June 2, 2015
A group of civil society organizations and ordinary citizens denounced on Monday the suspension of a key provision of the sweeping education reform package signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto in September 2013. The provision—which provided for the evaluation of Mexican teachers and linked raises and promotions to candidates’ performance on these evaluations—was suddenly and indefinitely suspended last Friday by the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Public Education Secretariat—SEP).
In a statement released yesterday, organizations including México Evalúa (Mexico Assesses), a public policy think tank, the Instituto Mexicano de la Competitividad (Mexican Institute for Competitiveness) and Mexicanos Primero (Mexicans First) asserted that the suspension of teacher evaluations “nullifies the education reform, betraying millions of students in our country.”
The move has also been denounced by the Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación (National Institute for the Evaluation of Education—INEE), an autonomous organization created by the education reform package. “The measure that has been announced is an assault on the INEE’s competency and a violation of its constitutional autonomy,” the INEE declared in a statement on Saturday.
The introduction of standardized teacher evaluations has been a hot button issue since the beginning, generating strong opposition from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers—CNTE) a dissident faction of the national teachers’ syndicate that largely represents teachers from Mexico’s poorer, southern states. Teachers in the states of Michoacán, Oaxaca and Guerrero remained on strike after the original reform package passed, claiming that the reforms were discriminatory towards teachers from these poorer, more Indigenous regions.
More recently, the CNTE had threatened to disrupt the upcoming June 7 elections. On Monday, CNTE members in Oaxaca reportedly broke into two electoral offices in the state—destroying ballots and other electoral materials—and blockaded several more.
May 27, 2015
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met Tuesday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico City to foster a closer relationship between the two largest markets in Latin America and the Caribbean. This event was Rousseff’s first official visit to Mexico since she first became president in 2011.
Rousseff kicked off her official visit to Mexico on Monday evening and was welcomed by the Minister of Foreign Relations José Antonio Meade. She arrived with a delegation of business representatives interested in exploring investment opportunities in Mexico.
On Tuesday, Rousseff and Peña Nieto signed investment agreements and other accords to increase air travel and tourism. They also agreed to review their bilateral preferential trade agreement (the acuerdo de complementación económica Brasil–México, known as ACE 53) in an effort to lower tariffs overall and extend reduced tariffs to over 6,000 new products. As ACE 53 currently stands, less than half of the products that Brazil exports to Mexico are included in the list of goods with reduced tariffs.
Together, the Brazilian and Mexican economies comprise 62 percent of Latin America’s GDP and make up 58 percent of Latin America’s exports. The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $9.2 billion in 2014, up from $ 5.7 billion in 2006. With the new agreements, the countries hope to double their trade within the next decade.
January 28, 2015
Mexican officials confirmed on Tuesday that the 43 students who disappeared in the southern state of Guerrero on September 26 are dead. Citing confessions and forensic evidence, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam concluded that the group of students was murdered and incinerated by a local gang who mistook the students for a rival gang.
The state’s extensive investigation—which involved 39 confessions, 386 statements, 16 raids, 487 forensic examinations, and 99 arrests—provides evidence that “allows us […] without a doubt to conclude that the students were deprived of their liberty, killed, incinerated and thrown into the San Juan River,” Murillo Karam announced at a press conference. The attorney general also denied the involvement of the federal army in the attack.
Relatives of the missing students and thousands of others marched on Monday—marking the fourth month since the students’ disappearance—demanding government action and concrete proof of what happened. Many remain skeptical of the government’s announcement, including fire experts, the lawyers representing the families, and the Argentine forensic anthropologists who were hired by parents to work with federal investigators to verify the fate of their children. The remains of only one student have been identified.
So far, authorities have arrested 99 people for suspected involvement in the students’ deaths, including the mayor and first lady of Guerrero. The Iguala mass kidnapping has sparked protests in Mexico and abroad since September, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been criticized for his mishandling of the case. Peña Nieto responded to protests on Tuesday by saying that “[Mexico] cannot remain trapped [in Ayotzinapa].”
January 9, 2015
More than Christmas, Three Kings Day on Tuesday was the holiday to celebrate if you come from Latin America. Starting in Mexico and going south, the holiday—the Dia de los Reyes Magos—commemorates the New Testament story in Matthew that describes the visit of three wise men to Bethlehem to see the newborn baby Jesus. Each one bears a gift for the Christ child. It is also known as the Feast of the Epiphany.
