A Focus on Security Sidelines Education in Mexico


Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Nov. 19th, 2014.

This was supposed to be a banner year for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. In the last quarter of 2013, his party was able to push through what were then called historical structural reforms to modernize the Mexican education system and boost the national economy and energy sector.  If 2013 was the year for lawmaking, 2014 was supposed to be the year for implementing reforms and beginning to reap their benefits.

However, instead of the anticipated stability, the end of 2014 has proven to be one of most politically turbulent times in Mexico’s recent history. There are no stories of a buoyant economy or a modernized education system to speak of.  On the contrary,  a flurry of disturbing stories have dominated the Mexican news cycle: the state-sponsored mass murder in Guerrero;  strikes at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (National Polytechnic Institute—IPN); protests and police violence at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico—UNAM);  a railway contract scandalimplicating Peña Nieto;  and waves of viral videos showing police repression, abuse and violence throughout the country.

Against this clamorous background, the $4.7 trillion peso federal budget approved last week by Mexico’s Lower House of Congress allocates 188 billion pesos to police and security projects—a 3.3 percent larger investment than the government made in 2014. Congressman Pedro Pablo Treviño Villarreal, who presided over the budget committee, specified that a portion of these additional funds would help harmonize the police and security forces among the different states and municipalities of Mexico.

The sectors taking a hit in 2015 will once again be education and tourism. In 2012, Education represented 5.2 percent of the country’s GDP. The approved budget for 2015 drops this figure to 2.8 percent, and the Tourism Ministry will receive a 9.1 percent budget cut from last year.

That’s no surprise. With the Ayotzinapa tragedy still unfolding and both the rulingPartido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and thePartido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) taking hard political hits, the Lower House decided to capitalize on the public’s concerns byraising the budget for the Victims Treatment Executive Commission from 186 million pesos to 958 million pesos—more than five times the amount proposed by the Executive Branch. Congressman Miguel Alonso Raya from the PRD said that the additional money will be used to set up an assistance fund for the families of victims of organized crime, but did not specify whether or not the families of the 43 student-teachers murdered in Guerrero would have access to the fund.

Meanwhile, the relative cuts in the education and tourism budgets stand as clear evidence that the budget is short-sighted, insofar as it focuses on throwing money at the manifestations of a problem instead of investing in long-term solutions to it. While energy and economic reforms were flying through Congress with relative ease last year, I pointed out the shortcomings in education reform, which are now beset with a lack of development funding.

Congresswoman Lucila Garfias has argued that deciding to allocate only 2.8 percent of the GDP to education reveals how little progress has been made: “When resources in the country are insufficient and the challenges are many, it is essential to prioritize the quality of public education. The decision to restrict these funds places the success of education reform at risk.” Another one of the few voices opposing the 2015 budget, CongresswomanLuisa María Alcalde Luján, chimed in to say that the composition of the budget was fueled by short-term electoral interests and that “…this budget, like the one for 2014, punishes our public universities, schools and research centers.”

It is easy to go for the apparently popular solution. It is easy to say that it is in public interest to favor short-term security over long-term education and job creation. Like many Latin American countries, Mexico is not free of populist rhetoric in its political class, regardless of which side of the political aisle you sit on. Unfortunately, the 2015 budget is once again a populist solution. And like Argentinian journalist Mariano Grondona once said, the problem is that “populism loves the poor so much, that it multiplies them.”

The PRI’s leader in Congress, Manlio Fablio Beltrones, called the 97.6 percent approval vote for the 2015 Budget “a historical consensus.” As long as fixing the education system in Mexico continues to be a lower priority, it is a historical consensus that should worry all of us.


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