Mexico: between a dangerous democracy and a democracy in danger

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Mexico: between a dangerous democracy and a democracy in danger

“A government on its knees”; that’s how Gil Ramos describes Mexico’s current administration. With an average of nearly 100 homicides per day, 7 journalists killed in 8 months, an epidemic of disappearances of social activists, students and civilians, and hundreds of human right violations; it is difficult to discredit that statement. In fact, Mexico would perfectly fit with Bunker and Sullivan’s definition of a “failed state”. Contrary to a “Mexican moment”; Mexicans are living in an increasingly insecure environment, witnessing a more noticeable corruption of/from public institutions and authorities, and experiencing the “ungovernability” of different municipalities. Thus, far from the envisaged democratic dream of progress, citizens in Mexico are immersed in a dangerous and still fragile democracy.

Beginning with the execution of 22 people in Tlatlaya, in the state of Mexico; the past 12 months have been flooded with cases of human rights violations that have shaken the Mexican society. Leaving aside the fact that those executed belonged to a criminal organization, the assassination of these unarmed and surrounded criminals in June 2014 demonstrated the army was not carrying out its operations with strict respect for human rights. Despite the Minister of the Interior ensured government would “prosecute this crime to the very end”, this transgression, until then the worst slaughter committed by the armed forces in Peña Nieto’s administration, proved to be only a symptom of the disease attacking the Mexican government and society.  No more than three months later, Mexico and the world were shocked by the kidnapping and –now we know– execution of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, in the state of Guerrero. After DNA fragments of two of the student’s bodies were identified by independent investigators, government insists in closing the case. In a country where the suspected collusion between criminal groups and authorities has been evidenced, however; this “investigative conclusions” remain being– rejected by relatives and large sectors of the population.

Notwithstanding the political notoriety and judicial impact of these cases, and despite 79% of and 57% of Mexicans –respectively– consider crime a very big problem and are dissatisfied with the direction of the country; the Minister of Finance has considered appropriate to declare “Mexico has a strong rule of law”. A pronouncement that –activists and society in general would say– lacks of any support under the current circumstances. In addition to the regrettable cases previously described, Mexico is one of only 10 countries in the world where journalists have been murdered in the last nine months. According to Freedom House civil and political rights in the country continue being violated, leading the Fund for Peace to place a warning of failure on Mexico. Rather than diminishing, criminality has augmented in certain parts of the country. For instance, the kidnapping rate in places like Tamaulipas has reached the alarming figure of 40 per 100,000 inhabitants. What is more, only 57% of crimes are reported and –more worrying–only 3% of those end with a sentence. Thus, contrary to the Minister’s image of a “lawful Mexico”, citizens continue living in a country with many laws, but where impunity reigns.  Two more cases perfectly illustrate this condition.

On August 31st, Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera, one a reporter, the other a social activist, but both critics of the government of the state of Veracruz, were found murdered in Mexico City. Although some rushed to support the hypothesis of robbery whilst almost considering stupid any other line of inquiry, both Espinosa and Vera have previously blamed the Governor of Veracruz for anything that might happen to them, raising now important doubts across society. What is more, just a few days later, Miguel Angel Jimenez, a social activist who led search parties looking for the remaining 42 students of Iguala, was found death in his taxi. Coincidences or not, these cases not only reflect the ineffectiveness of the judicial system; they remind us of the importance and fragility of democratic values and human rights, including a free press, freedom of association and –above all– the right to life.

Trapped between criminal organizations and a colluded state, society needs to awake, to become more politically engaged and demand more accountability and responsiveness from the state. Change, of course, will not be immediate; and scholars like Centeno would say “some things can only be solved with punching”, even more, that rural militias are the solution to the current violence. Supporting this ideology, however, is going against the democratic values and rights aimed to be secured. It is, thus, necessary to understand democracy is not a dichotomous notion, but a continuum and evolving process. Just two decades ago voting was pointless within “Mexico’s perfect dictatorship”. It took several years to achieve an electoral democracy where voting does change a government, does change politics, and can change the country. In less than 10 months citizens will vote for governor in Veracruz –the riskiest place for journalists in Mexico, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas and Sinaloa –three of the 10 most violent states in the country. If human rights violations are to be stopped, this democratic exercise might not be the entire solution, but it is definitely a vital starting point.

Written by Jose Angel Garcia