Discover more from The Mexpatriate
La Semana: Mixed messages
Politicians or robots?
Welcome to a Sunday edition of The Mexpatriate.
The national conversation has started to drift away from Acapulco as the recovery efforts continue – but many questions remain.
How many people actually died in the hurricane? How much will it really cost to rebuild? How can the public and private sectors work together? And perhaps the most interesting question: Can Acapulco be built back better?
Estimates of the cost to rebuild the city are rising: according to Coparmex (federal employers association), it could take over $17 billion USD, and may not see hotels reopening until 2025. The government’s recovery plan budget so far is for $3.5 billion USD. On Nov. 9, AMLO announced after meeting with hotel owners that at least four hotels will partially reopen in Acapulco by Dec. 15.
Before Hurricane Otis, Acapulco – the dilapidated but beautiful “pearl of the Mexican Pacific” and preferred weekend road trip destination for chilangos for decades – had already suffered years of decline. Battered by violence, corrupt governance and waning tourism, Acapulco held the dismal distinction of being the municipality with the highest number of residents living in extreme poverty nationwide in 2021. Guerrero ranks as the second-poorest state (after Chiapas) according to this year’s data.
Of course, it is the poor residents of Acapulco who have suffered the worst damage from Hurricane Otis. The hotels and resorts they worked in will be rebuilt and there will be titanic promotional efforts to seduce tourists to return. But can a better future be imagined for acapulqueños?
The deepfakes are coming
When ChatGPT first captured global attention as either the savior or doom of the human race, I watched a webinar about what generative AI means for journalists. Among all the legal and ethical questions you might expect, there was one concern that stuck in my mind: how easy it is to clone voices and digitally put words in a person’s mouth, and how hard it would be to identify these deepfakes.
In fact, before signing an executive order on artificial intelligence on Oct. 30, President Joe Biden joked that he had been fooled by synthetic versions of his own voice.
“When the hell did I say that?”
The potential impact of generative AI on politicians (and journalists) grabbed national attention in Mexico a few weeks ago with the rapid dissemination of a recording of Mexico City mayor Martí Batres, in which he gives instructions for a take down of Omar García Harfuch, former head of security in Mexico City, who was vying to become Morena’s mayoral candidate for 2024.
“We’ve got to keep boosting Clara [Brugada], and not let up on the campaign against Omar on social media, and keep putting out polls that show a tie.”
Clara Brugada, former mayor of Iztapalapa, was García’s main rival in the contest and was chosen to represent the party in 2024, even though she was the runner-up in polls. If you want to read more about how Brugada overcame “Batman” (García Harfuch’s nickname) in the Morena contest, check out my Nov. 13 column on Mexico News Daily.
Batres quickly asserted the recording was false — he’d been deepfaked. The recording also implied Batres has control over some journalists, including columnist Viri Ríos, who eloquently defended her work on X:
“…They accuse me of following orders to write against one aspirant. This is absolutely false. By just looking at my professional and journalistic work, which is public, you can see that I only write what I believe…I dedicate my professional life to exposing the deep injustices of our country, criticizing openly and without fear of power.”
The Batres AI claim was confirmed by journalist Alberto Escorcia, who posted on X how he had evaluated the recording, explaining that it showed clear signs of being AI-generated (the pauses are too perfect, for example).
“It will be hard to go back to normal campaigning,” said Escorcia of our brave new AI world.
Justice Zaldívar resigns to join Sheinbaum’s campaign
On Nov. 8, Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldívar stepped down one year before his term ends to join Claudia Sheinbaum’s presidential campaign, causing quite a stir.
Some see this as a disgraceful demonstration of Zaldívar’s partisanship, calling into question his integrity on the court for nearly 15 years, while others see it simply as evidence that judges are not automatons and do have partisan preferences, like everyone else.
