Mexico News and Analysis: July 23-29, 2012

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1 - PARTIAL VICTORY IN PATISHTAN CASE

2 - LUIS H ALVAREZ, ALWAYS THE OPPORTUNIST

3 - WALMART EARNINGS INCREASE DESPITE SCANDAL

4 - HSBC FINED US$28 MILLION

5 - UN FAILS TO CONTROL INTERNATIONAL ARMS TRADE AFTER US BALKS
 

Political prisoner and Zapatista support base Alberto Patishtan, unjustly imprisoned for the past 12 years, won a small victory this week when he moved from a high security prison in Sinaloa to the Amate medium security prison in Chiapas. This may not seem like much, but it means a great deal to Patishtan. In Sinaloa, he spent most of his time in isolation in a small cell and was allowed only one 15-minute phone call per month. In Chiapas, he will be free to move among the general prison population where he has many political allies and his family will be able to visit regularly. Patishtan was moved to Sinaloa after leading a hunger strike organized by Solidarios de la Voz del Amate, a prison group made up mostly of indigenous prisoners like Patishtan. The  Fray Bartolome Human Rights Center handled the legal challenge that forced officials to return him to Chiapas. The Network Against Repression demands the immediate release of Patishtan and a dozen other political prisoners held in Chiapas jails.

 

2 - LUIS H ALVAREZ, ALWAYS THE OPPORTUNIST

Luis H Alvarez, head of the Commission for Harmony and Peace, tried to market his new book this week by claiming Subcomandante Marcos has lung cancer. As head of the Commission, Alvarez collects a hefty salary but has had little to do since the Zapatistas ended negotiations with the Mexican government after President Ernesto Zedillo rejected the San Andres Peace Accords in 1998. Perhaps bored by his abundance of free time, apparently Alvarez had the bright idea to double down on his (unearned) reputation as Indian peace negotiator by publishing a book on indigenous communities. In interviews this week, Alvarez gushed over his concern for Marcos' health, citing former Federal Deputy Jaime Martinez Veloz as his source. But Martinez, a member of the PRI who has historically been sympathetic to the Zapatistas in his public pronouncements, wasn't playing ball. He attributed Alvarez's misinformation to a chance conversation the two had while passing each other in an airport - more gossip and speculation than hard facts. Rumors continually circulate about Marcos, and this particular one was rejected several years ago. Alvarez got his headlines, and probably sold a few more books, while real peace with the Zapatistas is further from reality every day as paramilitaries, the army, and police have stepped up harassment of Zapatista communities in recent years.

 

3 - WALMART EARNINGS INCREASE DESPITE SCANDAL

Despite a bribery scandal earlier this year that sent WalMart of Mexico into emergency public relations mode, the company's earnings increased by 9% in comparison to last year's second quarter, largely the result of "reduced operating costs" (read: layoffs). WalMart is the target of several government investigations which may eventually cost the company substantial fines. At least two members of the board of directors lost their positions as a result of the scandal. Despite layoffs, the company continues to be one of the darlings of the stock market and the political class as Mexico's largest retailer and private employer. The company plans to open more than 325 new stores in Mexico and Central America this year. Perhaps additional scandals will open even more lucrative expansion opportunities in years to come?

 

4 - HSBC FINED US$28 MILLION

Mexican officials fined the subsidiary of London-based HSBC bank US$28 million this week for laundering billions of dollars in drug money. The slap on the hand was accompanied by a statement from Mexico's National Banking and Securities Commission claiming HSBC's decade-long money laundering operation was "an isolated case." At one point in the mid 2000s, HSBC accounted for half the total cash flows between Mexico and the US - upwards of US$7 billion - though it was only Mexico's fifth largest bank and does not have a large presence in the US. A recent US Senate report said, "Bulk cash shipments could reach that volume only if they included illegal drug proceeds." HSBC officials apologized and this will likely mark the end of the story, with no prosecution of bank employees expected.

 

5 - UN FAILS TO CONTROL INTERNATIONAL ARMS TRADE AFTER US BALKS

After a month of intense negotiations, the United Nations failed on Friday to conclude an international treaty supported by Mexico that would control the annual US$70 billion dollar international arms trade. A small minority of countries led by the US invoked a consensus requirement that prohibited final approval. Even in light of the recent massacre in Colorado, the US apparently was unwilling to confront the National Rifle Association during a presidential campaign.