Thursday, March 26, 2015

Today's Mexico City Headlines: The bureaucrats are at it again. They've been denying Coca-Cola the right to turn school kids into junk-food-binging future diabetics. And now a judge is supporting these anti-business buttinskis. What's this country coming to?

A ban on junk food sales in public schools took effect in May of 2014, and the soft drink industry has been trying to get it repealed ever since.
    But the health of children scored a point yesterday when a district judge found the prohibition constitutional. La Jornada leads with the story under this headline: “Coca-Cola denied legal protection for junk food in schools.” No other paper fronted the news.
    Coca-Cola and its related products are so ubiquitous in Mexico that their distribution is divided among a number of companies operating regionally. One of them, the Del Fuerte Corporation, took the ban to court. It lost yesterday as a result of the judge’s decision, but the ruling will be reviewed by the full district court, based in Puebla.
    Education reforms passed by Congress in 2013 gave the Public Education Secretariat the power to impose guidelines on the food sold to kids in school. That led to the ban on foods high in sugar and refined flour, fats and salt without compensating nutritional value — a pretty good definition of most products sold by soft drink companies.
    The ban cannot apply to university campuses, where most students are adults (18 and over) capable of making their own health decisions, the judge said. 
    Still, overweight and obesity is an even bigger problem among the Mexican population at large (two in three, second highest rate in the world behind the United States) than among Mexican children. Federal legislation to attack the problem at all age levels, mainly through more aggressive processed food and beverage labeling requirements, hasn’t been making much progress.
    “The opposing interests are strong,” said Armando Ríos Piter, a PRD senator promoting the legislation. “We had a chance to see them in action when they tried to stop the tax on sugary drinks and high-calorie junk food.”
    That tax passed, however, and became law on January 1, 2014.

Today is another anniversary — six months — of the massacre of students in Iguala, Guerrero. It happens to coincide with coverage of the annual report by the the head of the National Human Rights Commission. No one leads with either, but La Jornada gives its No. 2 head to the commission: “CNDH: Iguala marked a before-and-after for Mexico.”
    El Universal goes with a long analysis of the paucity of charges that have come out of the Iguala investigation, under the telling headline “The slow road to justice.”
    Excelsior offers as a reefer “Of 148 formal allegations, seven sanctions: CNDH.” The story inside reports on complaints by CNDH President Luis Raúl González Pérez that too many of the commission’s recommendations are being ignored. This, not Iguala, was the emphasis of the CNDH press release about the annual report.
    Later, though, González says in the report that the human rights situation in Mexico is facing “its worst crisis in the 24 years that the CNDH has existed.” The events in Iguala, he said, laid bare a number of serious abuses, including arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions.

President Peña Nieto joined the vote-vs-boycott debate. His unsurprising position is summed up in Excelsior’s reefer head “Peña issues a call to vote.” The president supported his plea by assuring voters that the June 7 vote will be the most rigidly supervised election ever. That's good to hear, but somebody should tell the president that voter apathy has to do with more than how well-organized the process may be.   
    A lot of people who follow these things closely see the mid-term vote as a referendum on Peña Nieto’s performance. This is something that poli sci types say about every mid-term, and we're supposed to take it as self-evident. But we never really know, because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The election is said to be a referendum, the results are therefore interpreted as such, and, abra cadabra, it is one.
    Having the election be about him would seem to be a risky take on things for the president, whose approval ratings are abysmal. The polling firm GEA-ISA just came out with a 44% approval rating, which is actually up from the 41% in December. Parametría puts it at 39%, the lowest of his term.
    It used to be that anything below 60% was considered bad. And, of course, for most of the 20th century, a president's approval rating was never less than 100%.
    On the brighter side for the president, the thinking may be that the results of the election — aided by the PRI electoral machinery in full operational mode — can look much better than the públic opinion poll numbers.
    Either way, the boycott/abstention/voto-nulo movement would seem to be playing into the administration’s hands if the election is seen as a referendum on him. No matter how successful the movement is, it’s not PRI supporters who are going to stay away from the polls. Because of that, the pro-Peña numbers — i.e. the votes for PRI candidates — will be inflated.
    But movement advocates don’t see the election as a referendum on Peña Nieto. They see it as a referendum on a corrupt system. In their view, every very vote not cast is a vote against the system.
    Maybe so, but they better put together some kind of PR machinery to convince people to look at things their way. The press likes winners and losers with human faces.

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