Trying to Save Mexico

You got to hand it to the folks over at TIME. They sure know how to put together an attention-grabbing cover.

In 2012 they created a buzz when they put a bunch of Latinos (and one half-white, half-Chinese guy) on the cover with the words “Yo decido,” suggesting that Latinos would decide that year’s presidential election.

Then there were the covers that proclaimed Hitler (1938) and Stalin (1939 and 1942) “Man of the Year.”

Now TIME has put Enrique Peña Nieto, the 47-year-old president of Mexico, on its cover.

Of course there are plenty of Mexican citizens who beg to differ. Social media memes emerged. And with allegations that the cover was a done deal, the story got juicier.

While much of what TIME has to stay about Peña Nieto’s first year in office is true, it’s way too early to tell whether or not the dashing young president is “saving Mexico.”

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Despite his campaign promise to redirect the fight against drug cartels away from their leadership and towards reduction in violence, more people were killed in Peña Nieto’s first 100 days in office than were killed in the last 100 days of the previous administration.

Faith in the government’s ability to provide security has sunk so low that vigilante groups have sprung up in the western state of Michoacan, among other places. Faced with the choice of quelling these “self-defense” groups and seeming as though he were going after ordinary citizens while the cartels run amok, the president decided to legitimize them by giving them the official title of Rural Defense Units.

Not even three months into his term, Pres. Peña Nieto signed an education reform law that changes the way teachers hired, promoted and fired, a move critics labelled as an attack on National Educational Workers Union (SNTE), which with 1.5 million members represents the largest union of any kind in all of Latin America.

In a Godfather twist of fate, Elba Esther Gordillo, president of the SNTE for 23 years and a vocal critic of the new president at the time, was arrested and charged with embezzlement the day after Peña Nieto enacted the reform.

Last summer the president signed a telecommunications reform law that looks to break up monopolies like that of billionaire Carlos Slim, formerly the world’s richest man whose company, América Móvil, controls 70 percent of the country’s phone services.

And as if all of that weren’t enough for a new president to rest on, in December he achieved what analysts consider “the most significant change in Mexico’s economic policy in 100 years.”

Going by what many on the left are saying, he privatized Pemex.

Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex for short, is the state-owned oil company when Pres. Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized Mexico’s oil industry in 1938, an act revered by most Mexicans today. Because the nationalization of Mexico’s oil is viewed by many to be the last great act of the Mexican Revolution (though it officially ended 18 years prior), Pemex is quite literally a Mexican institution, and any attempts to privatize the company or open it up to foreign investors is staunchly opposed by a strong majority of the Mexican people.

Yet despite the “Selling Mexico” lampooning and the “Pemex no se vende” shirts, Peña Nieto did not privatize Pemex. Not even close.

CBolio_PemexNOsevende_2013

What the president did was remove some of the restrictions placed on Pemex after the Cárdenas administration, which will allow it to partner with outside companies (and their money and technology) and start banking on Mexico’s untapped oil and natural gas reserves.

I think it’s a disaster from an environmental standpoint, especially when we know what happens to the Gulf Coast when we let foreign companies have at it. Plus Pemex could do itself a favor and start developing the cleaner, potentially more lucrative energy sources of the future.

But economically speaking, allowing Pemex to form public-private partnerships, while maintaining Mexican ownership of the gas and oil, is in the best interests of Mexico’s immediate future.

As Christopher Helman and Agustino Fontevecchia explain for Forbes:

Without reforms, much of Mexico’s estimated 30 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (about the same as Brazil) will simply remain locked in the ground. Pemex, despite being one of the world’s biggest oil companies, does not have sufficient technical expertise to explore and develop promising prospects in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico or in the tricky shale layers just south of the border from Texas’ booming Eagle Ford fields. What’s more, Pemex has virtually no hope of acquiring or borrowing such expertise under the status quo, which allows the company to enter into only service contracts. Big Oil companies like ExxonMobil or Chevron won’t even consider taking on the massive risks of drilling complex wells without a guaranteed cut of whatever oil and gas they find. And with Mexico relying on Pemex revenues to fund a third of the federal budget, Pemex is chronically starved of the capital it needs to develop the expertise to do it itself.

