Monday, December 10, 2012
Can Mexico Now Uproot Marginalization and Organized Crime?
By Kent Paterson
In Mexico, the presidency of Enrique
Peña Nieto got off to a violent start. Outside the Congressional building of San Lazaro, where Peña Nieto was
inaugurated on December 1, hundreds of mainly young people clashed with security forces that had ringed and blocked off the
site as if the country was in a state of siege.
Police rubber bullets
reportedly left 67-year-old Juan Francisco Quinquedal, a veteran activist with the pro-Zapatista Other Campaign and other
movements, near death, while several other protesters were seriously injured and up to a dozen officers hurt, according to
press reports. A post-inaugural follow-up action, which a growing number of commentators suggest was the production
of infiltrators and agent provocateurs, saw masked young people rioting in downtown Mexico City and damaging property.
On the morning of the inauguration, listeners of IMER, Mexico's version
of NPR, got an earful of the political polarization still simmering in the aftermath of the contested July 2012 election.
Broadcast live from San Lazaro, Citizen Movement Congressman Ricardo
Monreal, an ex-governor of Zacatecas and former coordinator of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's presidential campaign, delivered
a strident denunciation of previous PRI and National Action Party (PAN) administrations, accusing the two parties of stoking
corruption and functioning as "factories for poor people." Monreal contended that the preceding governments
had squandered Mexico's oil bonanza and turned the heralded democratic transition from one-party rule into a "transaction."
On the other side of the coin, a pro-Peña Nieto lawmaker welcomed
the ascension to the presidential seat of the 46-year-old former Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governor of Mexico
State as a "happy day of renovation." Taking the oath of office in front of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden
and other world leaders, Peña Nieto vowed a frontal attack on Mexico's numerous problems. "Better times are
coming for Mexicans," he pledged.
Typically attracting hundreds
at each event, anti-Peña protests unfolded across the nation last weekend. In Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest
city, municipal and state police detained 32 demonstrators who unsuccessfully attempted to bring their message to the city's
vaunted International Book Festival. As Frontera NorteSur was going to press, mobilizations continued in Mexico City and Guadalajara
demanding the release of 96 protesters still jailed after the inauguration day confrontations.
In Ciudad Juarez, a parade of 125-plus demonstrators staged a peaceful march from Borunda Park to the Santa Fe Bridge
on the Mexico-U.S. border before concluding with a rally at the historic downtown plaza. Organized by the 132 youth movement,
the Workers Political Organization, the Front against the Imposition, Lopez Obrador's Morena movement/party and other
local groups, the protestors railed against the alleged imposition of Peña Nieto and vowed to continue opposing unpopular
labor, security and economic policies.
Some also called for the trial
of ex-president Felipe Calderon, who was blamed for the wave of violence that engulfed Mexico after 2006, and is now headed
off to Harvard University.
In a lengthy statement distributed at the
rally, the Juarez Democratic Civic Alliance compared Calderon with a long line of rulers like 19th century President Santa
Anna who deepened Mexico's subjugation to Washington and its national security state. The group stated that it was "formulating
accusations" of constitutional violations against Calderon for a special, unnamed Mexican tribunal.
Identifying himself as a binational resident, protest participant Roberto
Miranda noted that only 38 percent of Mexican voters cast ballots for Peña Nieto, according to the official election
results. Miranda challenged assertions that Peña Nieto represents a new PRI, which has the presidency again after 12
years of conservative PAN executive rule. "The new PRI is a lie," Miranda said. "You know what a dinosaur is,
like dinosaurs in the Republican Party and the Democratic Party? The dinosaur behind Peña Nieto is Carlos Salinas."
University student Antonio Muñoz countered a NPR report aired
prior to Peña Nieto's inauguration that contended Mexicans viewed their new president as a handsome young man who
won office due in part to the mystique of a new PRI. The big U.S. news service also was upbeat about Mexico's economic
future, portraying the country as a serious jobs competitor with China that is positioned for growth. "The problem
is that the jobs will be minimum wage," Muñoz said. "People don't benefit from these jobs. We want jobs
As for Ciudad Juarez's prospects, Muñoz
agreed that the public safety situation has recently improved in a city that earned the unwanted tag of Murder Capital of
the World, but he added that the structural conditions which inflamed the Great Violence of 2008-2012 are still very much
alive in the border city. Many young people, Muñoz insisted, constitute a "reserve army" of organized crime
because of their marginalization. "There's been an improvement in security, but the precariousness of the situation
continues. Students can't go to school because of the costs," he added.
Bursting with activity the day of Peña Nieto's inauguration, downtown Ciudad Juarez swirled with the contrasts
and contradictions of the border and Mexico as a new year loomed.
ad notified potential workers aged 18 to 35 and interested in promoting Carlos Slim's Infinitum Internet service in the
state of Chihuahua to apply at a jewelry store, while another help wanted posting sought English-speaking "customer service"
representatives for Xerox's Ciudad Juarez call center in return for a weekly salary of approximately $120 plus bonuses
-- a high wage for the border. Mexican government posters promoting a campaign to curb the disappearance of persons were visible,
but so were new posters of missing young women and some men, including Laura Janeth Davila Ortiz, a 22-year-old who vanished
after leaving work on October 5.
