Category Archives: News

Russian Interference in Mexican Elections?

Reuters–

The Russian government has launched a sophisticated campaign to influence Mexico’s 2018 presidential election and stir up division, a senior White House official said in a video clip published by Mexican newspaper Reforma.

U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said in a speech last month to the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation that there was already evidence of Russian meddling in Mexican elections set for July.

“We’ve seen that this is really a sophisticated effort to polarize democratic societies and pit communities within those societies against each other,” said McMaster in a previously unreported video clip from Dec. 15 that was posted on Twitter by a reporter with Mexican daily newspaper Reforma on Saturday.

“You’ve seen, actually, initial signs of it in the Mexican presidential campaign already,” said McMaster, a former Army general. He did not elaborate in the clip on how Russia was seeking to influence the election.

Reforma published a story on Saturday on the comments, which have since been shared many times on social media.

President Donald Trump’s senior national security aide added in the clip that the U.S. government was concerned by Russia’s use of advanced cyber tools to push propaganda and disinformation.

A request for comment sent to McMaster’s office at the White House and a request for comment from the Russian government in Moscow were not immediately returned on Sunday.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied accusations by U.S. intelligence officials and others of interfering in foreign elections.

In July, Mexico will elect a new president to succeed Enrique Pena Nieto, who is barred by law from seeking a second six-year term. Congressional seats plus some governors’ races will also be up for grabs.

According to opinion polls, the frontrunner in the presidential contest is the leftist former mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is running on an anti-corruption platform.

Lopez Obrador, a two-time runner-up for the presidency and a divisive figure in Mexican politics for over a decade, is seen by some analysts as the Kremlin’s favorite, given the positive coverage he has received from government-funded media outlets like Sputnik and Russia Today.

Both China and Russia are taking an increasing interest in Latin America as the United States, under Trump, has adopted a more protectionist stance and the future of the North America Free Trade Agreement looks uncertain.

Lopez Obrador has been a fierce critic of Pena Nieto’s sweeping energy overhaul, which was favored by U.S. officials and oil companies. He has said he would seek friendly relations with the U.S. government but would demand respect.

In 2016, Russia Today’s Spanish-language YouTube channel began running a weekly video blog entitled “The Battle for Mexico,” hosted by a prominent supporter of Lopez Obrador, according to David Salvo at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, who has written about Russian attempts to influence politics in Latin America.

Pena Nieto’s office and the foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on McMaster’s statement.

Some Mexican political commentators said that there was little reason yet to fear Russian involvement in the election.

“The point is that Washington hasn’t provided any solid proof for this,” said Marco Cancino, head of Mexico City-based consultancy Inteligencia Publica.

“So far, it’s just speculation.”

Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Noe Torres in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Jack Stubbs in Moscow, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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Slim to Help Latinos in U.S. Gain U.S. Citizenship

Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim has joined forces with Mexico’s largest university and the country’s human rights agency to hold workshops for Latinos in the United States on how to obtain U.S. citizenship.The National Autonomous University of Mexico, known as UNAM, says the Carlos Slim Foundation and the National Human Rights Commission signed the agreement Tuesday.

UNAM will train 50 instructors who will give 10 workshops at its satellite facilities in San Antonio, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and Tucson, Arizona. The Slim foundation will publicize the effort through its Acceso Latino web platform.

The workshops will focus on an estimated 2 million to 3 million Mexican migrants who might be eligible for U.S. citizenship but haven’t completed the process.

Migrants will also be taught how to defend their rights. –AP News

Violence Ramping Up Around Vaquita Dilemma

A gang of dozens of fishermen overturned inspectors’ trucks, burned or destroyed 15 vehicles and patrol boats, and beat three inspectors from the office for environmental protection in a town on Mexico’s Gulf of California.The fishermen were angered by Mexico’s attempt to save the vaquita porpoise by banning some types of net fishing in the Gulf -also known as the Sea of Cortez – where only about 30 of the elusive animals are believed to survive.

The office said Thursday the inspectors managed to escape after the attack on Wednesday, but that criminal charges were being filed. The attacks were directed against personnel and property of the office for environmental protection, the country’s fisheries council, and the commission for protected natural areas.

Fishermen lured by Chinese demand for the swim bladder of a fish known as the totoaba, which inhabits the same waters as the vaquita, have decimated the porpoise population.

Vaquitas are caught in the same kind of nets that illegal totoaba fishermen use. Prices for a kilogram of totoaba swim bladders can reach thousands of dollars.

The fishermen in the town of Golfo de Santa Clara, in Sonora state, were apparently angered over a delay approving permits for corvina, another kind of fish whose legal season would normally begin around now.

But experts are worried that corvina boats could also illegally carry totoaba nets.