You read right—a full third of the Mexican government’s annual budget runs on Pemex money. (It was 41 percent as recent as 2005.)

So it’s reasonable to expect that the more revenue Pemex can take in, the more funds Mexico has for stuff like fixing the education system, providing a safety net for struggling families and, most immediate, tackling violence in a comprehensive way.

TIME definitely jumped the gun with its most recent cover. To proclaim that Peña Nieto is “saving Mexico” is akin to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech in the early months of the nearly nine-year Iraq War.

Not so fast, Time magazine. Peña Nieto may have won a few early battles, and he’s certainly doing more than any Mexican president has done in a very long time, but the war is far from over.

And he’s not the only one fighting for Mexico. There are the self-defense groups, of course, but let’s not forget the everyday heroes leading lives of quiet courage.

Whether it’s the teachers inspiring young minds in neighborhoods stained with blood, or parents providing for their children in communities with little opportunity, the rise or fall of La República has never and will never depend on the efforts of one single person, even if he does live in Los Pinos.

Mexico’s destiny is in the hands of the Mexican people, who know that full well. Truly the people of Mexico, with help from their president, are the ones saving Mexico.

Ot at the very least, they are trying.

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Hector Luis Alamo, Jr. is a Chicago-based writer. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.

Meet the Young Man Who Shouted Down Mexican President and Got Forcibly Removed

It is perhaps one of the more powerful images of the last few days, and chances are that you haven’t seen it here in the United States, although if you were on Facebook and follow Mexican politics, chances are that this is all you have seen on your newsfeed.

Here is the image of a young man getting removed on Friday from a speech being given by Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto during a celebration of the country’s Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Pública (National Council of Public Security) at Mexico’s National Palace.

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Here is a video.

So who is he and why did he do it? According to Animal Político, the young man is named Daniel Michel Blázquez Aguilar. He had gotten press credentials and was sitting in the press area when he got up and spoke out against Mexico’s move to privatize its energy industry, saying that the legislation never had the proper public dialogue. He reportedly said the following: “Hey, hey, why didn’t you consult with us about energy reform?”

Soon enough Blázquez Aguilar was pretty much manhandled and removed. The office of the Mexican presidency said said that “the President the Republic was rebuked by a person.” As a result, security had to be brought in. Here is an English translation of an official statement:

“The person was removed from the site and was asked to identify himself, which he did using a military service ID, which showed his name as Daniel Michel Blázquez Aguilar. This said person entered the premises as a reporter. He subsequently underwent medical examination provided as is the protocol and we certified that he showed no injuries. Finally, this person was removed from the National Palace.”

VIDEO: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto Caught Sleeping at Chávez Funeral

UPDATE: Another video has surfaced that shows Peña Nieto waking up from his “nap.” This clip comes from a left-leaning site in Mexico.

Here is the original story we posted:

This is why you have to be careful about what you do in public these days. You never know.

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Such is the case of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who was caught on video sleeping during the funeral of Hugo Chávez. Oops.

This was the original tweet that shared the news of the snoozing EPN with the world:

 

The Ultimate Buzz Kill: Márquez Dedicates Stunning Victory Over Pacquiao to Peña Nieto

Well, that didn't last long.

After the social media space (especially in Mexico and US Latinolandia) went bonkers early Sunday morning to celebrate the stunning victory by Juan Manuel Márquez over Manny Pacquiao in a non-title fight (video below), once Márquez got congratulated by Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and Márquez dedicated his victory to Peña Nieto, the part ended rather quickly with #ChingaTuMadreMarquez (F Your Mom, Marquez) trending globally on Twitter.

Let's just say that Peña Nieto isn't that popular these days in Mexico, and the latest #1DMx protests against the president have left an ugly stain on the country. Márquez went from superstar hero to superstar goat in just hours. And this is is how we feel.

