Soccer and Politics in Mexico

A New York Times op-ed yesterday showed that the old wiliness of the PRI is alive and well.  One of the most politically sensitive topics in Mexico is PEMEX reform.  So what does the PRI do?  They use the World Cup as cover:

“To debate and pass laws that could open Pemex, the nationalized oil company, to foreign investment, the Mexican Congress scheduled legislative sessions from June 10 to 23, dates precisely coinciding with you know what. Final passage might be pushed back, but it originally looked like it was supposed to happen on Monday, when Mexico plays Croatia to decide which country advances to the elimination rounds.”

That is smart politics!

Apparently it’s a tactic the PRI has used successfully in 1998 and again under EPN: “In 1998, under a previous PRI government, Congress passed a $67 billion rescue of Mexican banks, to be paid by taxpayers, on Dec. 12, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the start of the Christmas holiday.  This past Dec. 12, PRI legislators, joined by allies on the right, “fast track” approved, with almost no debate, the constitutional reform opening the way for the Pemex privatization.”

One of the things we marveled at when living in Mexico was just how much politics was filled with rumors, shadows, and insinuations. Often we scoffed at what we considered to be preposterous rumors and then were later proven to be proven wrong.  A lot of that had to do with the fact that Mexico had been a one party system for so long and politics was so murky that people guessed at what was going on behind the scenes (a form of Kremlinology, perhaps LosPinosology?)

This op-ed reminds me of those days.  After laying out the political machinations of the PRI under EPN, the author, Francisco Goldman, goes on to argue that “Mr. Peña Nieto is a politically insignificant figure, ruling at the service of established powers within the PRI and elsewhere. In fact, he seems so absent and unforceful a leader that in recent days some have speculated that he is gravely ill.”

This is one of those times that I would roll my eyes and say really? gravely ill?  but then we have incidents like this:

Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez de la Torre, the former president of the PRI in Mexico City, who “was accused of running a prostitution ring with party funds. At conventions, he allegedly showed up with his army of women, making them available to other politicians.”  

So who knows? Is EPN a gravely ill puppet of the nefarious, manipulative PRI, or is the man Time Magazine held up as the “savior of Mexico”?

Footnote:  Not all Latin American Presidents decided to use the World Cup to pass sensitive legislation.  Juan Orlando Hernández, President of Honduras, decided that he needed an 8 day “working visit” to Brazil that just happened to coincide with the World Cup!

“Legal, business, or otherwise”

Dolia Estevez in Forbes Magazine has a good piece on the Mexican government’s legal attack on monopolies, specifically Telmex, Telcel, and Televisa.  Mexico’s Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) ruled that all three were ““preponderant economic agents”, and forces the companies to “share their infrastructure, increase competition, lower prices and expand access to services such as broadband and pay television to decrease their power.”

Reasonable people may debate what constitutes a “preponderant economic agent” (or indeed what it even means), but the numbers in these cases are pretty clear cut.  Telmex, for instance, controls 80% of the landlines in Mexico, Televisa has 70% of the broadcast TV market and 56% of the cable and satellite TV.

As always in Latin America, de jure isn’t always (or usually) the same as de facto.  These companies have an enormous amount of political clout and they have been highly intertwined with PRI fortunes for decades.  I’m curious about how much this new ruling will be enforced.  Perhaps I lived in Mexico too long and am reading too much into the following statement, but I found it very interesting how Televisa execs said they would review the ruling to decide their next move, “legal, business, or otherwise.”   I wonder what the “otherwise” means…