Mexico has announced that special permits would be needed for corvina fishermen, and inspectors said the fishermen had applied for those permits late.

Totoaba fishermen have mainly cut and run when confronted by Mexican Navy patrols in the past, but activists and environmentalists have warned that criminal gangs appear to be involved in the lucrative illegal trade and that threats have been mounting.

Experts and the Mexican government previously announced a plan to catch the few remaining vaquitas and enclose them in pens for protection and possible breeding.

Mexican authorities already banned gillnet fishing in the vaquitas’ habitat, but that has proved difficult to enforce.

A study done in November by an international committee of experts that used acoustic monitoring to survey the population of the porpoise. The results showed vaquita numbers had declined 90 percent over the last five years, and the study estimated that because numbers have dropped so fast there are probably less than 30 now.

The international committee found that illegal fishing continues, saying 31 illegal nets were pulled from the Gulf of California in October and November.

Experts acknowledge the catch-and-enclose plan is risky, because the few remaining females could die during capture, dooming the species.

Still, some experts say the capture program may be the vaquitas’ only hope. But others worry that fishermen may engage in a free-for-all once the endangered vaquita is removed and thus wipe out other species in the gulf.

Mexico Central Bank Sells 1 Billion to Prop Up Peso

It was the bank’s first currency intervention since February 2016, when it sold $2 billion to prop up the sinking peso. The peso depreciated 20 percent last year alone and was among the world’s worst performing currencies.

Reuters–Mexico’s central bank sold dollars in Mexico and New York on Thursday to fight off the peso’s nose dive to record lows amid fears U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s protectionist policies could further hammer Latin America’s second biggest economy.The central bank sold at least $1 billion in U.S. currency in morning trade, four traders told Reuters, asking not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The central bank said it would keep the amount confidential.

It was the bank’s first currency intervention since February 2016, when it sold $2 billion to prop up the sinking peso. The peso depreciated 20 percent last year alone and was among the world’s worst performing currencies.

Banco Base said in a report following the intervention that the decision was aimed at combating “speculative positions” that had built up against the peso.

Mexico’s peso strengthened after the intervention was reported, but later pared gains to trade around 0.31 percent firmer at 21.38 per dollar, pulling away from a new record low at 21.624 per dollar hit on Wednesday after the U.S. Fed hinted faster rate hikes could be needed under Trump.

However, historically the impact of Mexico’s currency interventions have tended to be short-lived, and the peso has continued to trend lower.

Juan Garcia, director of national operations for the central bank, confirmed the surprise sales and said they would continue over the course of the day, but he declined to specify the amount.

Garcia said Mexico’s currency commission would issue a statement later on Thursday with more information on the intervention.

Prior to the February intervention, the Banco de Mexico had sold dollars in rules-based auctions since a deep slump in the peso in 2014. The February dollar sales were a major policy shift and marked the first time the bank opted for direct dollar sales since the 2009 financial crisis.

On Tuesday, the peso was rocked by Ford Motor Co’s (F.N) decision to cancel a planned $1.6 billion investment in central Mexico.

Also, a major fuel price hike that took effect on Jan. 1 has stirred inflation fears and provoked numerous protests and some looting. President Enrique Pena Nieto on Wednesday defended the hike.

The currency bleed continued on Wednesday, and was compounded after minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Dec. 13-14 meeting showed policymakers were concerned that quicker economic growth under Trump could require faster interest-rate increases in the United States.

Trump’s election win drove the Mexican currency steadily lower, with the sell-off fueled by his threats to scrap a trade deal between Mexico and the United States, and to levy punitive tariffs on Mexican-made goods.

On the campaign trail, Trump threatened to halt money transfers from Mexican nationals in the United States unless the country agreed to pay for the massive wall he has vowed to build on the U.S. southern border to keep out illegal immigrants.

(Additional reporting by Roberto Aguilar, Paulina Osorio and David Alire Garcia; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Gas Price Hike Spurs Unrest

Reuters–Mexicans angry over a double-digit hike in gasoline prices looted stores and blockaded roads on Wednesday, prompting over 250 arrests amid escalating unrest over the rising cost of living in Latin America’s second biggest economy.Twenty-three stores were sacked and 27 blockades put up in Mexico City, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said, days after the government raised gasoline costs by 14 to 20 percent, outraging Mexicans already battling rising inflation and a weak currency.

Mexican retailers’ association ANTAD urged federal and state authorities to intervene quickly, saying 79 stores had been sacked and 170 forcibly closed due to blockades.

Deputy interior Minister Rene Juarez said over 250 people had been arrested for vandalism and that federal authorities were working with security officials in Mexico City and the nearby states of Mexico and Hidalgo to address the unrest.

