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Column 121106 Wall

Monday, December 11, 2006

 

Whither Ebrard and Mexico City?

 

By Allan Wall

 

On December 5th, 2006, Marcelo Ebrard was inaugurated as mayor of Mexico City.  He has his work cut out for him, that’s for certain.

 

First, what kind of a city is Mexico City?  Of course it’s the capital of Mexico, and it’s also the biggest city, the financial and economic hub, as well as the cultural and media center of the country.

 

Mexico’s capital is a Federal District, not part of any state, with a similar status to Washington, D.C. in the United States.  In contrast to the District of Columbia though, Mexico City has representatives and senators in the Mexican Congress.  Nevertheless, its government is still limited and circumscribed, and lacking in other powers of statehood.  The Mexican Congress must approve Mexico City’s budget. And Mexico’s President and Congress can veto its laws.

 

Yet through the years self-government has increased, and in 1997 Mexico City won the right to choose its own head of government, or mayor.

 

Mexico City is full of history, having been the capital of the Aztec Empire.  After that it was the seat of the Viceroy of New Spain, and since Independence the capital of the nation. (And if Mexico’s capital is ever moved elsewhere, it’s stipulated that Mexico City would gain immediate statehood).

 

As about anybody who has visited Mexico City can tell you, it is filled with cultural attractions.  It has more museums than any other city in the world (about 160), over 100 art galleries, and 30 concert halls. Mexico is surpassed only by New York City, London and Toronto in the quantity of theaters.

 

The Historic Center (downtown), with its Spanish colonial architecture, is full of interesting sights. At the heart of the city is the Zocalo, the massive square around which are located the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Capitol building, and the Templo Mayor Aztec museum.  The Zocalo is also the scene of Independence Day marches and rallies, and more frequent protests.  That’s where Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador held his rallies to name him the “legitimate president.”

 

Mexico City is home of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM, North America’s oldest university and a number of others.  Plus there are stadiums, churches, markets and residential areas of all social levels.

 

Economically, 25 percent of Mexico’s GDP is produced in Mexico City, making it the 30th largest economy in the world.  Mexico City’s residents have a higher GDP per capita than most of Latin America.  And about 50 percent of the city’s residents have Internet access.

 

The Mexico City poverty level is proportionately lower than Mexico’s at large, however there are still many poor people in the Federal District.

 

Mexico City has other big problems that will challenge Marcelo Ebrard.  Among these are the usual big city problems: traffic, water supply, waste removal, etc.

 

Pollution is another challenge.  Given the city’s geographical situation, hemmed in by mountains, noxious vapors congregate there, giving it the world’s highest concentration of ozone and carbon monoxide levels.

 

Crime and security are major concerns, in a city now notorious for kidnappings — many perpetrated by taxi drivers without proper authorization for taxi service.

 

A curious feature of Mexico City’s legal status is that its Chief of Police (Secretary of Public Safety) must be named by the Mexico City mayor and then approved by the president of Mexico, who can also remove him at anytime.

              

Marcelo Ebrard knows about this firsthand, because he has served as police chief.  Furthermore, was removed by President Vicente Fox in 2004 after a mob burned some undercover federal police officers alive.

 

But Ebrard is now mayor of Mexico City, and the question is how closely will he work with President Felipe Calderon? A good working relationship between the two could greatly facilitate Ebrard’s work.

 

Ebrard’s PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) still does not officially recognize the Calderon presidency (though several PRD governors have).

 

On the matter of the designation of the police chief, in order not to have to deal with President Calderon Ebrard simply asked Joel Ortega, police chief under the previous administration, to stay on.

 

Nevertheless, there are signs that Ebrard may not be so rigid in avoiding Calderon. After taking office, the new Mexico City mayor said it wasn’t his position to recognize or not recognize a federal government, and that he would have contact with the Mexican federal government.

 

That’s more realistic. Hopefully Ebrard will put the acrimony of the election behind and work together with Calderon for the betterment of that great and teeming city.

 

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Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.  He currently resides in Mexico, where he has lived since 1991. He can be reached via e-mail at allan39@prodigy.net.mx.

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Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón