Points South: Tracking the creeping Mexicanization of Dixie, one iPhone photo at a time….
The Museo Del Estanquillo, in downtown Mexico City, has a jaw-dropping exhibit up right now called “Illustrated Mexican Sheet Music: An Unheard Treasure.” Many of the examples are from the 1920s or thereabouts, and show how hard Mexico fell for the art deco style, the remnants of which one can still see in the architecture in neighborhoods like Condesa. These sheet music covers offer a lesser-known example of the Mexican take on deco, and amount to a stunning display of graphic (and often, erotic) sophistication.
A few more:
Originally posted at www.latimes.com:
Mexican vigilante leader refuses government order to disarm
Vigilante leader Jose Manuel Mireles said in a radio interview that the government had not sufficiently pacified the state. “Armed and masked” drug cartel members began appearing in the streets just hours after the government’s announcement last week declaring it was time for the vigilantes to disarm, he said.
“For that reason we are reinforcing our trenches,” Mireles said. “We are going to lay down the arms when the federal government and the state have finished the work of cleaning the state of Michoacan of criminals.”
In a number of Michoacan cities over the weekend, residents supporting the vigilantes protested the government plan to send home the so-called autodefensa militias, which have portrayed themselves as protectors of the people against the depredations of the Knights Templar drug cartel.
“No to the disarmament of the autodefensas,” read one typical sign waved by a protester in the municipality of Mugica.
Mexican federal authorities had declared in a news conference Thursday that it was time for the vigilante groups to disarm, arguing that the government had arrested or killed a number of key Knights Templar leaders.
The newspaper Reforma reported Monday that 27 highways had been blocked Sunday by self-defense groups to prevent military convoys from entering certain areas.
In an interview with The Times on Monday, a federal government official charged with resolving the Michoacan crisis said there was “much collaboration” between the vigilantes and the government: “The majority of the leaders of the self-defense groups in Tierra Caliente agree with the disarming. In the next few days these actions will continue until every one of these groups have turned in their weapons.”
When asked what would happen to those vigilantes who refused, the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, replied: “They have to turn in [their weapons]. Period…. There is no other option.”
Reestablishing the government’s monopoly on the use of force in Michoacan has been one of the enduring challenges for the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Until recently, the government has worked side-by-side with some of the vigilantes to help cleanse the region of cartel members, even as the integrity of the vigilante movement has been called into question.
Two autodefensa leaders have been arrested in connection with separate homicide cases, and the Mexican attorney general has said that at least some of the vigilante weapons were supplied by a rival drug cartel.
At least two people were killed in January when Mexican federal authorities clashed with recalcitrant self-defense group members in an effort to disarm them.
The federal government has dealt a number of blows to the Knights Templar’s leadership in recent weeks, killing high-ranking members Enrique Plancarte Solis and Nazario Moreno Gonzalez.
The man believed to be the top boss, Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, remains at large.
On Saturday, federal authorities detained Michoacan’s interior minister, Jesus Reyna, after determining that he had “possible contacts with criminal organization,” though Reyna has not been charged with a crime.
Originally posted at www.latimes.com:
Former Mexican interim governor in embattled state ordered questioned
MEXICO CITY—The former interim governor of Mexico’s troubled Michoacan state, who has been accused by a vigilante “self-defense” group leader of having drug cartel ties, has been ordered to appear before federal prosecutors for questioning, officials said.
Jose Jesus Reyna Garcia, who served as the appointed governor of the western state from April to October of last year, was ordered to the attorney general’s headquarters in Mexico City on Friday afternoon to give testimony as part of a federal investigation, according to a government statement released late Friday night. The statement did not indicate what the investigation was about, nor did it indicate whether Reyna was considered a suspect.
Reyna, who is the state’s interior minister, has strenuously denied drug cartel links. But his order to appear before prosecutors may add a new layer of complexity to the situation in Michoacan, where an uprising by armed citizen militias against a drug cartel called the Knights Templar has resulted in a tangle of accusations, counter-accusations and suspicions about the motives of key actors.
