Mexico. National flag hoisted at half-mast in mourning. Photo taken by the author
At the end of 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto became president of Mexico, nominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), after 12 years of governance by the opposition right-wing National Action Party (PAN). Peña’s assumption of the presidency was praised by international public opinion: The Economist published an article entitled Mexico's Moment that continued to be referenced for months, and in January 2014 The Guardian asked whether Mexico’s moment had finally arrived.
Peña Nieto’s cabinet has been releasing statistics showing lower crime rates and economic stability. The president’s wife appears in glamour magazines, showcasing the kind of lifestyle many Mexicans aspire to, that is, one of luxury and comfort, untouched by austerity, poverty, and violence. Public money is spent on advertising praising the regime and other frivolities, as Twitter user Epigmenio Ibarra noted:
Splurging, frivolity, spots, covers, corruption. Billions of pesos spent on Peña’s image. Enough already!
The reality, however, is actually quite far from the image of a prospering country that the government is striving to project.
the government is striving to project.
From illusion to reality
Several regions throughout the country are suffering from the consequences of a non-international armed conflict that is officially denied, with tens of thousands of people gone missing and many others displaced from their communities. A recent example: the many who suffered collateral damage as a result of military operations during the search for the leader of one of the disputing armed groups in the northern state of Sinaloa.
In September 2014, the forced disappearance of a group of 43 teacher-training college students in the western region of Guerrero signaled an upsurge of violence in an area marked by poverty and inequality. In the “Ayotzinapa case”, as this unfortunate event came to be called, although over 100 people have been charged and are in custody, some for over a year, no specific conviction has yet been made. So the perception is that “the vulture of impunity” is flying over the country, preparing to continue its feast. Statistics indicate that more than 90% of reported crimes in Mexico go unpunished, which denotes the collapse of the justice system.
The eastern region of Veracruz too is wracked by violence and government ineptitude. There is a definite threat to freedom of expression as shown by the regular murder of journalists. During the current administration, 16 journalists have lost their lives through violence. Many of them were known for their criticism of PRI Governor Javier Duarte.
A recent journalistic investigation by Animal Político revealed the way in which Duarte’s government makes millions in public resources “disappear” through “ghost companies”, even though local audits certify that no irregularities have been found.
It is worth mentioning that the inefficiency of institutions is not exclusive to local government. The federation itself has shown that its structures are also riddled with corruption, and a good proof of this is the escape, not once but twice, of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, considered at one point the world’s most wanted criminal. Given the inability of “maximum security” prisons to keep the drug lord locked in, and the justice system’s unfitness to try him for the litany of crimes he is being charged with, “El Chapo” will be extradited to the United States in the coming weeks. If the extradition does takes place, “El Chapo” will answer for his actions before the American people, not Mexican citizens.
Against the background of government corruption and decay, stories of clashes between armed groups, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and discoveries of clandestine graves have made the language of war omnipresent in the Spanish that Mexicans speak, reflecting the grim reality of their lives. As I pointed out in a piece written in collaboration with semiotics professor Gabriel Páramo:
“It is not about looking for conspiracies, but rather analyzing reality. We are in a state of war and war has its rules, but above all, its lexicon. Terms to provoke fear, confusion, and primarily, submission. Reality is built on language. This fact is well-studied and explained by linguistics, semiotics, the theory of communication, and psychoanalysis. From Slavoj Žižek to Chomsky, passing by Lacan, from Kerckhove or Econ, they all say: we are what we speak.”
In the economic sphere as well, international perceptions are not good. Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the former “crown jewel”, the most profitable state company in the country, is reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy because of the drop in global oil prices and other factors. The “energy reform” that the PRI government boasted it had achieved has not attracted the multimillion-dollar investments that were expected, nor has it resulted in savings for citizens, who continue to pay high prices for energy and gas in particular.
Much as the old PRI governments used to do, Mexico's currency has been devalued against the U.S. dollar, reducing the purchasing power of the Mexican middle class. The lower classes, including those who earn the minimum wage, are paid an insulting 73,04 pesos for a day’s work (equivalent to $3,80 or €3,50) - for an entire day’s work!
These factors are sufficient proof of the difference between what the Mexican government projects and the reality in which Mexican citizens live. The reality of a non-international armed conflict with obvious economic consequences, and of a humanitarian crisis in several regions that goes unnoticed by international organizations due to the misrepresentation of the facts and figures by a voracious party system that insists on lingering, feeding on the bottomless trough of corruption.
So, when will Mexico’s moment arrive? We do not know. But we will be there, attentive to the facts and ready to communicate them to the world from the perspective of the average citizen.
This article was previously published by Global Voices.