Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ashes to Ashes ... en D.F. ... (listening to Breakstra)

Pues ... an update on D.F. from The pinche Economist ...

The electoral march
On December 4th, the centre-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) chose its candidate for next year’s mayoral race. Marcelo Ebrard, a former chief of police of Mexico City and an ally of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor and current front-runner in the presidential race, defeated Jesús Ortega, a party senator, by 60% to 40%. Mr Ebrard now approaches next July’s elections as the man to beat—the PRD has held the mayoralty since 1997, when it was first put to popular vote (previously, the mayor was appointed by the president). However, he will face a strong challenge from Beatriz Paredes, the expected Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate, who is renowned as a political operator.
Mr Ebrard’s nomination can be seen as an affront to Vicente Fox, the Mexican president, who had him fired from his police post over his response to the killing of two federal agents in November 2004. After his victory, Mr Ebrard appeared at a joint press conference with Mr López Obrador, stressing their alliance. Mr López Obrador is an enormously popular figure in the city, but will probably spend much time on presidential campaigns elsewhere, relying on Mr Ebrard to shore up his local base.

Police shame
The Federal Investigation Agency (AFI), an elite law-enforcement unit similar to the FBI, was formed by Vicente Fox in 2001 as a rigorous, drug-busting alternative to Mexico's notoriously corrupt police officers. But the troupe's unmatched reputation for probity has suddenly come into question. According to a recent report by the attorney general’s office, released in early December, 1,493 AFI officers—or around one-in-five—are under investigation for committing crimes.

December also saw the attorney general's office charge eight agents in the kidnapping of four men and the fatal shooting of at least one of them. The agents were arrested in August after investigators found a home-made video of four clearly tortured men confessing to being part of a drug-trafficking cartel, and one man being shot in the head. Three of the agents are now on the run, and five had been released by a judge for lack of evidence.

The latest attempt by the Mexican government to sell its two airlines—Mexicana and Aeromexico—met some success. The companies were taken over by the state after they went bankrupt in the mid-1990s, and sale rumours had been circulating for the past year. These were put to rest at the end of November when the government agreed to sell Mexicana to Grupo Posadas, a hotel operator, for $165.5m. On December 16th the airline's board will ask shareholders for permission to sell. But the government rejected two bids for Aeromexico (one of them, for 75% of the company, also from Grupo Posadas) as too low.

Despite high domestic airfares, bidders were dissuaded by fuel costs and structural problems in the industry (many of America's airlines are in bankruptcy protection). Grupo Posadas, which owns the Fiesta Americana hotel chain, intends to integrate its hotel and airline segments to some extent. Aeromexico will probably be put on the market again in the new year, and shares might be sold in a public offering, if a proper suitor cannot be found.

A belated step forward
Mexico aligned itself with the majority of other countries in mid-November when the Supreme Court ruled that rape within marriage is a crime. This reversed a 1994 ruling, and was seen as a big victory by human-rights organisations and victims’ groups. But most rapes and sexual assaults go unreported in Mexico. Although the legal change was significant, many observers contend that the country's social climate will still make it difficult to report rapes and prosecute rapists.

Ashes to ashes
Popocatepetl, one of two volcanoes near Mexico City, is usually hidden by smog and haze. But it reminded residents of its existence on December 1st when it shot out a cloud of ash which rose three miles into the air. Unlike its dormant twin, Iztaccihuatl, “Popo” (as it is known) has been erupting on and off since 1994, and is more active in winter. Geologists do not believe it poses a big threat, but the fact that many millions live in its shadow—it is just 37 miles from the city—forces the Mexican authorities to pay very close attention.

Museum of Cartoons: “The Mexico City Earthquake—20 years after”
Until December 31st 2005
Mexico City is full of small, charming and often eccentric museums. The Museum of Cartoons is one of them, with a handful of run-down rooms filled with political cartoons dating from 1826. The permanent collection is a good reason to visit, as it is filled with some hilarious lampoonings of the Iran Contra scandal and local leaders (a dazed and confused Vicente Fox, Mexico's president, stands out, as does a piñata of a pencil stuck in the barrel of a revolver). The many cartoons about Mexican political scandals may be lost on the tourist, however. But this month also includes a temporary exhibit about the 1985 earthquake, which killed around 10,000 people. The few dozen cartoons are not particularly striking as artworks, but they are worthy scraps of commentary from a disaster gone by.
Museum of Cartoons, Donceles 99, Centro. Tel: +52 (55) 5702 9256. Open: Tue-Sun 9am-6pm. Entry: 6 pesos.


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