Reyna served as interim governor between April and October of last year, filling in for the then-ailing governor, Fausto Vallejo. He is a member of President Enrique Pena Nieto‘s Institutional Revolutionary Party.
In late July, a prominent self-defense group leader named Jose Manuel Mireles, in a radio interview, accused Reyna of being a Knights Templar member, alleging that Reyna was one of one of a host of corrupt officials who had given the vigilante groups no choice but to rise up and defend themselves.
“In the state of Michoacan, the rule of law does not exist,” Mireles said. “The interim governor is one of the Templars, [and] many of the municipal presidents and municipal police forces in the state, the state police force and the public prosecutors are part of organized crime.”
The state government at the time issued a statement saying it “categorically” rejected the accusations against Reyna.
Questions have also arisen about the motives of the self-defense groups. In January, the Mexican attorney general said that some were receiving arms from a rival cartel, the Jalisco New Generation, raising the possibility some vigilantes have been fighting a proxy turf war on behalf of the New Generation.
That same month, the newspaper Excelsior reported that Mireles had been arrested in 1988 with 189 pounds of marijuana, and had been sentenced on federal drug charges. Last month, two other Michoacan self-defense group leaders were arrested, each suspected of involvement in separate homicide cases.
By January, the self-defense groups had kicked the cartel out of a number of small towns, and were threatening to start a larger battle with the Knights Templars in one of their strongholds, the city of Apatzingan. The federal government sent in thousands of troops and federal police in an effort to keep the peace. The federal forces, in some cases, ended up collaborating with the self-defense groups to root out cartel members.
The collaboration put the Mexican government in a precarious position, given the lingering doubts about the vigilantes’ motives, and their refusal to lay down their arms.
On Thursday, Mexican federal officials said that it was time for the self-defense groups to disarm, arguing that many leaders of the cartel have been killed or arrested in the federal crackdown.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Photo: Jose Jesus Reyna Garcia, in an image posted on his Twitter feed–which, understandably, has been quiet for a few days.
Originally posted at www.latimes.com:
Central American amputees, once migrants, seek help in Mexico
A group of men who lost limbs to La Bestia, the freight train migrants ride to the U.S., want Mexico to protect others.
TAPACHULA, Mexico — The last time Norman Varela made an unauthorized crossing into Mexico, he was headed to the United States, in search of a job, riding atop the infamous northbound freight train known as La Bestia — the Beast.
Mexican policemen robbed the Honduran of his savings en route, he said. Later, on the night of Oct. 29, 2005, a rumor spread that more bad men were coming. As Varela made his escape, he ducked under a freight car. It rolled over his right leg, severing it at the knee.
This week Varela, 42, was back in Mexico, this time with crutches and a wobbly prosthesis, accompanied by 14 countrymen whom the Beast had similarly mangled. These hobbled men in sweat-stained T-shirts were no longer in search of the American Dream. For them it was too late.
“Our American Dream has turned into a nightmare,” said Jose Luis Hernandez, who was missing his right leg and arm and three fingers on his left hand.
They were seeking safe passage for the thousands of migrants who keep making the trip.
On March 22, the men had floated across the Suchiate River, the dividing line between Mexico and Guatemala, on inner-tube rafts and promptly demanded a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. They hoped to persuade him to guarantee U.S.-bound Central American migrants unmolested passage along Mexico’s highways, so they would no longer have to sneak onto the roof of La Bestia, and hang on for dear life.
Peña Nieto has not agreed to a meeting with the ragtag crew. But he addressed the issue this week during a meeting in Honduras with President Juan Orlando Hernandez by saying that every migrant passing through Mexico would receive “absolute respect for their human rights.”
Like the United States, Mexico regularly detains migrants who have entered the country illegally. Its southern border, however, passes through territory too rough and wild to be closely monitored. Many migrants manage to make their way to major roads and highways, only to end up arrested at roadblocks. To avoid that fate, some head for the train.