Either way, it is hard to argue that Zaldívar isn’t an asset to Sheinbaum’s team. He has spearheaded a number of significant progressive judicial moves during his tenure. He was the first Supreme Court judge to try to liberate Florence Cassez, who was eventually released in 2013, and has (mostly) stood against mandatory pre-trial detention. He was chief justice when abortion was decriminalized, and has openly supported the approval of same-sex marriage. However, Zaldívar has also supported the militarization of the National Guard (GN) and has been criticized for his alignment with López Obrador’s government.
Zaldívar is also a legit, friendship-bracelet-wearing Swiftie.
His fandom did land him in a bit of hot water earlier this year (mostly on the basis that he should have better things to do), but despite this contortionist AP headline —“Mexico Supreme Court justice resigns, but not because of criticism over his Taylor Swift fandom” — I don’t think anyone in Mexico thought first of his taste in music when they saw he’d resigned from the court.
Andrés Manuel, Joe and Jinping walk into a bar…
He did it – AMLO attended a summit. He had played hard to get on this one, saying he wouldn’t attend because of his problems with the Peruvian government, but then reversed course. He and his Foreign Secretary Alicia Bárcena landed in San Francisco on Wednesday for the 30th annual gathering of leaders from Asia and the Americas.
The summit comes at a tense time, to say the least, with China and the U.S. engaged in a cold war and the black cloud of fentanyl hanging over the relationship between Mexico and both geopolitical powerhouses.
In his bilateral meeting with Biden, López Obrador said Mexico is “sincerely committed” to battling trade in the opioid and expressed his awareness of the “damage [fentanyl] causes to young people in the U.S.”
“It sounds like the most important outcome of yesterday’s meeting, beyond the fact that the two leaders [Biden and Xi] are talking again, is an agreement to restart coordination around cracking down on things fentanyl-related.”
China also offered “substantial assistance” to help Mexico with the aftermath of Hurricane Otis, and Xi even mentioned taking relations between the two countries “to a new level.”
With all this diplomatic goodwill in the air, I wonder: Can Mexico be friends with the U.S. and with China? More thoughts on this soon.
“Fentanyl trade is stronger than ever”
Speaking of fentanyl…
In my last newsletter I wrote that the apparent “ban” on fentanyl production by the Sinaloa Cartel was likely to be short-lived. According to an ex-Sinaloa cartel member who is also an informant for the U.S. — “the highest-ranking Mexican cartel leader ever to self-surrender in the United States” — it’s “stronger than ever.”
“The ban lasted less than a month. After, they ordered that it couldn’t be manufactured in Culiacán or that area, they moved the labs so no one could make the fentanyl or the pills. Anyone who wanted to make fentanyl had to buy from them, Los Chapitos, or pay a very big tax.”
The above is quoted from an interview that Dámaso López Serrano, “El Mini Lic”, gave a few weeks ago. If you want to read more, check out Ioan Grillo’s Narco Politics.
Gálvez speechless, Sheinbaum audience-less
As the official 2024 pre-campaign season approaches, the candidates have started stumping.
Claudia Sheinbaum has toured 20 states so far, and even made it all the way to the lost Mexican territory of Los Angeles, but she had a mishap on her home turf on Oct. 25. The former Mexico City mayor was scheduled to speak at Estadio Azul stadium in the Benito Juárez borough, but her appearance was canceled last-minute because too few people showed up. Morena organizers blamed a lack of…organization. However, on Nov. 9, Sheinbaum did succeed in filling up the Arena México stadium.
While the disappointed Estadio Azul attendees leaving an mostly-empty stadium became Sheinbaum’s viral image of embarrassment, Xóchitl Gálvez was not to be outdone, stumbling into her own awkward situation on Nov. 12.
While giving a speech to report on her work as a PAN senator in front of hundreds of supporters gathered near the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City, her teleprompter stopped working in mid-sentence.
Gálvez laughed nervously, saying “there goes my speech” and could find nothing else to say.
Several slow minutes passed, and just as she said she would have to improvise, the teleprompter came back on.
From the archive: