May 17, 2013
Mexico is easily the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere for reporters to ply their trade. Dozens of journalists have been killed or disappeared. Nearly every month, a newspaper or a radio or TV station is firebombed, attacked with explosives or raked with gunfire, targeted by the country’s rising criminal gangs who use violence to discourage reporting the gangsters don’t like. And the violence has worked. In much of Mexico, local news outlets no longer report on organized crime or corruption. Analysts call these areas “zones of silence,” where the lights have gone out on the dark activities within.
The success of the intimidation alarms advocates of both free speech and democracy. With no news reports on Mexico’s drug and crime problems, citizens find it difficult to stay informed about what could be life-threatening situations developing nearby. They also cannot effectively participate in the normal give and take of public discussion that fuels a democracy. The muffling has been so effective that many Mexicans don’t even realize that a near blackout of news on crime exists in swaths of the country. “If journalists don’t act as a viewfinder to say who is winning the contracts, who will become police chief, if there’s no accountability, they can do whatever they want,” said Andres Solis Alvarez, a former crime reporter and author of a self-protection manual for Mexican journalists.
To read the Mexico Institute’s newest publication on violence against journalists, click here
May 2, 2013
United States President Barack Obama travels to Latin America today for a three-day visit with stops in Mexico where he will meet with the newly-inaugurated President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and in San Jose, Costa Rica, where he will meet with the presidents of Central America and the Dominican Republic. While Mexican, Central American and US leaders look to broaden the discussion points beyond a narrow focus on security, noticeably absent in their public pronouncements have been questions about democracy and human rights.
April 8, 2013
Real Clear Politics, 4/8/13
We Americans are lucky, though we seldom reflect on it, that we have good neighbors. In East Asia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines face challenges from China over islands they have long claimed in the East China Sea. In Europe, Germany and other prosperous nations face demands for subsidies from debt-ridden nations to avoid the collapse of the Euro. When Southern Europeans look across the Mediterranean, they see Muslim nations facing post-Arab spring upheaval and disorder.
The United States has land borders with just two nations, Canada (on which more on another day) and Mexico, where Barack Obama is headed next month. They’re both good neighbors. I realize that most of the recent news on Mexico has been about violent drug wars. You get 500,000 hits when you Google Mexico “failed state.” But that’s a misleading picture. The war on drug lords waged by President Felipe Calderon from 2006 to 2012 has had considerable success and has been de-emphasized by his successor Enrique Pena Nieto. The focus on the drug war ignores Mexico’s progress over the last 25 years as an electoral democracy. For 71 years, it had one-party rule of the PRI (Party of the Institutional Revolution). Under PRI rule, a president selected by his predecessor selected his successor.
April 5, 2013
The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute and the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute are pleased to launch a working paper series on civic engagement and public security in Mexico.
The working papers analyze the range of civic engagement experiences taking place in Mexico to strengthen the rule of law and increase security in the face of organized crime violence. In the coming weeks and months, the Mexico Institute and Trans-Border Institute will release papers that address topics relating to civic participation and public security, including citizen oversight of police professionalization, community-based efforts to respond to youth gang violence, Mexico’s victim’s movements, and citizen roles in implementing judicial reform in Mexico. Together the commissioned papers will form the basis of an edited volume.
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March 11, 2013
Los Angeles Times, 3/10/2013
They elected a youthful president, a self-styled defender of democratic principles who promised to bring the country up to 21st century standards. But many Mexicans suspected that an old-fashioned dinosaur heart was beating beneath Enrique Peña Nieto’s smartly tailored suits, an inheritance from his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose top-down, quasi-authoritarian rule defined much of Mexico’s 20th century history.
On Sunday, after 100 days of living under Peña Nieto’s rule, the Mexican people have a better idea of the ways in which their 46-year-old president, and his vintage political party, plan to manage the future of the United States’ southern neighbor, a country rife with promise and peril. They are also discovering that Peña Nieto may be a kind of hybrid political creature, intent on effecting change while hewing to some of his party’s older ways.
January 24, 2013
Perspectives on the Americas, 1/23/2013
Mexico has a new government but not a new reality. Problems do not change just because a change in government has taken place. A new government, however, has the opportunity to make its own mark on national politics by exercising effective leadership to produce a change of attitude and, eventually, of reality.
Two characteristics of the new PRI are evident. The first consists of the presence of a team of politicians experienced in governmental functions. The second is the perception that the PRI activists know that the voters have granted them their last opportunity to vindicate themselves and if they fail to deliver satisfactory results, they will be voted out of power in the next election. Both traits suggest that there will be great activism and skill in the PRI’s management of public matters; however, nothing guarantees that they will do the things that are needed to achieve their objective.
November 14, 2012
Americas Quarterly, 11/12/2012
Ever since Aristotle, conventional wisdom has been that a robust middle class is a sine qua non for stable democracy. Put simply: no middle class, no democracy. For decades, modernization and democratization theorists believed the prospects for stable democracy were grim in Latin America since there was “no middle class to speak of.”1 Conversely, others found evidence of a growing middle class, but warned about the potential for political destabilization in the face of middle-class mobilization2 and the breakdown of cross-class alliances.3 And more recently, multilateral banks and the media have hailed the growth of the middle class in Latin America, attributing it to a felicitous mix of economic stability, economic growth and innovative social programs.
September 4, 2012
The Economist, 9/1/2012
Former President Zedillo
By the time the shooting had finished, 45 men, women and children lay dead or dying deep in the jungle. The massacre at Acteal, a hamlet in Chiapas, was the worst single act of violence during the unrest that shook Mexico’s far south in the 1990s. Zapatista guerrillas had declared war on the federal government on New Year’s Day, 1994. The fighting was brief, but sympathisers on each side then used the conflict to settle differences over land, religion and much else. The government’s supposed ties to the killers who on December 22nd 1997 opened fire on Acteal, a place mainly sympathetic to the Zapatistas, have never been fully established.
Nearly 15 years later, the Acteal murders could be tried in a court 2,000 miles away in Connecticut. Ernesto Zedillo, who was Mexico’s president from 1994 to 2000, is now a professor at Yale University. His residence in the state has given ten Tzotzil-speaking Indians, who claim to be survivors of the 1997 massacre, an opportunity to sue him in a civil court in the United States. They are seeking about $50m and a declaration of guilt against Mr Zedillo.