Mexican trends: further destabilization and penetration of commercial supply chains
- Gordon Housworth [ 2/28/2011 - 22:59 ] #
ICG recently updated its 2007 Mexican forecast, then seen as aggressive but now seen as on point.
Commentary in this article is designed as elaboration to, and be read along with, specific slide segments of the 2011 Border Wars: Are Your Company and Human Capital Safe? presentation.
- Cartel activity moving beyond narcotics into increasing penetration of commercial supply chains for multiple purposes.
- No internal Mexican solution is able to deal with this incremental, rising threat.
- Business can still be transacted in concert with enhanced guidelines beyond piece part considerations.
OPENING REMARKS to 2011 update to ICG’s 2007 Mexican risk projection:
Nature of the threat
Having worked in the Americas, Middle East, Africa and Asia, we have seen conditions far worse than Mexico. Business is, and can be, done in Mexico. Problems facing businesses are not uniformly distributed (at either supplier tier or location) as some areas are clear or face diminished threat levels.
Our concern is that there are no factors in the Mexican economy effectively promoting correction or improvement of the trends we publicly identified in 2007.
Corruption is vastly wider in scope than ever experienced in Colombia. The amounts of money at play boggle the mind.
There are no blacks and whites in Mexico; there is no binary contest of good government against bad criminals. Instead, there are multiple groups of corrupt local, municipal, state, federal and judicial assets working in concert with various criminal cartels.
Different groups of the same police unit can be working for or with different cartels. There are honest members in various agencies, but their numbers are under pressure due to a combination of payoffs or death for failure to comply – what is called Plata o plomo, Silver or lead.
Cartel predation will continue to increase as it is a pure form of unrestrained, unregulated capitalism attempting to move to monopoly, likely a narcostate. Just as Adam Smith felt that capitalism must be regulated not because it is inefficient but because it is too efficient, cartel criminal actions should be regulated by the police and justice systems.
Those protective systems are unfortunately not up to the task, at least in Mexico. In the face of that rising void, our only forecast is a step series of increasing US interventions. We submit that training, joint cooperation, intelligence gathering, covert operations and interdiction are early steps along that path.
Hear, see, speak no evil
No party wants to publicly recognize Mexico’s failing state stature:
- Commercial firms fear loss of business, investment and supply chain interruption.
- Advisors fear loss of consulting revenue and client backlash.
- Mexican authorities fear crisis of confidence.
- US cannot tolerate a failed state on its border.
- Criminal elements fear overt US intervention.
Consequently, we expect intervention to be held below the horizon as long as possible. Of the above actors, we suspect that it will be a cartel action that will draw matters into the open, galvanizing US public opinion in the process.
Unintended consequences of government offensive against the cartels
Cartels have been forced to diversify by attacks on their drug production and transport, both by the government and rival cartels. Those diversified areas now rival drug profits. If drugs were to disappear from the market, the cartels remain positioned to prosper and succeed.
Those diversified areas will increasingly bring criminal assets into, and adjacent to, commercial activities. We forecast expansion in:
- Recurring ‘taxation’ (cuota) upon businesses in order for them to operate.
- Criminal infiltration of tier suppliers.
- Rising insertion of contraband packages into supplier shipments and/or contract shippers.
- Criminal takeover/substitution of tier suppliers.
- Rising threats to personnel. Mexico has gained the title, Kidnapping Capital, for example.
Impact on business
On an individual piece part basis, Mexico has bettered the ‘China Price’ -- the global lowest cost production price -- but we submit it has done so at structural costs to Mexico and its nationals that will become increasingly evident as time progresses.
Interestingly, we have found business to be immune to the future impact of these structural costs, preferring to focus upon immediate piece part savings and supply chain cost reductions. (If you work with purchasing officers, and know how most are compensated, you understand their near-term focus.)
The usual business process is to monetize risk such that short of relocation, production in troublesome areas, and transit to and from troublesome areas, is covered by allocating a premium. We submit that this process will not suffice once cartels increase their commercial penetration.
