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On the eve of destruction?

5 January 2017

José Gil Olmos in Proceso (translation by Rachel Alexander) on the growing protests triggered by the gas price hikes:

…it is the reaction fueled by a series of abuses of power, corruption scandals, impunity and injustice on the part of the government and the political class in general.

That is why the angry response of the people demands attention, since no reaction of this magnitude has been seen with other transcendent events, such as, for example, the tragedy of thousands of deaths, disappearances and displacements of families from the violence generated through the war on drug trafficking declared a decade ago by PAN leader Felipe Calderón and later PRI member Enrique Peña Nieto.

This protest is of people who are angry because they feel cheated by the cascade of lies the government of Enrique Peña Nieto and the legislators from all over told when they approved the energy reforms [in 2013 and 2014]: that gasoline, gas and electricity prices would not rise. They are angry when they see congressional deputies and senators giving themselves millionaire bonuses [for Christmas] and spending stratospheric amounts on luxury products [e.g. iPhones] while approving measures that affect the entire economy.

And also when the acts of corruption by public servants and the relationships between governors and other officials with drug trafficking become well-known.

(Alexander’s full translation, in “Mexico Voices“)

People are the country are angry, fed-up, and taking to the streets more than usual… that much is certain.  Less certain (I don’t have the resources to get around everywhere in this very large country, let along everywhere in the Capital, and… yeah… I do have a life, too) is whether the protests are a “mile wide and an inch deep” — likely to dissipate once people get it out of their system and sink into apathy — or something momentous.  And, perhaps something we’ll see shortly and not have to wait for historical analysis to sift through is how the government and the elites respond.

Having been around some today… a government office, a trip to the mercado, out for coffee at my favored “people watching” place… I really didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.  And my people-watching cafe is a prime locale for catching any major protest (it’s the access street between a major Metro station and the Angel of Independence).  While writing this, I took the trash out and walked the dog… the reports that all C-stores in the city were closed is obviously not true, nor that people are just afraid to go out:  the taxi stands and all-night taco and snack bars don’t appear any differently tonight than any other week-night.  But, like I said, I’m not everywhere.  So, am, as are we all, “low information consumers”… that is, all we know is what we see on TV, hear on the radio, read in the print media or on-line. 

Is PEMEX burning?  Nope... but there are burning tires out in the road.  ("El Universal" photo by Hugo García)

Is PEMEX burning? Nope… but there are burning tires out in the road. (“El Universal” photo by Hugo García)

And, I suspect the government takes advantage of that.  While unlike 1968, when conditions were similar to now — rising middle class expectations bumping up against lowered opportunities and a growing consciousness of the income gap between the haves and have nots; international political dissatisfaction with the political classes; deteriorating confidence in the state; and earlier protests against human rights violations having led to massive protests — the State is less in a position to control the narrative.  Not that it doesn’t try.

The methodology was cruder in 1968, but the process is the same. Provocateurs spread stories of widespread criminality and ungovernability to justify state repression and the forced acceptance of state policy. Reports are already circulating of “bots” spreading stories of looters in the city (not that there weren’t a few robberies here and there, especially in the new rich-people friendly shopping malls that have sprung up lately), but this is not Mexico City 1968, nor Oaxaca 2006… for the State, it’s a bit more difficult to control the narrative with nation-wide protests. 

I lived through the surreal “drug war” in Sinaloa, and it’s deja vu all over again:  in the foreign media, and on the English-language social media forums, there are long threads claiming the situation couldn’t be better for tourism (or retiring here), while at the same time, there are over-the-top reports of mass violence, and endless discussions of safety (though right now, it seems to be more “how do I get my Uber cab if ´they´  block a highway?” type things) , while the Mexican social media (and mass media) seem to be spinning the stories to fit a pre-conceived meaning. 

Maybe it’s a problem of being more attuned to History (with a capital “H”) than “current events”.  Damned if I know what it all will mean.  All I can say is right now a lot of people are angry and many are looking for change.  Whether it is just gasoline prices, or “corruption”, or a president who plays golf when he should be handing crises, they have a lot to be angry about.  I want to read in my hopes (for a sea-change in political power) and have my fears (of a Tlatloloco-style massacre), but I just don’t know what will happen.  None of us do, and even those of us who know a bit about something should be taken with some skepticism.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 January 2017 8:27 pm

    I was in Mexico City in 68, Tlatelolco to be exact. I had to go to relations Exterior to ask permission to be married. The smell of tear gas still lingered and bureaucrats were uptight. Even so Anti Americanism was at its heights, every day in the papers was something about the CIA it seemed. Never the less, people, (not government) were very friendly, tourism went on and I suspect it will go on now even with protests. The people and the government are two completely different things….just like in the USA.
    It was a time of turmoil, Everywhere, just like now, I expect to hear of more riots and shootings in the USA. As Richmex says, no one really knows what will happen. Viva la Revolution !

  2. roberb7 permalink
    8 January 2017 7:05 pm

    Good article in the _NY Times_:
    Good excerpt:
    “Here I ask you,” [EPN] said, gesturing at the camera, “what would you have done?”

    It did not take long for him to get an answer, as social media erupted with suggestions and disgust.

    Combat corruption and impunity. Eliminate gasoline vouchers for elected officials. Collect more taxes from multinational corporations. Cut the salaries and benefits of high-level government officials. Sell the presidential plane. Reduce the first lady’s wardrobe spending. Resign.


  1. On the eve of destruction? — The Mex Files | gramirezblog

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