Police charge down protesters against Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico's new president. Photo: Reuters/The Guardian
When Vice-President Joseph Biden travels to Mexico this week to meet with the country's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, he will not be speaking with an enlightened democratic leader but a representative of the nation's corrupt oligarchy. The widespread image of Peña Nieto as a bold reformist struggling against the forces of nostalgic reaction is about as accurate as Vladimir Putin's presentation of Bashar al-Assad as a distinguished statesman.
After only ten months in power, Peña Nieto has driven the economy into a wall, ignited widespread social protest, ramped up human rights violations and allowed violence and corruption to spin out of control. These failures have expanded the chasm between the political class and civil society in a way that makes Mexico increasingly look like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador before the rise of Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa. The levels of citizen trust in government have reached record lows and enormous protests led by teachers, students and peasants have erupted throughout the country.
But the outcome in Mexico could be much more explosive than in these South American nations. While Chávez, Morales and Correa played by the rules and reached power through democratic elections, in Mexico the opposition is quickly losing faith in the possibility of achieving social change by electoral means. The fraud and vast irregularities committed during the last two presidential elections, in 2006 and 2012, has led many to look for alternative ways to express their demands.
After the failure of the neoliberal economic reforms of the 1980s to bring the peace and prosperity promised by the "Washington Consensus" to Latin America, most of the region turned to the political left in search of a more socially conscious alternative. Over the last 15 years, almost every country in the region has joined the "pink tide" of social-democratic governments, including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Peru, in addition to Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.
Colombia and Mexico stand out as glaring exceptions to this trend. Both countries today remain solidly within the neoliberal framework and are led by presidents who anxiously kowtow to Washington and are quick to lean on violent force to crush social or political opposition. The recent explosion of social mobilization in both countries should therefore not surprise anyone. Decades of pent-up grievances are finally rising to the surface and demanding to be heard...
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