Companies and their staffs, both expat and national, have to better understand their risks by:
- Supply chains and their supply lines
- Size of firm and/or Supply tier (An automotive OEM/manufacturer has very different risks than a Tier 3 in all respects)
- Expat or Local nationals
- Collateral effect (Who are you adjacent to? Who are you simply in the way of?)
- Growth directions of criminal groups (constantly in flux)
Recapping the 2007 Forecast, slides 2-9, 12-16
Slides with a bracketed date, e.g., , indicating the year published, recap the original forecast.
The 2007 forecast was based upon early symptoms of Calderón’s 2006 assault on the cartels. By late 2006, a cartel counterattack progression could be projected. Those Cartel counterattacks  were seen as dire, even inflammatory, in 2007. The intervening four years have shown the forecast remains valid.
By 2011, the trends begin to accelerate in the absence of any realistic governors other than cartel retrenchment or an external intervention.
Then, and still today, much industrial calculation on supplier relocation/expansion is based upon the piece part landed cost, ignoring key Mexican factors.
Failing/failed state characteristics, slides 17-18
Mexico shares characteristics of both failing and failed states. The state still functions but substantial areas have passed from sovereign to criminal control, and criminal assets have forcefully inserted themselves into the legitimate commerce that remains, leaving citizens, employees and visitors at rising risk.
The slipping veil of denial, slides 19-22
Each for their own purposes, all parties - Mexican and US governments, commercial firms and their business advisories, and the criminal elements themselves - support denial of the country's substantive problems.
As noted in the introduction, all parties are attempting to maintain the status quo below the horizon as long as possible. Some observers have remarked that such denial on the commercial side is tantamount to fiduciary breech.
Of the many actors involved, we suspect that it will be a cartel action that will draw matters into the open, galvanizing US public opinion in the process.
While many cite snippets of Chargé d’Affairs John Feeley’s primmer on Mexico for a forthcoming Defense Bilateral Working Group, Feeley's text is so important that it should be read in its entirety:
Second to that would be the summary of:
Round out your reading with these representative items and you will have entree to the severity of the situation:
The softer commercial voice, slide 23
Commenting early on of the banality of certain UN documents, I was advised that its materials destined for public release had to suffer the scrutiny of many diplomatic eyes intent on defending parochial interests. The result was often text that offended no one and omitted granular, actionable recommendations.
Commercial entities are often in similar orbit, desiring furtherance of business, avoiding offense to governments and key players, and damping down public risk issues that could interrupt business continuity.
Larger top tier OEMs such as GM, Volkswagen, Chrysler and Honda have much greater resources and more protected supply transport not available to their supply tier companies.
We also maintain that investors and more senior business echelons do not share the same risk horizon with local nationals and even expat employees. For the former it is a financial risk/reward calculation. For the latter it is more pressing.
My co-chair was an AmCham Mexico member who had authored Foreign Direct Investment in Mexico: Is Your Investment Safe? His document and presentation painted a largely risk free environment.
Two respected business advisory firms, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), here and here, and AlixPartners, here and here, document advantaged piece part savings for Mexican manufacturing and assembly without touching on other risk issues.
A more recent OECD report, Latin American Economic Outlook 2011, also painted a comforting view in print of all Latin America, Mexico included, but public comments by its contributors were more cautious. First the unintentional understatement by OECD economist, Jeff Dayton-Johnson:
“At the macroeconomic level, Mexico probably has not suffered in terms of the orientation of foreign investors. They are still investing in the country,... For the people who live in the violent areas,” however, drug trafficking has “a very important negative impact,”
Then Banco Santander’s chief economist and director of strategy and analysis for Latin America, Jose Juan Ruiz indirectly points out the foreign investor’s immediate lack of shared risk with regards to Mexican investments:
Drug trafficking is “the fundamental threat” that Mexico must deal with, but there are no figures showing that foreign investors have been driven away by the violence...
