Tag Archives: mexico

How I view American politics (and the Trump administration) today

The ‘religious freedom’ executive order was a cheap photo opportunity, a publicity stunt; it doesn’t (yet) rewrite the Internal Revenue Code and constitutionally, it cannot.

The American Health Care Act passed the House of Representatives, narrowly, by a 217 to 213 margin today, too, but it certainly will not survive the Senate in its current form, which was denounced by every group from the American Medical Association to the AARP. That’s quite clear from Orrin Hatch, let alone moderate Republicans like Susan Collins.

Repeal of much of the Dodd-Frank Act, the financial services reform, is making its way through the House — and may also pass the House, but unless the Senate eliminates the legislative filibuster, Republicans will be hard-pressed to find 60 votes in the Senate, where Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, whose chief policy legacy is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will surely stand for hours to filibuster her way to national political stardom.

Meanwhile, Trump (though he had a temper tantrum about a shutdown) and the GOP caved on a budget that looks very much like something Hillary Clinton would have approved.

Good luck to Trump in solving Puerto Rico’s impending bankruptcy and a pending referendum on statehood in two months.

Nikki Haley, James Mattis and H.R. McMaster (the latter replacing an erratic national security advisor fired in disgrace just 20 days into the administration)  are ignoring the lunacy of Trump’s unthinking blather, contradicting him in plain sight and driving a sane foreign policy not dissimilar to Obama-era policy: pro-NATO, cautious of Russia, ambitious to look to the Pacific, reluctant to get bogged down in the Middle East. (Yeah, yeah, Israeli-Palestinian peace is so easy, Don). As Haley and Mattis, in particular, travel the world putting out Trump’s fires, allies (and rivals) are learning not to take seriously the words of the sitting American president. It takes something to kick an Australian prime minister twice in four months. For months — years! — NATO was obsolete; then, all of a sudden, ‘NATO is no longer obsolete.’ At this point, I almost expect Trump to try to renegotiate NAFTA by extending it to South American and Asia and calling it the ‘Trump Pacific Partnership.’

If you could forget (for one millisecond) just how much is at stake for the lives and livelihoods and safety of so many Americans (to say nothing of South Koreans, Japanese, Europeans and so on), it would be endearing, even touching, to watch a president learn what the job entails in real time. It’s a ‘teachable moment,’ as one former certain president liked to say. For Trump’s hard-core nationalist supporters, the first 100 days must have felt like a Schoolhouse Rock. Policy — from Chinese relations to US health care reform — is indeed harder than you thought.

I don’t doubt the challenges ahead for those of us who oppose Trump. Immigrants are terrified, and there are reasons for women, people of color, LGBT Americans and the poorest among us to be especially anxious. I will not minimize the ugliness and the divisiveness that Trump has single-handedly brought into American political discourse.

But today was (mostly) smoke, not fire, and it seems like House Republicans put themselves on record supporting a deeply divisive bill that will never become law — without so much as a CBO score. They may pay dearly in 2018. That’s still a long ways off.

For now, Obamacare is still intact (though, yeah, it has some flaws that need fixed). So is the Johnson Amendment. So is the EPA. So is the Export-Import Bank. So is USAID. So is State. So is the FBI (which continues to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian intelligence). So are all our institutions, even if they have no political appointees.

The not-quite-a-Muslim ban was halted twice by federal courts, and so many eyes are on Trump that he’s deported fewer immigrants (so far) than Obama. Not a single brick of border wall is built (it’s an idiotic idea anyway for anyone who understands modern air travel), and Mexico is certainly not going to pay. Though Trump may outrage Mexicans enough that they elect a leftist populist of their own in 2018.

Meanwhile, sensible tax reform (including lower corporate rates and some form of repatriation), Trump’s oft-promised infrastructure spending and Ivanka Trump’s promise of universal maternity leave — all of which would have been top priorities in a Clinton administration, working with House speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, now seem farther than ever from being enacted.

Governing is tough work, and the Trump administration has no clue how to do it.

Reince Preibus, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Gary Cohn — they are all competing for Trump’s ear, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses in the Oval Office. But they share in common this: none of them had a day’s experience in government before January 20. Rex Tillerson, whose sole experience is with one company — Exxon-Mobile — still doesn’t even have a deputy secretary of state, let alone anyone else to guide him.

Every day, the novelty of Trump’s blather on Twitter wears off, as do the outlandish remarks showing just how little respect he has for American history and the American presidency (‘no one asks why the Civil War was fought,’ come on). As on The Apprentice, he’s doing a great job pretending like he’s in charge, running things. Hell, I don’t care how much he golfs. I don’t care how many times he throws fake Rose Garden parties for fake legislative accomplishments, spews fake facts about the world and his administration, all while whining about fake news. There’s one statistic from which Trump can never hide: 28.1 million watched the Season 1 finale of The Apprentice. By the last season, that shrank to just 4.5 million, as the schtick wore off and viewers grew bored.

Savor that, at least, tonight, on a day of such venom, hubris and pain.

When Barack Obama was president, I wrote often about his flaws on foreign policy, and I certainly would have done the same with Hillary Clinton — or Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz or John Kasich.