“These acts are outside the law and have nothing to do with peaceful protest nor freedom of expression,” Juarez said in a press conference late on Wednesday.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said earlier on Wednesday that the price spike that took effect on Jan. 1 was a “responsible” measure that the government took in line with international oil prices.

The hike is part of a gradual, year-long price liberalization the Pena Nieto administration has promised to implement this year.

State oil company Pemex said on Tuesday that blockades of fuel storage terminals by protesters had led to a “critical situation” in at least three Mexican states.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

US Trained Dolphins to Aid in Search for Endangered Vaquita

Reuters—U.S. Navy-trained dolphins and their handlers will participate in a last-ditch effort to catch, enclose and protect the last few dozen of Mexico’s critically endangered vaquita porpoises to save them from extinction.International experts confirmed the participation of the Navy Marine Mammal Program in the effort, which is expected to start sometime this spring.

Jim Fallin of the U.S. Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific said Tuesday that the dolphins’ participation is still in the planning stage.

The dolphins will use their natural sonar to locate the extremely elusive vaquitas, then surface and advise their handlers.

“Their specific task is to locate” vaquitas, which live only in the Gulf of California, Fallin said. “They would signal that by surfacing and returning to the boat from which they were launched.”

The dolphins have been trained by the Navy for tasks like locating sea mines.

The vaquitas, the world’s smallest and most endangered porpoise species, have been decimated by illegal fishing for the swim bladder of a fish, the totoaba, which is a prized delicacy in China.

Although the vaquita has never been held successfully in captivity, experts hope to put the remaining porpoises in floating pens in a safe bay in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, where they can be protected and hopefully breed.

Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, chairman of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, wrote that “an international group of experts, including Navy personnel, have been working on two primary goals: determining the feasibility of locating and catching vaquitas, as a phase One. And as a second phase, to determine the feasibility of temporarily housing vaquitas in the Gulf of California.”

Rojas-Bracho said the effort by the international team of experts “would involve locating them, capturing them and putting them in some kind of protective area,” probably a floating enclosure or pen in a protected bay where they would not be endangered by fishing nets. Mexico has banned gill nets that often trap vaquitas in the area, but has had trouble enforcing it because the totoaba draws very high prices on the illegal market.

“At the current rate of loss, the vaquita will likely decline to extinction by 2022 unless the current gillnet ban is maintained and effectively enforced,” Rojas-Bracho wrote.

According to rough estimates, with vaquita population numbers falling by 40 percent annually, and only 60 alive a year ago, there could be as few as three dozen left.

Some experts, like Omar Vidal, Mexico director of the World Wildlife Fund, oppose the capture plan, which could risk killing the few remaining vaquitas and open up a free-for-all of illegal fishing once they are removed from their natural habitat. “We must strive to save this porpoise where it belongs: in a healthy Upper Gulf of California,” he said.

Catch-and-enclose is risky. The few remaining females could die during capture, dooming the species. Breeding in captivity has successfully saved species such as the red wolf and California condor, but the vaquita has only been scientifically described since the 1950s and has never been bred or even held in captivity.

Experts including Rojas-Bracho; Barbara Taylor, leader of Marine Mammal Genetics Program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Sarah Mesnick of the NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, stressed that the capture program “should not divert effort and resources away from extension and enforcement of the gillnet ban, which remains the highest-priority conservation actions for the species.”

Veterinarians will evaluate vaquitas’ reactions and release stressed individuals, they wrote. Should a death occur, the team will re-evaluate the sanctuary strategy.

“It is important to stress that the recovery team goal is to return vaquita from the temporary sanctuary into a gillnet-free environment,” they wrote.

First Baby in Mexico Given Both Maternal Surnames

Reuters–The first baby in Mexico to be officially named with the maternal surnames of both parents has been registered in the northern state of Nuevo Leon.The tradition in Latin America is to give babies two last names – the father’s surname, followed by the mother’s paternal surname.

So baby Barbara born to Jose Gonzalez de Diego and Alicia Vera Zboralska would normally have been named Barbara Gonzalez Vera, losing both parents’ maternal surnames.

But to honor the maternal line, the couple won a court injunction allowing them to name their child Barbara de Diego Zboralska.

Court records showed the couple got the injunction Dec. 28 and the child was registered Monday in the city of Monterrey.

Raul Guajardo, director of public registries in Nuevo Leon, said it was a first.

“In the history of the country, no boy or girl has ever been given the maternal surnames of the father and the mother,” he said.

US Protectionism, Inflation, De-Regulation of Fuel Rock Value of Peso

Reuters–Mexico’s peso hit a new record low on Wednesday, falling more than 1.5 percent amid ongoing uncertainty over U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s eventual policies and in anticipation of an address by the Mexican president.The peso MXN= MXN=D2 dropped as low as 21.4750 per dollar, after pushing past the previous low of 21.395 per greenback set on Nov. 11, soon after Trump’s surprise Nov. 8 election victory. It later pared losses slightly.