Varela and the others made no secret this week of their presence in Tapachula, a city in Chiapas state near the border with Guatemala, and they benefited from the spotty enforcement of immigration law in Mexico, freely visiting the municipal government headquarters in search of help. A government employee, however, told them that a meeting with the president was “impossible.”
“What’s impossible,” Varela said, “is regrowing a hand or an arm or a leg. It is not impossible to arrange a meeting with a fellow human being.”
The grisly toll in limbs is only one of the prices that unlucky Central Americans pay on their migration through Mexico. Armed gangs rob, rape, kidnap and kill, as do some authorities along La Bestia’s tracks. Thousands of migrants disappear each year. Some who resist their attackers are thrown from the moving train. Other common hazards include misjudging a leap onto the Beast, or falling off while asleep.
La Bestia, also known among migrants as “The Train of Death,” is actually a series of freight trains that run on a network of rails extending north and south throughout Mexico. In Chiapas, many migrants climb aboard in the city of Arriaga. If they make it to Lecheria, on the outskirts of Mexico City more than 400 miles away, they might continue on tracks that lead to the border states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua or Tamaulipas.
From Lecheria, the Pacific rail route extends more than 2,500 miles and the journey can take two weeks or more, as migrants wait for the right northbound train or slip away for days at a time to hide from authorities.
The risks are well-known in countries like Honduras. But so, too, is misery at home: According to the World Bank, 3 in 5 Hondurans were living below the poverty line in 2010.
And so the migrants, including women and children, continue to float across the Suchiate and jump the train, dreaming of San Diego or San Antonio or Denver. The Mexican government estimates that 300,000 Central Americans attempt the trip each year.
Among those, the Mexican government recorded 373 cases of amputations from 2002 to 2011. But many people believe the number is higher. Varela is the spokesman for a group called the Assn. of Returned Migrants With Disabilities, based in El Progreso, Honduras. The group estimates that 450 to 500 amputee migrants live in Honduras.
Once injured, the migrants are usually shipped back to their countries, where they had struggled to find work when they were able-bodied and, they say, social services are scant.
Varela, a former golf caddy, said he occasionally gets hired to remove untreated wastewater with a bucket in his northern Honduran municipality of San Manuel. He said he was five months behind on rent. It’s difficult for him to face his wife and four children without being able to properly provide for them, he said.
He acknowledged that it was desperation more than common sense that drove him back across the border to Mexico.
Varela and his companions turned to Tapachula’s Shelter of Jesus the Good Shepherd of the Poor and the Migrant, a spartan building dedicated to sick and injured travelers, as they tried to decide whether to press on and make their voices heard amid the din of Mexico City.
All of the men had been disfigured on trips in search of work in the United States. Hernandez, the double amputee, a handsome, athletically built 28-year-old who serves as president of the disabled migrants group, said his parents were supporting him in Honduras, but just barely. He said he had been attacked by a gang on La Bestia while traveling through Mexico in 2005. Later, exhausted, he fell from the train and onto the tracks, where his limbs were caught by the wheels of the train.
“We came here,” he said, “to demand that we not be mistreated.”
Benito Murillo, 43, said his wife left him when he returned to Honduras eight years ago missing his right arm and leg. “We want the Mexican authorities to know the reality we’re living,” he said.
Murillo added that there was also a spiritual reason for the trip. “We left parts of our bodies here. I buried my leg and my arm here.”
The volunteer-run Shelter of Jesus the Good Shepherd was founded in 1990 and serves about 700 immigrants per year. Some of the men in Varela’s group had recuperated there after their injuries and were returning for the first time in years.
The rules of the place, tacked to a wall near the entrance, illustrate the perils of the migrants’ journey: If you are discovered to be a coyote — a human trafficker — you will be kicked out, says one sign. Another says to check your weapons with the administration: “They will keep it for you and return it to you when you leave.”
