The president of the United States recently spoke of immigrants from undesirable countries that he called “shitholes.” He made no mention of Mexico in his remarks but, writing from that country, where I spoke with people on the street, family members and friends and looked at newspapers, magazines and television, I find a society that is worried, stunned and overwhelmed by problems and increasingly pessimistic about its current reality and uncertain future. This is also a presidential election year, with highly corrupt politicians and unreliable political parties on display.
In New Year’s celebrations, few expressed the usual euphoria and optimism. Traditional good wishes were invariably accompanied by phrases of uncertainty and hopelessness: “Happy New Year...let’s see how it goes,” or “Let’s hope the problems will be over,” or “Who knows what will happen.” Only on commercial television and among the rich and privileged were wishes of joy and happiness heard.
Mexico ended the year facing widespread violence, mostly brought on by the organized crime of drug cartels, but also by those fighting a war declared by former President Felipe Calderón and continued by Peña Nieto in which the army, navy and federal police have replaced the weak state and local police forces. The result has been an increase in violence and crime—executions, torture, kidnappings, robberies, assaults, protection rackets of every sort, the human trafficking of migrants, the sale of children and women as prostitutes. Law forces themselves are highly corrupt, with cartels buying not only entire police forces, but city, state and federal authorities, including mayors, governors, judges and a good portion of the entire judicial system. Non-cooperation can result in death.
The enormous deficiencies in the justice system, with its illegality and lack of professionalism, have resulted in 98 percent of criminal cases going unresolved. This has led to widespread impunity that further promotes criminality, since those who deal drugs or who rob or kidnap know they will face no consequences. Only minor offenders without enough money to buy their freedom or hire a lawyer are punished, as are poor people accused of crimes they did not commit, such as social leaders of just causes and indigenous people. Justice serves only the drug lords or corrupt politicians—the powerful and wealthy who can afford to buy it. And they, if prosecuted, are seldom convicted.
The last months of 2017 were supposed to determine the main candidates for the presidency, though two of the three lead contenders had already been decided: Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the founder and president of the new National Regeneration Movement—also known as Morena—who will run for a third time, and the young and ambitious Ricardo Anaya of the National Action Party who, taking advantage of his position as party president, pushed away other possible contenders for the nomination. The third candidate would be from the Institutional Revolutionary Party now in power, chosen in the traditional manner—that is, by the president.
Enrique Peña Nieto, with the lowest level of popularity since presidential popularity has been measured, opted for someone who does not have the usual qualifications of his party’s candidate—namely, being corrupt and a promoter of opacity and falseness. Instead, he chose José Antonio Meade, a high-level bureaucrat who has worked in the ministries of state in the present and previous administrations. He has never belonged to any party or been elected to any political position, which is supposed to give his candidacy an air of honesty.
For months there have been surveys to determine who is ahead. The most recent show Obrador in the lead, followed by Anaya, with Meade trailing by a small margin. Each candidate’s party make s coalitions with other parties and each represents at least three parties. In addition, for the first time, there will also be independent candidates. These were required to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures in at least 17 states to qualify. There may be three independents on the ballot, but they lack any real chance of winning.
After Obrador lost to Calderón by a questionable .05 percent in 2006, a dirty war was unleashed against him. He was compared to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and called a danger to Mexico. His center-left positions are not well-regarded by the United States, which often plays a role, whether secret or open, in presidential elections in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. The Institutional Revolutionary Party is continuing this war against him and will use all kinds of trickery to buy votes and turn over money for social programs to its own candidate.
The public rarely trusts these politicians because they seem to want power only for their personal benefit. As a result, and due to never-ending violence and crime, people are cautious and fearful. There is growing uncertainty and fear about the future, and people are afraid of going out at night or to certain places, and warn one another to lock their doors and to distrust strangers, even on the phone.
Victor Reyes, a Cotati resident, is a writer and translator with decades-old ties to the Light. The Spanish version of this column is available on our website.