Trump May Be The Wake-up Call Mexico Needs

But for some, politicians' rising calls for unity ring hollow.

Can Pena get a popular boost?
Can Pena get a popular boost?
Luis Rubio


MEXICO CITY — Things have gone from bad to worse for the Mexican government. And nobody seems able to stop the downward spiral.

It doesn't help that the country's various political parties — from the conservative National Action Party (PAN) to the socialist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), populist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) and a motley lot of independents — have busily tried to capitalize on this crisis, with little regard for the consequences of their actions.

Suddenly, though, a bright light has appeared. An unlikely beacon of hope — Donald J. Trump! Thanks to the new U.S. president, Mexico's feuding parties now have a common cause, or at least a shared enemy. Unity suddenly acquires cosmic proportions: We are all migrants, all patriots, all good people! Anything but Mexico's harsh realities.

Difficult times demand unity and in that context, President Enrique Peña Nieto's declarations regarding Trump have been spot on. Yet no amount of presidential posturing will erase years of institutional disdain toward the people or prevent political opponents like MORENA's Andrés Manuel López Obrador from trying to score points with rival calls for unity.

Mexican citizens are cautious by experience, and versed enough in politics to distinguish between the interested and disinterested. For them, these calls to unity ring hollow, distant and downright false. The politicians seem to care less about Mexico's pending fate than they do about grabbing the political spotlight now so as to secure power later.

A sinking ship

Some motr hard proof of that was the inability of the organizers of a massive march in Mexico City, on Feb. 12, to agree on their aims.

The problem with calls to unity is that they excite nobody when they are against something. People want answers and solutions, not cheap condemnations. If people are to unite, it should at least in favor of something better.

The migrants who live in fear in the United States and their families back here in Mexico do not want marches and protests, though they might join one to help change the country. The president, on the other hand, has good reason to join the parade — to cover up his own dismal ratings. But nothing can hide the ugly fact that in spite of the outside threat to their lives, Mexicans are angrier with their own government than with Trump.

It was no accident that so many of the organizations set to join last month's march decided, in the end, to opt out. Nobody wants to board a sinking ship carrying the government and many of those who believed at some point that its reforms could work.

A few tweets by Trump unmasked our weaknesses

For almost half a century, Mexicans have been living and waiting for a transformation that could free the country of the shackles of the past. During that time, many efforts were made to reform aspects of the country's political and economic life. But none sought to lay out the bases of a different future or launch the country into the 21st century.

Economic reforms created certain free spaces that have given us extraordinary relief, without providing a comprehensive solution. Political and electoral reforms managed to assuage opposition groups and include them in the system of perks and privileges created by the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). So many everyday workers, however, had to seek jobs abroad because opportunities here are absent. These have been decades devoted always to dealing with the crisis at hand: patching up holes and cleaning wounds that will not heal.

It took just a few tweets by Trump to unmask the country and reveal weaknesses. But if all you can do in response is to indignantly wrap yourself in the national flag, well, that's just bravado. People aren't sick and tired for nothing, and problems will not be solved, as López Obrador suggests, by returning to some idyllic, simple past of ours. Urging a "new nation-building project" may sound great, but it flies in the face of the world we live in now.

The country certainly must change. The question, though, is how. Where should Mexico be heading? Calls to unity are only of interest to those interested in — and with vested interests in — the past. These are the undying fans of nationalism, what George Orwell described as "power-hunger tempered by self-deception."

Trump has yanked us out of our comfort zone and is forcing us to choose. We either take a firm step into the 21st century or accept more deterioration. If we choose the latter, we can at least be sure of our direction: downward. And no one should believe they can save their own skin by jumping ship — or that the state of the country can't actually get worse.

History since the Russian Revolution has shown just how bad things can get in a country. What we need today is Mexicans coming together to build a collective future, not calls to unity from a privileged position on a sinking cruise ship.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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