If and when the Trump administration scores a major foreign policy or diplomatic victory, I’ll be the first to applaud.

But I’ll never relent. Trumpismo and its empty know-nothing populism is a fraud, and it has been since June 2015 — most of all to the voters who elected Trump to the most important elective office in the world’s largest economic and military power.

For those of us — conservatives, liberals, libertarians — who have always been #NeverTrump, keep up the fight, each in our own ways, for a government that works to maximize economic and cultural opportunity for all. And let’s take a moment, on such a dreary day for the American republic, to love one another and continue seeking ways to bring Americans back together, with a government in 2018 and 2020 that we can respect again.

How Trump could become a national-level version of Jesse Ventura

Before Trump waged his insurgent candidacy, professional wrestler Jesse Ventura won election as governor of Minnesota. (Reuters)

How about this for a black swan?

Americans haven’t elected a take-no-prisoners executive bound to drag the country into a hard-right populist dystopia.

Instead, they’ve elected a third-party-style insurgent (albeit from within the Republican Party) who will struggle to make allies in either congressional party and fizzle out after four years of smoke, but not a lot of noise — or economic or policy accomplishments.

It already happened — in Minnesota. In 1998, voters weary of grey establishmentarians, elected instead the flamboyant Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler. Christening himself as Jesse ‘the Mind’ Ventura, he narrowly clipped Republican Norm Coleman (then St. Paul mayor) and Democrat Skip Humphrey (the son of the former vice president). But Ventura, in his one lonely term as governor, transformed a $4 billion budget surplus into a $4.5 billion deficit and otherwise spent most of his time fighting with the media and with members of the state legislature.

Ventura, who ran and governed on the quirky Reform Party ticket founded in 1996 by Ross Perot, lent his support in 2000 to Trump’s nascent bid for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination. Trump eventually lost to the anti-trade, anti-immigrant conservative commentator Pat Buchanan.

Far from a lapse to 1930s-style authoritarianism, perhaps the Trump administration will be far more like a national version of the Ventura experiment. Trump has already squandered nearly a quarter of his first 100 days on distractions and controversy. 

Continue reading How Trump could become a national-level version of Jesse Ventura

The case for optimism in Tillerson’s State Department

Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, will win confirmation today as the next US secretary of state.

He stumbled and mumbled in a Texas drawl through hours of cringe-worthy hearings before the US Senate’s foreign relations committee.

He refused to label Russian president Vladimir Putin a ‘war criminal,’ and he dissembled about human rights abuses when asked about the Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte or about Saudi Arabia. Moreover, at times, Tillerson seemed to distance himself from Trump when he failed to commit to pull out of Iran’s nuclear deal, and Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who lost the Republican nomination to Trump last year, lectured Tillerson on human rights in Russia, Syria and around the world.

Nevertheless, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson easily won confirmation yesterday by the full Senate, and he will succeed John Kerry as the next US secretary of state, despite the earlier misgivings of Rubio and several other hawkish Republican senators.

Say what you want about Tillerson, he’s never — to my knowledge — joked about an impending US invasion with the sitting Mexican president into Mexico to get the ‘bad hombres’ or hung up on the Australian prime minister after a wholly unprofessional rant about winning the election and trying to welch out of a prior US agreement.

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RELATED: Tillerson’s not a bad choice for State,
he’s just a bad choice for Trump’s administration

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But perhaps the most interesting thing about Tillerson’s nomination was that US president Donald Trump ultimately selected Tillerson and not Lee Raymond, Tillerson’s predecessor as ExxonMobil CEO. As between the two, Raymond is far more ‘Trumpier.’  He routinely denied either that climate change is man-made or that climate change is, in fact, occurring. Raymond presided over the massive efforts after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill to improve the company’s safety record, and he successfully merged his company with Mobil. But he routinely flouted SEC rules on counting oil reserves and he also presided over a human rights fiasco in Aceh, then a separatist province in Indonesia.

By all rights, Raymond was always the alpha male to Tillerson’s beta male. After taking over the reins of ExxonMobil in 2005, Tillerson promptly acknowledged that climate change is a real threat and, after the Democratic Party took control of both the US congress and the presidency in 2009, even advocated for a carbon tax (instead of the more complicated, if more popular cap-and-trade legislation).

There’s no doubt that Raymond is exactly the kind of personality that Trump respects, and Raymond — even, one suspects, at the age of 78 — would have gone into Foggy Bottom ready to disrupt. By contrast, Tillerson is a life-long Texan Boy Scout and quintessential company man who spent his entire four-decade career at Exxon. While there are real doubts about whether Tillerson will succeed, one of the biggest is whether he can shift, after so many years, to such a very different role and such a very different bureaucracy.

In a more ‘normal’ Republican administration, under Rubio or Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or John Kasich, Tillerson might be a refreshing choice at State. Instead, the Trump administration’s inexperience and Trump’s odd conciliatory relationship with Putin have only highlighted Tillerson’s own lack of diplomatic experience and Russia ties.  More than any other administration in recent memory, the Trump administration is full of government outsiders with scant experience inside the executive branch. That’s true for Trump, but it is also true for the chief of staff Reince Preibus, for chief strategist Stephen Bannon, for national security adviser Mike Flynn. So another worry is Tillerson he might simply fade alongside so many other forceful personalities, including Trump himself, Flynn, Bannon and others.