Varela, Hernandez and the other men mingled with men who had only recently become amputees. Josue Romero Diaz, 20, listened to the older men talk as he lounged on a beat-up sofa, the stump of his right leg wrapped in bandages. He had been riding on La Bestia just a few days earlier when he dozed off and fell. It could have been worse: His father, Armando Romero, who was traveling with him, showed a folded-up newspaper with a photo of two men dead by the tracks. They had been traveling with these men, the elder Romero said.
The article said authorities in Veracruz thought the men had been pushed from the moving train.
Varela’s group had had some success this week in Tapachula, holding a news conference and generating some coverage in the Mexican press, but they were restless.
Some of them hailed two dilapidated cabs Tuesday afternoon and headed to the local offices of the Mexican government’s immigration department. They wanted to see whether an arrangement could be made for the group to travel to the capital without being arrested for violating Mexican immigration law.
At the security gate, Varela related his story to a baffled security guard, who told him to wait.
And so he waited in the Chiapan heat, balancing on his crutches. If the men couldn’t be guaranteed safe passage to Mexico City, Varela said, with an official government letter allowing them to ride the bus, they might try to get to the capital the way they knew best.
They would ride there on La Bestia.
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
Photo: Norman Varela, right, prepares to stand at the Shelter of Jesus the Good Shepherd of the Poor and the Migrant in Tapachula, Mexico. He and several other amputees hoped to somehow meet with Mexico’s president to discuss the risks that Central American migrants face as they pass through the country. (Richard Fausset / Los Angeles Times / April 1, 2014)
Originally posted at www.latimes.com:
Mexico calls on self-defense groups to join police or disarm
MEXICO CITY — Citizen “self-defense” groups that have emerged to fight off a ruthless drug cartel in the state of Michoacan should take steps to join the government security apparatus or disarm, Mexican officials said Thursday.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said during a press conference in Morelia, the state capital, that government forces have gained the upper hand since thousands of troops and police officers swarmed the western state and arrested several “important criminals” associated with the Knights Templar drug cartel.
The government’s most recent quarry was Enrique “Kike” Plancarte, who was fatally shot Monday by Mexican marines in the neighboring state of Queretaro. Another top capo, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, was killed in a shootout with government forces March 9.
But the presumed operational leader of the group, Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, remains at large.
“We have delivered results,” Osorio Chong said. The self-defense “groups that want to help will be able to do so, and those who do not wish to will have to return to their day-to-day activities.”
Alfredo Castillo, head of a special commission formed to solve the Michoacan crisis, said the government would continue to sign up self-defense members willing to become part of a federal Rural Defense Corps, under military command.
Any others will be arrested if found to be carrying arms, he warned. In coming weeks the government will take down barricades erected by the self-defense groups at the entrance of many towns in the agricultural region known as the Tierra Caliente, or Hot Land, he said.
The government statements Thursday represent the latest move in the complicated pas de deux between the Mexican government and the vigilante groups, whose emergence last year has proved to be an embarrassment for the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
In January, Osorio Chong said there would be “no tolerance” for anyone carrying unauthorized weapons in Michoacan. But the government, perhaps fearing public backlash from an armed clash between security forces and vigilantes, eventually allowed the groups to keep their weapons and sought their help in identifying suspected cartel members.
The self-defense groups have been suspected of fighting a proxy war for a rival drug cartel. Two prominent self-defense leaders were arrested last month, each suspected of involvement in separate homicide cases.
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
Photo: Federal police guard the streets as members of a vigilante group observe them in the village of La Ruana, in Mexico’s Michoacan state, March 11, 2014. (European Pressphoto Agency, via LA Times )
Originally published at www.latimes.com:
In life, Mexican cartel boss was revered as a saint
With the killing of Knights Templar founder Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, Mexico’s war on drug cartels gains some credibility. But effects on the overall violence are unclear.
MEXICO CITY — If nothing else, the slaying of cartel boss Nazario Moreno Gonzalez by Mexican soldiers may have burst the bubble of mysticism that had made him one of the stranger figures to emerge in the country’s drug war.
