Friday 22 June 2018

There are good reasons for the PRI's collapse in Quintana Roo

La politica es la politica has posted 32 articles - one for each state in Mexico, including Mexico City - in advance of the July 1, 2018, presidential election. For links to all 32 articles, scroll to the bottom of this post.

The state of Quintana Roo has a population of about 1.5 million and is located on the eastern part of the Yucatán Peninsula. Its capital is the drab port town of Chetumal, which also home to a federal prison. Quintana Roo covers Mexico’s entire Caribbean coast, and includes the city of Cancún, the islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, and the town of Playa del Carmen, as well as many ancient Maya ruins.

Clearly, tourism is critical to Quintana Roo’s economy, and plays a role in its politics. In this context security is a critical issue. The fact that the hyper-violent Jalisco New Generation (CJNG) cartel has been moving into Cancun over the last year, pushing out other gangs, has been cause for serious concern.

On the political front, Quintana Roo is quite diverse. The governor represents the National Action Party (PAN). Of the three federal senators, one is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), one is a member of the fraudulent “Green” Party (PVEM), and one a member of the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

With regard to security and press freedom, there have been two reported murders of journalists: one in 2000, and another back in 2009. However, the “plaza” (territory) in the tourist mecca of Cancun is now at the center of a conflict between the Gulf Cartel and the CJNG.

Alfonso Contreras Espinoza, “El Poncho”, a drug trafficker believed to head the Cancún operations of the Gulf cartel, was arrested in July 2017 on weapons charges. He was allowed out of a local prison under guard for treatment at a private hospital for leg problems, when in early March of this year four gunmen burst into the facility, overcame a guard, and shot to death Contreras Espinoza and his wife. When assessing motive, as well as the brazenness of the attack, it can be assumed that the CJNG was likely behind the murder.

This attack followed on some disturbing events on the tourist ferry that runs between the Caribbean resorts of Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel. A blast on 21 February shook a ferry plying the route, injuring 19 Mexicans and at least five US citizens. Then on March 1 undetonated explosive devices were found on another tourist ferry, again on the route between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel.

Things began to go awry in Quintana Roo back in January, 2017, when a shooting at a music festival in Playa del Carmen left three foreigners and two Mexicans dead. The next day, gunmen attacked the state prosecutor's office in Cancún, killing four people.

The ongoing conflict between the two cartels sometimes overshadows other issues. Quintana Roo, which has a lot of valuable low-lying land near the coast, is often the site of disputes between real estate interests, many connected to corrupt officials, and environmentalists.

At the end of May this year the federal environmental commission, called Profepa (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente), halted five construction projects near the archeological site of Tolum for environmental violations. The work on the resort properties was shut down after inspectors found that the projects were in violation of environmental regulations, and did not have the necessary permits.

The developments, which include 19,000 square meters of oceanfront real estate, were caught with a number of infractions. Wildlife and plant species from the area’s wetlands and coastal dunes were taken from their natural habitats. Four cabins were built with wood sourced from within the coastal wetland ecosystem. Protected areas had been replaced with leisure facilities, a water treatment plant and an artificial wetland, including a wetland that was filled in to make a parking lot.

Earlier in April, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), said in a statement that an urban development plan for the Island of Holbox was unconstitutional, and threatened the island’s environment as well as the greater Yum Balam protected area.
Semarnat and the Commission for Natural Protected Areas (Conanp) have even presented a formal constitutional complaint in the Supreme Court against the plan, which was prepared by the municipality of Lázaro Cárdenas, in which Holbox is located.

The municipality has proposal a development along 22 kilometers of otherwise virgin beaches. The proposal is almost certainly illegal, given that the entire island is within northern Quintana Roo’s “Natural Protected Area” (ANP) of Yum Balam, created by decree in 1994 for the protection of plant and animal life. There was a similar dispute last November, but that time the locals were complaining about a federal land use plan, which they considered to be heavy handed.

When it comes to local conflicts, there’s been some disruption as Uber, yet again, tried to establish a presence in Quintana Roo. Ride-hailing services stopped operating late in 2017 after several conflicts with taxis, but at the end of May Quintana Roo’s state Congress approved modifications to the Mobility Law, which now allows ride share services to operate freely in the state.

As has happened elsewhere in Mexico, the response from local taxi drivers was not pretty. Drivers in Cancún blocked traffic in the city’s hotel zone and downtown, and in the state capital, Chetumal, cab drivers set up an hour-long blockade. However, a local survey has found that 90% of respondents in Quintana Roo said that they specifically wanted to see Uber continue operating.

Then there is the matter of Mayan-rights activist and journalist Pedro Canché, who was arrested in August 2014 for criticizing Quintana Roo’s PRI governor, Roberto Borge (2011-2016), after covering a protest over increased water tariffs in the city of Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Canché was held on trumped up charges of sabotaging the local water supply. On February 24, 2015, a Quintana Roo district judge ruled that the proceedings brought against him were arbitrary, and that he had been denied due process; however he was not released from prison until May 29, 2015.

The story is relevant today because Canché has since pursued damages against state officials, including the ex-governor. There is substantial evidence that Canché was jailed because Borge was angry at  Canché's reporting, which exposed various offenses committed against the Mayan people.

Canché has had some success. In early May of this year the federal prosecutor's office declared that neither the investigative officer nor the judge had "any evidence whatsoever" to support a prosecution against him. Canché is still pursuing his complaint against the former governor, alleging that it was Borge who specifically ordered his detention, as well as attempting to over-ride the judicial decision demanding Canché’s release from jail.

However, Borge has bigger problems. At the end of his term the Mexican government declared him a criminal – surprising, given that the PRI is in power, and that it usually requires egregious transgressions for the federal government to act against a state governor. Borge was arrested in June 5, 2017 at an the Tocumen International Airport, in Panama, as he was about to board a flight to Paris. He is alleged to have laundered millions of dollars via inflated contracts with public aircraft. Though it has not been proven, the contracts would have been with organized crime groups, with the “legitimate” money then flowing back to Borge and his criminal clients.

Why does all this have bearing on the federal election? Because, as this article has shown, the Mexican federal government plays a strong role disciplining rogue elements in Quintana Roo. It’s the federal government that goes after developers and protects the environment – not local or state officials, many of whom are compromised. And it’s the federal government that brings rogue governors into line.
Maria Elena Lezma Espinosa: The new mayor of Cancun?

According to a poll conducted in April, in Quintana Roo Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his Morena-led “Together We Will Make History” coalition leads with 33.6% support. He is followed by Ricardo Anaya of the right-of-center PAN-led “Frente” coalition – which bizarrely includes the struggling, left-of-center PRD – with 22.7% support. And bringing up the rear, as he is in national polls, is the PRI’s José Antonio Meade with 16.9%.

The simple message is that the people of Quintana Roo have lost all faith in the PRI. Even in the City of Cancun the Morena candidate, María Elena Lezama Espinosa, leads with 34.1% support. As much as this election is the story of Morena as a new and legitimate political party, so is it also the story of the collapse of the PRI.

Below are the links to the posts for each state: 

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