That’s not to say Tillerson isn’t bright or capable. It’s clear, above all from Steve Coll’s indispensable 2012 book, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, just how knowledgeable and effective Tillerson was in negotiations around the world. At Exxon, Tillerson pursued a foreign policy designed to help his company’s interests and his shareholders, and that didn’t always line up with the interests of the US government’s foreign policy, most notably as his company chafed at economic sanctions in recent years against Russia. On at least two occasions, ExxonMobil got the better of Venezuela under Tillerson’s leadership, and Tillerson effectively sidelined the central Iraqi government in Baghdad to make a better deal with autonomous Kurdistan in the north. That’s above and beyond the more well-known ties between Tillerson and Putin over ExxonMobil’s Siberian oil deals, and navigating the longstanding relationships between his company and dictatorial oil-rich autocracies like Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Chad. (Coll’s book really is required reading for those who want to understand foreign policy in the Trump era).

Tillerson, it’s clear, knows his way around the international landscape — probably far more intimately than Trump himself, who has already gaffed his way across the globe in less than two weeks in the Oval Office. Continue reading The case for optimism in Tillerson’s State Department

Mexico starts to fight back in earnest against Trump’s US border wall and protectionism threat

Former president Vicente Fox takes a bat to a Trump-shaped piñata in September.

Vicente Fox wants you to know that Mexico is not paying for ‘that fucking wall.’

Though US president Donald Trump officially took office just six days ago, his willingness to push his key campaign proposal of building a border wall along the southern border of the United States has already touched off a diplomatic crisis with Mexican officials. After Trump enacted an executive order (of somewhat dubious legality) instructing the federal government to start construction on the wall, Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a planned trip to meet Trump in Washington today.

Though Peña Nieto welcomed Trump on a surprise campaign visit to Mexico City last summer, backing down from confronting someone who was then just the Republican Party presidential nominee, Wednesday’s executive order and the White House’s insistence that Mexico will pay for the wall led Peña Nieto to push back in a video message late Wednesday night. Trump responded with his own Twitter rant on Thursday, essentially daring Peña Nieto to cancel the meeting, during which the two presidents planned to discuss cooperation on security and renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

No one, however, has been more outspoken against Trump than Fox, who served as president between 2000 and 2006 and who has railed against Trump’s proposed border wall, routinely in profane terms. In September, Fox gleefully took a bat to a Trump-shaped piñata and, upon completion, noted that Trump was just was empty-brained as the empty piñata.

Fox is a former president who knows a little something about political revolutions.

In 2000, he became the first president in seven decades from outside the long-governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party). His election, to this day, represents a watershed moment in Mexico’s multiparty democracy. Fox (and his successor) are members of the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party) that held the Mexican presidency for 12 years — until the telegenic Peña Nieto’s election in 2012, when the PRI returned to Los Pinos. Fox, like George W. Bush in the 1990s, was a governor, and before the Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks refocused the Bush administration’s efforts, the two presidents had hoped to work together on immigration reform and deeper harmonization between the two countries, a priority that fell to the back burner with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Continue reading Mexico starts to fight back in earnest against Trump’s US border wall and protectionism threat

Peña Nieto needs a Trump-sized confrontation to help his ailing presidency

Nearly two-thirds into his presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto is far more unpopular than either of his two predecessors. (Facebook)
Nearly two-thirds into his presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto is far more unpopular than either of his two predecessors. (Facebook)

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was elected in July 2012 to great fanfare, so it was almost certain that his administration would fall well short of expectations.Mexico Flag Icon

In the leadup to that 2012 presidential election, Peña Nieto spent so many years as such a heavy frontrunner he was practically Mexico’s president-in-waiting. When he ultimately won the presidency by a margin of around 6.5%, it was less than polls predicted, but still the largest margin of victory in a presidential election since 1994. With movie star looks and a bona-fide star for a wife in Angélica Rivera, a model and telenovela actress, his victory was a triumph not only for himself, but for his party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party), which lost the presidency in 2000 after seven decades of consecutive rule in Mexico and that spent a difficult decade shut out of executive power at the national level. In Peña Nieto, the telegenic former governor of the state of Mexico, with over 15 million people, by far the largest in the country and the surrounding state of Mexico’s central federal district.

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RELATED: For El Paso-Juárez,
Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception

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When he rose to the presidency, Peña Nieto was widely expected to do just two things as the face of what Mexican voters believed to be a reformed and a modernizing PRI.

First, Peña Nieto would enact a range of reforms liberalizing everything from Mexico’s energy sector to its tax collections scheme. Second, Peña Nieto would bring peace to a country roiled by drug violence, lethal competition among drug cartel and what seemed like an increasingly self-defeating militarized response to drug violence by Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón, of the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party).

On both fronts, Peña Nieto fell short of expectations.

