Death and corruption prove that the idea of a new Mexico was a mirage

In Mexico, we are now living the end of a dream. In fact, it was always a mirage – the “Mexican moment” as it was called – created with the help of an intense campaign of public relations, a momentary economic surge, massaged statistics claiming a reduction in violence and reforms that, until now, exist only on paper.

Then there is the well-groomed presidential figure of Enrique Peña Nieto. He framed himself not only as a reformer but as the very saviour of Mexico. Incredibly, he was honoured by an international press that is now flaying him.

Since late September, the world has seen the raw, true face of the “moment”. Three students from a rural teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa were murdered and another 43 “disappeared” on 26 September in the city of Iguala, demonstrating collusion at all levels of the government with organised crime. It also showed the failure of Peña Nieto to guarantee peace, law and justice, each one elemental for the existence of a viable state.

During his first 21 months – Peña Nieto came to power in December 2012 – the president wanted to show the world how he was going to transform the “disaster country” after the “war on drugs” initiated by his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. In fact, there have been grave regressions, including an increasing abhorrence of transparency and public accountability.

Last week, a team of reporters, led by Carmen Aristegui, discovered a mansion valued at $7m (£4.4m), used by the president and his wife, Angelica Rivera, as their own, was officially listed under the name of a friend of the president. The friend won enormous contracts during Peña Nieto’s time as governor and now as president.

We could add to this revelation the remodelling project that Peña Nieto ordered upon his arrival to the official presidential residence. In a lavish expenditure of public funds, Peña Nieto transformed the building into a luxurious palace where the president, first lady and their six children now live.

For more than 14 years, the nation has lived immersed in interminable violence, with impunity for the criminals. This was all shaped by a corrupt political system created by the PRI, the political party of Peña Nieto. During more than 70 years of power, it permitted the creation and operation of drug cartels in different regions of the country. The co-existence of the government and criminal groups made the cartels ever more powerful and, increasingly, they began to penetrate institutions of the state.

With the advent of the political party Pan, and the presidency of Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), the criminal structure not only remained intact but strengthened through the growth of corruption. Year after year, Mexico continued to lose ground in Transparency International’s global corruption report.

In 2001, Mexico occupied the flattering position of 51 out of 178 countries; in Calderón’s last year, 2012, it was 105 out of 176 countries. In 2013, the first year of the Peña Nieto government, Mexico had dropped another place to 106, despite the illusion of progress.

As a result of the escalating corruption, the involvement of organised crime was no longer just a matter of funding political campaigns to obtain protection. Rather, the cartels brought power to their associates, as in the case of the former mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, members of a drug trafficking clan that has operated in Guerrero and Morelos for more than a decade. The attorney general of Mexico, Jesús Murillo Karam, has accused thecouple of ordering the assassination and disappearance of the students of Ayotzinapa.

Since Peña Nieto came to power, there have been grave regressions in Mexico, one of which is the abhorrence of transparency and public accountability, a move that was led by the presidential office and replicated by other governmental institutions.

What else can be expected of this soiled government? In recent months, the military and the attorney general have presented false reports regarding crimes. Official information shows that in 2006 the number of criminal complaints not investigated by the federal government amounted to 24,000; in 2013, the number was 63,000. In Peña Nieto’s administration, law enforcement has become increasingly slow and pathetic.

Upon entering the rustic buildings of the school in Ayotzinapa, you learn the history of the dead youth. It is easy to understand why the case of Iguala has mobilised a society that in recent years has lost tens of thousands of children, mothers and fathers, at the hands of organised crime.

The majority of the young people in the school are studying to be teachers in indigenous communities or in marginalised, impoverished areas. The students come from peasant families who were exploited for decades, left without hope for a better future. For them, there never was a “Mexican moment” or a saviour. For them, the abuse and injustice, from the government, have never ceased. Despite the enormous challenges, these young students are realising their dream of bringing knowledge to others like themselves.

Daily, the mourning mothers of the disappeared children meet in the central plaza of the school where candles burn permanently, waiting for the return of those who were taken. The portraits of their sons hang from posters and banners. If you take a good look, you can see their faces in their mothers.

Forty out of the 43 disappeared students had only arrived at the school in August and they represent nearly a third of all the students in their first year. Of those who remain, 60 were taken out of school by their parents so they wouldn’t meet the same fate as their companions. Thirty stayed and they continue to water the flowers. The flowers were meant to be sold on 1 November, Day of the Dead, but today they are still there, unharvested, waiting until the disappeared return, or until there is justice.

In the eyes of the remaining students there is a sadness. Those who survived that infernal night of interminable gunfire when they yelled: “Don’t shoot, we’re students. We are not armed”, carry pain in their eyes. But what is most evident is a profound dignity and courage.

The call for justice floods the school in Ayotzinapa with the same intensity that the sun of Guerrero bathes the classrooms each morning. This call has consumed many sectors of Mexican society, cutting across economic class and political affiliation. It marks the end of the supposed dream. The press and international community can be a decisive factor in ensuring that this call for justice is not ignored.

Anabel Hernández García es una periodista y escritora mexicana.

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