Human Rights Commission Reports Torture Cases by Mexican Police During #1DMx

More and more stories about #1DMx are beginning to surface, and this time, they are coming from The Guardian. The site published an English-language report from Mexico City chronicling the revelation that Mexican police tortured protesters last Saturday during demonstrations against Enrique Peña Nieto, the country's new president.

Here is what The Guardian's Jo Tuckman wrote:

A preliminary investigation by Mexico City's human rights commission has found evidence of police brutality and arbitrary detentions during the violent protests during last Saturday's inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The ongoing investigation has identified at least four cases of possible torture, three of them involving electric shocks, as well as 22 cases of unjustified arrests among the 70 people still in jail in relation to the protests. Many of these face a preliminary charge of "attacks against the public peace", which carries a long prison term.

"The important thing here is that the authorities provide convincing evidence that the people who are sanctioned were really involved in the events and that we don't see people criminalised who were protesting peacefully or, in some cases, not even participating in the protests," the head of the commission, Luis González Placencia, told MVS Noticias.

While the article focuses on the violent acts that occurred that day, it also wrote about the situation surrounding non-violent protests: "…the commission's investigation partially supports the claims of activists and relatives of some of those in jail who insist the police went after the wrong people, including two Romanian freelance journalists."

In addition, the article featured the following video, which had gone viral on Facebook, but is also now on YouTube. The video shows "a man in a mauve shirt is seen standing in front of riot police verbally demanding that they release detainees not in the picture. An officer comes up from behind to pick him up and carry him behind police lines."

Alleged Provocateurs Planned Violent Acts Two Weeks Before #1DMx Protests

More details have emerged about the alleged anarchist provocateurs who were paid 300 Mexican pesos to incite acts of vandalism and violence during Saturday's #1DMx protests against Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. (Pictures from #1DMx can be found here.)

According to news reports from Mexico, the provocateurs planned their attacks at least two weeks before the December 1 protest date. The newspaper Reforma reports that social media played in a key role in gathering those interested in committing violent acts. There was also a physical meeting where the agitators discussed details on how it they would commit the acts of vandalism, and that those details were later shared on the Internet.

CREDIT: Eneas De Troya

It is still not known who in fact organized the actual acts of vandalism during #1DMx.

Student movement #YoSoy132 has already gone on record to distance itself from last Saturday's violence. We asked their international media arm if the movement thought that Peña Nieto and the Instructional Revolutionary Party (PRI) were organizing provocateurs. This is what they sent us via email:

You claim that EPN and the PRI have sent infiltrators to the movement?

That is right. There is growing evidence that the old tactics were employed again to try to diminish a genuine pacifist movement by turning the public opinion and giving the impression that the movement is “violent” (Using again the commercial-­‐private-­‐official #Televisa and #TVAzteca duopoly, which owns 30% of the open channels in Mexico, a country with 19% of internet access). It is imperative to break this social information barrier. It is important to mention that as #YoSoy132 movement, we are sympathetic with the causes of the genuine Anarchist movement in Mexico. It is still unclear to us, whether or not some genuine Anarchist participated in vandalism (maybe more close to the truth as you only need a few infiltrators to get a lot of people in chaos).

If anyone that was identified previously with #YoSoy132 and unequivocally had participated in violent acts, him or herself is automatically out of the movement (General Principles of #YoSoy132). However, given the irregularities and inconsistencies in the accusations, we decided to ask for the release of all the comrades as we cannot risk at any time that an innocent would go to jail for 5-­‐30 years!

We demand an investigation and an official explanation about the rubber bullets used for the first time in Mexico, breaking the police protocols to only shoot up to the air. Also, we demand an investigation on the infiltrators and the persons or groups behind them, answering the question: Who paid them?

 

#1DMx UPDATE: Anarchist Protesters Say They Were Paid Off & Video Captures Brutal Police Acts

As more and more content is being shared online about #1DMx, a demonstration against Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, reports from Reforma, Proceso, and La Jornada are beginning to present a fuller account of what is rapidly becoming a tragic weekend in Mexico.

