July 2012. Enrique Peña Nieto wins Mexico’s presidential election amid ongoing demonstrations and protests against him and his party. Three years later, the situation has not gotten any better and a large part of active civil society members demand him to resign. Why? Peña Nieto represents the PRI, the party that ruled Mexico for 71 years. A period that was characterised by high levels of corruption, oppression, uncountable violations of human rights, restrictions to freedom of speech, state violence, economic crises and an arguably nonexistent democracy.
Corruption scandals of the president’s family and many other figures in the government have become so common, that it is hard to find a statesperson that has not been involved in any. According to Transparency International (2014), Mexico is in the 41% of most corrupt countries in the world.
Oppression and violations of human rights are common in the form of military abuses, torture and arbitrary detentions. Many cases have even involved the killing of civilians by armed forces, the most recent ones being in Tlatlaya last year and Ostula last month. Adding to that, forced disappearances are also an enormous problem – there have been 22,000 cases since 2006 and none of them has been resolved (Human Rights Watch, 2015). A case that has been especially traumatic is the one of 43 students of Ayotzinapa that were forcibly disappeared by the police and most possibly killed, reminding many Mexicans of the tragic oppression and massacre of students in 1968.
Moreover, the ongoing ‘war on drugs’ that has been waged by the government since 2006 has resulted in more than hundred thousand civilian deaths (AJ+, 2015). Many mass graves have been found across the country and public exhibitions of corpses are a usual practice in some areas. Common victims of homicides have also been critical journalists, showing that restriction of freedom of speech is still a problem in the country.
Tired of the situation, Mexican civil society has formed movements and solidarity groups that demand, above all, justice for the thousands of crimes, transparency in the government, an end to violence, economic justice and a real and fair democracy.
Social movements are nothing new for Mexico. In fact, most of its history can be told through them: dating back to the indigenous resistance against colonialism, to the Revolution, feminist movements, student movements and the Zapatista uprising, just to mention a few examples. For the majority of these movements, as with the current ones, the goal has always been to achieve social justice. But while the older movements were repressed and relatively kept under control by the state, the new ones have expanded beyond borders and have caused a great impact in countries with Mexican diaspora.
Many of the protest and events that have been taking place outside Mexico have been led by highly skilled Mexican citizens that attend top level universities in the world. In particular, the movement after Ayotzinapa was quite significant. Starting with manifestations of discontent in social media via hashtags like #WeAreAllAyotzinapa #YaMeCansé and followed by a series of top quality academic discussions. The “Global forum for Ayotzinapa” as it was later called, was created.
The aim of global forum “Mexico: The wound of the world”, was to discuss the current situation and to communicate to the world that there is a crisis (in many senses) in Mexico. Most of the events have had active participation from the society, academics and politicians. Academic experts on the study of human rights, history, sociology, crime, political science and law (to name a few) have enriched the debate and contributed with valuable ideas to reshape the current situation. After all, to fix a problem one first has to recognize that it exists.
In particular for the UK, the State visit of Enrique Peña Nieto in early March 2015, triggered a series of protests outside the Mexican Embassy in London and near Downing Street. The Mexican society in the UK, organized a series of events during the week of the visit, starting with a round table of Human Rights and civil engagement at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and finished with a discussion of State Violence and Human Rights in Queen Mary University of London.
On March 3rd, a protest took place outside Downing Street, gathering almost 350 people (Mexicans and non-Mexicans) from different parts of the UK. A letter signed by different collectives and Mexican citizens in the UK was delivered to David Cameron, with several demands. One which stands out particularly is the demand to think twice about the engagement of the British Government with its Mexican counterpart, under the accusation of creating a false image of the Mexico of both stable and desirable destination for British businesses.
What can we learn from this? First, state crimes, violations of human rights and corruption in Mexico cannot go unseen by the global civil society anymore. Second, borders have become irrelevant to social movements like the Ayotzinapa Solidarity, making them difficult to disappear any time soon because even if they happened to be repressed inside Mexico by the authorities, they cannot be repressed abroad. And third, as John Ackerman (2014) argues, even if these movements have not achieved any direct changes such as avoiding the return of the PRI in the presidential elections in the case of #YoSoy132 or the safe return of the 43 students in the case of the Ayotzinapa solidarity, they have empowered the Mexican society by opening up consciousness and criticism about their country, encouraging therefore a sense of responsibility that will eventually change the situation.
- Victoria Dittmar is a student of International Relations and Development at University of Sussex
- Gustavo Iriarte is a PhD student in Economics at University of Sussex
Ackerman, J. M. (2014) Interviewed by Julie Schwietert Collazo in ”We have an opening up in history”: John M. Ackerman discusses Ayotzinapa and what’s next’, Latin Correspondent, 12 December, http://latincorrespondent.com/mexico/opening-history/, (accessed: 1st August 2015).
(2015) ‘Corruption by Country/Territory: Mexico’, Transparency International, http://www.transparency.org/country#MEX, (accessed: 1st of August 2015).
(2015) ‘World Report 2015: Mexico’, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/mexico, (accessed: 1st August 2015).