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Mexico & Central America

June 11 2014 Dear LAB Supporter and Friend,


President Enrique Peña Nieto came to power as the leader of a resurgent Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) over a year ago. After twelve years in opposition, the new president promised an energetic campaign of reforms designed to shake up Mexico’s economy and society. But, as LAB’s Javier Farje discovered on a recent visit, many people in Mexico are questioning if this ‘New PRI’ is any better or different from the old one (Read more). In an important analysis of the Mexican Economy, Jon Cloke shows how NAFTA, widely either credited for its advances or blamed for its failures, is only one of a series of factors which, since 1980 at least, have produced a ‘gated economy’, turning the most profitable sectors into elite economic enclaves under the control of hybrid indigenous and foreign (particularly US) elite capital, using the financial services sector to do the ‘gating’. The trend towards deep and increasing inequalities is hidden from official statistics because the rich ‘disappear’ their wealth, while the marginalisation of the many means that their poverty remains unmeasured (Read more). President Peña Nieto’s most important new shake-up has come in the energy sector. He has argued that allowing foreign firms into the oil and gas industry will lead to much-needed new investment and help boost production. His plans have brought protests from those who regard the oil and gas found in Mexico and its territorial waters as a national asset that should be exploited by national companies. Film director Alfonso Cuarón (the winner of best director at this year’s Oscars) recently put ten questions about these reforms to the president (Read more). Another area marked for reform has been the telecoms sector. Once again, President Peña Nieto is seeking to open the sector to more competition and overhaul its legal framework. But, as Lucy Fisher reports for LAB from Mexico City, protestors argue that the reforms do not go far enough in curbing the powers of the media moguls and guaranteeing freedom of expression for the majority (Read more). One group within Mexico that has consistently fought for a more diverse society is the EZLN Zapatista movement in the southern state of Chiapas. The recent murder of a local Zapatista leader, Galeano, was immediately construed by some news sources as evidence of an internecine dispute within the EZLN, leading to the resignation of their best-known leader, Subcomandante Marcos. LAB’s Russell White, however, quotes Zapatista sources who suggest that those responsible for Galeano’s murder were local paramilitaries orchestrated by the authorities and local land-owners and that, far from resigning, Marcos has followed a well-established revolutionary tradition, in assuming on the identity of a fallen comrade(Read more).


Migration has long been fundamental to the Mexican economy. LAB’s Russell White provides an overview of recent research on the numbers and the impact on both countries of the millions of Mexicans who have emigrated to the United States over the past 25 years, in absolute numbers the largest migration in the history of the world. While the flow of Mexican migrants has decreased since 2007, that of Central Americans has continued. US Republicans continue to campaign against immigration, but the US economy may find that its hunger for cheap, imported labour will increase as its home-grown baby-boomers reach retirement age (Read More).

Policy on the drug trade

Migrant flows from Honduras and Guatemala, especially, are attributed in part to insecurity and violence produced by the growing drug trade and the cartels and gangs which manage it. Guatemalan President Pérez Molina has been campaigning for a radical change of policy and a UN review of the criminalisation and militarisation of the drug trade which remain the favoured instrument of US policy makers. No longer a lone voice, Pérez Molina’s stance has received backing from both Colombia and Uruguay (Read more).

Elections in Panama and El Salvador

May’s presidential elections in Panama produced an upset when José Domingo Arias, favoured by the supermarket-owning incumbent Ricardo Martinelli, was defeated by the Vice President, rum-distillery owner Juan Carlos Varela (Read more). In a country whose constitution forbids two-term presidencies, voters apparently disliked Martinelli’s crude attempt to control the successor administration, with his wife running to be Arias’ Vice President. In El Salvador, the wafer-thin majority of FMLN candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén finally held, after several tense days when it appeared that the right-wing ARENA party would refuse to accept the result. Cerén, unlike his predecessor Mauricio Funes, was a guerrilla commander during the country’s civil war. That war was graphically described in a new novel, Jasmines’ War, reviewed for LAB (Read more). Sánchez Cerén will certainly preserve El Salvador’s alignment with Venezuela and Ecuador and will continue Funes’ progressive social policies. But he has made conciliatory gestures towards those who voted for ARENA, stressing that ‘we are one people, one country, where each of us deserves the opportunity to live in happiness and peace’ (Read more).

Arts alive in Honduras

LAB welcomes a new blog by Louise Morris called Honduras Memoria Creativa, which celebrates a lively arts and music scene in a country usually known only for its violence. We will be publishing selected posts. The latest, Café Guanasco, celebrates the work of ‘the most politically outspoken and active band in Honduras’ (Read more).

Brazil Inside Out

LAB’s new book, Brazil Inside Out, is doing well. LAB readers and supporters can still order it at a discount price by entering the code LABBIO when ordering from Practical Action Publishing. LAB has been working with Philosophy Football to bring the new book to the attention of England fans travelling to Brazil for the World Cup. A long-overdue updating and reworking of our highly successful Brazil In Focus, this is the first in a new series of LAB country guides. Written for us by Jan Rocha and Francis McDonagh, it includes chapters on Brazil’s culture, history, politics, environment and, of course, its football. It’s not a conventional guidebook but a look at the real Brazil, which shows why this vast country is as it is and what makes it tick (Read more). Best wishes, The LAB Team

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