So I wondered whether Tuesday's meeting between President Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto bestowed anything more than symbolic gifts during this first official visit by Mexico's leader to the United States.
Can Peña Nieto's offer to prevent a surge of illegal immigration from Mexico actually be implemented? The Obama administration fears that with the president's recently signed executive action, many Mexicans may be falsely lured into thinking that they can now enter illegally and get a work permit. Did Obama's offer to help Mexico with a new public relations campaign to protect its southern border from migrants from El Salvador and Honduras symbolize another gift on Three Kings Day? Did both leaders promise to help finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement that presents economic opportunities for both nations? The answer to all these questions is yes. They are important steps forward in the bilateral relationship with our neighbor and third-largest trading partner.
But the real gifts that Mexico needed on this holiday of giving were not in hand, in spite of the willingness of both countries to work together to improve economic gains and better cross-border relations. The gift of democratic governance is something that cannot be bestowed from the outside. This is something that the United States has learned the hard way, from Iraq to Afghanistan to other parts of the world where we have been generous with our assistance but more often disappointed by the results.
December 12, 2014
Mexican President Peña Nieto laid out his ten point plan to tackle injustice and corruption in the country last month as part of his response to the murder of 43 students in Iguala, Mexico. Although the plan has been derided for lacking true punch and political support, one less discussed, but significant, piece of the plan is the proposal to create Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in three of Mexico’s poorest states.
Mexico is still a country of have and have-nots. With a Gini coefficient of .48, Mexico is the second most unequal country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This inequality becomes self-evident as one drives from northern Mexico to the country’s southern border—cities give way to the rural countryside, factories turn into crop fields, and paved roads turn into gravel.
Guerrero, Chiapas, and Oaxaca are among Mexico’s economically worst-performing states. GDP per capita is less than a quarter than that of the capital in all three states, and they score lowest on the human development index. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), approximately 80 percent of the labor force in each state is employed in the informal sector, compared to the national average of 58 percent. More than twelve million people live in poverty or extreme poverty in just these three southern states.
December 4, 2014
Two years ago, Enrique Peña Nieto took office as Mexico’s president, under the banner of a renovated Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and with a promise of a brighter economic, social and political future.
Only two months after he took office, Thomas L. Friedman remarked on that promise in an article titled “How Mexico Got Back in the Game.” And who can forget Time magazine’s February 2014 cover, featuring Peña Nieto with the headline “Saving Mexico”? In that feature, author Michael Crowley said that on the security issues, “alarms are being replaced with applause” and that the social, political and economic reforms package steamrolled through a PRI-dominant Congress were preview of great things to come.
The media prematurely started calling this era “Mexico’s moment.” Granted, we are living quite an interesting moment in Mexico’s history, but not for the reasons the 2012 optimists foresaw.
A recent series of events and decisions stemming from the political elite at local, state and federal levels has detonated into what could evolve into a Mexican version of the Arab Spring. In Friedman’s piece, he quoted the president of Monterrey’s Center for Citizen Integration saying that “Once a citizen feels he is not powerless, he can aspire for more change. [...] First, the Web democratized commerce, and then it democratized media, and now it is democratizing democracy.”
This is exactly what’s happening. A newly empowered Mexican civil society is reacting and saying enough is enough.
November 19, 2014
This was supposed to be a banner year for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. In the last quarter of 2013, his party was able to push through what were then called historical structural reforms to modernize the Mexican education system and boost the national economy and energy sector. If 2013 was the year for lawmaking, 2014 was supposed to be the year for implementing reforms and beginning to reap their benefits.
However, instead of the anticipated stability, the end of 2014 has proven to be one of most politically turbulent times in Mexico’s recent history. There are no stories of a buoyant economy or a modernized education system to speak of. On the contrary, a flurry of disturbing stories have dominated the Mexican news cycle: the state-sponsored mass murder in Guerrero; strikes at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (National Polytechnic Institute—IPN); protests and police violence at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico—UNAM); a railway contract scandal implicating Peña Nieto; and waves of viral videos showing police repression, abuse and violence throughout the country.