On Tuesday, the peso was rocked by Ford Motor Co.’s decision to cancel a planned $1.6 billion investment in central Mexico, while fears over inflation have been stirred by a major fuel price hike that took effect on Jan. 1.

“With this Ford announcement, markets are clearly seeing the risk of protectionist measures toward Mexico,” said Juan Carlos Alderete, a strategist at Banorte-IXE.

“A scenario in which Trump is very aggressive in terms of policies toward Mexico is not yet priced into the market, and the Ford announcement reflects that,” he added.

Trump’s election win drove the Mexican currency lower amid a sell-off fueled by his threats to scrap a trade deal between Mexico and the United States, and to levy punitive tariffs on Mexican-made goods.

He railed against Mexico on the campaign trail, threatening to halt transfers from Mexican nationals in the United States unless Mexico agreed to pay for the massive wall he has vowed to build on the U.S. southern border to keep out illegal immigrants.

The Mexican fuel price increase stemmed from the finance ministry’s decision to put an end to government-set prices, but the size pf the rises also spurred some protests in Mexico, prompting speculation that the government could seek to stagger the increase.

So far, officials have ruled out any such move.

President Enrique Pena Nitro was expected to speak at noon local time, prompting traders to speculate on what he might say.

(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Simon Gardner and Alistair Bell)

Electricity Costs To Rise Following Rise in Gas Prices

The electricity tariffs for industrial, commercial and domestic high consumption will increase in January, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) of Mexico reported in a statement. CFE said that the increase will not affect low-power households.The adjustment has occurred after the government announced last December liberalization of gasoline in 2017 and amid protests across the country by rising prices and the impact on inflation because of deregulation. The biggest increase is expected for the industry, between 3.7% and 4.5%. Businesses will pay between 2.6% and 3.5% more. Meanwhile, the increase for high-consumption households will be 2.6%.

CFE explained that the increase is due to rising price of fuel used to generate electricity. The cost of natural gas rose 77% in December 2016 compared to the same month in 2015. The price of imported coal increased by 72.8% in that period.

“The increase will have a major impact on high-end consumer residential customers who pay heavily, and for industrial consumers focused on the domestic market, although it remains a competitive dollar price for exporters,” said Duncan Wood, director the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center . The researcher points out that two variables will be key in determining the price of inputs and set electricity rates in the coming months: the exchange rate of the peso against the dollar and demand for natural gas in the United States during the winter.

Wood believes that the creation of an energy market is positive in the long run for the Mexican economy, but that the government was wrong to promise that the prices of the sector would remain stable, something that can not be guaranteed under free market conditions. “The fall in popularity of the president is evident and the opposition has been strengthened after these measures,” he adds.–Reuters 

Gas Prices to Rise 20% Starting January, 2017

Reuters – Mexican gasoline prices will rise by as much as 20.1 percent next month compared to the highest recorded prices in December, the government said on Tuesday, as part of a program to end years of government-set prices at the pump.
In a statement, the finance ministry said the widely used Magna gasoline brand will rise 14.2 percent and will sell at an average price of 15.99 pesos (78 cents) per liter at retail, while Premium fuel will go up 20.1 percent to an average of 17.79 pesos per liter.
Diesel will rise 16.5 percent, with an average price of 17.05 pesos per liter.
The ministry’s price ceilings will be in effect through Feb. 3. After that, the maximum price will be set bi-weekly, until Feb. 18, when it will be set daily.
“It’s an important change,” Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade said in a local radio interview. “It’s a change that will allow prices to reflect costs, and avoid artificial distortions.”
Earlier this month, the energy regulatory commission said a staggered fuel price liberalization will begin at the end of March and extend through the rest of 2017.
The move will phase out government-set gasoline prices, a practice that has prevailed in Mexico for decades, and replace them with market prices.
The change is one of the most tangible parts of a landmark energy reform program in Mexico, which in 2013 ended the 75-year monopoly of state oil company Pemex over nearly all facets of the sector, from crude production to retail fuel sales.
In April, Mexico allowed private companies to import fuels for the first time, nine months ahead of what the energy reform program originally stipulated.
The reforms also paved the way for private companies to establish their own non-Pemex branded gas stations for the first time since the 1930s. That began earlier this year.
Gasoline prices in Mexico are higher than in the United States, where market prices prevail, and Pemex loses about $3 billion a year importing gasoline into Mexico, according to Nomura analyst Benito Berber.
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Veronica Gomez; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Alistair Bell)

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