One of the things that I truly love about Mexico is that it’s never dull. That said, so far 2022 has been a little over the top in the excitement category and the issues at hand are no laughing matter. You may recall that last month I highlighted the economic opportunities in Mexico, of which there are many; this month I want to explore the psychological and political challenges facing the country. We have become so resistant to harrowing news that we are like the proverbial frog in the pot that gets used to hot water.
I will provide a few illustrative examples. Last week 10 bodies with signs of torture were thrown into the street of Fresnillo, the second largest city in Zacatecas state. Shocking. The President called it an act of “provocation.” A provocation of whom, you might ask? It is not exactly clear – Mexican political-speak rarely is – but the President seemed most concerned about this being a provocation to make his government look bad. Like Trump, it’s all about him. Next.
Carlos Loret de Mola’s Latinus journalistic outfit recently unveiled the luxurious living accommodations of the President’s son in Houston, swimming pool and all. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with living in Texas, for a leader like the Mexican President who shames those who are aspirational and preaches in his daily sermons that we should not seek material reward and be content with what we have, it’s a little rich. Literally. According to the President he is being attacked by nasty, untrustworthy journalists. Next.
Being a journalist in Mexico is not for the faint of heart. This year alone – might I remind you that it is only February – six journalists have been violently murdered, ostensibly by organized crime (ostensibly, because no one really knows and no one believes we will ever find out). Lourdes Maldonado, José Luis Gamboa, Margarito Martinez, Roberto Toledo, Ernesto Islas and Heber López have all been killed in 2022. Heartbreaking. But the flags were not at half-mast the last time I checked.
There does not seem to be sufficient government concern regarding the murder of Mexican journalists and no clear plan to address rampant impunity. Even if most journalists are killed by organized crime – and one could argue that this fact is not strictly the fault of the government – does that not make this a serious national issue? The President feels the press is too critical of him and has widened his scope of criticism to personalities like Carmen Aristegui, one of Mexico’s leading journalists, which were previous pet favorites. Perhaps this could explain the unsympathetic response? Next.
As I was scrolling through Twitter this week I found that a leader of Morena, the President’s political party, was using a hashtag to attack INE, Mexico’s independent elections body. The hashtag read: #INEMiente (Spanish for “INE lies”). The President wants to hold a recall referendum at the halfway point of his presidency – something that has never been done before – so that the pueblo can give him the boot if they see fit. That sounds very transparent and democratic, right? Well, it’s confusing. The Mexican presidential term lasts six years (no re-election), so why take this up ahead of time when he will inevitably leave office in 2024? The INE has said it does not have the budget for a referendum and while the President raved about the virtues of fiscal austerity during the pandemic, he finds this particular claim outrageous and is undermining the INE’s credibility, the same institution that confirmed that he was democratically elected in 2018. Some people are never satisfied. Next.
Mexico’s Congress is considering an electricity reform put forth by the current government that puts the country’s private renewables industry at risk. The outcome will have major implications not just for the Mexican energy sector, but for economic competitiveness, public health, vulnerable coastal communities and the bilateral relationship with the country’s most important trading partner, the US. Oh yes, and climate change. But the President likes oil and he is sticking to his story (Trump liked “beautiful black coal”). Given that the energy transition is not an option but an existential imperative, the fabulous news is that Mexico has comparative advantages in almost every renewable energy you can name. Great, right? Well, not if you are a politician who would prefer to save a dying national industry. I am sure West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin could relate.
Despite these challenges -and they are daunting on several fronts particularly with respect to rule of law- I would say I remain a concerned optimist about Mexico, more than anything because the press continues to speak its mind despite the dangers that this entails, and civil society is active and pointing out where we need to improve. The world is a tension-filled place at the moment and Mexico is no exception. The frog in the pot is still wriggling but the water is reaching the boiling point.