“In the short-term, in the past 12 months, I have not seen any drop in tolerance for investing in Latin America because of the perception of narco risk, not even in Mexico,” ...
“I do not have any evidence today that somebody decided not to make an investment in Mexico because of the war on drugs,”...
“It is clear that (drug trafficking) imposes political costs” and “reduces the attractiveness of investment” in Mexico...
Closing with a unresolved Catch-22, Dayton-Johnson and Ruiz "agreed that the Mexican state must deal with the threats from drug traffickers" while flagging its lack of resources to do so:
"The capacity of the state" must be brought to bear on the problem in Mexico, Dayton-Johnson told Efe, noting that in other countries dealing with similar situations, such as Colombia, "they have apparently had some success in recent years."
"In Mexico, it is hard to see what the capacity of the state for dealing with this problem is,” Dayton-Johnson said, adding that “with the unbelievable financial resources available to the narcos, it is really difficult for a country with more limited resources to deal with such an opponent."
It is our opinion that such advisories along with the appropriate risk remediation guidelines should enshrined in the printed texts.
The dissenters, slide 24-26
Our consistent finding is that those closest to the threat, either as victim or police agent, see matters rather differently.
Among themselves, Mexicans speak candidly about rising crime, increasing criminal encroachment and inability of local, state and federal assets to interdict. One often has to get verbals as the Mexican press has been attacked to the point that it must self censor in order to stay alive. This is astounding to most US and EU nationals:
"You can openly criticize the president or the government ... In this administration, there has never been gag laws or censorship," Calderon said at the annual meeting of the Inter American Press Association, a Miami-based organization that groups newspapers across the Western Hemisphere.
"Now the great threat to freedom of expression in our country, and other parts of the world, without a doubt, is organized crime," Calderon added.
Many small newspapers in the most violent regions of Mexico, especially the northern areas bordering the United States, acknowledge that they no longer cover drug-gang violence because their reporters have been threatened or killed.
"We live under constant threats, like if a guy was pointing an AK-47 at you all the time,"...
Even stories published without a byline can be dangerous if a co-worker tips off criminals about the identity of the reporter...
The war between the cartels is being waged not just with assault rifles but with censorship of the press, preventing media outlets from reporting adverse stories or victories over rivals.
The threats sometimes come via cops on the cartels’ payrolls, journalists said, adding that crooked police intervene to get reporters to scrap a story.
"We only publish about 10 percent of the information, a lot of it ends up in the files,”... it was dangerous to let a drug capo know what you know when he rides around the city in a convoy with 40 armed men. “We wait until they kill him or arrest him,"...
Writing small bits is better, however, than the alternative, which is to "be a hero" and get the deadly visit from the hitmen...
Voluntarily working with the drug traffickers, like some reporters do, often because they have no choice, can become a sword pointed at your neck, the journalist said.
"If the narco seeks you out and you publish according to his instructions, you can appear to the public to be a mouthpiece for the cartel, and then the other gang will go looking for you,"...
Cartels are nothing if not thorough; beyond informally and formally extorting news staffs on the article selection and reporting end, they station pre-informed ‘bystanders’ to brief arriving news staffers, and report back any comments or questions posed by reporters.
We find it remarkable that the US/EU high street press continues to overlook the best Mexican business barometer, issued quarterly. From Beyond Colombianization, Mexico is the Iraq, the Afghanistan, on our southern border, 25 July, 2010:
Even the nominally legitimate Mexican business sector sees itself being destabilized. Deloitte México has issued a quarterly Business Barometer (Barometro de empresas) since April 2007, covering executive expectations, trends and current event impacts. (All reports are in Spanish, with some in English.)
[The] July 2010, Business Barometer 14 and prior, April 2010, Barometro de empresas 13, issues reflect markedly different concerns by business from the prior two quarters.
As late as January 2010, security was seen as a secondary, even moderate, threat:
October 2009, Business Barometer 11, based upon “Current situation compared with one previous year”. “political discord” was greatest among the “Threats to the Mexican economy within the incoming months,” followed by the “US economic downturn.”
