Monday, October 12, 2015
Mexico: Between a Dangerous Democracy and a Democracy at Risk
By Jose Angel Garcia V. (openDemocracy)
Far from the democratic dream of progress, citizens in Mexico are living in a dangerous and still fragile democracy.
“A government on its knees”: this is 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 the “Mexican moment” envisaged by Times magazine a year ago, Mexicans are living in an increasingly insecure environment, witnessing an increased level of corruption in government
institutions, and experiencing the “ungovernability” of numerous municipalities. Thus, far from the democratic
dream of progress, citizens in Mexico are living 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 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 that the army was not carrying out its operations with
strict respect for human rights. Despite the Minister of the Interior's assurances that government would “prosecute this crime to the very end,” this atrocity, until then the worst slaughter committed by the armed forces in Peña Nieto’s administration,
has proved to be only a symptom of the disease affecting the Mexican government and society.
A mere three months
later, Mexico and the world were shocked by the kidnapping and –as we know now – the execution of 43 students
in Ayotzinapa, in the state of Guerrero. On September 26, under orders from the Major of Iguala, dozens of students of a rural
teaching college were attacked, three were murdered, and 43 were abducted by the local police and then handed over to the
United Warriors criminal organization. After DNA fragments of one of the students were identified by independent investigators,
who stated that “no more usable DNA could be found to identify the rest of the corpses, the government closed the case and, in January 2015, pronounced the students dead. However,
in a country where there is growing evidence to confirm widespread suspicions of collusion between criminal groups and the
authorities, this official statement has been rejected by relatives and large sectors of the population.
Notwithstanding the political notoriety and judicial impact of these
cases, and despite the fact that 79% of Mexican citizens consider crime to be one of the biggest problems in Mexico and 57%
are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, the Minister of Finance has recently declared that “Mexico has a strong rule of law: a pronouncement that, as activists and society in general would say, lacks any support under the current circumstances.
The land of the dead journalists
In addition to the sad
cases previously described, Mexico is one in only ten 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 to be violated and, far from diminishing, criminality has increased in certain parts
of Mexico. Just between 2013 and 2014, for instance, the kidnapping rate in Tamaulipas went up by 22.6%, reaching the mark of 40 kidnappings per 100,000 inhabitants at the end of that year. What
is more, only 57% of the crimes are reported and – even more worrying – only 3% end up with a conviction. Thus,
contrary to the Minister’s picture of a “lawful Mexico,” citizens continue to live in a country with many
laws, but where impunity reigns.
Two more cases illustrate perfectly the situation.
August 31st, Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera, a reporter and a social activist, both critical of the government of the State
of Veracruz, were found murdered in Mexico City. Although some rushed to support the hypothesis of a robbery whilst virtually
condemning as foolish any other line of inquiry, both Espinosa and Vera had previously blamed the Governor of Veracruz for anything that might happen to them, causing a great deal of questioning across society. 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 dead in his taxi. Whether
or not coincidences, as with Ayotzinapa and Tlatlaya, these cases not only reflect the ineffectiveness of the Mexican 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 colluding State, Mexican society needs to wake up, become more politically engaged, and demand more accountability and responsiveness
from the State. Marching and protesting against the government is one way by which society can work to ensure that Tlatlaya
or Ayotzinapa do not happen again.
Change, of course, cannot occur immediately. And this is why scholars
like [Ramón] Centeno* say that “some things can only be solved with punching,” and that rural militias are the solution to the current violence. To support this ideology, however, goes against the aim of securing democratic values and rights. It is thus necessary to
understand that democracy is not a dichotomous notion, but a continuum and evolving process of which Mexico is a perfect example.
Two decades ago, voting was pointless in “Mexico's perfect dictatorship.” It took several years, lots of money and many lives to achieve an electoral democracy where voting does
change a government, does change politics, and can change the country.
In less than ten months from now, citizens
will vote for new governors of Veracruz – the riskiest place for journalists in Mexico, and of 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 critical starting point.
* "Ramón I. Centeno es miembro del Partido Obrero Socialista [Socialist Workers Party],"
article, "Mexico: between a dangerous democracy and a democracy at risk," by Jose Angel Garcia V., was first published
on Oct.7, 2015 at openDemocracy.net, under a Creative Commons license. Jose Angel Garcia V. is the Founding Director of the New Politics
Institute, an Associate Tutor at the Politics Department of the University of Sheffield, and an Associate Fellow of the Crick