In Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto is struggling, and he badly needs a respite. For him, and for the entire country, 2015 will be a crucial year.
These days the president is probably betting that keeping a low profile amid the holiday festivities will cause people to forget that 31,000 Mexicans have been killed during his administration, or that he failed to deal with the disappearance of 43 college students in September. Maybe the arrival of 2015 will provide a clear slate for him, free of suspicions surrounding the fact that a government contractor financed a luxury home for his wife, and that many Mexicans are calling for his resignation. Peña Nieto is probably betting that as December brings 2014 to a close, a country famous for its festive mood around the holidays will simply let him start fresh in 2015.
And, indeed, despite its troubles, Mexico is in a festive mood. How much we Mexicans love to party! Octavio Paz, in his book “The Labyrinth of Solitude,” rightly stated that: “The lonely Mexican loves his fiestas and public gatherings. Any occasion for getting together will serve, any pretext to stop the flow of time and commemorate men and events with festivals and ceremonies. The art of the fiesta has been debased almost everywhere else, but not in Mexico.”
So, will Christmas and New Year celebrations stop the flow of time for Peña Nieto? Will Mexicans forgive and forget?
I wouldn’t count on it.
It will be impossible to forget that 2014 was a year of ineffectiveness for Peña Nieto, especially after the disappearance, and presumed killings, of dozens of college students. The official version from Mexico’s attorney general is that local authorities, working under the order of José Luis Abarca, the mayor of Iguala, captured the students on a bus and handed them over to a drug gang.
But according to a recent investigation by reporters Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher in Proceso magazine, members of the Mexican army and federal police, not just local cops, were involved or had knowledge of the attack. The federal government claims that these new allegations are false. Whether they are true or not, though, Peña Nieto has shown a stunning inability to deal with the violence. Worse, he has yet to present any sort of realistic plan to keep similar massacres from happening again. So 2015 is bound to be as bloody as 2014.
It will also be impossible to overlook the alleged conflicts of interest that have recently plagued Peña Nieto’s administration. For instance ,it was revealed in November that Grupo Higa, a government contractor, financed a house in Mexico City purchased for $4 million by Angelica Rivera, the president’s wife. In December, Luis Videgaray, the Mexican finance minister, announced that he bought a home in 2012 in Malinalco for $581,000, which was also built and financed by the contractor. In both cases, the current market value of the homes – about $7 million for Rivera’s home and as much as $1.2 million for Videgaray’s, according to reports from AristeguiNoticias.com and The Wall Street Journal – is higher than what Rivera and Videgaray claim to have paid.
There should be a thorough government investigation into the transactions in order to ascertain their legality. The problem is, of course, that nobody will launch such an investigation. But even if those transactions were legal, they are not ethical.
In addition, many voters remain convinced that Peña Nieto cheated in order to win the 2012 presidential election. Now, many more think there is something fishy going on with regard to these two properties and their connection to the Peña Nieto administration. However, according to news reports, the president has privately said that he doesn’t see any conflict, and that he won’t apologize.
In the past, most Mexican presidents have been tough, and they have never lacked power. On the contrary, many might have had too much. Peña Nieto, instead, seems to be a weak president, the butt of mockery and unable to lead such a complex nation.
His silence on controversial issues has led Mexicans to dare ask what Mexico would be like if Peña Nieto were to resign. Who would succeed him? Could an early election be called? Could the Constitution be changed? How can voters be sure that the next president wouldn’t be worse? How can Mexico have a post-Peña transition without chaos and violence?
Peña Nieto’s December bet is a mistake. Octavio Paz was right – Mexicans excel at the art of the fiesta, but every party must come to an end.
Peña Nieto will face a reality check early in 2015 – on Jan. 6, to be exact, when President Obama welcomes him to the White House. No doubt, the international press will have many questions for him, now that they have discovered that the Mexico that Peña Nieto has been trying to sell to the rest of the world is fake. After all, Paz warned us about the man who shuts himself away in order to protect himself: “His face is a mask, and so is his smile.”
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.”