Saturday, January 3, 2015

Today´s headlines: The Supreme Court gets a new head

Mexico’s high court, formally the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, has its blurry version of the usual liberal-conservative divide. But the SCJN, as it’s customarily abbreviated, is more often described as split along inside-outside lines — that is, between the five members whose entire careers have been in the judiciary and the five who came from the “outside,” often after service in the executive branch. With much crossover in the voting, it was hard to tell which loyalties were at work Friday as the ministers (justices) chose a new court president for the next four years. It took 32 rounds of voting and all afternoon, but in the end, as El Universal’s top headline tells us,
“Careerist minister wins Court presidency.” His name is Luis María Aguilar Morales, a relative conservative who’s not expected to take the court through any kind of transition from its staid, aloof  ways. The ministers are generally considered honorable and intelligent, but the high court itself is often criticized as acting as though the country had no problems to solve. Part of that detachment is institutional — the SCJN is not so much a constitutional court as an administrative one, although it has ruled on major issues in recent years, such as legalized abortion and same-sex marriage in Mexico City (both upheld). Whatever the mission, it’s well worth it to the ministers. Their compensation is north of 350,000 pesos a month, about $25,000 dollars.

All the papers front the SCJN vote in one way or another, and most played up the process almost as much as the result. Examples are Reforma’s No. 3 front-page headline, “Aguilar elected SCJN president  . . .  after 32 rounds,” and Excelsior’s sub-head: “Marathon election in the SCJN.” Selection of a presiding minister has usually been a perfunctory affair since the court was overhauled in 1995, with the six votes needed lined up in advance. Not so Friday. Six of the nine eligible ministers threw their hats in the ring, including Margarita Luna Ramos, looking to become the first female SCJN president in 200 years (she got one vote, her own). It quickly came down to Aguilar and the more liberal “outsider” Arturo Zaldivar. With a vacancy on the court left by the passing of Minister Sergio Armando Valls Hernández in early December, a 5-5 tie was possible. And after 29 such ties, any other outcome seemed impossible. Stubbornness prevailed. So did decorum; there was no chuckling or eye-rolling at the endless repetition. Not even tones of voice changed as the same results were announced again and again. Then, suddenly, there was a switch and Aguilar was in. The votes were secret, written on blank cards called cédulas, but the press soon discovered that it was Juan Silva Meza, the outgoing president, who changed his vote. What was not discovered is why he did it. Perhaps from sheer exhaustion.

Milenio’s top headline yesterday was “Yes, there may be more gasolinazos: SHCP.” This morning, just as prominently, it read: “SCHP clarifies: there will be no gasolinazos in 2015.” All the papers reported somewhere this “clarification” from the SHCP (Finance Secretariat) about possible gas price hikes (gasolinazos) in 2015. For the record, the text in the gas price notice in the Diario Oficial, the government's official gazette, reads: “ . . . in the event that international prices of these fuels undergo high volatility, the federal executive branch will provide adjustment mechanisms that will allow revision of the rise in the aforementioned prices . . .”

La Jornada leads with, and all others front in some way, this news from Iguala: "10 more police officers held in attack on normalistas.” That brings to 60 the number of local Iguala cops arrested in the September attack on rural teachers college students (normalistas) from the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa. La Jornada also mentions, as do others, that the Iguala tragedy will be on the agenda when President Peña Nieto meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington next week.

Reforma again mines the year-end expenditure data to give us another gotcha headline of supposed government waste: “Senate squanders millions on advisers.” More precisely, the amount is 497 million pesos (about $34 million dollars) spent on 791 contracts for professional advisory services in parliamentary, technology and administrative areas. This is a 16.5% rise over last year, but other than that we don’t get much context as to why we're supposed to be upset, other than the assumption that any spending by the 128 senators is unnecessary.

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