Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto must be getting that “I hate when that happens” feeling right about now. Just when he was starting to get some real traction in international media on the ‘Mexico rides energy reform to emerging market stardom’ theme, suddenly we’re back to hair-raising headlines trumpeting massacres and mass executions. During his nearly two years in office, Mr. Peña has worked very hard to overcome the image of Mexico as a scary, violent place and replace it with tales of middle class growth and a gleaming economic future. Unfortunately, the president has not worked nearly as hard on addressing the underlying causes and circumstances of the eye-popping violence that continues to land Mexico in worldwide news coverage.
For those not keeping score, the latest high profile episode of terrorific bloodshed is the kidnapping and possible suspected murder of 43 students in the city of Iguala, in the notoriously rough southwestern state of Guerrero. According to the story, a large number of students were publicly collecting money from passersby when the unlucky group was attacked by municipal police. Some were killed at the scene and others were kidnapped and ended up in the hands of narco-assassins from the local cartel. A small number of students reappeared later, others are still missing, and numerous bodies have been found dumped in ditches outside of town. Head-scratching has ensued as authorities try to identify the dead. The question of why this all occurred has not been energetically pursued, apparently because at this point the massive level of pointless killing in some areas of the country is becoming an end in itself. This latest horror comes in the wake of another headline-grabber in which soldiers allegedly executed 22 bad guys firing-squad style following a gun battle in the State of Mexico. We are no procedural scholars but we suspect that in such situations, the manual says to apprehend the bad guys and turn them over to the justice system for trial, not *ahem* line them up against a wall and shoot them.
Politically, a case like the massacre of students in Guerrero normally would offer an attractive hay-making opportunity for the country’s leading leftist party, the PRD, as more evidence of the deeply rooted corruption and culture of violence of the ruling PRI. Alas, both the mayor of Iguala – who has vanished for the moment – and the governor of Guerrero were elected on the PRD ticket. Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre so far has taken a “Hey it ain’t my fault so get off my frickin’ back” approach to the mass murder, which has not won him points in public opinion.
In today’s Mexico, the wholesale slaughter of innocent and guilty alike in rural areas does not obviate the legitimacy of the booming automotive industry and cutting edge R&D laboratories in pharmaceuticals, software and electronics in other parts of the country. Both exist, but Mexico cannot be realistically portrayed as a pretender to the first world while ignoring the reality of corruption, violence and impunity in the country at large. President Peña and other elected leaders must address the country’s development as a whole, beginning with corruption and impunity. After all, if anyone knows how Mexico’s system of “dirty deeds done dirt cheap” works it is Mr. Peña’s PRI, because they are the ones who painstakingly constructed it over the course of 70 years.