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Hello and welcome to the intelligence on Economist Radio. I'm your host Lane Green, filling in for Jason Palmer. Every weekday, we provide a fresh perspective on the events shaping your world. Ten years ago, the self-immolation of a fruit peddler in Tunisia sparked the beginning of the Arab Spring, but now Tunisia itself, the most promising country for democracy in the Arab world, is disillusioned and even nostalgic for the past. And Leon Fleisher was at the pinnacle of his career as a pianist when he gradually lost the use of his right hand from despair and unsuccessful treatments.
He went on to reinvent his playing around his left hand or obituaries. Editor looks back on his remarkable transformation.
But first. In Mexico of the world of organized crime has moved on quickly since the capture of famed cartel boss Joaquin Guzman, better known as El Chapo, after decades at the top and numerous jailbreaks, the murder rate is still sky high. But El Chapo Sinaloa cartel has been eclipsed by another group. It only relatively recently appeared on America's list of drug traffickers put out by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This is the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, led by a man named Nemesio Oseguera Servants, or at his heavily armed followers, held him in a video last month.
El Menchu Almanzora might not be the most famous name in the United States and around the world from Mexico, but the speed at which he has risen in recent years has been dizzying.
Richlands or is our Mexico correspondent. He has managed to take advantage of a new landscape in the Mexican underworld, where lots of small cartels are fighting one another. His Alesco cartel has risen and expanded aggressively into new territories around the country.
And Richard, can you tell us a little bit about where El Macho came from? How long has he been on the rise?
Well, he began his life as a migrant to the United States. He went to to California, where he got involved in crime over there. He was caught selling heroin to an undercover police officer in San Francisco in the 90s. He spent three years in a Texas jail before being deported back to Mexico and immediately found his new calling as a police officer in Calexico, where he was. He was hired seemingly with no problems, but that didn't last long.
And very soon he was joining a cartel, the millennial cartel Almanzo rose through the ranks of the millennial cartel. And then when that cartel started to disintegrate, he won the civil war that ensued. And from there, in the last five years, he has begun to consolidate this new empire under the name of the cartel.
Give us a sense of what kind of reach this new cartel has and how it operates there in just about every state in Mexico, with only a few exceptions.
And of course, one of its main businesses is drug trafficking. It sells drugs to Americans who want to get higher, but it does it in a slightly different way to previous cartels. There's less of an emphasis on the sale of cocaine, which requires trafficking cocaine from South America. Rather, it was one of the first cartels to shift to supplying synthetic drugs, more powerful drugs like fentanyl and meth. And of course, that pivot occurred at the same time that a lot of Americans started getting hooked on opioids.
And from this, they have needed to consolidate control or move their tentacles into some of the ports on Mexico's Pacific coast, where these chemicals come in from China. In addition to this, they've diversified away from simply the trafficking of drugs. They deal drugs in Mexico to domestic consumers, but they also rely on other techniques, like the theft of fuel from fuel docks around Mexico, the extortion of citizens and kidnapping. You know, many cartels. They will reserve some of the most grisly acts of violence for their fiercest rivals.
But in the world of the Alesco cartel, everyone is a potential victim. I will just give one example. But last year in the state of Veracruz, there was a nightclub owner who refused to pay extortion. So instead of receiving threats personally, his entire nightclub one evening was burned down with the doors locked from the inside and 32 people were killed in that fire. So this is the kind of new paradigm that the Felicio cartel is dragging Mexico into.
So this group has been growing for years. Why are we particularly concerned about it now?
It's not just the aggressive expansion of this cartel in some many states. It's also the brazenness with which this cartel defies the Mexican states. In the recent summer months in Mexico, we have seen this on a on a frankly, unprecedented level. The most notorious of these moments was the attempted assassination of Omar Garcia Harfoush, who is the top police officer in Mexico City. One morning in a very swanky suburb of Mexico City, you know, two dozen gunmen pulled up and sent one hundred and fifty bullets at his car.
So it sounds like the strategy of capturing top bosses like El Chapo hasn't really solve the problem. It sounds like it may have even made it worse.
