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.”

time portada de enrique peña nieto 1_2

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.

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

After Mexico Wins Olympic Gold, 4th #MegaMarcha Commences

Almost immediately after the Mexican Olympic men's soccer team won its first gold medal ever, the country's 4th march against President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto began.

Here is a sample of what is being posted right now via social media.

Social Media Pictures of the Third “Megamarcha” in Mexico

Another Sunday, another march in Mexico to protest the alleged fraud during the July 1 presidential elections. Yesterday’s marches were captured via social media, with unconfirmed images being posted and shared (like this one below, which we are sure is from 2006) throughout the day.

Here is a Storify of pics taken from Twitter and Instagram.


Social Media Chronicles the Second #MegaMarcha in Mexico

Here we go again. Just a week after tens of thousands (can we say hundreds now?) of Mexicans took to the streets for the first #MegaMarcha demonstrations to proclaim that the country's July 1 presidential elections were fraudulent, a second series of marches occurred again yesterday.

Credit: https://twitter.com/Majhadera

For those who don't know the full story, here is the scoop: Enrique Peña Nieto, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate, won the presidential election with just 38.2% of the popular vote while challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador got 31.6% of the vote. The PRI ruled Mexico from 1929-2000, and had a culture of corruption and repression that still lingers with Mexicans. López Obrador has filed a suit to void the results. There are charges of voter corruption and purchase of votes, including the distribution of Soriana supermarket gift cards.

Peña Nieto has denied such allegations. Here is what the Wall Street Journal reported from the Peña Nieto campaign:

Both Mr. Peña Nieto and the main grocery chain involved in the allegations, Organización Soriana SAB, have denied any wrongdoing. "We maintain that there was no buying of votes and that the election was completely fair," said a Mr. Peña Nieto spokesman. "We also reiterate that financing was conducted in a transparent manner and done in accordance with the law."

In the meantime, Soriana is getting slammed on social media, and it continues to stay silent. Here is just a sample screen grab from its Facebook site today:

Here is a Storify we created highlighting several images uploaded on Twitter and Instagram during the demonstrations:

 


Mexico’s Official Voting Agency: Peña Nieto Leads in Quick Count for Presidential Election

Even though the results will continued to be counted tonight and not fully confirmed until Wednesday, Mexico's Institute of Federal Elections (IFE) announced tonight at 12:15 am EST that Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was leading in the country's official "Quick Count." Tonight's results included 7,500 voting locations that are a representative sample of the entire country. Although Peña Nieto has not been officially elected as Mexico's president, the latest information released tonight adds to the very strong possibility that Peña Nieto will become the president of Mexico. Hell, his web page announced it an hour ago.

The latest results can be found here.