Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mexico and the world have expressed their outrage over state violence and corruption. So now what?

There is, sad to say, an unsatisfying narrative arc that every galvanizing crisis seems to trace in Mexico, including the current one.
    A reasonable possibility may have existed that this time would be different. Perhaps it still does. The sheer horror of the event — some four dozen teacher trainees, most barely out of adolescence, presumably murdered in the most gruesome fashion imaginable by a coalition of local government and organized crime — unleashed a new kind of popular energy, equal parts rage, empathy and determination.
    It was like lightning striking dry grassland, the landscape hyper-combustible from at least a decade of sickening violence, corruption and impunity.
    But will the aftermath be different?
    The cliché initial response to national tragedy is to say I told you so. We got that in a big way.
    This, we were told, is what happens when you let the PRI back in power. Or, we’re paying the price for 12 years of PAN government. Or, it’s no coincidence that it happened in PRD territory.
    Or . . . it’s Obama’s fault.
    I’m not making that last one up. According to UNAM law professor John Ackerman, Obama and the U.S. Congress are “directly responsible for the tragedy of the 43 missing, and likely massacred, student activists in the Mexican state of Guerrero.”
    You got to love that word “directly,” the way it takes a questionable assertion all the way over the top. Check it out here.
    It’s even a stretch to pin the tragedy on President Peña Nieto, although most of the new movement activists are doing just that. The president has done a good job of inviting contempt, first by ignoring the tragedy, then by leaving the country, then by threatening (rather than supporting) the demonstrators, and then by putting forth hackneyed, anodyne proposals that seem to be unclear on what exactly the problem is. More on that in an upcoming post.
    In a more significant sense, though, targeting Peña Nieto makes sense. The rallying cry of the uprising is that the murder of the students, along with other atrocities from recent years, are crimes of the state. And that may be the only meaningful way to look at it if you want to change things for the better.
    In this view, the difference between local, state and federal government becomes insignificant. It’s all the “state,” and Peña Nieto is head of state. What’s more, the difference between criminal gangs and corrupt state institutions is nonexistent. They’re two sides of the same coin.   
    After blame comes protest. The November 20 and December 1 marches were indeed inspiring, and they recruited much of the world to the cause. But the demonstrations have reached their dead-arm phase, as always happens, marked by endlessly repeated slogans, tiresome hash tags and self-important, well-meant pronouncements at pop concerts.
    There’s also the matter of diminishing returns. Repeated street actions tend to rankle the people who aren’t in them, especially the Mexican-style marches whose participants often prefer to annoy onlookers rather than win them over. Throw in the inevitable masked infiltrators, the ones who like to break things, and you don’t exactly have a formula for movement building.
    The post-demonstration phase in the above-mentioned narrative arc is usually a slow fade into irrelevance. Does that have to happen? Depends.
    Was the purpose of all that activity over the last two months to allow a few hundred thousand people to express their outrage? If so, mission accomplished.
    Was it to force Peña Nieto to resign? Good luck with that.
    Or was it to rid the Mexican state of impunity, corruption and violence? If so, how?
    It’s time for proposals. Followed by patience.
    But where will the proposals come from? Who will they come from? Are there leaders out there?
    And who carries the ball politically if credible initiatives do show up? The PRD was imploding even before it was compromised by the Guerrero revelations. The PAN is as weak as can be after 12 numbing years in power. And the PRI  . . . well, forget it.
    Is there a chance a movement candidate can attach himself or herself to a minor party, a la 1988? Maybe, but it couldn’t happen until 2018.
    Or could the 2015 midterms be converted to a referendum on a radical overhaul of the state, forcing every candidate to take a stance?
    That would be a piece of work, wouldn’t it? Wonder who’s up for it.

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