Between Corruption, Massacres and Forced Disappearances
Since its very beginning, the administration of the Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was marked by impunity in various corruption scandals and cases with human rights violations. As the examples show, three of the most striking crimes in the six-year presidential term (2012-2018) have been perpetrated or discovered in the second half of the 2014.
One of those involves the president Peña Nieto and his wife Angélica Rivera, and is publicly known as the White House scandal (in Spanish: el escándalo de la Casa Blanca). In November 2014, a journalistic investigation discovered that the couple was living in a 7-million-dollar mansion, registered in the name of one of the companies of the Grupo Higa, which belongs to Juan Armando Hinojosa Cantú, a construction industry businessman who received several multimillion public procurement contracts from Peña Nieto’s administration since the time Peña Nieto was a governor of the State of Mexico (2005-2011) and subsequently during his presidency.
To halt the public dissatisfaction around this scandal, Peña Nieto put one of his subordinates, Virgilio Andrade, to oversee the investigation. After several months Andrade concluded that there was no misconduct whatsoever in the White House case. On the contrary, the group of journalists that discovered the scandal, led by Carmen Aristegui and David Lizárraga got fired from MVS noticias, the broadcaster they worked for, and effectively got removed from the Mexican radio.
Shortly before, in September, other journalists acquired testimonies showing that what the Mexican Army had reported as a combat between soldiers and kidnappers in June of 2014 in Tlatlaya, turned out to be an execution of 15 people who had already surrendered themselves to the army, as it was also confirmed later by the National Commission of Human Rights. Tlatlaya is located an hour and a half from Mexico City, and a total of 22 persons were killed in the fight, all of them belonging to a criminal group.
The third case provoked the largest outcry both in Mexico and abroad. It is publicly known as Ayotzinapa, which is the name of the rural teacher training college where the victims were studying. In the city of Iguala, south of Mexico, on the night of 26 and 27 of September 2014, a group of students were attacked by criminals and local policemen. This operation was monitored and protected by state and federal police forces, as well as the Mexican Army. 6 people were killed on the spot and 43 students remain missing ever since.
The work of journalists and experts of the National Commission of Human Rights proved that the official investigation was based on forced declarations and destruction of evidence. The whole investigation was set up to conceal the relationship between the attackers and the most important heroin trafficking scheme on the American continent. The city of Iguala plays a key role as a regional storage and shipment center of the drug packages to the US’ border.
The Impunity Pact
The missing 43 Ayotzinapa students add up to a much larger figure: it is estimated that in this century more than 30 thousand people have disappeared on Mexican territory. This tendency is however aggravating. The National Database for Missing Persons reports that only in the last four years (from 2013 to 2017) 19,156 people went missing.
The lack of capabilities and political will of the authorities to shed light on these crimes puts Mexico on the fourth place in the Global Impunity Index released by the Center for Impunity and Justice Studies. Additionally, Mexico comes out as the country with the highest levels of corruption perception.
The Uruguayan researcher Edgardo Buscaglia classifies the absence of justice as “impunity pact”, where politicians, policemen, militaries, businessmen and transnational companies cover each other’s back under the assumption that the corruption truss is so complex that if one person falls will bring everyone down.
According to the human rights activist Miguel Álvarez Gándara, who has received the “National Human rights Prize 2017” from Peña Nieto, this impunity is “structural and systematic”, a generalized breakdown of the entire justice system. The consequences are observable everywhere: the most prominent case is the spread of femicides as well as the rising number of assassinations of high-profile journalists.
Such is the case of Javier Valdez – an acknowledged journalist who won the International Award for Press Freedom and was shot dead on the 15th of May 2017. Two days later, President Peña Nieto gathered the Secretaries of State, governors and ambassadors to pledge fulfillment of the promises made years before: prosecution of these crimes. Seven months later, Valdez’s colleagues denounced that the investigation of his murder was halted.
State Advertising: Carrot and Stick
One academic research and another one done by The New York Times have revealed that the government uses ultra-specialized software to spy on communications of journalists and civil society leaders. Under such complaints of some of the victims, Peña Nieto did not ask for an investigation about who the spies are, but asked for sanctions for those who, according to him, have defamed his government with such claims.
Although the journalists have been active more than ever in investigating the power abuses, this is only due to the initiative of very small groups of journalists: the mass media entertains a relationship of complicity with the authorities, while the government uses the public budget for promotion of governmental activities as a carrot and stick: to award the media who aligns with them and to punish those who disagree.