Many Mexicans are demanding the resignation of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Thousands, in fact. Why? Because Peña Nieto has proved to be an incompetent leader. He hasn’t been able to quell the country’s rampant violence or escalating corruption, and he has remained silent as criminals continue to operate with impunity.
But above all, many Mexicans are demanding that Peña Nieto resign because they are outraged at his response to the disappearance of 43 college students who were reportedly rounded up in September by local authorities in the state of Guerrero. This outrage is evident in demonstrations that have taken place across the country, as well as on social media — in testimonies, videos and tweets.
Peña Nieto has acted with breathtaking indifference and negligence to these disappearances. It took him 11 days to address the incident publicly, and 33 days to meet with parents of the disappeared. Meanwhile, he has refused to call a single news conference or conduct a single interview on the topic with any independent journalist. His entire response has been one dreadful misstep after another.
Peña Nieto has been hiding — and a president should never hide. As a journalist, I have reported on several international crises, and in such situations, leaders usually go public. They answer questions and assume responsibility. Peña Nieto has done nothing of the sort, leaving the country adrift.
Now, Mexican presidents rarely resign. They generally finish out their terms no matter what. But the Mexican Constitution does offer a way out. Article 86 states: “The office of the President of the Republic may be resigned from only for serious cause, which the Congress (before which the resignation will be presented) will certify.”
The question, of course, is whether the president’s inability to govern effectively and deal with current events in Mexico constitutes a “serious” enough cause for him to step down.
The facts seem to be on the side of those calling for his resignation. A survey conducted Mexico’s National Institute for Statistics and Geography confirmed earlier this year that violent crime had increased more in the first 12 months of Peña Nieto’s presidency than in the two last years that his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, was in office. Additionally, 10.7 million households, or 33.9%, suffered some kind of crime last year. Also in 2013: 93.8% of crimes in Mexico either went unreported or were not investigated, mostly due to widespread distrust of the authorities. According to the Department of the Interior, there were more kidnappings during Peña Nieto’s first year in office than in any of the previous six years. The data collected thus far for 2014 is also disheartening.
So exactly how many Mexicans want Peña Nieto to resign? That’s hard to know. So far, no survey has dared to ask. Since Peña Nieto took office, his presidency has been marred by suspicions that his campaign stole the election in 2012, not to mention the fact that he won a three-way race, garnering only 38% of the vote. These days it seems that the presidency is too much for him, and that is a serious problem.
After taking office, he delivered spirited speeches about economic reforms and the construction of a new airport in Mexico City. But the energy he showed early on has long since faded. In the face of violence, Peña Nieto has proved to be a weak and absent leader. He had nothing to say after the Mexican army shot 22 civilians in Tlatlaya earlier this year, and he has nothing to say about the college students in Guerrero.
Of course, Peña Nieto will never resign. And this Mexican Congress would never even suggest it. As calls for his ouster grow louder and more emphatic, the administration will simply deflect the blame onto a small group of resentful radicals. If more journalists pick up on the mood of the nation, the administration will dismiss it as nonsense and say that the media is peddling fiction.
However, a vibrant democratic movement is taking shape. On Oct. 22, thousands of demonstrators turned out in Mexico City’s Zocalo plaza to demand answers for the disappearances in Guerrero. It was one of the largest demonstrations the country has seen in years. The president can’t just ignore that.
It’s ironic that Peña Nieto, one of the youngest presidents in Mexico’s history, has lost the support of so many young Mexicans. I doubt he could visit any university to drum up support now. The future, it seems, has turned its back on him.
In demanding Peña Nieto’s resignation, many people are exercising their right to protest. We journalists, in turn, should exercise our freedom. When there is abuse of power, the role of journalism is to be anti-establishment.
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.”