January 2010, Business Barometer 12, ranked political discord (desacuerdos politicos) and US economic slowdown (desaceleración norteamericana) highest among the threats.
The change comes by April 2010 and further spikes in July 2010:
- April 2010, Barometro de empresas 13, shows failing security emerging as a greater threat than a lapsed US economy.
- July 2010, Business Barometer 14, shows a spiking increase in industry fears of failing security over the previous quarter.
See charts on pages 4, 5 and 11 of Business Barometer 14:
- CURRENT CHART, page 4: All indicators are up except for “seguridad” which sinks.
- FUTURE CHART, page 5: All indicators remain up except for “seguridad” which stays in the cellar.
- FACTORS THREATENING THE ECONOMY CHART, page 11: Inseguridad (insecurity) goes off the chart. Conversely, issues such as corruption and social conflicts (and there are many, especially in Southern Mexico) are near zero, i.e., they are baked in the Mexican operating outlook.
The most recent issue, Barómetro de Empresas 16, January 2011, is as of this writing only available in Spanish. The key trend charts noted above, however, remain consistent.
Police and Military
I refer readers, again, to Beyond Colombianization, Mexico is the Iraq, the Afghanistan, on our southern border, 25 July, 2010, for coverage of pertinent US and UN drug threat reports that enshrine Mexican DTOs (drug trafficking organizations) as the "greatest organized crime threat" to the US.
I also refer readers to Near-term global risks in the early weeks of the Obama administration, 1/20/2009, for the 2008 Joint Operating Environment (JOE) that raised criminal gangs to a national threat level and stated that "Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response..."
For additional trends not covered in the 2011 presentation, see Trend prediction update for Mexico, 9/2/2010.
NAFTA’s unintended consequences unevenly distributed, slides 27-28
NAFTA is a signal success from the standpoint of US/EU and foreign manufacturing companies. Lower manufacturing costs, lower transport costs, shorter supply lines, and lessened port and customs issues have seen Mexico better the China Price that was the investment go, no-go decision point for over a decade.
The China price is now in the process of increasing rather than decreasing, noticeably so for lower technical content assembly and manufacturing (due in part to the Chinese government pressure to substitute more highly engineering products in their place). The end of denim supplies at virtually any price is one of many canaries in the Chinese coal mine.
All this would normally be a boon to states such as Mexico. Unfortunately the unintended consequences of NAFTA are causing major structural fractures in Mexico.
Most businesses we speak to are surprised that the benefits they derive from NAFTA are not broadly shared by their Mexican workforce. Even within the Mexican labor pool, impact and benefit are not uniform. Engineering staffs, especially those in the OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, fare much better than low end assembly workers.
Migration to the maquiladoras became driven less by betterment and more by desperation of decreasing opportunity. As the cost of living has nearly equalized along the border, low wage maquila workers cannot survive and so often leave. (Prices are often lower on the US side.) Here again the impacts are disproportionate with more men leaving and women remaining as head of the nuclear family. Those who remain become targets for predation or slip into criminal orbit.
We believe that business, their employees and investors do not see these effects, as with the attacks on Eagle Ottawa labor buses, investors and those employees insulated from local conditions do not share a common risk-reward envelope with local employees and their dependents at risk.
Until that gap closes, or its direct and indirect costs pierce the financial window of investors and insular employees, the focus will remain on the piece part cost. Operational cadres cannot be blamed as they have specific metrics to achieve in their procurement and production objectives, even if the metrics being measured (currency, for example) have other negative effects.
Given the plight of low end maquila assembly workers, we also marvel that no one has taken up their cause, at a minimum, as a reputational risk. The total number of injuries and fatalities from Apple/Foxconn, Nike and Adidas combined is a rounding error compared to the losses suffered by Mexican maquila workers yet there has been virtually no outcry from major US constituencies. That may change as we have seen a US group, the Pittsburgh Human Rights Network, take up the plight of employees of a Ford Motor Company supplier in China, Yuwei Plastics and Hardware.