Well, this is the problem. One of the lessons of the last 10 to 15 years in Mexico is if only it was so easy that we could lock these guys up and the cartels will go away. You look at the history of Mexico and that just isn't true. What tends to happen when you lock up the kingpin of a cartel is the money making infrastructure is still there. But now it has an. Power vacuum, so all of these guys on the second tier starts a fight over the spoils that the kingpin has left behind, and that can often result in more violence rather than less because the underworld becomes in a state of violent flux.
That's not necessarily an improvement from the perspective of the lives of ordinary Mexican citizens. So how is the current government planning on tackling this new threat?
The modus operandi of past governments ever since the drug war in Mexico really escalated back under the government of Felipe Calderon after 2006, has been to take out this kind of kingpin who pokes his head up too high and starts getting a bit too aggressive. Now, not only is that extremely difficult, because Al Menschel seems to be living a very reclusive life and is hard to track down, but it's also not necessarily a guarantee of the peace, as you can see from any look back at what has happened in Mexico when past kingpins have been locked up, it hasn't solved the violence and the current government is mindful of that.
This kingpin strategy, as it's called, has not been applied vigorously by this government. They do not have very many so-called trophies to boast of when it comes to victories against the criminal underworld in Mexico. The president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, preaches a mantra of Brussels noble Aso's, which in English is hugs, not bullets. So it's a kind of Pacific rhetoric that says we want to bring peace to Mexico. We do not want to fight violence with violence.
We do not want to put out fire with more fire. And there is this kind of idea that if we break the cycle of violence, everything will be OK. Unfortunately, it's very clear that Al Menschel has a mantra of bullets, not hugs. And it's so something really has to give. And a lot of analysts are waiting to see if after this recent spree of violence from the Glasgow cartel, something is going to change.
On the government side, of course, drug trafficking is an international problem. And there's got to be great pressure coming from the United States, which shares this great long border with Mexico to do something about this.
Well, you're absolutely right. And, you know, the DEA has elements right at the very top of its list of the world's most wanted fugitives. They describe the Celesio cartel as one of the five most powerful transnational criminal organizations in the world. They have extradited Almanzo son, Elian Cheatle. And they will really want to see the noose tightening and the walls closing in around this guy. There is nothing that the DEA would like to see more than El Macho suffering a similar fate to El Chapo without the prison escapes in between.
Well, Richard, thank you very much for speaking with us. Thanks, Len, it's a pleasure. For a lot more analysis like this, subscribe to The Economist to find the best introductory offer. Wherever you are, just go to economist dotcom slash intelligence offer.
Tunisia is no stranger to political disarray, its governments change on average once a year, the last one survives less than five months. Hisham Shishi, the country's newly appointed prime minister, will soon unveil a new administration, but its formation has created plenty of conflict among the country's quarrelsome political elite.
The political wrangling distracts from Tunisia's most pressing problems an economic crisis made worse by covid-19 high unemployment and rising popular discontent. For many Tunisians, democracy has not brought all that it promised in December.
It will be 10 years since a Tunisian street peddler set himself on fire in a single act of protest that would ignite what was to become the Arab Spring here, mixing with the smell of tear gas.
I know this is the first Arab revolution of the 21st century, or it will be brutally suppressed. Tunisia's dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee in January 2011 as protesters claimed victory. But now, nearly 10 years on, the zest for democracy has faded. If you talk to Tunisians today, you'll find that many don't feel the revolution has improved their lives. There's a striking nostalgia for dictatorship.
Nicolas Pelham is our Middle East correspondent.
I went to the starting point of the revolution itself to the cradle of the Arab Spring. It's a dusty town in the hinterland called Sidi Bouzid. And it was there that Mohamed Bouazizi, who was a street peddler, set fire to himself and ignited the Tunisian revolution. And it was just astonishing the degree to which people there were disenchanted with the results. You find graffiti on the walls with the word revolution mockingly written upside down. And the 10 year anniversary of the revolution is approaching.
It dates back to December 2010. And yet Countrywide, it's really hard to find anyone who plans to celebrate.