Moreno, whose nicknames included “El Mas Loco” (“The Craziest”), was a founder of Michoacan state’s La Familia drug cartel and its offshoot, the Knights Templar — groups that have moved massive amounts of methamphetamine and other drugs north to the United States.
In Mexico, the groups have run extensive extortion rackets, corrupted dozens of local governments and engaged in blood-drenched warfare with federal troops and rival drug gangs, all the while spouting Moreno’s mix of evangelical Christianity, self-help advice and the writings of Lebanese American poet Khalil Gibran.
Moreno fancied himself a protector of his people and an enforcer of rules. Among other things, he forbade the use or sale of methamphetamine on his home turf, insisting that it only be shipped to the U.S. As cracked as that moral code was, it could feel like something to cling to in an often lawless land, and it made Moreno a kind of legend.
Although it’s unclear whether his death in Sunday morning’s shootout will help quell the violence in western Mexico, it is likely to help President Enrique Peña Nieto sell the argument that his administration is fighting a smarter and more sophisticated drug war than that of his predecessor, Felipe Calderon.
When Peña Nieto took office in December 2012, there was a fear that he might go soft on the cartels in an attempt to calm the violence. But now, two mythic drug lords have been felled in a matter of weeks. A joint U.S.-Mexico operation nabbed Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on Feb. 22.
Jorge Chabat, a professor at Mexico City’s Center for Economic Research and Teaching, said that at the very least, the elimination of the two capos shows that “there is a part of the Mexican state that is indeed effective and is capable of functioning.”
It was the bumbling of the federal government that helped turn Moreno into a folk saint in the first place. In December 2010, Mexican authorities claimed they had killed Moreno in a shootout. They hadn’t, and soon Moreno was making appearances all over Michoacan, his spiritual powers growing in the eyes of campesinos who began praying to him and setting up shrines in his honor.
One printed invocation dug up this week by Reforma, the Mexico City newspaper, went:
Blessed light of night
Defender of the sick
St. Nazario, saint of ours
I always entrust myself to you.
Mexican authorities say Moreno was finally gunned down — for real, this time — by federal troops in a rural Michoacan municipality Sunday. His body was recovered and his fingerprints checked against a government database.
The effect Moreno’s slaying will have on the cartel-related unrest that has gripped Michoacan, and become a major source of embarrassment for the government, remains to be seen.
Last year, “self-defense” militias sprang up in the rural state and threatened to confront Moreno’s Knights Templar directly, given the lack of government action. Outside the village of Buenavista Tomatlan, the vigilantes trashed a shrine to Moreno.
In January, Peña Nieto sent a massive deployment of troops and federal police to avert a conflagration between the two groups. Since then, those troops and police have been rounding up suspected cartel members, often acting on tips from cooperating vigilantes.
The heightened presence appears to have led to the realization that Moreno was still alive: Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia, head of the National Public Security System, said the government was first tipped off to the possibility Feb. 7 when authorities patrolling the area arrested a man carrying drugs and weapons who told them he worked in “direct service” to Moreno — one in a chain of clues that eventually led them to the capo’s door.
The encounter suggests that Moreno was acting as more than a spiritual leader for the group. If so, his death could deal an operational blow to the Templars.
At the same time, the federal government said it has recently reestablished its control over the port of Lazaro Cardenas, on Michoacan’s Pacific coast. The Templars long exerted a strong influence at the port, controlling the importation of drugs and methamphetamine precursors and shipping out minerals the cartel extracted from illegal mines — all major sources of income. On March 3, the government announced that it had seized 119,000 tons of illegally mined iron at the port that the cartel had been hoping to ship to China.
Other Knights Templar leaders have also been targeted.
Late last month, troops killed a local cartel leader named Francisco Galeana, also known as “El Pantera.” A few days later, the government announced the capture of Luis Alfredo Aguilera Esquivel, a cartel member and son of Servando Gomez Martinez, a.k.a. “La Tuta,” the man presumed to be the leader of the cartel’s day-to-day operations.
