Thousands of protesters used the Mexican Independence Day (September 16th) celebrations in the capital as an opportunity to show their deep felt resentment towards President, Enrique Peña Nieto and his PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) government.
The protesters carried black tinted Mexican flags and banners which derided the President as inept and called upon him to resign immediately.
Peña Nieto’s current approval ratings were recently reported to be as low as 22%, and the regional elections that took place in June demonstrated the palpable anti-PRI sentiment among the population, with widespread regional losses for the governing party. What explains this lack of popularity and why do so many Mexicans think that their President is incompetent?
Peña Nieto has frequently found himself open to the charge of ineptitude throughout his presidency, having forgotten important dates in Mexico’s history, confused the names of state capitals, and having argued that he did not know the price of tortillas because he was “not the woman of the house”.
Even before assuming office in 2012 he was prone to bizarre blunders. One of many cringe inducing moments was when he attended the Guadalajara Book Fair in 2011. Upon being asked to name three books which had been of significance in his life he managed to fill the best part of five minutes with an unconvincing spiel about the role of the bible during his adolescence, vague recollections of authors and book titles, and indistinct noises and pauses. He even had to ask his aides to remind him of the title of the novel he was supposed to be reading at the time.
So frequent have this President’s public missteps become that a website was started called “Dias sin Pendejadas de Peña Nieto” (roughly translating as “Days since Peña Nieto did something stupid”), which counts the number of days the President has gone without making a fool of himself (at the time of writing the tally rests at just over a week).
However, whilst these public gaffes are forgivable, many think that the President and his government have mishandled far more serious issues.
Peña Nieto came to power promising to put an end to the drug related violence and disappearances that had escalated dramatically under his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. Although many lamented the return of PRI to power and questioned the methods by which Peña Nieto could achieve his aim, any respite from the Drug War’s widespread and horrific violence was welcome.
However, there continues to be no end in sight for Mexico’s Drug War, with mass graves still being discovered, murders rife, and citizens disappearing. The most publicized disappearance in recent memory is undoubtedly the case of the 43 students in Iguala, a tragedy which marks its second anniversary on September 26th.
Among the Independence Day protesters were the parents of these 43 students. Last week the parents cut off talks with the Mexican Government after a lead government investigator, who had previously tampered with evidence in the ongoing case to find the students, was promoted.
The investigation into the 43 Ayotzinapa students has been misled and distorted by official corruption and incompetency to such an extent that the victims’ parents may never find out what happened to their sons and daughters. Like the protracted game of whack-a-mole that finally ended with the second re-capture of El Chapo, this atrocity was carried out under Peña Nieto’s leadership and follow up investigations have been poorly administered. The public has rightly deemed their President as responsible. Not only does narco-violence continue to blight Mexico despite the President’s campaign promises, but Peña Nieto has also been incapable of combating the corruption which allows it to flourish.
Allegations of corruption have featured prominently in Peña Nieto’s personal life during his time in office. First, there were two scandals surrounding houses that the President and his wife used but which were registered as the property of two private companies, the first of which had received a huge government contract from Peña Nieto when he a governor.
Then, earlier this year the President was linked to the Panama Papers. The documents showed that Juan Armando Hinojosa, whose companies have received numerous lucrative contracts from Peña Nieto’s government , moved over US$100 million offshore with the help of Mossack Fonseca after being investigated for having given special favors to his close friend, President Peña Nieto. These scandals point towards an unsavory track record of the President having personally benefited from public business deals.
Peña Nieto’s lifestyle and the tycoon friends he keeps help underline another failing of his administration. While the Mexican economy continues to grow, albeit erratically, the benefits are increasingly only felt by a tiny elite. This is evidenced by the fact that poverty rates have increased during Peña Nieto’s presidency and the wealth gap still remains vast. Mexico’s richest 1% own approximately 43% of the country’s wealth.
Despite being one of the richest countries in the world by GDP, close to half of Mexico’s population live in poverty, and basic areas of public spending such as the state school system are underfunded. OXFAM MEXICO revealed in 2015 that 48% of state schools have no access to sewage, 31% no access to drinking water and 11% no electricity.
Peña Nieto is failing to deliver much needed change and as public opinion suggests, he is out of touch with the electorate.
This was only exacerbated last month by Donald Trump’s visit to Mexico, upon the invitation of the current administration. Many were expecting Peña Nieto to publicly rebuke Trump for his hideously offensive branding of Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals” and openly defy the Republican candidate’s claim that Mexico would fund his border wall. Indeed, former Mexican President, Vincente Fox, had previously said in an interview “I declare, I’m not going to pay for that f**king wall”. In fact, the current President said nothing of any substance and only days later, and on twitter, did he publicly denounce Trump’s proposed wall.
With two years left of his presidency, and already facing mass calls to resign, Peña Nieto’s failings have already secured his status as a weak and inept President in the eyes of many. The Independence Day Protests are simply a manifestation of widespread disenchantment with the current government and its perceived inaction.