5 Facts To Understand What's Happening In Mexico Right Now

by Marco Gomez

Last week, Mexico saw one if its largest protests ever. Officials say about 26,000 people turned to the streets, but pictures show a nearly full Zócalo, the main square of the country, which has seen events with more than 200,000 people.

Raise your voice #Mexico needs you. #AccionGlobalporAyotzinapa #YaMeCanse #20NovMx — Sofia Sisniega (@SofiaSisniega) November 21, 2014
Mexican demonstrators show anger at their government and justice system over the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa — Franc Contreras (@FrancMex) November 21, 2014

Mexico City, and other cities around the country and the world, protested once again over the disappearance of 43 students, who were abducted by police forces and delivered to a criminal organization.

But, the disappearances were just the latest in a series of problems that affect the country at its core. Yesterday’s protest was not about just the missing students, nor to demand the resignation of President Peña Nieto; rather, it was a complaint against everything that’s wrong in Mexico.


Former President Calerón took office after a closely-called election, and the way he chose to legitimize his presidency was via a war against drug cartels.

During his term, December 2006 to December 2012, more than 150,000 people were killed in violent acts associated to his war, according to Mexican officials who gave the number to the US Department of Defense.

In the first 20 months of President Peña Nieto’s term, deaths reached an astonishing number of 57,899, according to official numbers from the National System of Public Security.

The strategy that Calderón used -- an armed attack to cartels -- was a failure, as proven by the number dead and the continuous presence of criminal organizations in the country. Meanwhile, Peña Nieto’s strategy has been to not talk about the security problems.

Corruption and Accountability

This is one of the biggest problems and the cause of much discontent. There are abundant, well-known and documented cases of politicians who take advantage of office in order to benefit friends, family and themselves.

From former Presidents to state governors and mayors, Mexicans have witnessed how after a term in office, politicians can retire and lead lives of luxury.

First Lady and former actress Angélica Rivera was most recently affected by a scandal. Aristegui Noticias, a news website, reported that she owns a 7-million-dollar house, constructed by a company which benefitted public projects when now-President Peña Nieto was governor of the state of Mexico.

Though this case has been widely covered by the media and has been labeled as a possible conflict of interest, it shows how politicians have questionable ties with corporations and, in other cases, with criminal organizations.

As proven by the missing students case, some municipalities have a serious problem of government officers who also work for drug cartels or other criminal organizations.

José Luis Abarca, mayor of Iguala, the town where the students were abducted, and his wife were tied to criminal organization “Guerreros Unidos,” born after the death of drug lord Arturo Beltrán Leyva.

How many of those charged for corruption have been punished? According to the Superior Audit Office, only 4.2 percent of cases since 2000. There’s no accountability.

Sluggish Economy

Mexico is a country that, for many years, suffered from crisis after crisis, almost every six years, around the change of administration. The last big crisis was in 1994 when the Mexican peso devalued 22 percent in just one day, and the economy shrank 5.8 percent the year after.

Since 2000, the country has held macroeconomic stability, but has remained far from achieving growth rates that translate to better life conditions for Mexicans.

Last year, Mexico's Gross Domestic Product grew only 1.4 percent at an annual rate. This year, the government expects a growth of 2.4 percent, which is lower than last year's forecasted 3.7 percent.

In the past 10 years, though poverty has lowered, purchasing power of the average Mexican has dropped 11 percent, shown by numbers from Coneval, the official agency that measures the effects of public policy on poverty.

Inequality is another problem, though it also has lowered in recent years. The Gini coefficient of Mexico, which measures the inequality in the distribution of the national income amongst the population, rose from 0.473 in 2010 to 0.481 in 2012, according to date from the World Bank.

This data also shows that the richest 10 percent of the Mexican population receives 28.5 times more income than the poorest 10 percent.

The Return of an Old Regime

Peña Nieto won the 2012 election as a candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled from 1929 to 2000.

The PRI ruling is remembered mostly for two things: economic crisis and devaluations, and repression.

Students killed by government officials, disappearing journalists and opposition politicians, and police forces stopping protests and a tight control over media were constant practices throughout the PRI’s ruling.

Now, things appear to be happening again.

Remember, the missing students were abducted by police forces and turned to a criminal organization to most certainly be killed.

In last week’s protest, a group of so-called anarchists tried to block access to the capital’s airport and began a violent confrontation with police forces.

Some say those anarchists were people paid by the government to devalue the protest's force and public acceptance. After the clash, 15 people were detained and most of them were set free in the next hours.

Agent provocateur MT @AreliMSS Soldiers with civilian clothes break peaceful demo.. outraged #YaMeCanse #Mexico — Anonymous (@C0d3fr0sty) November 21, 2014

In contrast, 11 people illegally detained during the pacific march to the Zócalo, were charged with attempted murder, conspiracy and riot, and taken to maximum security facilities.

Their attorneys and human rights organizations agreed that the due process of the detainees was violated, and they shouldn’t have been charged at all.

The protest in the Zócalo saw violence from some anarchist groups, but the detainees were not amongst them.

@GaelGarciaB Students supporting #Ayotzinapa charged with crimes unjustly imprisioned #YaMeCansé #Presxsdelestado — Superluper (@Superluper) November 23, 2014

Also, most of the media has aligned to present what the government wants. There are a few news sites on the Internet that are truly independent.

But, most of print and mass media have an agenda to present a country where everything is on track, the economy grows, reforms show results and protests are not important and are falsely labeled as violent.

No Viable Opposition

In the past, the PRI did everything in its power to stop the opposition from gaining public spaces. Today, even though we have democracy to some extent, neither the main opposition parties — the right-wing National Action (PAN) and the leftist Democratic Revolution (PRD) — offer viable solutions to the problem.

What’s worse, they tend to align to whatever the PRI wants to do in Congress.

The PAN was in power for 12 years, and though some changes were seen, mainly in freedom of speech and free markets, they couldn’t break from the inertia the PRI left in power. Of course, it was naive to think they could change everything to terms, but most people wanted to see everything get better.

Though security was a defining motive of their loss of power, failing to construct leadership and internal struggles for power were also important. Those failed leadership and struggles persist and make the PAN an unviable option.

As for the PRD, the main problem was a constant battle between inner forces to gain power, which makes it impossible for them to join forces and present a viable option.

Besides, the left in Mexico is severely broken. It’s biggest figure, two-time presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador left the PRD and created his own political party, Morena, with aims to run again for the presidency in 2018.

As Marcelo Antillón wrote last week, the resignation of President Peña Nieto would solve nothing because the problem is not only which is the ruling party or politician.

Rather, it’s a series of problems that have their roots in cultural and historical trends, in the way the country was founded, on how the institutions were created.

Of course, Mexicans shouldn’t stop fighting and demanding what is right and the change that is needed, but the problems won’t be solved in an instant -- it will take time