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Over the course of only two years in power, Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto has succeeded in turning almost every sector of society against him.
His tax and financial reforms threaten the middle class, his labour reforms promise to further impoverish the working class, his energy reforms will ravage the countryside and drastically reduce fiscal resources and his education reforms have mobilised students and teachers throughout the country.
Meanwhile, the exposure of rampant corruption and conflicts of interest in Nieto’s closest circle, as well as his government’s failure to reverse the public security disaster of aggressive and violent policing inherited from his predecessor Felipe Calderon, have led to a crisis of confidence all the way from top business leaders down to the most humble peasant.
Nieto’s approval ratings are lower than they have been for any Mexican president over the last two decades. A maximum of 37 per cent of the population believes that he is doing a satisfactory job, according to independent polls. This number is significantly lower in major urban centers like Mexico City.
Overall confidence in government and the political system are also at record lows. Only 21 per cent of the population are “satisfied” with the functioning of democracy, according to Latinobarometer, and only 22 per cent trust political parties, according to Reforma newspaper.
Mexico today looks very much like present-day Spain, the Greece of yesterday, Bolivia and Ecuador 10 years ago, or Venezuela and Brazil during the 1990s.
But change will not come easily. Instead of recognising the weakness of his position and opening up his government to criticism and dialogue, Nieto has responded by centralising power, shutting down communication with civil society and repressing the opposition.
Not a week goes by without a scandalous new case of human rights abuse. Just last week, for instance, the federal police launched a bloody attack on a group of striking teachers in the resort city of Acapulco. Thousands of heavily armed police pursued the trade unionists through the streets, beating dozens of them, arbitrarily detaining over 100 and mercilessly killing a 65-year-old leader in the process.
The execution of three and the disappearance of 43 student activists from the Ayotzinapa teacher’s college in the city of Iguala, Guerrero state, on September 26 2014 has gained widespread international attention. But this terrible crime against humanity is unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg.
The United Nations has revealed how thousands of people mysteriously disappear each year in Mexico without the authorities taking any decisive action. And organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Article 19 and Amnesty International have documented how hundreds of activists and journalists are intimidated, beaten, killed, jailed or forced into hiding every year without most of the international community even lifting an eyebrow.
Nieto will feel right at home at Buckingham Palace today. He will be able to avoid the constant protests and uncomfortable questions he is constantly confronted with in Mexico.
He will be able to pretend for a moment the he too is a member of royalty without any need to give account for his actions to the people that he governs.
But according to Mexico’s highly advanced constitution of 1917, the country is supposedly a republic — and a democratic one as well.
Instead of facilitating authoritarian retrenchment by propping up a leader who has turned his back on his people, the politicians and the people of Britain should take advantage of the important British-Mexican Dual Year — designed to promote bilateral relations —to stand beside their Mexican brothers and sisters in demanding answers and responsibility from their leaders.
John M Ackerman is a professor at the Institute for Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), editor-in-chief of The Mexican Law Review and a columnist for Proceso magazine and La Jornada newspaper. www.johnackerman.blogspot.com @JohnMAckerman
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