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La Semana: Sunday, May 28
I'm back with quick takes on the week and a few updates
Welcome (finally!) to a Sunday edition of The Mexpatriate.
Before I plunge into the latest in Mexico’s national conversation this week, I have a few updates to share about this newsletter. This is only the third post I’ve published this year so far, which causes me to feel a steady low-grade fever of anguish—on good days.
Between a full-time job, two kids, personal upheavals and wrestling with my inner procrastinator, protecting the uninterrupted time I need to write has become a low priority. I told myself that spreading out my deadlines would help, from weekly to twice a month, even once a month—whenever I “can”. But in a moment of clarity on the strange counter-intuitive nature of creativity, I realized more structure is what I need, not less.
This leads me to introduce a new format for La Semana, which will be a weekly rapid fire round-up of curated news items—some headliners, some under-reported stories and some quirky gems. Longer-form analyses, essays or interviews will be published twice a month. Some upcoming topics include a check-up on Mexico’s democracy, the transnational shadow economy and the deaths of local land defenders across the country.
I am honored to have this small but growing list of readers, and I would love to engage with you more. I welcome your comments, ideas, tips and insights either here or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yes, Popocatépetl is an active volcano:
The “smoking mountain”, also known as “Don Goyo”, made his tempestuous presence felt last week with an “increase in activity associated with the deposit of a body of magma from the depths up to the volcanic edifice,” as clinically described by a volcanologist at UNAM. The alert level went from Yellow 2 to Yellow 3 on Monday as ashfall in the areas nearest the volcano turned the skies, and the surfaces below, gray. The last time the alert rose to Yellow 3 was in March 2019.
Numerous flights were cancelled at both Felipe Ángeles and Benito Juárez international airports in Mexico City as a precaution, and schools closed in some parts of Puebla and Tlaxcala. “El Popo” is one of the world’s most active volcanoes—perhaps also the bearer of the most nicknames?—since awakening from a six-decade slumber in 1994. If you enjoy live streaming volcanic activity, check out Webcams de México’s Twitter account.
AMLO vs Larrea:
President López Obrador made business interests squirm with the decision to send the Navy to take over 120 km of a railway in Veracruz that is operated by a private company, Ferrosur. This company is owned by mining magnate, and suitor to buy Citibanamex, Germán Larrea, the second-wealthiest person in Mexico (estimated net worth of $28 billion USD).
The government said the portion of railway is necessary to their larger Isthmus of Tehuantepec rail project and that it wasn’t “expropriation”—as reported by some—but rather recovering a concession granted previously to the company. Legally, of course the state can (and does) expropriate land for public use, but in this case, AMLO insists it’s a somewhat less abrasive “I’ll take that back now” (via temporary military occupation). He also said negotiations with Ferrosur had failed when the company named a price of 9.5 billion pesos for the concession that the president deemed “abusive”.
This wasn’t the only big item on Larrea’s agenda last week. His conglomerate Grupo México had been in negotiations for months with Citigroup, and reportedly was on the verge of finalizing a $7 billion USD transaction to acquire Citibanamex, which had been “on the market” since January 2022. But then the bank announced a pivot on Wednesday: they would pursue an IPO (initial public offering) instead.
The timing inspired a flurry of conjectures that Larrea had pulled out because of the Ferrosur confrontation with the government, which made him worry about having his (prodigious) assets taken away arbitrarily by the state. AMLO hinted that the government might be interested in buying the bank on Tuesday “if” the Grupo México deal fell through.
“Businesses will have to take into account a bigger political and regulatory risk for any investment [in Mexico],” said analyst Jorge Castañeda Morales from El Economista in a Thursday interview. He added he did not think it would frighten away nearshoring investment, which appears to be solid based on the data released last week by INEGI on foreign direct investment (FDI), which reached $18 billion USD in the first quarter.
Between a rock and a hard place on psychiatric medications:
I wrote a series on the drug shortage crisis last year, which has been one of this administration’s thorniest problems in health policy. While some shortages have been mitigated, psychiatric medications including clonazepam, lithium, clozapine, alprazolam, zolpidem and diazepam—many of which have been increasingly prescribed since the pandemic—have been impossible to find in pharmacies across the country (which might have provoked armed revolt in the United States). This week, the national health regulator Cofepris announced they would release another 653,000 boxes of psychiatric medications that had previously been seized during a November 2022 inspection at Psicofarma, Mexico’s biggest manufacturer of these drugs. This is the fourth batch of medications to be put back on the market since the inspection.
Cofepris and the Department of Health have been tossing this ball between their courts, to the despair of patients and their families. While the regulatory agency is indeed performing its duties—ensuring sanitary conditions are met at a drug manufacturing facility that makes controlled substances—the apathy in the face of the crisis on the part of public health authorities echoes the frustrating experiences of the past four years by many living and coping with illness, particularly those without resources outside the public health system.
Accountability in Mexican mining?
Last August, an accident at a coal mine in Coahuila left 10 men trapped below ground. Their bodies have yet to be recovered. Last week, the majority owner of the mine was arrested for “unlawful exploitation of a national asset”, the second arrest made in relation to the fatal accident. According to surviving miners, they had not been allowed to work in the mine in the two days prior to the accident because of the flooding risk, but then were instructed to begin work again.
Mexico holds the dubious distinction of being the second deadliest country for miners in the world, with accidents like this one and many others—including the infamous Pasta de Conchos accident that killed 65 workers in 2006—haunting the national memory.
Mexico’s long mining history is fraught with both tremendous wealth (see Germán Larrea above, and almost any colonial “silver” town) and tremendous tragedy. In April, one of the fast-tracked bills passed in a frenetic congressional session by majority party Morena was the “Ley Minera”, a reform to the laws governing mining activity in Mexico. The law shortens the duration of concessions from 50 to 30 years, requires consultation with local communities and makes it easier for the state to revoke concessions when companies violate the law. The mining industry has expressed concerns.
Nudists march in Guadalajara:
Yesterday, nudists took to the streets of Guadalajara, calling for an end to prejudices and taboos about the naked human body and “unrealistic” beauty standards, and seeking to “normalize” the human form in its natural state.
I don’t have more details on the anti-clothing movement’s ambitious agenda, but it did give me pause to see a few mask-wearing participants choosing not to embrace full facial nudity.
PAN politicians off-target:
In the genre of awkward viral videos by politicians, PAN (National Action Party) leader Marko Cortés and PAN senator Lilly Téllez (who plans to run for president in 2024) have a hit.
Unfortunately, I can’t embed the Tweet here (really, Elon?), but the two archers—ahem—politicians, show the world what they plan to do with AMLO’s Morena, the party that in the most recent polls, would get half of the country’s votes if the election was held today. They might need a plan B.