But hasn't life improved since the dictatorship fell at all? Why would Tunisians feel nostalgia for the dictatorship?
It's true that in some ways life has greatly improved. You get change of governments at the ballot box. People have a much more freedom to speak their minds, which is perhaps one reason why you hear so much disenchantment. But most Tunisians just the revolution on its economic performance. And there it's failed even before the pandemic struck. Per capita incomes are down by about a fifth since 2010, according to the World Bank. Unemployment has climbed and stuck well above 15 percent.
Many want out. Illegal migration to Europe this year is up fourfold on last year. And there's just a striking disillusion with the country's politicians. Rather than tackle the economy, they seem to be frittering their energies on tackling each other. Why is that?
Why has it been so hard to create a sort of stable and effective politics?
Elections have left a very fragmented political landscape in which there are many different parties, none of which can command an absolute majority, and all of which seem to be often pulling in different directions. So it's quite difficult to form a coalition. On top of that, you have external actors who are very interested in the outcome of this sort of battle between the Islamist movement and the harder and its secular rivals. So the Egyptians, the immoralities and the Saudis have all been giving quite a lot of backing to the anti Islamist forces.
And then those that are more sympathetic, particularly the Turks, are giving backing to the Islamists. That's also making for a much more polarized environment. And all of that means that governments take a long time to form and then once form tend to be quite unstable. The last one lasted barely five months. You've got a new prime minister who's been appointed now by the president. He's in the process of putting together a technocratic government, which has been the kind of red rag to Islamist politicians who feel that this is a deliberate ploy to exclude them.
And of course, all of that is just paralyzing policymaking and focus on the essentials which are writing an economy which appears to be going pear shaped. The country desperately needs a package with the IMF to secure more loans and EU aid. But in sort of frustration, the IMF has suspended talks when the last prime minister was replaced. The constant shuffling of the deck is just really frustrating efforts to try and get the economy back to right. And why is the economy in such bad shape?
In part, it's bad luck. The country was just beginning to recover from a wave of terrorist attacks in 2015 that pummeled the tourism sector and not covid-19 has struck. And that's hitting the prime revenue streams, not just tourism, but also remittances and trade with its neighbours because borders are closed. And then, of course, the mismanagement increases the pain. There's little development projects which begun under the old dictator single Abidine Ben Ali, a phrase. And the unions are probably Tunisia's strongest institution.
They stymie reform. And protesters in the south are also interrupting the flow of phosphates and oil, which used to be key exports and key sources of revenue. And the government now survives on debt, injections of foreign aid and tax hikes that only further hobble business.
And I guess this is all a far cry from what people had hoped for and felt they were promised when the dictatorship fell a decade ago.
Exactly. I met the veteran Islamist leader, Rashid Governorship, and I kind of asked him, what is your major achievement after being at the forefront of Tunisian politics for the past decade? And his reply was, our seats were sitting here. They have survived, unlike many of his counterparts across the Arab world who've been chased underground. But for many, they just look at what appears to be a party which is acquiring many of the traits of its predecessors.
It looks like an old patriarchy. Mr. Ghannouchi, 79. He's that the country's Islamist movement. For about 50 years, the party's Congress stipulated that he'd only have two terms to serve back in 2012. Those are now expired. And still, he wants to cling on by changing the rules. So it really seems as if a leader who promised to sweep aside the old ways of doing things is kind of falling into the same old bad habits.
And what about the other politicians in Tunisia?
Would you describe in the same way Karzai, the new president, is also hungry for power. He controls the army, the security forces and foreign policy. And now he seems to want to have an ever larger slice of executive power to he's bypass parliament and the political parties by nominating a loyal bureaucrat machine as his new prime minister. And at the same time, there are other politicians who are trying to capitalize on this deep dissatisfaction. Most prominently is a beer mussie, she ranked third in banali dissolved party, and she's openly proud of it.
She calls the Arab Spring a spring of ruin. She blames the revolution on outsiders, Europeans and Zionists. And although her party only won six seats last year, she's a rising star among the middle classes who fared better under the old dictator Ben Ali. In fact, recent polls suggest that she's now the country's most popular politician.
So it sounds like you have a struggling economy. Popular discontent and a political class that seems not only ineffectual, but also exhibit some of the same authoritarian tendencies that the Arab Spring overthrew. Where do you think all of this is headed?
On the one hand, you have observers, diplomats in the country who are struck by 10 years on how resilient Tunisia has been. It is the only country which still flies the flag of the Arab Spring, whereas pretty much all the others have either collapsed into war or back into dictatorship. And there's been very little the bloodletting that has characterized the clash between the old and new systems elsewhere in the Middle East. That said, the unrest is mounting. It's serving as fertile ground for the likes of IBM.
Lucy, and perhaps most worryingly, is the fact that there's now a kind of rising discontent in the summer. Tunisians are quite used to seeing winter of discontent when the money runs out after the tourism season is over and the harvest is in. But this year's protests have come early. And so the democracy that Bouazizi, the street peddler, delivered when he self immolated really seems in deep crisis. BMOC is telling her growing followers of spoilers that his memory and the revolution that he ignited should be cast rather than celebrated.
Nicolas. Thank you very much for speaking with us today. Thank you for having me. Leon Fleisher realized sometime in 1963 that he had damaged his hand and Roll is The Economist's obituaries editor, he thought he had done it when he'd had an argument with a patio table and sliced his thumb.
But the thumb had seemed to heal. And it was only a few months after that that he realized there was a certain sluggishness in the right index finger. He had noticed the beginning of this when he was playing trills and triplets and these were a big component of the pieces that had always been his great favorite, the Brahms First Piano Concerto.
So he was in despair. He had been brought up in San Francisco. His parents were hatemi because there was no particular music in the family, but there was an upright piano in the house. His older brother had piano lessons and after his brother had had them and got out to play, Leon would go and play everything he'd heard his brother do from ear when he was four years old. So he already had a great talent for the piano.
That was evident in his mother, who was always keen to push him, realized that he should be the one getting the piano lessons.
So after that, he did he was clear that he wanted to do nothing else in his life but play this instrument. His career has been going extremely well just before the accident, he had given concerts all over the United States.
He'd then gone to Europe and won a very important competition, the Queen Elizabeth competition in Brussels. After his hand, it really seized up, he was booked to go and to the Soviet Union, which in those days was the great apogee for all pianists, and he tried to prove to George Schell and the Cleveland Orchestra that he could still do the tour, but he only had to do one performance. And Shell said, no, you can't do it, and sent another pianist instead.
So that was probably when he was at his lowest ebb. But this accident, his hand and the incapacity was actually to last for 30 years.
He did decide in the end that he simply couldn't continue trying to think that playing music was his life. So he was teaching and conducting, but he was still not playing, and for a long time he actively resisted the left handed piano repertoire. But he came to change his mind about this. What he gained most, he thought, was not only the ability to treasure every single note said that you left. The notes slowed as long as they needed to, but also the potency of silence.
For many years, he didn't really know what had happened to his hand. He found eventually that it had a name focal dystonia, and it also had a cause which was over practicing.
He tried absolutely everything, acupuncture, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, and there is rather nice photograph of him letting Leonard Bernstein pour Scotch on it just in case that would help while he was trying all the different treatments for his hand, he did take a course of Botox injections.
The Botox injections actually loosened up the hand a little bit, and he found that he could play to a certain extent and he decided that he would try to make a two-handed comeback.
He had successfully got over the terrible problem of being a pianist with only one hand. Rather than going directly into the public realm with his new hand, he went instead to his study, sat there in the sunshine, and as soon as he felt that his hand was really ready, really opening the PC played had to be his favorite. The one the. Always grown up with and carried around with him like a talisman, like a friend. And that was the Brahms First Piano Concerto.
So he sat down and played that. And so on, Leon Fleisher, who's died aged 92. That's all for this episode of the intelligence, if you like us, give us a rating on Apple podcasts. Jason Palmer will be back tomorrow.