In the endless cat-and-mouse game between
the authorities and street vendors who dart in and out of the traffic waiting to cross over into the U.S. on the Santa Fe
Bridge, the government had the upper hand as no vendors were visible in the early morning. But with traffic backed up
for blocks leading up to the bridge and vehicles spewing more carbon into the global emissions registry, the informal sellers
had plenty of opportunity to hustle motorists.
Falling on a quincena,
the biweekly Mexican pay day, December 1 was a day when Juarenses waited for long stretches at ATM machines, in some cases
forming lines of 60 or more people, to withdraw cold cash in time for Christmas shopping.
Perhaps anticipating ample demand in the days ahead, pawn shop and payday lender employees were particularly visible,
with one business even dispatching a car with a sound system that slowly crawled up September 16 Avenue blaring messages repeating
an annual interest rate. Dentists offered $15 and $20 tooth extractions, and taxi drivers pitched visits to massage parlors.
Street vendors were out in force, and one woman attracted quite a crowd
with her makeshift, aquatic pet store consisting of creeping crabs, squirming little turtles and bouncing orange frogs all
for 30 pesos an animal An eclectic musical ambiance entertained passerby, punctuated by the street saxophonist celebrating
Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Cotton Fields Back Home," a blind man coughing up an off-key Mexican love song
and a young man sitting calmly on Avenida Juarez while guarding two sidewalk speakers blasting a narco-corrido that sang of
grenade launchers and other such tools of the trade.
In an interview,
Gero Fong of the Front against the Imposition placed contemporary Ciudad Juarez and Mexico within the context of a world crisis
in which capitalists try to extract more and more profits and resources -- violently in the case of Ciudad Juarez. The U.S.
government's anti-drug Merida Initiative, Fong contended, bolstered the repressive hand of the state at the expense of
human rights. Ciudad Juarez's violence, he said, had become "normalized," dropping from about ten murders a
day at the height of the Great Violence to three or so a day now, and representing a sort of "social cleansing"
The longtime activist dismissed the former Calderon administration's
"Todos Somos Juarez" ("We are all Juarez") program, unveiled after the January 2010 Villas del Salvarcar
massacre and ostensibly designed to restore security and a tattered social fabric in a battered city, as a media stunt best
suited for "taking the photo."
left, Fong added, will be discussing in coming days how best to respond to Peña Nieto's new government and advance
the cause of different social movements.
In an editorial titled
"Peña Nieto: The Great Unknown," El Diario de Juarez also took aim at "Todos Somos Juarez,"
criticizing the Calderon administration for leaving office without delivering a final evaluation on the approximately $400
million initiative that was announced with great fanfare nearly three years ago. In a broader context, El Diario said
that Peña Nieto was assuming office amid great expectations as well as widespread disillusionment after 12 years of
Although El Diario credited Calderon for "maintaining
the country in financial stability," the newspaper wrote that the self-proclaimed "employment president" handed
Peña Nieto a country with 60 million people who don't earn enough to cover basic necessities, eight million young
people who neither work nor study, a "multiplied informal economy," and "many social shortfalls."
El Diario editorialized that advances in freedom of expression
during the PAN years were paradoxically accompanied by the murders of 72 journalists nationwide, including the slayings of
El Diario employees Armando Rodriguez and Luis Carlos Santiago.
Seizing the moment, Mexico's new president rapidly rolled out a broad five-point program addressing violence,
justice, poverty, the economy and competition. "The countryside, tourism and industrial development will be essential
on the road for transforming Mexico into an emerging economic power," stated a message from Peña Nieto's office.
The five goals were then transfigured into the Pact for Mexico, an agreement which was quickly accepted by the leaders of
the PRI, PAN and PRD parties, much to the chagrin of some members of the latter center-left grouping.
Whether the bulk of the population is paying much attention to political developments is
always a big question this time of year. A peculiarity of the Mexican political system is that the new president is sworn
into office just as the country is embarking on the long winter holiday and vacation season.
Already, street processions are leading up to Virgin of Guadalupe Day on December 12,
followed by Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and Three King's Day. Mixed into the slew
of religious observations are secular rituals including "The Day of the Innocents," an April Fool's like-chance
for pranks on December 27-28; family excursions to Acapulco; the guzzling of Noche Buena beer; the giveaways to pliant journalists
known as "chayote;" and truce appeals to warring narco gangs.
Nonetheless, December has been a month when tax-hikes, economic collapses and uprisings slip through the cultural
cracks. One thing is for certain: come January, the issues and conflicts that riveted the body politic in 2012 are sure to
retake center stage.
Kent Paterson is the editor of Frontera
NorteSur. Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source.
Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico