated.

Here’s a great and topical pic from this year’s Semana Santa celebrations showing EPN and Mrs. EPN in their multi-million dollar, government contractor provided “Casa Blanca” (photo from @TalamantesCNN) about to get all burnt up.


You can also see a more traditional “devil Judas” in the background waiting his turn.