The Mexican President’s Passing “Moment”

By Ana Carolina Aranda, Postgraduate Research Student in Politics and International Relations at University of Southampton.


Almost two years ago the international press claimed that Mexico was living through a special moment of reform and development (see http://econ.st/T2Woeg and http://nyti.ms/Xsvzlj). After the announcement of passing constitutional reforms, it seemed that Mexico was presenting to international actors an interesting model of development. It was called “The Mexican Moment.” For this moment, after many years, the capacity of the Mexican state was seen as positive by international opinion and the news media. However, today, the same international news media are claiming the end of this “magical” moment (see http://nyti.ms/1szud3L, http://fw.to/ex5GoNe and http://econ.st/1HJzrFd). Did Mexico really undergo a developmental miracle only to now find itself in crisis?

The crisis that the Mexican government is facing today is about an institutional and political crisis rather than the emergence of a focused problem on organized crime and drug dealing policy. First, there is a lack of acceptance by the Mexican government of well-established events and facts. There is a lack of recognition of human rights violations committed against the 43 missing students, as well as other crimes committed in recent years on behalf of Mexico’s war on drugs. Moreover, there is clear weakness in the Mexican rule of law and institutional responsiveness to the corruption embedded in the structure of the state. Secondly, the governments has not given the Mexican people a credible answer to the questions currently being posed. People are reacting to a collapse, a “perfect storm” in Mexican politics, due to the lack of transparency that for many years has been presented in the different presidential administrations.

The kidnapping of 43 Iguala students and the government’s response to this event do not constitute the most dramatic moment that Mexican politics has ever faced. Back in 1994, President Ernesto Zedillo confronted public opinion in one of the most histrionic moments in Mexican politics. However, what was the difference in response between these two administrations? Zedillo’s administration tackled the problem by being as accountable as possible. In fact, under Ernesto’s Zedillos administration, people said that they did not want to hear the president speaking on TV again, as every time he went live he needed to give some bad news. Apparently, the President took a strategy of attacking problems frontally, and this was welcomed by Mexican society. In contrast, the response to this crisis by Peña’s administrations has been less organized and quite unreliable. Their answers to this crisis have been full of contradictions.

The response to the Iguala event was a localization of the problem by the Federal Government. The authorities and institutions of the state of Guerrero were blamed for the disappearance of the students. However, Mexican society did not accept the localization of the problem and it was soon claimed that this was a human rights crime committed by the state at all levels. According to Mexico’s attorney general, the crime was committed by members of a local narco-gang and under the orders of the former mayor of the city. Students from the School of Ayotzinapa were about to protest in a public event held by the wife of the Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca. According to the authorities investigating this case, the officers and police (colluding with the organized crime and Abarca) were told to stop the students from interrupting a speech that was going to be delivered by Ms. Maria de Los Angeles Pineda (Abarca´s wife) on that day. The result of these orders are facts that we already know from the news: 43 students disappeared. However, to this day, none of these facts have been clearly explained. Therefore, a crisis of answerability is in the middle of the problem. Massive protests around the country have started. The protesters blame Peña’s administration and they question its legitimacy.

Local and international newspapers show thousands of people marching in the streets of Mexico. Additionally, through these events, in a moment of opportunity, new and old social protests have joined the street (see http://t.co/NKkgAbiEND). On the 20th of November, thousands of people were convened, mainly through social networks, to protest in different parts of the country and the world against Mexico’s government. However, what was supposed to be a largely peaceful march demanding the return of 43 missing students ended in violence in the capital city. Sadly, the news in Mexico and around the world reported what happened at the end of these demonstrations, showing pictures of violent events in the Zocalo area of Mexico City, but not reporting what happene some hours before when Mexican society organized themselves, walked all along Paseo de la Reforma (one of the main avenues in the city) claiming social, political and economic changes . Clearly, most of the demonstrations have been peaceful but angry. And, this non-conformity is well more than justified.

The popularity level of the president has sunk quite low. Coupled with Ayotzinapa events, some weeks ago Mexico’s President and First Lady Scandal over ‘White House’ mansion came to news, posing a crisis of Mexican government accountability. A house bought by the president’s wife from a state contractor, who was assigned millions of Mexican pesos when Peña was governor. The suspicion of a conflict of interest clouded even more the political situation in Mexico. Moreover, in addition to this scandal some other scandals from other cabinet officials are being opened. Recently, news confirmed that Luis Videgaray, the finance minister, bought a house from the same firm and government contractor, involved in president’s wife scandal. What is more, in both cases, the clearing of facts has not led to the accountability that would be required to convince the people that these situations are being dealt with truthfully and appropriately.

There is a feeling of moral resentment toward the way in which the government has been answering the crisis. In a couple of months, the events will start to lose potency. However, this administration has much work to do if it wishes to restore political and moral credibility. In the electoral year to come, to renew the position of Congress it will be necessary to answer all the questions that have been put to this administration’s credibility. The government’s partial solutions that have been delivered by the cabinet convince only a few. If Peña Nieto’s administration wants to make a transformation of Mexico and convince citizens about the reforms and the future progress of the country, then they must soon change their strategy of action. He must act quickly to re-establish his political credibility.

The presidency of controlled speeches has missed the entire challenge of these crises. Far from having a public response to all the problems presented so far, it ran out of credible answers as soon as this “perfect storm” started. Consequently, I see two potential actions which could help the administration weather this storm. First, the president needs to appear before the nation offering an apology and recognizing the errors committed. There is nothing more exciting than a person in power recognizing his own mortality. We saw it before under Nixon’s administration, and perhaps this recipe can work with Peña Nieto as well. Second, the president must make changes in his cabinet. He needs to remove those people directly involved in the scandals even after some of the facts have been clarified. Clearly and urgently, the president needs to eliminate the shadows that have blurred his administration and recover credibility from Mexican society. What do you think, is there another way for the administration to proceed?

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