Mexico: protests follow Peña Nieto to Washington

Facing serious political and economic problems at home, on Jan. 6 Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto made his first official visit to Washington, DC, since taking office in December 2012. A private meeting at the White House with US president Barack Obama lasted longer than was scheduled, and the two presidents didn't take questions when they spoke with the press afterwards. The US has been following the "tragic events" involving seven deaths and the abduction of 43 students the night of Sept. 26-27 in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero, Obama told reporters, and the US would continue to aid in investigations and in the fight against drug cartels. Obama also praised Mexico's efforts to keep Central American migrants from reaching the US border, especially during the child migrant "crisis" in the summer of 2014. Peña Nieto promised that Mexico would help the US and Cuba normalize relations. (La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 7)

In addition to facing massive protests against the Mexican political system since the Guerrero abductions, Peña Nieto's government is having to deal with a drop in oil prices that has led to downward pressure on the peso. Now at $39.70 a barrel, the price of Mexico's export oil plummeted by 61.23% from June 20, 2014 to Jan. 9 of this year, while the peso fell by 12.3%, ending up at 14.5 to the US dollar. (El Financiero, Mexico, Jan. 12)

As the two presidents were speaking, about 100 protesters, mostly Mexicans and Mexican Americans, rallied outside the White House. The protesters charged that the US government is supporting corruption and violence in Mexico through its Mérida Initiative, a program often referred to as "Plan Mexico," in which the US funds anti-narcotics campaigns by Mexican security forces, themselves often linked to the cartels. Among the participants in the rally was Nansi Cisneros, whose brother was kidnapped by men in police uniforms in the western state of Jalisco; a US citizen living in Los Angeles, Cisneros had written about her brother's case on the Huffington Post news site.

There were similar protests that day in at least nine other US cities, including Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle, organized by the USTired2 network and other groups to echo the demonstrations in Mexico. One of the protesters in Seattle was José Luis Avila, the husband of Nestora Salgado García, an imprisoned community police leader in Olinalá, Guerrero. (LJ, Jan. 7)

On Jan. 8 the Guerrero government announced that it was dropping charges against Salgado "as a demonstration that this citizens' government has been consistent in the search for peace and the harmonious development of Guerrero in all its aspects." (LJ, Jan. 8) As of Jan. 11 there had been no reports of her release.

In other news, the celebrated Mexican editor and investigative reporter Julio Scherer died on Jan. 7 at the age of 88. Scherer edited the influential daily El Excélsior from 1968 to 1976, when government pressure finally succeeded in getting the paper to remove him. He then founded the weekly Proceso, whose investigative reports have plagued Mexican politicians ever since—most recently in articles on alleged federal involvement in the abduction of the 43 students in Guerrero and on possible judicial favoritism for the brother of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari. People that Scherer interviewed or attempted to interview ranged from Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet to Sinaloa cartel leader Ismael ("El Mayo") Zambada García. The journalist claimed that he'd go to hell if the devil offered him an interview. (LJ, Jan. 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 11.