While Mexico might today be more becalmed than in 2012, violence and government incompetence have dominated headlines. Peña Nieto’s presidency will forever be marred by the abduction and assassination of 43 students in Iguala by police officers in Guerrero state in September 2014. The glory of his government’s capture in 2014 of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the leader of the infamous Sinaloa cartel, was soon eclipsed by his escape from a maximum-security prison in 2015, and Guzmán, recaptured seven months later, now faces extradition to the United States.

Peña Nieto’s presidency has been a mix of the good (significant political and economic reforms), the bad (corruption, impunity at the highest level of the PRI and his own administration and ineptitude in the face of cartel strength) and the ugly (the Iguala massacre).

By most measures, though, his performance has been far worse than many observers expected, with less impressive reforms than promised and a legacy of sporadic drug violence, police brutalization, personal conflict-of-interest scandals and continuing widespread corruption at all levels of government. That’s all on top of a Mexican economy struggling to deal with far lower global prices for oil and other commodities. It’s so bad that his approval rating sank earlier this month to just 23%, lower than any Mexican president since Ernesto Zedillo faced an acute peso crisis in the mid-1990s.

In the July 2015 midterm elections, the PRI lost nine seats in the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of the Mexican congress, and in the June 2016 gubernatorial elections, the PRI lost power in states it’s held since 1929 — including Veracruz, Tamaulipas Durango and Quintana Roo.

Just this week, as he prepares to deliver his state of the union address on Thursday, Peña Nieto has faced down embarrassing revelations that he plagiarized much of the thesis that he submitted for his law degree. Earlier this month, his wife faced fresh accusations of a new conflicts-of-interest scandal involving the use of a luxury apartment from a Mexican businessman in Miami.

So as the Mexican president prepares to welcome Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for an unexpected private meeting on Wednesday, it’s no understatement that Mexico’s beleaguered president could use a diversion. With his approval ratings so low, though, Trump presents an easy target. Continue reading Peña Nieto needs a Trump-sized confrontation to help his ailing presidency

Mask slips on potential Rendón dirty tricks across Latin America

J.J. Rendón is the most well-known political strategist in Latin America. (El País / Colprensa)
J.J. Rendón is the most well-known political strategist in Latin America. (El País / Colprensa)

If you haven’t had a chance yet, you should drop everything to read the amazing 4500-word-plus scoop from Bloomberg about the potentially criminal role of hacking in the political universe of J.J. Rendón and his still-unclear ties to Andrés Sepúlveda, a Colombian hacker now serving a decade-long prison sentence for hacking, espionage and other crimes related to the 2014 Colombian election.Mexico Flag IconColombia Flag Icon

Even if you take Sepúlveda’s accusations with a fair share of skepticism, that he’s sitting in jail and subject to such heavy security from the Colombian government lends at least some credence — and the chicanery in that 2014 election is only one example in a story that looks and feels like it was ripped right out of the latest season of House of Cards:

He says he wants to tell his story because the public doesn’t grasp the power hackers exert over modern elections or the specialized skills needed to stop them. “I worked with presidents, public figures with great power, and did many things with absolutely no regrets because I did it with full conviction and under a clear objective, to end dictatorship and socialist governments in Latin America,” he says. “I have always said that there are two types of politics—what people see and what really makes things happen. I worked in politics that are not seen.”

The very mention of Rendón’s name can strike fear into the heart of an opponent in any Latin American election. He’s been called the ‘Karl Rove’ of Latin America and, it’s true, he’s helped dozens of center-right candidates win office. He helped boost Juan Manuel Santos, both when he was minister of defense in Colombia, and in the 2010 election, in which Santos won the presidency.

In 2014, however, after Santos launched landmark peace talks with FARC and Santos’s one-time mentor, former president Álvaro Uribe, turned on Santos, Sepúlveda found himself working for a right-wing opponent Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who wanted to end the peace talks. Though Zuluaga narrowly won the first round, Santos triumphed in the runoff, and the talks have deepened and progressed in Santos’s second term. (Rendón was working for Santos, though he resigned after accusations linking him financially to drug cartels.)

It’s not just Colombia, though. Continue reading Mask slips on potential Rendón dirty tricks across Latin America

For El Paso-Juárez, Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception

In the leadup to Pope Francis's visit to Juárez, signs and billboards welcome him with slogans like, 'Chihuahua is love.' (Kevin Lees)
In the leadup to Pope Francis’s visit to Juárez, signs and billboards welcome him with slogans like, ‘Chihuahua is love.’ (Kevin Lees)

EL PASO, Texas and CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico – When Pope Francis visits Ciudad Juárez on Wednesday, city officials hope that the international attention will change its reputation as the homicidal, lawless capital of Mexican drug violence.USflagMexico Flag Icontexas flag

Five years ago, at the height of the city’s instability, it registered over 3,000 homicides annually. But that was before a renewed push for less corrupt policing, the local victory of the Sinaloa cartel and a retreat by the current Mexican government from a militarized approach to defeating drug cartels.

In 2015, the city recorded just 311 homicides, the lowest murder rate in nearly a decade. Philadelphia, by contrast, with roughly the same population, recorded 277 homicides in 2015.

But it’s not just Juarenses who hope the papal presence can rebrand the city. It’s also El Paso, which lies just across the border, and which is one of the safest cities in the United States, even at the height of the violent battle between the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels. In fact, Beto O’Rourke, who has represented the 16th Congressional district that includes El Paso since 2013, had hoped to work with Mexican officials to use to visit to highlight U.S.-Mexican relations on a far grander scale.

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RELATED: An interview with El Paso-area congressman Beto O’Rourke

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“There was an attempt that we were part of, short-lived, that was ambitious, to construct at small bridge across the [Rio Grande] to allow the Pope to sort of walk across and put his hand on the border fence,” O’Rourke said in an interview late last month. “I spoke to the diocese, to the bishop. I think that would have done so much to bring home to people how connected our two countries are. It would have been a powerful message.”

Though the plans fell through, O’Rourke will attend this week’s papal mass in Juárez, and he hoped that many El Pasoans will have a chance to see Francis, the first Latin American pope, as he drives along a border that divides one community into two cities that belong to two countries, the Apollonian yin of El Paso counterbalancing the Dionysian yang of Juárez.

In snowy New Hampshire, voters endorsed another view about the U.S.-Mexican border last week when Donald Trump swept to a crushing victory in the Republican presidential primary. When he announced his candidacy for the nomination last June in the lobby of Manhattan’s Trump Tower, the businessman attacked Mexico as an enemy of the United States, a country “killing us economically,” and he painted the vision of a southern border overrun with immigrants “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime,” labeling many would-be migrants as “rapists,” even while conceding that some “are good people.” Continue reading For El Paso-Juárez, Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception

An interview with El Paso-area Congressman Beto O’Rourke

Congressman Beto O'Rourke has been representing the El Paso area in the U.S. House of Representatives since January 2013. (Rod Lamkey / Getty Images)
Congressman Beto O’Rourke has been representing the El Paso area in the US House of Representatives since January 2013. (Rod Lamkey / Getty Images)

As part of a reporting trip to El Paso and Ciudad Juárez earlier last month, I spoke with El Paso’s congressman, Beto O’Rourke, by telephone, on January 27. The transcript follows below, and it encompasses essentially the entire interview with the congressman, a member of the Democratic Party and a former member of the El Paso city council. Congressman O’Rourke has represented Texas’s 16th district since January 2013.USflagtexas flagMexico Flag Icon

You will be able to read my piece on El Paso and Juárez — and how their interconnectivity belies the rhetoric of Donald Trump — shortly. But the more wide-ranging and thoughtful interview with Congressman O’Rourke is also worth a read, given that we touched on many topics, including Trump, the history of the El Paso-Juárez region, the US ‘war on drugs,’ income inequality in an international context and the Democratic primary battle between former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

Kevin Lees: Thanks for talking to me today.

Congressman Beto O’Rourke: My pleasure.

KL: How much time do we have?

BOR: I have right now about 30 minutes.

KL: So when are you headed back to Washington?

BOR: Monday, and you probably know this, but we were supposed to be there this week.

KL: You missed a snowstorm!

BOR: I know! [small talk continues]

BOR: I’m interested in people’s impression of El Paso. We have a very large military installation here. And there are somewhere around 30,000 to 32,000 active duty service members, most of whom are not from El Paso. And you hear what they thought when they found out they were going to be posted to El Paso, which is almost always negative, and then [you hear] what their actual experience was when they got here, is almost always positive. In part because they really assumed and feared the worst, and so starting from such a low point it can only get better once they got here. But it is really beautiful. We’re in the Rocky Mountains, which people don’t expect when they are in Texas. Where the US and Mexico, and then Texas and New Mexico and Chihuahua all meet. There‘s no other place that I’ve ever been that is as extraordinary. I haven’t been everywhere in the world, but I’ve been to a lot of places, it’s really beautiful.

A view of El Paso and the Rocky Mountains from the US-Mexican border. (Kevin Lees)
A view of El Paso and the Rocky Mountains from the US-Mexican border. (Kevin Lees)

KL: And the culture is really a very bespoke culture, a sort of hybrid between American and Mexican culture. Its own borderlands kind of thing, where everyone sort of has a foot in two different countries. It’s very special to me. I thought it was a lot of fun.

BOR: I don’t know if you Snapchat at all, but we’re trying to connect with people to broadcast their views, information exclusively from Snapchat. Which apparently is big for a lot of people 14- to 24-year olds. And I’m trying to use it to show people what it is when they think about this region. So I used it for a run today along the Rio Grande and the Upper Valley of El Paso, and I kind of took a shot and posted it of ‘Over here is El Paso, this is Del Ray where Mexico, New Mexico, and Mexico all connect; this is a neighborhood in Juárez; all in one shot.’

It really kind of blows people’s minds when they see that or realize that we really are either at the end of the world, or the beginning of the world in terms of what your world is. Either the back door to the United States or the front door to the United States. Front door or back door to Latin America.