The #YoSoy132 movement had claimed that the protesters who committed acts of vandalism and violence were not representing the student movement, which had been promoting peaceful demonstrations. Apparently their claims were confirmed, as reports from Mexico say that members of the Youth Union of the Mexican Revolution told police that that were give 300 pesos each to show up at 7 am at San Lázaro subway station the morning of December 1. The Reforma report described the members as part of an anarchist organization. The members did not say who had contracted them or paid them.

La Jornada also reported about the following video, which shows police use rubber bullets and tear gas grenades against the protesters. It also shows civilians walking with police behind a fence, raising more speculation that police had sent infiltrators into the demonstrations. Here is the 6-minute video, which according to La Jornada, was uploaded by canalseisdejulio. All this is significant since, according to La Jornada, a police spokesperson said on Saturday that rubber bullets were not used against protesters.

Disturbing Videos of Police Actions During #1DMx Go Viral on Social Media

The #1DMx protests against Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) have countless of stories being shared via Twitter and Facebook. One tweet from @epigmenioibarra (a Mexican telenovela producer with over 100K Twitter followers) has garnered attention and is beginning to go viral. It should be noted that Ibarra has already been criticized by many for his acts during the student protests against EPN, yet when you have over 100K Twitter followers, you will get noticed, since in the end Twitter doesn't take the time to examine context. It just goes and moves.

The original tweet came from @soybarbarella.

Here is the video that is now being shared quickly. It shows a young man who identifies himself as Uriel Polo. He is seen behind a circle of police, bleeding. After shouting "Hasta la victoria siempre," the young man appears to faint as a police officer tells the person filming the scene that an ambulance is on its way. The video ends with the young man in the back of a police car.

As with most videos that are being uploaded at an amazing clip, very little information is shared about the story of this video. That is just one of the issues when it comes to social media reporting. Many outlets have not begun to cover the story behind this video, but we would expect that they will eventually. In the meantime, #UrielPolo has already been initiated on Twitter.

YoSoy132Media has already reported that YoSoy132's legal group has already made contact with Polo and confirmed that he is being treated for his injuries. In the meantime, there will be a press conference today about new developments regarding those protesters who have been detained. You can find more updates here.

Yesterday on Facebook, another video, which has gotten over 10,000 shares and continues to spread, shows an unidentified man being grabbed by police. The original poster of the video does little to identify the story behind this video, but apparently that doesn't matter to the people who have shared it all over the Internet.

Prof. John Ackerman Tells CNN: Peña Nieto Is Just Part of the “Old Guard”

In case you missed it, Professor John Ackerman appeared last week on CNN to discuss Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico's newest president. Ackerman is a professor at the Institute for Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He pens columns for Mexico's Proceso magazine and La Jornada newspaper, and is also editor-in-chief of the Mexican Law Review. His writings and commentary about Mexican politics have appeared in several global outlets, including Foreign Policy, the HuffPost, and the Guardian.

In the following CNN appearance, Ackerman makes his case as to why Peña Nieto is not good for Mexico.

Ackerman has been a consistent observer and critic of Mexico's current political system, and he is also quick to point out what Peña Nieto's presidency could mean to an Obama administration. As he states in this recent HuffPost column: 

65% of the over 50 million Latinos who live and work in the United States are of Mexican origin. But President Barack Obama's embrace of Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, in their meeting this Tuesday, November 27th in Washington, DC is the wrong way for him to appeal to this growing sector of the electorate. Peña Nieto hails from the old guard Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI) which ruled the country for 71 years and represents the worst of Mexico's authoritarian past. By cozying up to this new face of reaction in the region, Obama sends a clear message that his Latin America policy will be equally as shortsighted in his second term as it was during his first. It also estranges the millions of Latino voters who were forced to leave Mexico because of the gross economic mismanagement and authoritarian politics of Peña Nieto's predecessors from the PRI.