Then, on Friday, authorities arrested 15 people on suspicion of extortion and kidnapping, including cartel leader Abraham Zamora Zamudio, also known as “El 69.” The self-defense groups have applauded these law enforcement victories, which could serve to break up the cartel and lead the vigilantes to return to their homes and farms.
The vigilante groups have created problems too.
The federal government had to send troops and federal police Monday to the town of La Ruana, near Buenavista Tomatlan, to prevent an altercation between two quarreling self-defense factions, according to a radio news report.
Chabat, the professor, warned that Moreno’s death may not make a big difference in the effort to fix Michoacan. He noted that a number of other leaders remain at large.
In many places, the drug gangs have made deep inroads into the local power structure. In the nearby state of Guerrero last month, the head of the chamber of commerce in the state capital, Chilpancingo, accused the mayor of being in league with crime gangs and of trying to assassinate him — allegations the mayor strenuously denied.
The real change in Mexico, Chabat said, will come not from counting scalps but from solving the long-term problems that enable drug cartels to flourish.
Local governments will need to be armored against corruption. Local law enforcement agencies will need to be strengthened to fight off local crime bosses. And gains in education and living standards must be made so that a bloodthirsty drug dealer is not revered as a saint.
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
Originally published at www.latimes.com:
Drug kingpin is really dead this time, Mexican officials say
MEXICO CITY — You only die twice — or so it seemed for Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, leader of Mexico’s notorious Knights Templar drug cartel.
In December 2010, Mexican officials believed that they had killed Moreno, known alternately as “El Chayo” and “El Mas Loco” (“The Craziest”), in a shootout in the troubled state of Michoacan. His body was not recovered, however, and many locals doubted the story.
Since then, western Mexico has been rife with rumors that the charismatic leader had been seen. He has earned a cultlike following for preaching a cracked version of evangelical Christianity to go along with his cartel’s extensive extortion and drug-running rackets.
On Sunday, the federal government again announced that it had killed Moreno, this time in a Sunday morning shootout in Michoacan. And this time, officials said, they have a body, and the fingerprints, to prove it.
In a news conference, Monte Alejandro Rubido, the executive secretary of Mexico’s National Public Security System, said the Mexican military tried to arrest Moreno on Sunday morning in the municipality of Tumbiscatio but had to fire upon him after they were attacked.
Rubido said federal authorities had been receiving “constant reports” from locals that Moreno was, in fact, still alive.
Afterward, Tomas Zeron, an official with the federal attorney general’s office, showed fingerprints and thumbprints from a body that was recovered, projecting them alongside what they said were matching prints on file with the Mexican military. Zeron said the government had “100%” identified the body as Moreno’s.
The killing of Moreno — if he is really dead this time — is another high-profile victory in the drug war for the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who took office in December 2012 promising to fight the cartels in a smarter and more efficient manner.
On Feb. 22, Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, one of the world’s most-wanted criminals, was apprehended in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlan in a joint Mexican-U.S. operation.
Although the takedown of these crime bosses may deal a short-term operational blow to their respective criminal networks, it remains unclear whether the Peña Nieto government has devised an effective long-term strategy to reduce the power of the cartels inside Mexican territory.
The Knights Templar have created one of the most pressing conundrums for Peña Nieto in his short time in office. In January, the administration had to send a massive surge of troops and federal police to Michoacan territory controlled by the cartel after an uprising of vigilante “self-defense” groups who were threatening to take on the drug group and potentially spark a regional conflagration.
The self-defense groups have since been integrated into a preexisting, federally controlled rural defense corps, and in some cases are working alongside troops and federal police in an effort to break the Templars’ control.
The Knights Templar, a spin-off of the La Familia drug cartel, has adopted some of the original group’s quasi-religious trappings, as well as rhetoric in which its members cast themselves as true protectors of the people.
