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La Semana: June 25, 2023
Observations from under the heat dome
Welcome to a Sunday news round-up edition of The Mexpatriate.
The Morena aspirants have been busy glad-handing, the Supreme Court struck down the rest of the “plan B” electoral reform, the youngest Secretary of the Interior in Mexico’s history was appointed, but there’s really only one topic trending in the national conversation: the weather.
As of last Thursday, meteorologists said the third heat wave of 2023 had ended, but temperatures are still sizzling and in many areas, rain is a distant memory. Stores can’t keep fans in stock. The national power grid is running at only 6% reserve. Demand for beer is up 80% according to a retail trade association and most of the country’s water reservoirs are at below 50% capacity.
Climate scientists are blaming a “heat dome” that formed as an effect of the cyclical El Niño phenomenon, which causes warming of parts of the tropical Pacific ocean and various knock-on effects across the globe. While El Niño may be the culprit for this sweaty season, it’s worth noting that on June 15, Mexico City very nearly broke its record highest temperature at 33.6 degrees Celsius (the highest recorded was 33.9 C in May 1988), and the minimum average temperature in the metropolis has increased by around 5 degrees Celsius in the last hundred years.
The “super peso” slips
The Mexican peso reached its strongest rate (17.02 to the dollar) in over seven years on June 16 and inevitable talk of the “super peso” followed, which for me brings to mind a plucky moneda with wings and a cape, locked in battle with giant greenbacks. But, at close of trading on Friday, the peso had weakened slightly to 17.17 to the dollar.
President López Obrador has celebrated the peso’s superpowers as it has appreciated 11.96% against the dollar so far this year, but some segments of the economy are cringing. Anyone earning in dollars (or exporting goods) is left with a disappointing amount of pesos in return. But why has the peso gained strength? How long will it last? Since I was referring to a cartoon coin saving the day above, I may not seem qualified to answer, but here goes.
Currencies are traded like any other good, and are therefore subject to supply and demand. Today, Mexico is awash in dollars. Why? First, there are the ever-increasing remittances—billions of dollars sent home by Mexicans working abroad (mostly in the US). In the first four months of the year, income from remittances was up 10.1% over the same period in 2022. But also, because of the country’s high interest rates (11.25%), it is an attractive destination for short-term instruments, like Mexico’s government bonds (Cetes). In simplest terms, the supply of dollars is up, therefore they decrease in value, and the peso increases in value.
But macroeconomic trends are also a factor. As described in a BBVA report in May, Mexico also has “lower fiscal vulnerabilites…[and] does not show significant external imbalances.” But does this mean we’re on our way back to the days of 12 pesos to the dollar? Unlikely. Carlos Serrano, chief economist at BBVA, predicts the peso will close the year at 18.50 to the dollar, as the Banco de México maintains interest rates and inflation continues a downward trend: the first half of June saw a decline to 5.18% annual headline inflation, the lowest in two years. The U.S. Federal Reserve looks likely to raise interest rates next month, which could also make the dollar appreciate against the peso.
Holding the military to account?
Eight soldiers linked to the Ayotzinapa case turned themselves in to authorities after 16 warrants were issued for military personnel on June 13. Media reports indicate these warrants were “reactivated”, following their quick cancellation after being issued by the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) last year. The twists and turns of this case, which will mark its 9-year anniversary in September, continue leading the investigation back to the armed forces.
On June 14, an investigative report by “A dónde van los desaparecidos” revealed a leaked Department of Defense (Sedena) email from 2015 showing that the military conducted its own parallel investigation of the disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students from Iguala, Guerrero. The email listed 43 (coincidentally) members of the military who had been questioned (some multiple times) in relation to the case, though Sedena had previously denied such interrogations had occurred.
The GIEI (Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts), which has published five reports of their findings since beginning to investigate in 2015, has also said the military is holding back information. El País reported on Thursday that the GIEI will not renew their mandate, and its two remaining members in Mexico—Carlos Beristain and Ángela Buitrago—will leave the country next month.
Meanwhile, the Undersecretary for Human Rights and head of the Ayotzinapa truth commission, Alejandro Encinas, published an op-ed in El Universal last month calling out judges who have ruled in favor of defendants in the case. Encinas says these judges have annulled 80 sentences so far, and freed 63 suspects since the investigations began. “Such is justice in Mexico,” he concludes.
A new Secretary of the Interior ruffles feathers
On Monday, the president announced that his new Secretary of the Interior—following the resignation of Adán Augusto López to pursue his Morena candidacy—will be Luisa María Alcalde, who has served as Secretary of Labor since 2018. Alcalde is only the second woman to hold this powerful cabinet position (the first was Olga Sánchez Cordero, also during AMLO’s term) and also the youngest. She is 35 years old.
The president has touted Alcalde’s youth as an advantage showing “generational change”, while critics have said she lacks experience and was only appointed to the position because of her loyalty to AMLO. One columnist went so far as to speculate if she’s merely “decorative”. A salacious photo circulated on social media of a woman (purportedly Alcalde) lounging in lingerie, but it turned out to be a model she resembles.
During her tenure as Secretary of Labor, Alcalde has overseen significant labor law reforms as part of the USMCA, the increase in the minimum wage, mandated social security for domestic workers and historically low unemployment.
The median age of the Mexican population is 29.17 years old, according to the 2020 census—for comparison, the U.S. just bumped up to 38.9 years old. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to bring a few younger people into power?
A somber anniversary in the Sierra Tarahumara
The community of Cerocahui, Chihuahua marked the one-year anniversary since the murders of two beloved Jesuit priests and a local tour guide inside a church on June 19. While the alleged perpetrator, a criminal known as “El Chueco”, was found dead in Sinaloa earlier this year, the Tarahumara (or Rarámuri) still seek security and justice.
The Mexico office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights joined the “caravan for peace” organized by the community, and recognized the Jesuit contributions to the area: “In the context of the marginalization and exclusion that the indigenous communities have suffered for decades in the Sierra Tarahumara, the work of the Jesuit community is an exemplar of the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Environmental activist murdered in Mexico state
An environmentalist, agro-ecologist and water activist, Álvaro Arvizu Aguiñiga, died in a Chalco hospital on June 19, days after he and his wife were attacked at a sustainability center in Mexico state. Arvizu’s work was focused on water conservation and promoting new water legislation. He also taught courses on composting and how to build greenhouses.
While no suspects have been apprehended or motives disclosed, other environmental groups have pointed out how increasingly dangerous their work is; the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA) recorded at least 24 murders of environmental activists in 2022, and 582 reported attacks, making it the third most lethal year since they began investigating in 2014.
Va por México coalition will select a candidate via primary elections
This one is hot off the press: El País reports that the opposition coalition (PAN-PRI-PRD) agreed yesterday on their method for selecting a 2024 presidential candidate, which they are due to announce tomorrow. The aspirants will have to obtain 150,000 signatures to participate, there will be debates and polling (details to come) to identify the most competitive candidates, and finally the selection will be made via open primary elections. More to come on this soon.
Marcelo Ebrard on a mission
The ex-Secretary of Foreign Affairs and busy aspirant to the Morena candidacy has been traveling the country and uploading plenty of videos (aka fodder) to his social media accounts. His moments in a fishing boat in Mazatlán inspired the following Tweet:
BREAKING: Mexican delegation to support lost submersible rescue mission confirmed
I would love to hear more from readers about which topics to cover in these round-ups so I can improve my curation:
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