KL: One of the things that you realize when you are in El Paso and Juárez is the two cities function as sort of each other’s yin and yang in some ways. In what ways do you consider El Paso and Juárez the same city? Continue reading An interview with El Paso-area Congressman Beto O’Rourke

Photo Essay: Crossing the El Paso / Juarez border

A view of El Paso, Juárez and the international border that separates them, as seen from the top of El Paso’s Camino Real hotel. (Kevin Lees)

Every day, thousands of El Pasoans and Juarenses cross from their relative sides of the city across an international border as part of their daily commutes. USflagMexico Flag Icon

No two communities along the 1,933-mile border between the United States and Mexico are more interconnected than El Paso and Ciudad Juárez — not San Diego/Tijuana and not Tucson/Nogales. Geography explains the difference in part, because El Paso and Juárez began as the same city, ‘El Paso del Norte,’ founded by Franciscan friars from Spain in the 17th century. Throughout centuries of Spanish rule, the more rapid development took place south of the Rio Grande (in today’s Juárez), with the northern bank a sleepy outpost still subject to Apache, Comanche and other raids.

There are four entry points into Juárez from El Paso, only two of which are open to pedestrians. (Kevin Lees)

In 1824, upon Mexican independence from Spain, Paso del Norte was transferred from the territory of New Mexico to the state of Chihuahua — a crucial move for the area’s future. If it hadn’t happened, Paso del Norte might otherwise have remained a city intact within Mexican borders. Continue reading Photo Essay: Crossing the El Paso / Juarez border

The big winner of Mexico’s elections? The not-so-green Green Party


Of Mexico’s four largest parties, at least as of the last election, only one managed to increase its vote share between 2012 and 2015 — the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM, Ecologist Green Party of Mexico).Mexico Flag Icon

Since its foundation in 1993, the party has developed a cynical reputation for corruption than any particular devotion to the traditional left-wing, environmentalist causes of green parties throughout the world. Nevertheless, if preliminary estimates are correct, the PVEM will have won more than 7% of the vote in Mexico’s midterm elections, which means that it will almost certainly hold more the fourth-largest bloc of seats in the 500-member Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of the Mexican Congress.

That’s astounding in an environment where Mexicans rank political corruption at the top of their concerns, alongside drug violence and above even a sluggish, uneven economy.

With the exception of the 2000 election, when the Greens backed conservative maverick Vicente Fox for the presidency, the party has been a reliable junior partner for the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Party of the Institutional Revolution) and Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Together with the Greens and another small party, Partido Nueva Alianza (PANAL, New Alliance), the PRI is expected to hold a narrow legislative majority.

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RELATED: Mexican left disintegrates as midterms approach

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That’s not necessarily great news for Peña Nieto, whose personal reputation has been compromised by financial scandals surrounding himself, his wife and close colleagues, and whose party — certainly not impervious to corruption — remains highly distrusted after governing Mexico uninterrupted for seven decades until Fox’s 2000 election.

The Green Party, however, seems to thrill in flouting election law — Mexico’s new electoral authority, the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE, National Electoral Institute) fined the party over $20 million in May after it illegally financed campaign advertisements. One sports personality said he was offered 200,000 pesos by the party to support it on election day via Twitter.

Its leader, Jorge Emilio González, the son of the party’s founder, known as El Niño Verde, has a black-hat playboy image of a corrupt baron. His reputation never fully recovered from videotapes that showed him apparently negotiating $2 million in bribes in relation to a shady land deal in Cancun.

Jo Tuckman, writing for The Guardian, finds that the PVEM draws disgust from analysts across the board as a party of ‘false greens’ that often acts more like an organized crime cartel controlled by the González family:

“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.”

Continue reading The big winner of Mexico’s elections? The not-so-green Green Party

Who is Jaime Rodríguez? The man capturing Mexico’s political imagination


Among the nine gubernatorial races that will take place alongside the national congressional midterms, no candidate has garnered more press, both within Mexico and internationally, than Jaime Rodríguez, who hopes to become the next governor of Nuevo León.NUEVOLEONMexico Flag Icon

The state is one of the two largest prizes — Nuevo León, home to 5 million Mexicans, and Michoacán, home to 4.6 million Mexicans. Both contests are locked in tight too-close-to-call three-way races. Violence-plagued Guerrero, too, will elect a new governor.

But Rodríguez (pictured above), known affectionately by supporters as ‘El Bronco,’ could become, under electoral reforms implemented last year, the first independent governor in Mexican history. A successful northern businessman with a populist, maverick streak and a penchant to be photographed in cowboy boots, a cowboy hat or riding a horse, there’s no doubt that Rodríguez is borrowing heavily from the political playbook of Vicente Fox. Fox, running under the banner of the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), won the governorship of Guanajuato in 1995, then the national presidency just five years later, breaking the 71-year ruling stream of the powerful Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

Twelve years later, Fox (and his PAN successor, Felipe Calderón) is out of power, the PRI once again controls the presidency under Enrique Peña Nieto and the PRI hopes to extend its narrow hold on the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the 500-member lower house of the Mexican legislature. Amid a sluggish economy, a disappointing record of reform and violence and corruption, many Mexicans won’t even bother to turn out.

