Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mexico’s Tipping Point

With protests in the wake of the Ayotzinapa disappearances raging across Mexico, analysts and observers are increasingly asking one question: has popular outrage over Mexico’s violence finally reached a tipping point?

Yesterday saw continued demonstrations, with protesters in Guerrero state setting fire to the state legislative building there, and students in Michoacan blocking roads and succeeding in temporarily shutting down access to the airport in Morelia, as Animal Politico reports.  The day before, protesters in Acapulco did the same to roadways leading to the city’s airport.

Meanwhile, the wave of discontent with the level of violence in the country received an important endorsement from the Catholic Church. According to El Universal the Mexican Bishops’ Conference has released a statement expressing solidarity with the families of the missing 43 students and the other “thousands of anonymous victims,” and calling for an end to violence, disappearances and death.

The continued protests, which have shown no sign of stopping despite officials’ likely discovery of the 43 students’ remains and the arrest of those allegedly responsible for their murder, have led some to conclude that Mexico has reached the end of its patience for corruption and drug-fueled violence. More than one commentator -- see Ricardo Monreal Avila’s column for CNN Mexico or analysts cited in this recent Christian Science Monitor piece -- have referred to the current moment as “the drop that spilled the glass” or even the “real” Mexico’s Moment.

In Alma Guillermoprieto’s must-read overview of the disappearances for the New York Review of Books (which she has recently updated), the writer notes that it is unlikely the official explanation for the disappearances “will quell the relatives’ fury and pain, or soothe the outrage felt by so many Mexicans at the state of their country today.”

Writing for The New Yorker, Francisco Goldman offers a hopeful take on the near-daily protests in the country that have followed the disappearances, quoting the Mexican priest and human rights defender Alejandro Solalinde. From the New Yorker:

For Solalinde, the country’s turning point might have come during a five-hour meeting, on October 28th, between the family members of the missing students and the President in Los Pinos. The blunt talk and disappointment expressed by the families was widely publicized. “These were Mexico’s poorest people, who were used to imagining the President as someone unimaginably great. They discovered that our President is small. The little man of Los Pinos, small and weak. The myth of the strong government is falling. People see that our system is corrupt, decadent, weak. People are losing their fear of describing things as they are.” 

Two sectors of society, Solalinde said, will drive change in Mexico: the youth and women. “These two, each on their own side, have been the most punished, abused, infiltrated, massacred, disappeared,” he said. “People are going to give their all. This movement isn’t going to stop.”

In spite of all the optimism regarding the potential for transformative change to come out of the protests, there is reason to be cautious. Mexico watchers said the same thing in 2011 about poet Javier Sicilia and his Caravan for Peace, which even succeeded in obtaining a televised exchange with then-President Felipe Calderon in which victims pleaded for an end to his failed security strategy. Very few substantial concessions then followed, which suggests outrage alone is not enough.

In an insightful column for El Universal, Mexican political scientist Mario Campos reaches the same conclusion. In order to make meaningful progress against impunity and insecurity, Campos argues that civil society organizations in the country must make sure that the protests are paired with legislative reforms. To him, this means “a kind of Pact for Mexico 2.0, only this time presented by citizens to the powers that be, and not the other way around as occurred in the first year of this government.”

News Briefs
  • While the Venezuelan government has repeatedly characterized the murder of PSUV Congressman Robert Serra as a political crime committed by Colombian paramilitary elements, Colombia’s ambassador to the country has placed this narrative in question. As El Nacional and The Miami Herald report, Ambassador Luis Eladio Perez has told reporters that the alleged perpetrator of the crime was in fact a Venezuelan citizen with few connections to Colombia. In response to the statement, PSUV legislative head Diosdado Cabello made televised remarks yesterday in which he accused Perez of “knowing part of what is really being investigated” in connection with Serra’s death.
  • Members of a legislative committee in Colombia’s Senate voted yesterday to support a bill that would allow marijuana for medical use, sending it to the floor of the full chamber. The AP notes that a supporter of the measure, Roy Barreras, drew comparisons to the use of coca tea for medicinal purposes, which he served to his colleagues on the committee yesterday before the vote. El Espectador reports that Barreras, a doctor, also “prescribed” a marijuana-infused tea to the Uribista lawmakers of the Centro Democratico party, and a coca tea for Alvaro Uribe himself, “to help him relax and see life in peace, and that war is not good.”
  • The United Nations representative in Colombia, Fabrizio Hochschild, has expressed concern about the lack of due process evident in a recent indigenous court ruling in Cauca, which sentenced five alleged FARC members to between 40 and 60 years of prison for the murder of two members of the local Nasa tribe. Two others were sentenced to lashings.
  • Former São Paulo Mayor and Culture Minister Marta Suplicy made headlines on Tuesday for splitting from Presdient Dilma Rousseff’s administration, stepping down from her position and calling on the president to name “an independent economic team with proven experience”  to “rescue” the president’s credibility. As the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times note, the statement has been interpreted as a sign of a split in the ruling Workers’ Party over what direction economic policy should take in the next government.
  • The New York Times’ Upshot section reports on a trend with interesting implications for the region: citizens of Latin America are rapidly losing their identification with the Catholic religion, with a new Pew survey noting that while 69 percent of the region is Catholic, 84 percent say they were raised in the faith.
  • Venezuelan Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, whose case has gathered international support since she was arrested after freeing a banker who was facing charges of violating currency controls in 2009, had her trial postponed on Wednesday, meaning that she has now waited over a year for her day in court.
  • In a Huffington Post column, Congressman Jim McGovern calls on the U.S. to take responsibility for its role in supporting the El Salvadoran military despite the atrocities it committed during the country’s bloody civil war. As part of this gesture, he argues that the U.S. should close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School of the Americas.