Mexico: protests growing in ‘failed state’

On Nov. 20 tens of thousands of protesters marched through downtown Mexico City in the fourth National and Global Day of Action for Ayotzinapa, demanding the return of 43 missing students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College, located in Ayotzinapa in the southwestern state of Guerrero. The students were abducted the night of Sept. 26-27 in the Guerrero city of Iguala de la Independencia, apparently in a joint action by municipal police and local drug gangs; three other students were killed in the incident, along with three bystanders. The Nov. 20 demonstration, which also marked the official anniversary of the start of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, coincided with the arrival in the capital of three caravans led by parents of the missing students; the parents had spent a week traveling through different parts of Mexico to increase public awareness about the disappearances.

The Mexico City march appeared to be the largest action yet for the 43 students. The marchers headed to the central Zócalo plaza in three contingents: from the Angel of Independence, which commemorates the 1810 War of Independence; from the Monument to the Revolution, which commemorates the 1910 Revolution; and from the Tlatelolco housing project, the site of an October 1968 massacre of striking students and their supporters. The left-leaning daily La Jornada put participation at "hundreds of thousands" and reported that marchers were still entering the Zócalo when the main rally ended. (LJ, Nov. 21, Nov. 21)

After the rally groups of youths, some masked, tried to seize the metal barricades protecting public buildings. Police agents responded by using pepper spray and water cannons to clear the plaza. The authorities said there were 26 arrests, with 11 of those arrested facing federal charges of criminal association, rioting and attempted homicide. The 11 were quickly transferred to federal prisons hundreds of kilometers from Mexico City—the eight men in the group to Perote, Veracruz, and the three women to Tepic, Nayarit. Relatives of the 11 detainees held a press conference outside federal prosecutors' offices on Nov. 22. They charged that the arrests were arbitrary, that the detainees were not involved in the confrontation with police and that they were mistreated while in custody and were denied their right to counsel; one of the men charged, Chilean citizen Laurence Maxwell, was simply riding a bicycle in the area when he was arrested, his supporters said. (LJ, Nov. 21, Nov. 23)

Mexicans living abroad organized their own Nov. 20 protests in a number of cities, including Paris, Moscow, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. As many as 300 protesters, mostly Mexicans, rallied in the late afternoon outside the Mexican consulate in New York's midtown section, with chants demanding justice and calling Mexico's three main political parties "murderer parties." After a moment of silence and a reading of the names of the 43 missing students, the protesters marched to the Grand Central train station, where they briefly blocked the main entrance; a few protesters held a die-in inside. The march proceeded to a second rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations complex. Along the route marchers distributed fliers to the rush-hour crowds; most passersby seemed unaware of the crisis in Mexico, which has gotten little coverage in the US media. (Latin Post, Nov. 21; report from Update editor)

Even though US coverage of the Mexican turmoil has been sparse, investors in the US and other countries are now showing signs of worry. Mexico's social problems, along with a disappointing growth rate for the third quarter, have led to "questioning with respect to the promising perspectives which were generated with the start of the new administration" of President Enrique Peña Nieto in December 2012, Alfredo Coutiño, the director of Moody's Analytics' Latin American branch, said on Nov. 20; Moody's Analytics is a subsidiary of the Moody's Corporation rating service. "The issue for the economy isn't that the political and social problems have just now appeared on the horizon, but rather the slow response and the low level of effectiveness of the actions to resolve them." (LJ, Nov. 21)

Politicians in other Latin American countries are also concerned. In an interview with the Latin American edition of Foreign Affairs posted on Nov. 23, Uruguay's center-left president, José Mujica, questioned Mexico's ability to handle the crisis. "It gives one a sensation, seen from the distance, that we're dealing with a sort of failed state," said Mujica, a former guerrilla fighter whose term ends on Mar. 1, 2015, "that the public authorities have totally lost control, that they've rotted away." (LJ, Nov. 23, from AFP)

Some Mexican observers seem to have a similar view. On Nov. 22 Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, a three-time presidential candidate for various center-left coalitions, called for a constituent assembly to formulate a new constitution. The goal would not be "to get rid of the institutions, but for them to be useful, reliable leaders, and committed to the causes of the country and the people." Cárdenas had warned a week earlier, on Nov. 16, that Mexico's largest center-left party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), was on the brink of dissolution. Cárdenas was one of the main founders of the party in 1989, following his defeat in the controversial 1988 presidential election. José Luis Abarca Velázquez, the Iguala mayor who allegedly ordered the attack on the Ayotzinapa students, is a PRD politician, a fact that has alienated much of the party's base. According to a Nov. 3-4 poll ordered by the party leadership, 46% of Mexican citizens have a bad opinion of the PRD and only 11% of them would back it in the 2015 legislative elections—down from 18% at this point in the 2012 race. (TeleSUR English, Nov. 17; LJ, Nov. 23, Nov. 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 23.