Rodríguez hopes to take advantage of that apathy by embodying a new force in Mexican politics — a governor tied to none of the major parties, all of which have failed the Mexican electorate to some degree in the past 15 years. A member of the PRI for three decades (until last year) and a former mayor of García, a suburb of Monterrey, the state’s capital, Rodríguez is now running against the PRI, which has controlled the state’s government for decades (with the exception of a PAN government between 1997 and 2003). Continue reading Who is Jaime Rodríguez? The man capturing Mexico’s political imagination

Suffragio takes a break — until next week


Suffragio is on hiatus for the next week — I’ll have extremely minimal access to the Internet, and I’ll be busy meeting new friends in a new place.

In the meanwhile, there’s going to be quite a bit of electoral politics to watch:

  • Ireland Ireland Iconvotes on May 22 in a referendum to permit same-sex marriage. If polls are correct, it would mark the first time an entire country chooses by direct vote to legalize marriage equality. Ireland, however, remains a socially conservative country where the Catholic church’s influence is strong. Abortion was essentially legalized only in 2013, and there’s every possibility that anti-marriage forces could win an upset. Polls may not be accurately capturing ‘shy’ anti-LGBT voters and, although there’s a majority of Irish voters in favor of marriage equality, it might not be as motivated as anti-marriage voters.
    RELATED: Scotland passes same-sex marriage,
    joining England and Wales
  • Ethiopia votes oethiopia_640n May 24 in what it calls an election. But there’s no indication that the vote will be free and fair, especially in a government climate that disrespects press freedom and has suppressed Oromo and other ethnic groups. Prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, a southerner, is the nominal successor to the late Meles Zenawi, but there’s no real indication he is anything more than a figurehead. Meles’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF, or የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝቦች አብዮታዊ ዲሞክራሲያዊ ግንባር) and, in particular, Tigray figures within its leadership, continue to call the shots.
    RELATED: Can Hailemariam retain power in Ethiopia?
  • Poland vPoland_Flag_Iconotes on May 24 in a runoff to determine the chiefly ceremonial president. Polish president Bronisław Komorowski narrowly trailed his conservative rival Andrzej Duda in the first round on May 10, with over 20% of voters choosing neither candidate and instead supporting former rock musician Paweł Kukiz. The two contenders are now facing a too-close-to-call runoff. If Komorowski loses (and even if he narrowly wins reelection), it could mean trouble for the ruling Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), which has held power since 2007.
    RELATED: Komorowski trails in shock Polish presidential vote result
    RELATEDKopacz puts imprint on Poland’s new government
  • Spain holds regSpain_Flag_Iconional elections on May 24, a harbinger of December’s general election, in 13 of its 17 autonomous communities. The most populous include Madrid, Valencia and Castile and León. The elections will be a test for the two traditional Spanish parties, prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Partido Popular (PP, People’s Party) and the center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party), which have both presided over difficult economic conditions and budget contractions in the past six years. It’s also a test for two newer groups that hope to displace them, the anti-austerity, leftist Podemos and the centrist  Ciudadanos (C’s, Citizens).
    RELATED: Socialists thrive in Andalusian regional elections

Upon return, on May 26, I’ll have some brief thoughts on each election and, in particular, Ethiopia, which is one of the most fascinating and dynamic countries in sub-Saharan Africa today, even if its political system remains essentially authoritarian.

On May 31, Italy holds regional elections in several parts of the country, including some of the largest Italian regions like Puglia, Campania, Tuscany and Veneto.

The most important elections of the summer come on one day — June 7. That’s when Mexico holds midterm congressional elections and Turkey holds parliamentary elections.

It’s still a quiet spring and summer for electoral politics after the blitz of 2014’s elections. But there’s still much to look forward to later this autumn — from Guatemala to Canada, from Burma/Myanmar to  Denmark and from Portugal to Argentina. And the lull in electoral politics will provide a chance to delve into the fascinating political dynamics of China and the Middle East — just because a country doesn’t have elections doesn’t mean it doesn’t have politics. Suffragio will be there for all of it.

In the meanwhile…

15 in 2015: Fifteen world elections to watch in 2015

2015Photo credit to letyg84 / 123RF.

Over the past 12 months, the world witnessed a pivotal general election in India, presidential elections in Indonesia, congressional midterm elections in the United States, European parliamentary elections and elections (of varying competitiveness) in over a dozen of additional countries in the world, all pivotal in their own ways — Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, South Africa, Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Serbia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Belgium, Sweden and independence referenda in Scotland and Catalunya.

After such a crowded 2014 calendar, it’s not surprising that 2015 will not bring the same volume of electoral activity. But there’s still plenty at stake, especially as volatile oil prices, Chinese economic slowdown and the return of recession in Europe and Japan could stifle global economic potential. The most important of those elections that will determine policy that affects the lives of billions of people worldwide.

Without further ado, here is Suffragio‘s guide to the top 15 elections to watch as 2015 unfolds — beginning in Greece, where the government fell earlier this week.  Continue reading 15 in 2015: Fifteen world elections to watch in 2015

Two years in, Iguala massacre threatens Peña Nieto presidency

Guest post by Christopher Skutnik
EPNguerreroPhoto credit to NTX.

