Saturday, March 28, 2015

Today's Mexico City Headlines: Paul Krugman comes to town to state the obvious. That's news for some. For others, not so much.

The headlines in this morning’s major dailies give us a pretty good breakdown of their leanings.
    If you want to group them like you would a sitting U.S. Supreme Court, you’ll put Milenio and Excelsior into the reliably pro-government wing (federal government, that is). La Jornada is consistently anti-government. Reforma and El Universal are the swing votes.
    The occasion is the visit to Mexico City yesterday of none other than Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winner whose New York Times column has made him a spokesperson for liberal economics. Actually, his Keynesian outlook was considered moderate in saner political times, back when we were all Keynesians according to Nixon’s famous dictum. But those saner political times are gone, in the United States at any rate.
    Krugman was the featured speaker at the annual meeting of Canacintra, the powerful chamber of the Mexican transformation industry that represents more than 50,000 businesses and 1.3 million jobs.
    The choice may seem strange, given the rock-ribbed conservative nature of his audience. But Canacintra has a history of letting the barbarians through the gates. Last year’s guest speaker was Jeremy Rifkin, who more or less told the chamber members that if they didn’t change their ways, human beings were heading for extinction. To their credit, the business leader listened politely, most of them not needing simultaneous translation and asked intelligent questions. Nothing came of it, of course, but perhaps a seed was planted.
    Krugman spoke of many things, but the sound bite that got attention was this: “The people are tired of waiting for the Mexican miracle. The great economic liberalization is 30 years old now and it clearly hasn’t been enough by itself. We’re not talking about a terrible performance, but it hasn’t been what was hoped for.”
    He was stating the obvious. But since it was Paul Krugman doing the stating, at a major business gathering, and at an event where the president would be speaking a few hours later, it was news.
    For most papers, that is. Two lead with the story, Reforma under the headline “Mexican economy disappoints Nobel winner,” and La Jornada with “People are tired of waiting for the Mexican miracle: Krugman” (the italics are equivalent to quotation marks). El Universal takes it down to the No. 2 slot, with “Uncertain that the ‘Mexican miracle’ will happen: Paul Krugman.”
    Excélsior, on the other hand, buries Krugman on page 3 of the business section inside. Milenio doesn’t front him either, leading instead with President Enrique Peña Nieto’s rather anodyne address, the take-home message of which is summed up in the Milenio head: “Years of inertia “can’t be corrected in months”: Peña.”


El Universal leads with a third speech from the convention, this one from the president of Canacintra, one Rodrigo Alpízar Vallejo. His talk was anything but anodyne, as El U’s head indicates: “They’re looking to depict ‘a cornered government’: IP.” “IP” is the business sector, which Canacintra is seen to represent here. “They” are the critics of the Peña Nieto administration, which according to opinion polls make up about 60-70% of the country.
    The full quote from Alpízar: “There are forces that want the federal government to lose power, so that it is seen, within and without Mexico, as weakened, questioned and, most perverse of all, cornered.”
    His words reflect an administration strategy for countering the criticism that exploded after the Iguala tragedy — that is, attributing it to special interests that opposed Peña Nieto’s economic reforms in the first place and then used subsequent tragic events to further their cause. There no doubt are such people, but painting critics as either selfish or treasonous is not an effective strategy for uniting the nation.

Another administration strategy has been stonewalling, especially when confronted with criticism from the outside. When a United Nations committee found earlier this year that “enforced” (i.e. government-initiated or -sanctioned) disappearances are widespread in Mexico, the administration response was essentially “no they’re not.”
    More recently  a UN special rapporteur informed Mexico that torture was also widespread in the country, which Mexico’s ambassador to the UN immediately denied. Last week, an administration undersecretary for human rights, the official who presumably would be most interested in eliminating torture in Mexico, took the disagreement down to the playground level: “It’s the rapporteur who loses, because we’re not going to work with him for a long time.”
    Now the foreign relations secretary himself has entered the fray, which makes several front pages, including those of Reforma (“Government criticizes UN rapporteur”), El Universal (“Meade confronts the UN rapporteur”) and La Jornada (“Meade backs veto of UN rapporteur on the torture issue”).
    “I subscribe to every one of (the undersecretary’s) words,” said Foreign Relations Secretary José Anotnio Meade.
    In an alternative universe, the Peña Nieto administration could have thanked the UN for its revelations, expressed outrage, blamed everything on its PAN predecessors, and gone to work on programs to purge the nation of torture and disappearances, which most people are presumably against. Alas, that’s not in the DNA of this administration — or, to be fair, in most others across the planet.

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