MEXICO ELECTION IV – As-Live Report from Jilotepec, Mexico State

On 1 July Mexico will hold a general election. This blog is live in the country covering the vote

The PRI are favourites to land the presidency on Sunday with Enrique Peña Nieto but this is a general election and there are other parties jockeying for other posts up for grabs across the nation.

Scrapping over Scarborough and Spratly

The US avoids wading in too deeply to the South China Sea maritime disputes

On Friday 8 June, Barack Obama welcomed Philippine president Benigno Aquino to the White House for talks on wide range of issues. There is much to link the two countries, which were one pretty much part of the same nation following the US annexation of the archipelago from 1898-1946. There are economic ties, linguistic ties and, importantly, military ties, (although they are a bit topsy-turvy). Manila often buys warships from Washington and the US Pacific patrols keep a watchful eye on what is going in the South China Sea region but in 1992 the Philippines booted the Americans out of their Subic Bay naval base.

Yesterday the US agreed to help out on another level: maritime surveillance. The Philippines are going to receive American aid to establish a National Coast Watch Centre, which seems, on the surface, an unassuming gesture between two oceanic friends. The Philippines certainly has a lot of coastline to guard as it is composed of more than 7,000 islands. There are also two collections of rocks, islets and reefs in the South China Sea that Manila would like some more assistance inspecting: Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands.

And it is on this issue that the US support for setting up a National Coast Watch Centre takes on a new twist: China also covets the two archipelagoes. There are large oil and gas reserves underneath the coral and Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei are also making nationalist noises over ownership of the remote rocks. But Washington is wary of sticking its oar in too deeply into the choppy South China Sea waters. Beijing is adamant it is in the clear and has been deploying navy boats to ward off errant fishermen. Manila is seeking support for those very sea-goers, who believe they are trawling their own, Philippine waters. The Spratly Islands are in a triangle of proximity to the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei but are much nearer to Filipino land than anybody else. Despite this China bellows its claims and is far more than the regional power. It is a global player and the US is being very cautious with what help is openly offers to Manila.

The Philippines and China seem still to be at a stage where a resolution to the dispute could be reached peacefully but relations are deteriorating. Last week there were reports of another kidnapping by suspected Islamist extremists in the south of the Philippines. This time the abductors, who the military believe to have links to al-Qaeda, grabbed two Chinese iron ore traders. There was little reported evidence to suggest that the kidnappings had anything to do at all with the maritime disputes taking place far away in the seas to the west but it was another hurdle for Beijing and Manila to navigate.

There are half a dozen sovereign states battling for control of Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys and Beijing is angling for bilateral meetings to debate the issues. The smaller countries on the shores of the South China Sea much prefer multilateral discussions. One player that is only dipping its feet in the water at the moment is the US, carefully offering low-level support and calling for urgent talks to avoid escalating the tension. But while the type of summits are sorted out, the contested fishing, naval patrolling and flag-waving will continue through the multiple claims to the multiple cayes, shoals, reefs and rocks in the region.

Triumph of a people

Danilo Medina has been elected as the new president of the Dominican Republic

“More than the triumph of a man, of a party or of a colour, this is the triumph of a people.”

These are the words of the new leader, employing the usual Latin power oratory to celebrate winning the contest that took place at the end of last month.

“I am not on an electoral campaign, I am building a dream.

We have chosen to change the present and design a better future for our children, one in which all Dominicans, at home and abroad, will feel proud of, having been born on this beautiful island.”

But has the present really been changed? This is Medina’s first shot at the big-time, having been beaten to the top job in 2000 by the man he saw off this time, Hipólito Mejía. But whilst the face may have changed, the body has not, as Medina was the candidate from the governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). Outgoing president Leonel Fernández has been supported internationally, especially by the United States, and the many foreign investors in the country will be eager to see Fernández’ legacy continued. The leaving president has certainly written his name into the history books, as he was the first politician from the PLD to win a free presidential election and has been in charge for three terms (1996-2000, and 2004-12).

Danilo Medina campaigned on a string of promises, ranging from “creating 400,000 decent jobs in the next four years” to “kick-starting a new model of public investment that will bring progress to the most lowly in our society”. Can he really build such a dream? Domestic aims, such as “unleashing a merciless war against unemployment” were popular on the campaign trail but will be hard to accomplish in their entirety. Rising crime is a growing issue on the island and Medina has intimated that criminality is growing from a listless youth, something he wants to get rid of by getting the young to participate in the ‘energy and progress of the country’.

