“I don’t think pictures can lie. I’ve seen the newsreels, the photographs.” – Octavio Paz, quoted in “Massacre in Mexico”
These days we are seeing the worst of Mexico, and it’s no longer possible for the government to hide the barbarous acts taking place there.
The recent massacres in Tlatlaya, where a supposed shootout between the army and a drug gang left more than 20 civilians dead, some shot execution-style; and in Iguala, where dozens of student protesters have disappeared, reportedly delivered to a drug gang by local police, illustrate the nation’s dark side and its enduring problems with violence. Meanwhile, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government has remained mute, seemingly paralyzed and overwhelmed.
Following the disappearance of 43 students at a teaching college in Iguala earlier this month, Peña Nieto held a news conference during which he offered empty promises of justice and reporters were barred from asking questions. In fact, since Peña Nieto took office in 2012, he hasn’t held a single open news conference. This is a mistake, and his administration’s refusal to answer questions stokes fear among Mexicans.
During his tenure as president, Peña Nieto has implemented a wrongheaded communications strategy. Only rarely do the nation’s top leaders address the crimes of the drug cartels publicly. For almost two years, Peña Nieto has said nothing of substance about the violence that is crippling Mexico. He has been pretending that all is well, while the statistics tell a different story. Now these two massacres have blown up in his face. And even though mass graves are being uncovered near Iguala, Peña Nieto prefers to bury his head in the sand.
The unfortunate reality is that, as far as security is concerned, things are worse in Mexico under Peña Nieto than they were under his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. According to a survey from the National Institute for Statistics and Geography, 33.9% of households in Mexico were affected by crime in 2013, compared with 32.4% in 2012 and 30.4% in 2011. That amounts to an alarming 10.7 million households last year. Additionally, 131,946 kidnappings were reported in 2013, a 25% increase since 2012.
Meanwhile, Peña Nieto has been presenting himself, both domestically and abroad, as a reformer ushering in a new golden era for the nation. Earlier this year, Time magazine devoted its cover to Peña Nieto, with the headline “Saving Mexico.” This was as premature and gratuitous as awarding President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize years before he ordered the recent airstrikes in Syria. As long as Mexicans are killed and kidnapped in such staggering numbers, it doesn’t matter how many economic reforms Peña Nieto proposes. How can foreign businesses be persuaded to invest in energy and telecommunications in Mexico when the army and police are killing citizens? Investment favors security, not upheaval.
In addition, many Mexican voters still suspect that Peña Nieto stole the 2012 presidential election and hasn’t earned his office. For him to have any chance of winning their support, he has to at least prove that he’s up to the task of leading. Good governance can overcome concerns about legitimacy, but Peña Nieto has a long way to go, especially when it comes to addressing violence.
Mexicans have not forgotten the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City, in which soldiers and police officers opened fire on a demonstration, killing some 300 students. Nobody was ever arrested for those killings – thanks in part to the complicity of “journalists” in Mexico who never dared to practice real journalism and ask tough questions. But thanks to the efforts of one brave journalist, Elena Poniatowska, the author of “Massacre in Mexico,” we know what happened. These days many diligent people like Poniatowska can be found on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They, along with the brave reporters working in traditional media, won’t leave the perpetrators of Tlatlaya and Iguala in peace.
Silence may have worked in 1968, but it is not an effective strategy today. The situation now reeks of the old days of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. This time, however, people won’t simply accept the official line that justice will be served.
Peña Nieto has failed with regard to security. In the aftermath of Iguala and Tlatlaya, his administration has proved incompetent and negligent. And his silence is a clear indication of his ineffectiveness. What will he do to prevent such massacres in the future? How will he ensure the safety of students? What strategies will he put in place so that such heinous crimes never happen again? We don’t know. He hasn’t said.
Silence is often the worst crime of all.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s new 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.”