Against this clamorous background, the $4.7 trillion peso federal budget approved last week by Mexico’s Lower House of Congress allocates 188 billion pesos to police and security projects—a 3.3 percent larger investment than the government made in 2014. Congressman Pedro Pablo Treviño Villarreal, who presided over the budget committee, specified that a portion of these additional funds would help harmonize the police and security forces among the different states and municipalities of Mexico.
October 9, 2014
Thousands took to the streets across Mexico on Wednesday over a group of 43 students that have been missing since September 26, when student protestors clashed with police in the town of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. The incident left six dead—including three students and three locals—and 56 students reported missing. As a result, the Peña Nieto administration has faced increasing criticism domestically and internationally.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the government in an 11-page letter to Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, Mexico’s Interior Minister, saying that despite attempts by the president to find missing persons and aid their families, success has been marginal, not only in the case of Iguala but in recent years with increased numbers of disappearances and an inadequate system for dealing with and preventing such cases. “Mexico is facing a national human rights and security crisis that demands a far more serious response from the federal government,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of HRW’s Americas division. The Organization of American States and the United States government have also put pressure on Mexican authorities to locate the missing students.
Although 13 students have since returned home, the whereabouts of 43 are still unknown and some claim to have last seen those missing being driven away in police vehicles following the September clash. On Saturday 28 bodies were found in shallow, mass graves outside of Iguala, but were burned too badly to be identified, although many believe they are the remains of some of the missing students.
Earlier this week, President Enrique Peña Nieto deployed federal troops to Iguala and 30 people have been detained in relation to the incident. “Like all the Mexican society, I am shocked by this situation and I can assure you that there will be no impunity,” said president Peña Nieto on Twitter.
September 25, 2014
In his first address to the UN General Assembly, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced yesterday that Mexico is prepared to participate in UN Peacekeeping Missions. He noted that Mexico’s collaboration would be limited to “humanitarian work,” nevertheless qualifying the announcement as “a historic step in [Mexico’s] commitment to the UN.” According to the Mexican news site Animal Político, such collaborations could involve deploying military or civilian personnel. In a separate announcement, the Mexican Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs—SRE) said the country will step into this new role “gradually.”
The announcement marks the clearest reversal so far of Mexico’s decades old policy of non-intervention in foreign matters. The last time the country participated in a UN Peacekeeping mission was in Kashmir in 1949. Since then, Mexican forces have been deployed abroad to aid in humanitarian crises, such as after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. However, until now, the idea of Mexicans donning the UN’s blue helmets has been practically taboo.
In an editorial in El Universal that coincided with Peña Nieto’s announcement, the former Mexican ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan called explicitly for Mexico's participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Framing the issue in terms of Mexico’s role as an emerging world leader, he wrote, “we cannot chart the future of our foreign policy out of a foreign policy from the past.” Meanwhile, the president of the Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Senado (Senate Human Rights Commission), Senator Angélica de la Peña, warned that, “a decision such as this cannot be taken unilaterally, and should obligate us to promote a public discussion about its ramifications vis-à-vis our pacifist tradition and vocation.” The senator also noted that any future participation in a UN Peacekeeping mission would require the Senate’s approval.
May 16, 2014
Mexico’s Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers–CNTE), the powerful teacher’s union, took to the streets of Mexico City yesterday to protest President Enrique Peña Nieto’s educational reform, including a 3.5 percent increase in teachers’ wages. The leaders of the union sent a message to the president calling the increase “a joke.”
The education reform seeks to professionalize Mexico’s teachers, some of who have been accused of being "maestros aviadores" (aviator teachers) because they regularly fail to attend class. The protests in the capital come a month after local governments in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán, Sonora, Zacatecas and Baja California were taken to court by the Peña Nieto’s administration for not adhering to the rules of the reforms, and the laws of the “Servicio Profesional Docente” (Professional Teaching Service).
The educational reform project began with an agreement among Mexico’s three main political parties, known as the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico). The reforms have faced stiff opposition, especially in southern Mexico where protests in Guerrero have turned violent and over a million students in Oaxaca missed nearly two months of class in September and October of last year. After taking to the streets on May 15, teachers threatened to call for more powerful protests and mobilizations against the Peña Nieto government.
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