The election was not problem-free and Medina’s rival Hipólito Mejía, who served as president from 2000-2004, complained about the outcome of the vote, which saw him poll 47% to Medina’s 51%, saying “[the results] are the product of manipulation and an abuse of power”. His would-be vice-president has said that the Dominican Revolutionary Party will table a report detailing alleged incidents of fraud but the Organisation of American States has been pretty pleased with the freedom and fairness of the election.

One issue that did not come up much in the campaign was the problem of the neighbours. Haitians are the largest minority in the Dominican Republic but the relationship between the two countries that share the island of Hispaniola can be rocky. The former French colony is the more impoverished of the two by a clear margin and is still recovering from 2010’s earthquake. Dominicans are wary of any destabilising effects that Haitian problems could provoke in their own half of the island.

A stable economy is important not just to Santo Domingo but to the region and wider interests, such as the US. But it is hard to try to balance parochial protectionism with altruistic development support. At the moment, the bombastic rhetoric of the traditional Latin president may suffice. La república is doing well; whether this new president can sustain the charge in the face of unruly neighbours, rising regional crime and global economic unrest will be a serious challenge. As Dilma knows in Brazil, inheriting your predecessor’s similar party political footsteps is the easy part. Trying to slip into them and carve out your own path at the same time is more difficult.

Hot air or cooling the heat?

Pioneering climate change legislation in Mexico

By Felicia Line

Following the recent approval of a national climate change law by the House of Deputies and the Senate, Mexico is on the road to being the second country in the world (after the UK) to pass revolutionary legislation aimed at slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

After more than two years of writing, rewriting and disagreements in the lower house, the law was approved without any amendments by the Senate. All that awaits the new rules now is the signature of outgoing, conservative president Felipe Calderón. It is likely that the new legislation will be officially announced around the time of next month’s G20 meeting in the Mexican Pacific resort of Los Cabos.

The law has received praise for its bold intentions to contribute to international targets of reducing the risk of temperature rise of more than 1.5 to 2°C. As a developing country, but also one of the top-15 richest economies in the world, Mexico is not required as a Non-Annex I country by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to have legally binding targets. The law however does not set any obligatory targets, instead affirming the previously announced voluntary target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% in 2020 and 50% in 2050. These aims take the baseline year as 2000 and are conditional on international financial support.

Compared to its big brother in the north, Mexico is ranked as the 11th biggest emitter in the world, at 1.5% of total global emissions. The US is the second largest polluter after China, producing 18.11% of total greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is estimated that at the current rate of emissions growth Mexico could be the 5th biggest emitter in 2050.

With an estimated 40% of the total population living in poverty, Mexico has gone further than the US in laying out the road map to contribute to mitigating global climate change and putting the country on track to more sustainable development. The law also lays out targets to source 35% of electricity production from renewable energy by 2024 as well as halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation. These targets are hoped to create new jobs in the renewable energy sector, generate savings through energy efficiency measures and direct carbon revenues to rural communities for conserving forests.

Meeting these targets will require heavy international support through carbon markets, financial and technical aid, as well as strengthening local capacities. The effective application of the law at the three levels of government will be the greatest challenge: Mexican legislation is often criticized by academics as being poorly enforced due to ‘European standards with African budgets’.

Within the country, a robust monitoring, reporting and verification of results will have to be strengthened, with better co-ordination between different levels of government and the academic, private and social sectors. Effective transparency and public participation measures will have to be ensured in order to comply with international financing standards and ensure the needs of the people are met. This will be more of a challenge at the lower levels of government, where corruption, nepotism, and a lack of continuity between government administrations are common.

The current proportionally low investment in the education system and Research and Development (R&D) will also have to be scaled up in order to encourage the development of appropriate and sustainable solutions by local talents. Innovation should be led by the academic, social and private sectors and fed into government policy in order to maximize creativity and efficiency.

Meeting the renewable energy goals will also depend on breaking up the monopoly of the National Electricity Commission (CFE) and the National Petroleum Company (PEMEX), in order to allow independent renewable energy suppliers to enter the market. Both state giants will need to reform and restructure their current subsidy systems in order to incentivise energy efficiency and renewable energy production. The law also implies phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, which might raise energy costs and reduce profits for powerful invested interests, displeasing industrial and oil lobbyists.

Luckily for the current government, with national, state and municipal elections looming on 1st July, the daunting task to meet their climate change targets, for now, has been left to the next administrations.

Felicia Line works in Chiapas, Mexico