“Ya me canse” [I’m tired now] were the words uttered by Jesús Murillo Karam, the current Attorney General of Mexico. With this sentence, Murillo abruptly ended a press conference where journalists were drilling him with questions related to forty-three missing students in the state of Guerrero, in southern Mexico.
What an incredibly poor choice of words.
Bring in the media storm. Such mishaps by a government official are the stuff of dreams for reporters. By the next day, the handles #Yamecanse, #Yamecanse2 and #Ayotzinapa permeated the twitter-sphere, headline material as just about every journalist was forcing the presses in to full steam, and even some political satire commentary was making its way to Youtube (brought to you by Brozo, a clown in a green wig and known as the Mexican Stephen Colbert).
Forty three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero the night of the 26th of September 2014, six more students turned up dead the following days. Different accounts point to a “classic” organized crime killing. I’ll spare the details in this article, there are enough gruesome accounts going around the media on the matter (Francisco Goldman offers a nice four piece series for the New Yorker and Vice has a more “graphic”, borderline morbid, account of the events). Nevertheless, here are some of the essential details:
The students of the Ayotzinapa Normal School, which trains and prepares teachers for deployment to poor rural areas, were headed to Mexico City to protest the Partido Revolucionario Institucional’s (PRI), the ruling party, mandate. The students, traveling in a caravan of buses, were stopped by armed men on the night of the 26th. Local police have confessed to involvement in footage showing a heated stand-off between the students and the local police forces, with shots heard in the background. An international probe found that the local police later handed the students over to criminal cartels. The mayor of Iguala José Luis Abarca and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa are accused of ordering the attack against the students. The most cynical argue that the attack was carried out because the students interfered with the optics of planned political event in Iguala. An arrested drug cartel member confessed to the massacre of the students and implicated both the local police and the local mayor.
The two masterminds behind the attack, Mr. Albarca and his wife, were arrested in November for their crimes, after being at large for almost five weeks. Another gang member was arrested on January 16, he swiftly confirmed all the previous allegations against the mayor and the Iguala police force. He also confessed to burning the bodies and clothes of the students in order to hide evidence from prosecutors and the media.
Ongoing protests, which turned four months old this week, have forced Peña Nieto in to action. The government in under strong scrutiny by its citizens. With a reputation as a centrist pragmatist and reformer, Enrique Peña Nieto has pointed to Judicial Reforms (enacted in 2012) as his efforts to tackle the “culture of impunity” surrounding Mexico.
Protests against the government are not an uncommon occurrence in Mexico. Under normal circumstances one is bound to find protestors at the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square. Furthermore, the Ayotzinapa Normal School and the region surrounding the town of Iguala have a long standing tradition of social disobedience and animosity with the central authorities. Mexicans, and the world, have grown accustomed to the gruesome stories coming out of the drug violence ridden country. However, the case of the forty-three missing students has sparked anger in the population as it shows the blatant contempt politicians in Mexico have for their citizens and the amount of collusion between government officials and drug cartels.
Ongoing protests, which continued into their third week this week, have forced Peña Nieto in to action. With a reputation as a centrist pragmatist and reformer, Enrique Peña Nieto has pointed to Judicial Reforms (enacted in 2012) as proof of his efforts to tackle the culture of impunity in Mexico.
These judicial reforms are certainly a welcomed step towards a prosperous and safe future for Mexico. The reforms seek to guarantee greater due process protections, changes in procedure and tougher stances on organized crime. In an ongoing study by the RAND Corporation, preliminary findings point to the reduced probability of a person becoming a victim of crime in states where the judicial reforms have been implemented. Nevertheless, critics have argued that the reforms try to accomplish too much in very little time and that they don’t address problems of institutionalized corruption.
These, however, are menial details to the Mexicans protesting in the streets across the country. The same RAND study found that people’s sense of personal security has decreased during the Peña Nieto administration. Mexico’s protests aren’t about the deteriorating security situation, as the war against drug cartels has been raging for the last decade. The protests are a form of outrage at the government’s arrogance towards average Mexicans. Furthermore, Enrique Peña Nieto’s reforms won’t guarantee an effective judicial system, neither will they quell the protests that are engulfing the country today.
In essence, protesters are expressing their disdain for the culture of impunity that reaches the highest levels of government in Mexico. For example, the current Finance Minister, Luis Videgaray, is suspected of corruption and conflicts of interest. The president and his brother have also been involved in a corruption scandal involving the same company being investigated in the Videgaray case. The ruling class in Mexico remains, and will most likely remain, unpunished for their outlandish actions.
Canada, eager to take part in the opening of key Mexican sectors, particularly the energy sector, looks the other way. Canada, Mexico and the US will meet for their annual North American Leadership Summit hosted by Canada in February. Energy, security, trade and further North American integration are bound to come up during the talks. Energy is bound to be the central theme of the summit, given that Mexico holds some of the largest unconventional and conventional hydrocarbons reserves in the world and the recent enactment of reforms ending an 80-year old state controlled monopoly over natural resources. In other words, Mexico is ripe for foreign investment in the sector, and Canada is leading the charge.
Integration in energy is particularly problematic, given that Mexican cartels fund their action with the trade of contraband oil and gas. The sector is ridden with violence and criminal activity. Nevertheless, it is not expected that Canada will raise any issues regarding Mexico’s current state of affairs. This will demonstrate to the ruling Mexican elite that they can can get away with murdering forty-three students, embezzlement and corruption, without even a slap on the wrist.
It would not be Canada’s place to lecture the Mexican government, at least not from a moral perspective. After all, it is unrealistic to expect this government (especially this government) to conduct itself in a principled manner. However, in “Harper speak” Canada should care about Mexican impunity. The issue of insecurity in the energy sector affects business and Canadian interests on the ground. Furthermore, crime drug networks are transnational in nature. In an integrated North America region, tackling security issues needs to be done in tandem with our partners.
If not the moral argument, it is in Canada’s interest to raise at least some criticism of the Mexican government and its very poor reaction to the murder of Iguala’s 43 students. NDP critic for Foregin Affairs, Paul Dewar, and the Opposition in general have also remained quiet on this issue.
Simply put, Canada is looking the other way while Mexico rots from the inside.
Christian Medina Ramirez is a Master of Arts candidate at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, Ottawa. He was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and did his undergraduate degree in Politics and Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Waterloo, Canada.
Featured Photo from Agencia Prensa Rural.