Some residents of western Mexico readily bought into the mythology, constructing religious shrines to Moreno. But the day-to-day operation of the Knights Templar appears to have fallen to a former schoolteacher named Servando “La Tuta” Gomez Martinez, who remains at large.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Photo: A man holds a sign in Spanish that says, “Nazario will always live in our hearts” — referring to drug cartel leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez — during a 2010 demonstration in Mexico after the government announced Gonzalez was killed. But the cartel leader’s body was not found at that time. (Primera Plana / December 12, 2010, via LA Times)
Orignally published at www.latimes.com:
Mexican regulator deals blow to dominant TV, telephone firms
TV giant Televisa and telephone firm America Movil, which is controlled by Carlos Slim, are ordered to share their network infrastructure with competitors.
MEXICO CITY — A Mexican regulatory agency has ordered the massive companies that dominate this nation’s telephone and broadcast television sectors to share their network infrastructure with competitors, a move that could seriously alter Mexico’s telecommunications landscape in the months and years to come.
The rulings by the Federal Telecommunications Institute appeared to be a “step in the right direction” for the Mexican economy, said George W. Grayson, a Mexico specialist at the College of William and Mary.
Concentrated media ownership and weak regulations have resulted in high prices, low infrastructure investment and some of the lowest cellphone, landline and broadband subscriber rates among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to a study published by the group in 2012.
“You can’t really expect to attract major investors if you’ve got an extremely convoluted telecommunications system,” Grayson said. “It’s just part of being in the modern world.”
The separate rulings were issued against TV network giant Televisa and America Movil — the company controlled by billionaire Carlos Slim and whose subsidiaries, Telmex and Telcel, dominate the fixed-line and mobile telephone markets, respectively. Televisa commands about 70% of Mexican broadcast TV viewership, and Telmex and Telcel each represent more than 70% of their respective sectors.
The reforms to Televisa could have a serious effect on national politics. The network’s news programs have long been accused of exhibiting a bias in favor of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. When Peña Nieto was elected president in 2012, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, alleging, among other things, that the network’s pro-Peña coverage had fundamentally corrupted the democratic process.
Peña Nieto and the PRI supported the telecommunications reform law last year, perhaps as a way to show that they did not owe Televisa any favors.
Whether or not Televisa produced biased news coverage, it indisputably wields enormous power, attracting 70% of Mexico’s broadcast television viewers, a reality that the telecommunications institute appears eager to shatter. The agency also announced Friday that it had set in motion plans for the creation of two new national broadcast TV networks to compete with Televisa.
In addition, the agency banned Televisa from acquiring exclusive broadcast rights to programs with “unique characteristics that in the past have generated high levels of national or regional audiences,” including the Olympic Games and soccer playoffs, according to a statement that Televisa filed Friday with the Mexican stock market.
Purificacion Carpinteyro, a federal congresswoman for the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, said that Televisa will now be forced to share the TV towers it has strategically located on hilltops across Mexico with competing companies that might want to broadcast new kinds of content. That, she said, could create new opportunities for independent Mexican production companies. In addition, she said, the new rules may also widen the spectrum of political content available to TV viewers.
“Televisa has been ruling the conscience of the Mexican population ever since the 1970s, when TV sets became more prevalent,” she said, adding that many voters prefer here not to read newspapers or seek out the news from other media. “So Televisa is pretty much a Big Brother telling them what to think, and about how to act, what is beautiful and what is ugly.”
Televisa has the right to challenge the decision, but the regulator’s decisions would remain in effect while the courts decide the case, financial analyst Jose Yuste said in a radio interview Friday.
Times staff writers Meg James, and Cecilia Sanchez of the Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
I was on Southern California NPR affiliate 89.3 KPCC-FM this morning discussing new legislative proposals to liberalize marijuana laws in Mexico on the program “Take Two.” I’ll post the link to the archived audio as it becomes available on their site. For now, here’s the description of the segment from the “Take Two” staff. In my conversation, I emphasized how tough it will be for these efforts to pass given the continuing public opposition to the idea of legalization.