“In Mexico, suspicion and distrust are a collective illness.”
— Octavio Paz
On April 24, Gerardo Andres Jimenez, 33, a waiter at Tamales Licha in Acapulco’s tourist district, was about to serve an order of enchiladas when he was shot and killed. According to the newspaper Reforma, the stray bullet that struck Jimenez in the heart came from gunfire outside the restaurant.
On this night of terror, multiple clashes broke out between federal police and heavily armed men linked to the drug cartels — a situation that has become dangerously common in recent years in Acapulco — and led to the temporary closure of some 3,800 of the city’s businesses and 100 schools.
But a few hours after the firefight, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was at a tourism fair in Guadalajara, lamenting the fact that so many Mexicans are in a “bad mood.”
Let me explain why things are so grim.
“They say that the [the country’s] in a bad mood … that the atmosphere is down,” Peña Nieto complained during a news conference in Guadalajara. On stage with him was a group of indigenous children. Cameras caught a young girl yawning and rubbing her eyes while the president spoke. “That girl is Mexico,” journalist Javier Risco tweeted.
Here was Peña Nieto promoting a campaign focused on boosting domestic tourism in Mexico … amid a wave of unspeakable violence. Sometimes it seems as though the president is asleep at the wheel, unaware of what’s happening in his own country and uninterested in discovering the truth.
I love vacationing in Mexico, and I do it quite often. However, residents of both Guerrero (the state where Acapulco is located) and Jalisco (where the president was speaking) have warned me that there are places that they would not dare visit due to violence.
Peña Nieto is simply disconnected from the country’s reality. The official presidential residence, Los Pinos, is his fortress of solitude — a place where everything looks rosy. As evidence, take his comments at the Guadalajara event: “There are many reasons why Mexico is moving forward, that Mexico is growing in different sectors, and one of them is tourism.”
Unfortunately, what’s truly booming in Mexico is violent crime.
Peña Nieto took office on Dec. 1, 2012. As of the end of March of this year, 57,194 people have been killed in Mexico. If this horrific pace continues, the six-year Peña Nieto administration will see even more violence than that of Felipe Calderon, in which 104,089 people were killed. (You can see the numbers from the Mexican Department of the Interior here.)
In addition, on the same day as the shootout in Acapulco, a second report was issued by the international commission investigating the case of 43 college students from Ayotzinapa who went missing in September 2014. The results didn’t do much to brighten Mexico’s mood. This tragedy and its aftermath illustrate the worst side of the Peña Nieto administration.
According to investigators, some of the suspects who were arrested in the case may have been tortured. Additionally, investigators said that the government obstructed some of the commission’s work, preventing them, for example, from talking with members of the military who may have been involved in the disappearance of the students. Sadly, Peña Nieto considers the Ayotzinapa scandal to be a public relations issue, and not about human rights and justice.
You’d be in a bad mood too if a relative or friend was among the 43 missing students — or among the other grim statistics. But Peña Nieto doesn’t see it this way. He thinks the media is to blame for Mexico’s bad mood. He naïvely believes that journalists who criticize him and his administration are aligned with the opposition, or that somebody is paying us off. No, we criticize him because he is incompetent.
Most Mexicans feel that they are worse off now than in 2013. Sixty-six percent of them disapprove of the Peña Nieto administration, according to the latest poll by Reforma.
But the current “bad mood” isn’t only connected to Peña Nieto’s defeats in his battle against crime. Many Mexicans are also fed up with the allegations of influence peddling at Los Pinos, the devaluation of the peso and the failure of the president’s aides to assume responsibility for failures on their watch.
At the tourism fair, Peña Nieto boasted that the new James Bond film “Spectre” — which was partly filmed in Mexico City — helped to burnish the country’s image recently. Maybe that’s true. And it’s great that Mexico is included in the World Tourism Organization’s new list of top 10 destinations.
Indeed, Mexico is a beautiful place. But the beauty that draws tourists is in stark contrast with the violent, unfair and uncertain reality that millions of Mexicans face.
Why are people in a bad mood? Just ask the wife and two sons of the waiter who was killed in Acapulco. They have nothing to smile about.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s weekly 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 several best-selling books. His latest book is: “Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.”