US elite starts to doubt ‘Mexican Moment’

Although some US investors still seem confident about opportunities in what they have called the "Mexican Moment," concern is growing in US ruling circles as militant protests continue in Mexico in response to a Sept. 26-27 massacre and mass abduction in the southwestern state of Guerrero. "Violence, impunity and corruption are once again dominating the news about Mexico in the US, tarnishing, if not cancelling, the image so successfully cultivated by the government of [President] Enrique Peña Nieto over the past two years," David Brooks, US correspondent for the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada, wrote on Nov. 16.

Brooks noted that the US State Department felt compelled to comment on the Mexican crisis two days in a row, with spokesperson Jen Psaki calling on Nov. 12 for a transparent investigation into the "heinous and barbaric crime" in Guerrero. "We certainly urge all parties to remain calm through the process," she added. Sources close to the US Congress told the newspaper that some Congress members were monitoring the situation and were expected to make their concerns public soon.

Some US media seem to share these concerns. After repeatedly promoting Peña Nieto's neoliberal reform agenda, the New York Times admitted in an editorial published on Nov. 12 that Mexico had reached "a tense point." "Two years ago, when he took office…Peña Nieto pledged to revise the penal code, give more attention to crime victims and focus on Mexico's economic growth as a means of reducing drug-related violence. What limited progress has been made still has not repaired a criminal justice system unable to properly investigate crimes, end the corruption or stop the killings."

The newsweekly Time showed how sharply the media have shifted. Last February the magazine had a picture of Peña Nieto on its cover with the caption: "Saving Mexico: How Enrique Peña Nieto's sweeping reforms have changed the narrative in his narco-stained nation." On Nov. 6 Time ran an article headlined: "Mexico's Nightmare: How the disappearance of 43 students in September has forced the country to once again confront the scourge of drug violence." (LJ, Nov. 16; Time, Nov. 6; NYT, Nov. 12; AFP, Nov. 13)

Further tarnishing Mexico's image—and Peña Nieto's—was the revelation on Nov. 9 by a team of reporters led by Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui that when not staying at the official presidential residence, Los Pinos, Peña Nieto and his wife, telenovela star Angélica Rivera Hurtado, have been living in a $7 million mansion belonging to a major government contractor. Rivera told celebrity magazine ¡Hola! that she and her husband owned the mansion, in Mexico City's exclusive Lomas de Chapultepec district. But Peña Nieto never included it in the statement of assets he's required to supply each year; in fact, the house technically belongs to an engineering company that is part of Grupo Higa, which according to Aristegui's report is owned by Mexican entrepreneur Juan Armando Hinojosa Cantú.

Companies in Grupo Higa won building contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars in México state during Peña Nieto's 2005-2011 term as governor there. On Nov. 3 of this year, a Chinese-led consortium won an uncontested bid for a $4 billion federal project for a bullet train; a Grupo Higa division was part of the consortium. The government suddenly cancelled the contract on Nov. 7, shortly before Aristegui's story was to be published. (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 9, from correspondent)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 16.