Many thought 2015 was going to be a make-or-break year for Mexico. At the close of last year, there seemed to be a social awakening in the horizon, sparked by the violent disappearance of 43 student protesters and rampant government corruption. But as 2015 crept on, demonstrations dissipated and collective frustration failed to materialize into change.
No top official took the fall for drug lord Chapo Guzman’s second prison break, a self-appointed government investigation cleared the president and first lady of graft allegations, and there’s still no real answers to what happened to the missing 43 student protesters of Ayotzinapa.
The year saw several rotations of Mexico’s never-ending cycle of indignation and indifference. Unlike in other countries where corruption allegations led to investigations and political shakeups, it often seems that in Mexico no pasa nada.
Next year could be more of the same, unless the following events alter the script:
POPE FRANCIS IN MEXICO
Many are wondering which Pope Francis will arrive in Mexico in mid-February. Will it be the conciliatory diplomat who helped bring U.S. and Cuba to the bargaining table? Or perhaps the man of the people who criticized Latin America’s ever increasing wealth gap and called the intensification of Argentine drug trafficking activities a “Mexicanization” of that country’s problems.
President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is slumping in the polls, hopes the papal visit will provide him with a modest boost. A good photo-op with his holiness has helped other embattled leaders. And specially in Mexico, one of the world’s top Catholic countries, the Pope is a major influencer that can shift public perception.
But as the Pope travels from Mexico City to the more troubled states of Chiapas, Michoacan and Chihuahua, he will be forced to address the country’s marginalized communities, deadly migration routes and the drug war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
And while the Pope’s visit will mark a week of religious jubilee in Mexico, many want to know if Francis will also address The Vatican’s failures to denounce and punish child abuse scandals involving the Mexican church and a well-connected religious organization known as the Legionaries of Christ.
IMPLEMENTING THE PRESIDENT’S REFORMS
President Enrique Peña Nieto has been lauded internationally for passing a series of reforms that promise to revolutionize many of the country’s industries. But the Mexican economy is not meeting the great expectations as the peso continues to depreciate and falling oil prices take a toll on public finances and the country’s ability to effectively open its energy sector.
But the president seems determined to push on with his reformist agenda. Nowhere is this more evident than in his battle against Mexico’s corrupt and inefficient teachers’ unions. In 2016, the Mexican government will wage what could be a costly political war to regulate the education syndicates and hold teachers accountable.
It also remains to be seen if the president’s telecommunications reform attracts competition to a market mostly controlled by a few conglomerates. According to the government, cellphone and internet prices are already dropping. The administration is also pushing to finalize the so-called “analogous blackout,” the digitalization of the country’s analogical television emissions.
But technicalities aside, it remains to be seen whether this ambitious reform counters the power of billionaire Carlos Slim’s telecom companies and the influence of media giants like Televisa and TV Azteca.
BREAKING ‘THE SILENCE OF LOS PINOS’
Transparency, accountability and rule of law gave officials a headache throughout 2015. The lack of government transparency and its slowness in reacting to crises while formulating an effective communication strategy has led some analysts to coin the phrase “the silence of los Pinos” — Los Pinos is the Mexican equivalent to the White House.
Some analysts believe this “silence” is worsened by a president who operates in a tight circle of advisors, too worried about information leaks to get a diversity of good counsel.
It has also created a perception of impunity. No top official resigned over the various scandals that shook the country in 2015.
The silence is even more noticeable when it comes to the war against Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs). Mass graves continue popping up but there’s little information and clarity about the tens of thousands who have disappeared.
There are some signs that the government is inclined to improve its transparency in 2016. The Mexican Attorney General’s Office has created units to investigate forced disappearances and is allocating more resources to improve the country’s data on missing Central American migrants and unidentified corpses.
Judicial reform is also coming. The government seems to have accelerated extradition processes with the United States and will work on implementing nationwide a new system of oral trials to improve judicial transparency.
But Peña Nieto will have to break the “silence of los pinos” as a first step towards bettering the country’s stained human rights and rule of law records. In 2016 he can bring fresh minds and voices into his cabinet, choose results over loyalty.
THE SUPREME COURT’S SOCIAL ACTIVISM
Mexico’s Supreme Court in 2015 helped to nudge the country on many important social issues of the day.
The Court legalized same sex marriage in a nation that is often criticized for its inherent machismo. And it ruled in favor of recreational marijuana in a case that could set a precedent for nationwide legalization.
But the Court’s bench will be affected in 2016 when two new justices get sworn in. Some analysts believe the Court could become more conservative.
Prior to confirmation, the two justices underwent Senate hearings in which they briefly discussed a wide variety of issues ranging from reproductive rights and euthanasia to minimum wage — hot topics that could be on the docket in 2016.
PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BORDER
During the 2015 Mexican mid-term elections, a handful of independent candidates took the embattled establishment by surprise. A social media savvy cowboy nicknamed “El Bronco” won the important governorship of the northern state of Nuevo Leon. In the state of Jalisco, an unknown 25 year-old running a shoestring campaign won a seat in local congress. And a controversial soccer star became major of the city of Cuernavaca.
2016 will mark the beginning of the end of President Peña Nieto’s term. Although he still has three more years to go, both independent and traditional politicians will begin gunning for the presidency next year.
The latest polls show the early frontrunner is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist and charismatic politician who already ran unsuccessfully for the presidency twice. He’s often stigmatized by his critics as a sore loser with the political views of Hugo Chavez. But his words of warning about what would happen if Peña Nieto and the PRI party won the 2012 presidential election now seem like prescient advice to many three years later.
Mexico will get plenty of mentions as candidates contest issues like immigration and regional security. But will Mexico be an ally or a scapegoat for the next president of the United States? We’ll find out in 2016.