A briefing note on a seminar at the Latin America Conference 2016, on violence and corruption in Mexico. Written for Liberation by Justice Mexico Now.
When Enrique Pena Nieto, the former governor of the state of Mexico, won the country’s general election in 2012, voters hoped they would see a sharp downturn in the number of human rights abuses and a new social contract.
The only figures that have dropped however are the President’s approval ratings, they have plummeted since he took office.
The new president – known as EPN – was a scion of one of Mexico’s long-established political and business dynasties and promised a wave of changes; very few have had a positive impact, audiences at the Latin America 2016 conference in London heard this month.
What happened after EPN assumed office was that the old power brokers now had the ear of the next generation which made questionable appointments and unleashed a further round of violence bringing another crackdown on freedom of expression and human rights defenders.
“Institutional failings have led to more human rights abuses,” explained @JusticeMexicoUK at the event.
Instead of predicating investments upon a genuine and demonstrable crackdown on corruption that has enabled abusers to target: human rights workers, journalists and others, the international community has, for the most part, sought to gloss over the gravity of the human rights crisis in a bid to make deals with little or no regard for the impact they will have on ordinary Mexicans.
In response to a question from the audience about the legacy of the 2015 Dual Year of Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico – a government sponsored programme that focused almost entirely on encouraging trade and boosting investment – Lila on behalf of JMN, calls on UK government departments involved in the scrutiny of potential business agreements to weigh up the social impact in Mexico as well as the UK, of doing business with Mexico, especially in the gas and oil sector.
Academic and former Amnesty International Mexico specialist Rupert Knox reiterated how corruption has continued to taint almost every corner of Mexican political life citing the popular saying that when someone who holds any sort of official post falls down – commits a crime – they fall up.
He cited the recent promotion of one of the officials involved in looking at the aftermath of the 2014 killing of three trainee teachers and the forced disappearances of 43 of their fellow students, last seen in the custody of local police who are believed to have handed them over to a group known to have links to organised crime gangs who say they are now unable to confirm the students’ whereabouts.
The official, appointed by Pena Nieto to look into any possible governmental involvement, exonerated the President and the federal government, was subsequently promoted to a senior position within the administration.
“The war on drugs doesn’t exist, said Knox who went on to say that the most pernicious ‘war’ facing Mexico at the moment is the war within the government itself.
He described the massive mobilisation dubbed the War On Drugs as “a distraction from the war between elements of the federal and state governments”
“Ayotzinapa happened because the elites allowed a seething mass of corruption” to go unchallenged and get even worse, said Knox.
In some parts of Mexico, the standoff between different parts of the government and organised crime which is believed to have infiltrated several state level administrations is so bad that it can be hard to distinguish between them.
A slight reduction in food poverty – offset by the rise in general poverty, could be seen as a sign of positive change, observed Knox.
The stranglehold of the traditional media in Mexico where seven families control the radio, TV and newspapers with the biggest audiences has also made it hard to counter government propaganda which subsidises titles that toe the line, willingly or otherwise. In the last few years as new titles have surfaced on the web and social media has enabled rapid responses to abuses to reach a younger or more tech-savvy population, that there has been any meaningful challenge to the traditional titles coopted by the PRI or their sympathisers.
Francisco Dominguez of the Latin America Research Group at the University of Middlesex told the meeting that the prospects for Mexico in the short term are bleak. “Mexico is failed in Human Rights” he said.
He went to cite the failure of the 1994 NAFTA agreement to bring substantial improvements to the lives of the majority of Mexicans who, along with millions of others, sought to move to the US.
With the prospect of a new government led by Donald Trump, he said “the only positive thing would be a US withdrawal from NAFTA which would force the Mexican government to seek alternatives to the country’s almost total reliance on the US” said Dominguez.