“When he awoke, the dinosaur still was there.”
– Augusto Monterroso
Let’s say there are two people, and one of them – a politician, perhaps – is involved in seemingly dishonest dealings, and the other person – a journalist – alerts the public about his actions. Logic would dictate that the politician should lose his job, not the journalist.
But in Mexico, where logic is flawed and power trumps transparency, people would rather kill the messenger than punish the politician.
Four months ago, journalist Carmen Aristegui and her team of investigative reporters revealed that Angelica Rivera, the wife of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, bought and financed a home in Mexico City from Grupo Higa, a government contractor. This news raised many eyebrows, since Grupo Higa has won millions of dollars in contracts with the Mexican government. Many people wondered if that home – valued at almost $7 million – had been sold under favorable conditions in exchange for government contracts. The news made headlines worldwide, and, understandably, the Peña Nieto administration came under attack.
Let’s put this in perspective: If an American journalist revealed that Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States, had bought and financed a home from a government contractor, the outcry would be enormous, and President Obama would certainly be removed from office. And the journalist who reported this story would likely be deemed a hero.
Not in Mexico. Though Aristegui became widely admired by the public for revealing this news, she lost her job. Earlier this month, she and her team were abruptly fired from their show on MVS Radio. Representatives at MVS said that that Aristegui was let go because she and her team used MVS’ name to raise money for Mexicoleaks, a new investigative journalism project, without authorization. But Aristegui denies this. She suspects that officials from the Peña Nieto administration, embarrassed by the Rivera story and other revelations, pressured MVS to fire her. Everything “makes us believe there was a government intervention,” Aristegui said in a statement. She described her ouster as an “authoritarian swat.”
A sense of logic and justice would dictate that an independent investigator or a congressional commission be appointed to thoroughly investigate the apparent conflict of interest connected to the home sale, based on Aristegui’s reporting. Again, not in Mexico. Instead, Peña Nieto designated Virgilio Andrade, an underling and member of his Cabinet, to conduct an investigation.
Of course, nobody will believe what Andrade says about the matter. He has close ties to Peña Nieto (and a big photo of the president hanging in his office, as the Spanish newspaper El País reported recently). But while Peña Nieto’s appointment of Andrade might seem highly suspicious to the outside world, it’s completely logical in the Mexican political hierarchy, which has a well-known strategy in these situations: Pretend that you’re doing something, even if you’re doing nothing. And if people realize that you’re doing nothing, twist the logic so that it suits your point of view.
For example, Peña Nieto’s administration recently complained about Pope Francis’ concern that an increase in drug-related violence in his native Argentina could lead to a “Mexicanized” nation. By Peña Nieto’s logic, it’s more important to be alarmed by how the pope’s remarks about Mexico might impact the president’s image rather than acknowledge and deal with the fact that today most violent crime in Mexico goes unpunished, and that more than 37,000 Mexicans have been killed since he took office, according to official data.
What we have in Mexico these days is a government that is always on the defensive, and a public that is becoming more and more suspicious of its leaders. And, as we have seen in the case of Argentina these days, a government that is on the defensive can be dangerous because once it becomes isolated, it will do anything to survive. That’s the situation in which Peña Nieto’s government now finds itself.
Make no mistake: People in power rarely step down when their abuses of power are exposed. No, power must often be yanked away. But the Mexican Congress and the political opposition are quite tepid and fearful, so it will be up to independent journalists like Aristegui, along with students, teachers and other citizens, to fight for a more democratic and just society. And it won’t be long before this starts to happen: Mexico is ripe for a political upheaval. Many people are outraged, and a political movement, or several, may soon emerge. Perhaps a movement similar to the populist Podemos party in Spain will be formed in Mexico – although without the Chavista links to Venezuela, and less dogmatic and more inclusive.
Meanwhile, Aristegui and her team will not be silenced. When people in power take advantage of their position, journalism must act as a watchdog. Today, a wonderful generation of young Mexicans on social media know that they are on the right side of history, and they are fighting for a new Mexico.
But it’s truly a shame that the old Mexico is not entirely dead yet. The dinosaur is still there, wounded and slapping all around.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s television news show, “America With Jorge Ramos,” and is a news anchor on the Univision Network. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books, most recently, “A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto.”