Overlapping commercial and criminal footprints, slides 29-32
Violence is coterminous to Mexican and foreign industrial centers. The branching out of cartels into non-narcotic pursuits has brought criminals around and into the plant and corporate environments.
The cartel regional coverage in slide 31 is recent but nominal as cartels increasingly compete, fracture and recombine. Many outside observers are unaware that cartel footprints mimic the impacts of geography and culture. Slide 32 shows the geography of a central valley/plateau surrounded by two mountain ranges bordered by two coasts.
Extortion and insider threats, slides 33-35
The automotive supplier, Eagle Ottawa, was understandably attempting to calm the situation by deflecting any threat to the maquiladora itself. The firm had no grounds for its pronouncement and, as colleagues have noted, the bilingual El Paso Times reporter did not question the firm's statement or present any contrary evidence of which there is ample supply. As chance would have it, on the same day Eagle Ottawa was in denial, the lead story in Diario (the valiant must-read paper across the Rio Grande) was devoted to the prevalence of extortion aimed at maquiladora suppliers in Juarez. Again, if you are deprived of both local ears on the ground and a nuanced reading of local Spanish language press, you will come away with a view wide of ground truth.
The so-called Juarez Valley where the converted school buses were attacked has been racked by fighting between powerful drug cartels. But the more than 330 border factories, or maquiladoras, that dominate Ciudad Juarez and surroundings have [heretofore] been left out of the worst of the recent drug violence... factory buses have been burned by attackers in extortion attempts... escalating violence has forced factories and other businesses to boost security in Ciudad Juarez, where foreign manufacturers are drawn by a large workforce, mostly female, willing to work for low wages...
Maquilas and the employees are trapped in an intramural rivalry between criminal groups. (The New York Times did not appear to report this until late 2010 but better late than never):
"This attack on the employees was a high-impact event that seeks to destabilize governments... They are fighting over their own interests, and only the bad guys know what it is about."
The buses bore the name of the company where the employees worked, Eagle Ottawa, an automobile upholstery manufacturer based in Auburn Hills, Mich., that has two plants in Ciudad Juárez...
Determining patterns in the drug war is difficult. At least seven major trafficking organizations, and their various splinter groups as they break apart and re-form, are vying for territory and supremacy.
"As the organized crime groups are pressured by the government and in a sense the military strategy, as people are arrested and drugs taken away, you are going to see internal strife and intergroup competition over the market..."
The Eagle Ottawa attack brought a wider audience to a problem that had been ongoing. Accounts from family for months earlier noted buses being attacked, people robbed or kidnapped. In addition, the ruteras in Juarez have been increasingly attacked for months. Crime is so great that residents of Ciudad Juarez have taken the unusual step of closing - with or without city permission - more than 2,000 streets in an attempt to keep out criminals.
Mexican statistics on drug war fatalities are not credible. Until late 2010, despite repeated evidence to the contrary, the Mexican government consistently repeated the view that all those killed - now 30,000 - were involved in the drug supply chain in some manner. Only recently, including the high profile innocents of the Eagle Ottawa shootings, did the government relent by admitting that homicides in the general population were under represented. Unfortunately, the opinion that all those killed are guilty also appears among US law enforcement.
Mexican criminal enterprises are increasingly inserting themselves into legitimate supply chains, or supplanting legitimate supply chains by forcing them from the market. Until those effects become manifest, it will take extraordinary political will to overcome the commercial focus on the piece part cost:
"The infiltration is often a real concern in a city like Matamoros [just] south of Brownsville (Texas), you have two unions and if you are operating a factory and you have people that you need to hire for your factory floor, you've got to work with one of the two unions... Both unions are involved with organized crime so there is a concern there that if you don't take the time to do at least a little bit of due diligence on the people that you're hiring, then you could be hiring a criminal to come do work in your factory and who knows what happens after that."
We see supply chain issues, cloaked but real otherwise no mention would have been made, in OEM discussions of insuring that materials arrive in timely fashion.
