Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Today's Headlines: Live from New York

There's a major headline this morning you won't find in any of the Mexico City dailies. It appears prominently on the front page of the New York Times, over an installment in that paper’s series on opaque foreign ownership of New York City’s prime real estate. The wording is telling: Political Clout in Mexico, Homes in the United States.” You can read it here.
    The article purports to explore the growing phenomenon of wealthy Mexicans buying up U.S. properties “at a brisk pace with few questions asked,” as authors Louise Story and Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab put it (Xanic von Bertrab won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 along with David Barstow for their exposé of Wal-Mart’s use of bribery in Mexico).
    But it focuses on one family — that of former Oaxaca governor and PRI insider José Murat Casab — which has gobbled up condominiums near Utah ski resorts, beachfront property in south Texas and at least one Manhattan high-rise apartment. Shell companies and stand-in title holders make it possible for Murat to tell the Times with a straight face, “I do not personally own any real estate directly or indirectly in the United States.”
    His son, Alejandro Murat Hinojosa, current head of Infonavit, the federal housing finance agency, and a member of Enrique Peña Nieto’s government when the current president was governor of the State of Mexico, makes the same claim.
    From a Mexican point of view, the issue the article raises is straightforward: Where did this guy get all that money? Murat famously said toward the end of his term (1998-2004) that he would leave the Oaxaca governorship “as I arrived, with the same trousers, with the same shoes, with the same shirts and the same car.”
    Unlike the neo-sours who brought the PRI back to power after a 12-year hiatus, Murat was a dinosaur when they still trod the Meso-American earth unchallenged. His leadership in Oaxaca was marked by late Cretaceous behavior — tough, bullying, anti-democratic and power-wielding. He fended off corruption inquiries simply by blocking the work of the investigators. His rep was so low that when he survived an assassination attempt, it was widely seen as faked, including by the federal attorney general. That inquiry, like all others, went nowhere.
    Still only in his mid-60s, Murat is close to Peña Nieto and reportedly active, if behind the scenes. Thanks to the New York Times, he’s a controversial figure again, and his proximity to the president may not be what the latter needs right now.


The Times apparently sent no advances to the Mexican papers on its story; there's no reference to it in any of the dailies. The editors probably read it this morning, just as we did. But it’s doubtful they would have led with it anyway, given the following major development in the ongoing Guerrero saga, as summed up succinctly in Excelsior’s top head: “Brother of Aguirre falls.” Three other dailies lead with the story. La Jornada relegates it to third place on the front page.
    “Falls” (cae) is headline-speak for getting captured or arrested or both. “Aguirre” refers to Ángel Aguirre, the PRD governor of Guerrero who had to take a leave of absence last fall as the Iguala disappeared-student case swirled around him. The “brother” is Carlos Aguirre, who was taken in Tuesday by federal police, with military back-up, along with at least five others.
    The arrests were not related to the Iguala case. The detainees are accused of illegal use of more than $287 million pesos in public funds. Among them are former staffers in the Aguirre administration, and relatives of the a current state finance undersecretary.
    Ángel Aguirre’s political career was already shot to hell, and his reputation along with it. But he has until now avoided criminal charges for the Iguala case. His comfort zone is shrinking.   

Protesting Oaxaca teachers belonging to the militant CNTE were promised the back pay they were demanding, but still spent most of Tuesday blocking traffic along major downtown streets. Reforma’s No. 2 headline treats the negotiated settlement as a defeat for the state and federal governments: “CNTE beats Cué and Gobernación.” Gabino Cué is the governor of Oaxaca; Gobernación is usually translated as the federal Interior Secretariat.
    Coverage differed on how many teachers will get the back pay. Reforma, for example, put the number at 3,600, which was the CNTE demand. El Universal said it was under 300.
    Reforma put both numbers in perspective by offering a front page cost breakdown on the shiny new tents that the protesters set up outside the Monument to the Revolution, after agreeing to remove them from Paseo de la Reforma (which they blocked Tuesday anyway with their bodies as they marched). The newspaper counted 4,415 tents, costing $850 pesos apiece, totaling $3.7 million pesos. The disruptive protest, one concludes again, has to be more about demonstrating power than anything else.

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