Mexico prostrate

02/18/2016

On a recent trip to Mexico, I encountered good things and bad things, some getting better and others getting worse. Mexico is among the 15 richest countries on the planet; it has natural resources, culture and more. So it is sad to see such poverty and suffering next to excessive wealth. One can see inequality everywhere, with some areas looking like Manhattan and others resembling sub-Saharan Africa.

There are very good schools for some, while many people have neither classrooms, water nor teachers. The same inequality exists in hospitals, clinics and the general infrastructure. There are very few professional policemen, soldiers, bureaucrats and workers, but many amateurish ones. There are many pirate products, businesses and services. Sixty percent of workers are “informal,” and 80 percent earn $30 dollars or less a day—six times the minimum wage. 

After becoming an elected democracy in 2000, with a president not from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or P.R.I., which had dominated politics for 71 years, enormous hope arose. Now, people said, there would be an end to corruption and politicians and bureaucrats wouldn’t steal public assets for themselves. There would be a fair judicial system; the apparatus of political, social and electoral control would be dismantled, along with corrupt government agencies and big unions; and leaders and politicians who had profited illegally would go to jail.

In the end, President Vicente Fox failed. The country became more open, but also more corrupt. New expectations arose in 2006, when Andres Manuel López Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, or P.R.D., ran for president, but Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party, or PAN, won by a questionable half-percent. In order to legitimize his presidency, he launched a “war on drugs” and put the army and navy in the streets. As violence escalated, he pleaded for patience; but after over 100,000 people died, tens of thousands disappeared or were kidnapped and millions fell victim to various unsolved crimes, people lost hope. 

In 2012, the solution was thought to be the new and rejuvenated P.R.I., with its candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. For six years as governor, he had been promoted by an expensive media and television campaign, resulting in an ideal presidential candidate: young, handsome and recently married to a star of telenovelas. He conquered peoples’ hearts despite his lack of intellectual rigor. 

Expectations grew when Peña forged an agreement between the three major parties to bring important political, economic and social reforms. Although these reforms were approved by Congress in 2013, there were no big changes; still, Peña promised they would come in time. After another bad year in 2014, he pleaded for more patience, and in September of that year he was named Statesman of the Year in New York.

But Peña’s grand promises seemed to falter, along with his popularity. That same September, the continuing violence and corruption became evident when 43 students of the Ayotzinapa school were detained in Iguala by the police and handed over to a drug cartel. Peña and his government blamed the local mayor and governor (both of the P.R.D.), but the scandal caught up with them and, after a terrible investigation that determined the students had been murdered and their bodies burned in a garbage dump, the case was closed.

Meanwhile, in Tlatlaya and Apatzingan, the military executed presumed criminals, atrocities they initially denied. Kidnappings, disappearances, illegal arrests, incarcerations and human rights violations continued, showing a lack of control by Peña’s government. A Spanish magazine published a story about the First Lady and her $8 million house, while a newspaper investigation revealed a conflict of interest in its financing by a government contractor friendly to the administration. The response was unfortunate: Peña named a special prosecutor to investigate him, his wife and a couple of his ministers. Obviously, the prosecutor found no one at fault.

To make matters worse, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the biggest drug trafficker, escaped from a maximum-security prison, and oil prices took a deeper dive. Peña’s popularity was at an all-time low and everything seemed to be running against him. But then, in January, El Chapo was recaptured, an event celebrated by Peña and his ministers as a grand triumph. Nevertheless, many criticized his failure to take responsibility for the escape, which was only made possible by corruption at the highest level.

Shortly after, a former Coahuila governor, Humberto Moreira, was arrested in Spain, accused of illegal transfer of funds. Though he was denounced for illegally borrowing for his state and enriching himself in the process, he was later named president of the P.R.I. Because of these accusations, he was offered a scholarship in Barcelona. His capture in Spain, where he was also found illegally moving money, was a political blow to Peña. 

On my recent trip, I saw many people who had a total lack of confidence in politicians, their parties and the electoral system in general. They see the offices as places of personal business, and office-holders as friends of huge corporations rather than their constituents. These same politicians are now cynically preparing for this year’s elections, and the presidential ones of 2018, rubbing their hands in expectation of the enormous benefits ahead.