Criminal groups have begun to replace legitimate supply chains, and/or institute parallel low(er) cost supply chains, with the effect of chasing legitimate firms from the market. This is well underway in the mining/primary extraction sector.
Criminal groups are creating exclusion zones all across Mexico for production and warehousing, assumption of legitimate enterprises, access (ingress/egress routes) and security (creating their own free fire zones against opponents).
Increasing violence requires actionable preemption, slides 36-37
Cartel activities have already affected Mexican businesses; the national oil producer, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), being a prime example.
Although [Pemex] has a reputation for operational inefficiencies and must deal with a powerful workers union, revenue from Pemex accounts for some 40 per cent of Mexico’s federal budget. At the same time it represents a fat target for organized crime, whose activities include stealing oil from clandestine pipeline connections, selling refined petroleum products and kidnapping oil workers – some for ransom; others have simply disappeared.
The situation raises questions about the government’s ability to defend the company, which was created after the 1938 expropriation of the petroleum industry and is now an important symbol of sovereignty and self-respect for Mexicans...
“Once Pemex … comes under regular attack from the cartels, rather than just random, disorganized thugs, then you have far more serious national security problems – much worse in the government's eyes than a bunch of homicides in the slums of Ciudad Juarez,” Mr. Beith said. “The government's management of Pemex has long been questionable, but the fact that it can't secure its pipelines from organized crime … shows just how insecure parts of the country are and could become.”
Pemex and the Petroleum Workers' Union (Sindicato de los Trabajadores Petroleros de la República Mexicana) have long been deeply permeated by corruption and have now been penetrated by criminal activity. Its problems are long standing and are now institutionalized. The citation list has numerous Pemex and organized crime items.
We believe that with state and national political and police assets compromised, even complicit, that one of the few means of recovery will come from other large established Mexican firms that can independently muster sufficient political cooperation while providing both creditable resistance and physical protection to their employees.
One such firm is Cemex (Cementos Mexicanos SAB) and its owner, Lorenzo Zambrano. It will be crucial to watch Cemex's efforts, the "change back" reactions from criminal elements; counter-responses from Cemex; and what, if any and when, allies that Cemex can draw to its side.
All firms, certainly high value targets such as Cemex, must continuously address three vulnerability areas:
Pricing model compromise (tier chain event, supplier outsourcing, subcontracting, etc.).
Citadel attack (Corporate/research, R&D hives, manufacturing, warehousing).
Each area, singly and in combination, should be examined by the criteria of Design Basis Threat (DBT):
All-source vs. piece part risk, slides 38-39
Operational, reputational, geopolitical, financial and technology risks are best managed as a portfolio. We reduce the chance of adversarial surprise by using an all-source approach to risk management rather than a partial piece part approach.
Design Basis Threat (DBT) does not add new task layers for employees. On the contrary, DBT adjusts current business processes to make them more robust to penetration.
Our grounding in operational supply chain and purchasing allows us, as needed, to address chain efficiencies while insuring that the protective envelope in not pierced. Slides 40-43 are examples of our granular supply chain analytics.
Conclusion, slides 44-45
Those who rely on US/EU high street press sources unsupported by local knowledge will not have a granular understanding of what we call ground truth. Our experience is that investment decisions are too often made in the absence of that information.
Commercial calculations are necessary but not sufficient for corporate risk management. Operated in a vacuum, commercial-only risk decisions have and will lead to vulnerabilities.
Takeaway: In such instances, companies accept risk by default rather than by design.
Design Basis Threat (DBT) supplies that consistent risk amelioration approach for pricing model compromise, citadel attack and HR.
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31-10-2010 | 23:48
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Mexican drug cartels cripple Pemex operations in basin
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Los Angeles Times
September 06, 2010
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[Business Barometer 14]
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InfoT Public Infrastructure Defense Public Intellectual Property Theft Public Risk Containment and Pricing Public Strategic Risk Public Terrorism Public