Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Today's headlines: * High Noon in Michoacán * Not many are celebrating the exoneration of Raúl Salinas. * Speaking of Salinas, some gloomy types see similarities between today's situation and the run-up to the 1994 peso crisis.

The headlines shifted this morning from Guerrero to its neighboring state to the north, Michoacán, where a deadly shoot-out took place between the remnants of two former “self-defense” groups. All the major dailies, save Reforma, run a variation of the following head (from El Universal) for their top page one story in their print editions: “Confrontation of Rural Forces leaves 11 dead.” The official-sounding “Rural Forces” refers in part to a short-lived and ill-advised attempt to semi-legitimize the grassroots self-defense groups that started surfacing in early 2013 in response to what appeared to be an unstoppable infiltration of the drug-trafficking mafias into Michoacán's local and state governments. The links between the PRI state government and the leading mafia, the Knights Templar, were so well-known that one former interim governor (Jesús Reyna) is in jail, another, Fausto Vallejo, was forced out earlier this year, his poor health being the pretext, and yet another, the current appointed governor Salvador Jara Guerrero, a mild-mannered academic with no party affiliation, makes little pretense to being anything other than a figurehead. President Peña Nieto earlier this year sent one of his own, Alfredo Castillo, to run the state, de facto, with the title of “commissioner.” His opponents refer to him as the “viceroy.”

Reforma gives the Michoacán violence second billing, using the headline “A son of Hipolito Mora is taken down.” Mora père heads one of the rival former self-defense groups (they’re both gangs, really, and  include real rural police). On the other side was Antonio Torres González, aka El Americano, whose guys arrived via buses, assault rifles and grenades in tow, to shoot it out with Mora’s men on a piece of dirt called La Ruana, in the municipio of Buenavista Tomatlán, located at the heart of the state halfway between the capital of Morelia and the coast. Why? “Old beefs,” according to Castillo, who made the announcement about the clash. In other words, it was personal. If you're keeping score, Mora’s men killed six of El Americano’s while losing five of their own. But among those five was Mora's son, so you can call it a draw. The absurd Old West feel to the proceedings confirms the commonsense notion that tolerating armed and untrained vigilante gangs was unwise. Which is why authorities earlier this year decided to confiscate the guns and jail the umbrella leader of the self-defense groups. They accomplished the latter, turning José Manuel Mireles into a hero. But as Tuesday’s disheartening violence underscores, they failed at the former.

Reforma leads with a follow-up on its top story from yesterday on the innocence of Raúl Salinas on decades-old illicit enrichment charges: “Salinas pardon causes indignation.”  The indignant ones are spokespersons for the PAN and PRD, who see the judge’s decision in favor of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s brother as an example of impunity running wild. Don’t take that word “pardon” (perdón) literally, by the way. Nobody pardoned Raúl; he was found not guilty.

Just to make sure we don’t run out of things to worry about, El Universal’s third front-page head is “Financial volatility evokes the ghosts of the crisis of 94.” It’s the 20th anniversary of the disastrous peso devaluation that happened just days after Ernesto Zedillo took over from Salinas de Gortari in what turned out to be the last presidential administration in the PRI’s run of 70+ years. The story points out that a number of the conditions are surfacing again: for example, the peso has been losing value (though not nearly as quickly or as much as then), interest rates in the United States will probably go up soon, and social instability is rampant (Chiapas then, Guerrero and elsewhere now). The comparisons probably don't mean much, but the story certainly reminds us of the change in the national mood from just a year ago. Have a nice day.

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