When he was elected in July 2012 in a relative landslide, Enrique Peña Nieto thought his administration would be defined by good governance and economic, tax and energy reforms.Mexico Flag Icon

Above all, everyone thought that Peña Nieto would be eager to demonstrate the new look of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party), which controlled Mexico’s presidency between 1929 and 2000, with the rise of a younger generation of technocratic cabinet members, including Luis Videgaray, EPN’s finance minister.

On the second anniversary of his inauguration, however, Peña Nieto (pictured above visiting Guerrero in 2013) faces the risk of losing the narrative of his presidency with four years left in office — following the September killings of 43 university students, reminiscent of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre that is widely seen as one of the lowest points of the PRI’s 20th century rule.

So what happened in Iguala?

guerreroPhoto credit to BBC.

It’s no understatement to say that Mexicans everywhere have been touched by the incredible display of violence and governmental corruption that took place on September 26, when 43 students were abducted and, allegedly, assassinated in the town of Cocula, near Iguala, the third-largest city in Guerrero state.

The office of Mexican attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam has determined that Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca ordered local police to confront the students, since he was worried that they would disrupt an important political event at which his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, was scheduled to speak.

With what appears to the approval of Iguala police chief Felipe Flores Velásquez, local officers apparently ambushed the students, (killing 6 outright), and abducted 43 more. A further 14 students successfully escaped, and were later located safely.

According to officials, Cocula’s police chief, Cesar Nava Gonzalez, ordered police to transfer the 43 captives to a local gang called Guerreros Unidos, to which Nava Gonzalez apparently belonged. The gang members then allegedly transported the students to a landfill, murdered them, burned their bodies, and dumped their remains in a local river.

The sad tale, however, becomes even more ridiculous upon further review. Los Angeles Pineda, the mayor’s wife, is allegedly known as ‘Lady Iguala’ and, along with her two brothers (both of whom were assassinated by rival gangs) was tightly connected to the Guerreros Unidos gang. Circumstantially, it appears that she used her position to leverage a considerable amount of wealth, as well as intervene on behalf of her gang. Continue reading Two years in, Iguala massacre threatens Peña Nieto presidency

Throughout ‘reform’ debate, US ‘immigration’ has changed


In 2001, when George W. Bush came to power in the United States, three factors — his record as a Texas governor, the strong relationship that he had developed with his conservative Mexican counterpart, Vicente Fox, and his hope to make the Republican Party more attractive to US-based Latino voters — meant that immigration reform was suddenly back on the agenda for the first time since 1986.USflag

Three US presidential elections, two Mexican presidential administrations and a 2001 terrorist attack and a 2008 financial crisis later, Bush’s successor, Democratic president Barack Obama, will take a leap toward immigration reform today through executive action, pushing as far to the line as possible without exceeding his authority vis-à-vis the US Congress.

Obama will announce today a plan that will de-emphasize the deportation of undocumented immigrants to the United States who have lived in the United States for at least five years, and he will do so with a prime-time Thursday night speech and a campaign-style rollout in Las Vegas on Friday:

Up to four million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years can apply for a program that protects them from deportation and allows those with no criminal record to work legally in the country, President Obama is to announce on Thursday, according to people briefed on his plans.

An additional one million people will get protection from deportation through other parts of the president’s plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration enforcement system, including the expansion of an existing program for “Dreamers,” young immigrants who came to the United States as children. There will no longer be a limit on the age of the people who qualify.

But farm workers will not receive specific protection from deportation, nor will the Dreamers’ parents. And none of the five million immigrants over all who will be given new legal protections will get government subsidies for health care under the Affordable Care Act.

It’s a strong first step toward reforms that both Republican and Democratic politicians have attempted (unsuccessfully) to pass through the US Congress since the Bush administration. Obama’s action could affect between 4 to 5 million of the currently 11.4 million undocumented immigrants in the United States today.

Why now? And why without Congress?

A pro-reform Republican president couldn’t pass a bill with either a Republican-led Congress (from 2005 to 2007) or a Democratic-led Congress (from 2007 to 2009). Nor has a pro-reform Democratic president passed a bill with either a Democratic-led Congress (2009 to 2011) or, currently, with a Republican House. Obama’s action indicates that he doesn’t believe that the switch to a fully Republican-led Congress will make much different. Despite howling from the Republican opposition about the ‘monarchial‘ nature of Obama’s executive action

While Washington debated immigration for over a decade, the nature of immigration in the United States has changed dramatically. Even if the basics of ‘reform’ today still look and feel like they did in 2001 or 2005 or 2008, the world has changed, and the nature of immigration to the United States has changed with it.

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RELATED: 2014 US midterms showcase rise of Asian Americans

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For example, in 2013, more Asians migrated to the United States than Latin Americans, part of a new wave of immigration from an even more diverse array of cultures, languages and backgrounds that’s rising. In 2008-09, as the global financial crisis sent the United States into its worst recession in decades, net migration from Mexico actually decreased, reflecting a larger trend that began in the mid-2000s. Continue reading Throughout ‘reform’ debate, US ‘immigration’ has changed