Peña Nieto’s Promises of Change Ring Hollow in the Streets of Mexico

On December 1 Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) was inaugurated as Mexico’s 57th president. During the inauguration speech in Mexico City he said the first aim of the new government “is to bring peace to Mexico” and that the country “had lost ground” in the 12 years that his party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), had been absent from power.

A quick look at the history of PRI reveals the hypocrisy of these words—PRI ruled Mexico undemocratically for 71 years. The "transition" to democracy took place in 2000 when an opposing party won the national elections for the first time. PRI’s time in power was characterized by corruption, repression, and impunity. During decades of uninterrupted power, PRI became firmly entrenched in all levels of political life in Mexico, making a functioning democracy virtually impossible.

Party politics aside, EPN himself has a tainted record—most notably as the governor of the state of Mexico during the brutal repression of protesters in San Salvador Atenco in 2006. The birth of the #YoSoy132 movement followed a campaign visit by EPN to the Ibero-American University in Mexico City earlier this year.  During the visit students interrupted EPN’s speech to protest his involvement in the atrocity.

EPN won the July national election by securing just 38% of the votes. He assumes power despite major voting day irregularities, claims of vote buying, and media bias in favor of EPN, as well as ongoing protests in key cities across the country.    

The hashtag #PeñaNietoNoEsMiPresidente was trending on Twitter just hours before EPN officially assumed power at the stroke of midnight.  Protests on inauguration day were tamer than those which followed the last election, but thousands of people still turned out to voice their anger at the new president. 

In Mexico City authorities were prepared for battle—the San Lázaro Palace that houses the lower chamber of Congress in particular was like a fortress. Several nearby metro stations were closed all week and 3-meter-tall barricades were erected outside. Inside Congress, opposition members gave protest speeches and hung up a banner that read, “Imposition consummated. Mexico mourns.” 

Outside Congress hundreds of protesters threw Molotov cocktails, firecrackers and rocks at police, managing to breach the steel barricade at one point.  Police responded by spraying tear gas from a truck and using water cannons. Countless images can be found on social media of protesters wearing gas masks and scarves across their faces to block out the acrid tear gas that left a hazy cloud over the parts of the city where it was used.

Both the #YoSoy132 movement and Section 22 of the SNTE teachers union have distanced themselves from any acts of violence, reaffirming their call for peaceful protest. They are reporting infiltration of the movement and suggest that agents provocateurs are responsible for some of the damage seen yesterday. Some protesters were seriously injured, including a 22-year-old protester who lost his right eye after being hit in the face by a projectile.  Many others suffered less serious injuries and 103 were reported arrested. 

In terms of the presidency, Peña Nieto takes over “a seat bathed in blood”, with over 60,000 deaths attributed to the war on drugs that his predecessor Felipe Calderón started in 2006. So which direction will EPN’s presidency take?

While Calderón will be remembered for his militarization of the drug war, EPN looks set to forge ahead and crack open Mexico’s markets even further to outside investors. He spent much of October touring Europe touting for business, and he has controversial plans to open up Mexico’s state-owned oil giant Pemex to private investment. 

Of course the big issue for many Mexicans is security. EPN has said he will break away from the militarized approach of Calderón and will focus on reducing violence, rather than going after drug kingpins and intercepting shipments of drugs. He has not offered any specifics on how he will achieve this, but in terms of the US involvement in the war on drugs, he has said he will continue to work with them but will not allow armed US agents on Mexican soil. 

Overall there may not be much to celebrate in Mexico as “power transitions from one human rights violator to the next.” It will be interesting to see how long and how strong the protest movements remain. If EPN does not break away from the old PRI tactics of corruption and repression, it may be a galvanizing force for the population. As one piece of graffiti in Mexico City read this weekend, “We are not guerrillas, but soon we will be.”

 

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Jen Wilton currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico and reports on social and political issues related to Mexico and Latin America more widely. Jen tweets as @guerillagrrl and blogs at revolutioniseternal.wordpress.com