Is Peña Nieto Facing a Mexican Spring?


Originally published by Americas Quarterly on December 4th, 2014.

Two years ago, Enrique Peña Nieto took office as Mexico’s president, under the banner of a renovated Partido Revolucionario Institucional(PRI) and with a promise of a brighter economic, social and political future.

Only two months after he took office, Thomas L. Friedman remarked on that promise in an article titled “How Mexico Got Back in the Game.” And who can forget Timemagazine’s February 2014 cover, featuring Peña Nieto with the headline “Saving Mexico”? In that feature, author Michael Crowley said that on the security issues, “alarms are being replaced with applause” and that the social, political and economic reforms package steamrolled through a PRI-dominant Congress were preview of great things to come.

The media prematurely started calling this era “Mexico’s moment.” Granted, we are living quite an interesting moment in Mexico’s history, but not for the reasons the 2012 optimists foresaw.

A recent series of events and decisions stemming from the political elite at local, state and federal levels has detonated into what could evolve into a Mexican version of the Arab Spring. In Friedman’s piece, he quoted the president of Monterrey’s Center for Citizen Integration saying that “Once a citizen feels he is not powerless, he can aspire for more change. […] First, the Web democratized commerce, and then it democratized media, and now it is democratizing democracy.”

This is exactly what’s happening. A newly empowered Mexican civil society is reacting and saying enough is enough.

Some of the things I will discuss in this piece are not making their way to mainstream media, or they are being distorted and minimized, but they are gaining momentum in the open forum of Mexican social media—clearly demonstrating the growing divide between institutions and a fed-up and empowered rebellious citizenry.

The apparent state-sponsored mass murder of 43 rural students from Ayotzinapa was not the result of Peña Nieto’s mandate or decisions. The horrible events occurred in the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD)-run state of Guerrero, and the alleged intellectual authors of the massacre where the now-deposed and incarcerated PRD mayor of Iguala,José Luis Abarca, and his wife.

However, the president’s reaction to the crisis is proving to be more than a challenge for his office. Protesters are holding him accountable and expecting answers from him and only him.

When the massacre reached mass media, political groups in the elite saw it as an opportunity to attack their opponents. Two-time presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for Peña Nieto’s resignation, saying the president was not equipped to deal with the Ayotzinapa case. The PRI apparatus returned the blow, flooding the Web with a picture of Abarca and López Obrador hugging during a political rally and arguing that the two politicians were not only members of the same political party, but close friends and political allies.

While this game of political finger-pointing was going on, the families of the 43 students—and, quite frankly, most Mexicans—were more interested in what the federal government was doing to advance the investigation and to deliver credible results.

When days turned into months and the public still had no answers, two incidents collided and became a perfect storm for the president.

On November 7, 33 days after the Ayotzinapa students disappeared, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam gave a press conference in which he declared that the students’ bodies had been thrown in a mass grave and cremated, citing confessions from local gang members as evidence. Families of the students, who had expected empathy and hope, were instead subjected to a crude account of how their loved ones had been abducted, transported, tortured, maimed and murdered.

Murillo continued to share testimonies of apprehended criminals, describing the way the bodies were doused with gasoline and set ablaze. At the conclusion of the press conference, Murillo dodged questions challenging the credibility of his statements, only to abruptly end the session by getting up from his chair and murmuring “I’ve had enough” (Ya me cansé).

Though Murillo later said that his words were an expression of his frustration with the violence, #Yamecansé immediately became a trending topic on Twitter. Enraged Mexicans shouted they, too, had had enough of the political elite, of organized crime in bed with the government, and of being lied to and patronized.

The second PR disaster came two days later, when journalist Carmen Aristegui uncovered acase of alleged corruption and nepotism involving Peña Nieto’s wife, Angélica Rivera. Aristegui revealed that the construction company Grupo Higa, which had won a  multimillion dollar bid to construct a high-speed rail project in the PRI-governed state of Nuevo León, had also built Rivera’s now famous $7 million “Casa Blanca” mansion.

As if the Casa Blanca accusation wasn’t bad enough, Peña Nieto decided not to directly respond to it. Instead, the strategy from the president’s office was to have the First Lady provide an explanation, in a failed attempt to put distance between the accusation and the president.  The Rivera’s nonsensical YouTube video explanation of how she came to possess enough money to buy the house through acting in telenovelas, created an outcry on social media, showing that nobody bought the First Lady’s explanation. Instead, the video became yet another symbol of the effrontery with which the political class approaches their constituency, stirring up frustration and indignation.

The #Yamecansé and #CasaBlanca hashtags sparked massive social mobilizations and marches in the state of Guerrero, in Mexico City and in major cities across the country and abroad. Some have compared these mass protests with the #YoSoy132 movement of 2012.

The similarity between the two movements is the fact that Peña Nieto is the main target of criticis—but it would be more accurate to compare the current movement with the Arab Spring. #YoSoy132 was fueled by electoral politics, with the goal of preventing Peña Nieto from winning office. After Peña Nieto was elected, the movement did not die completely, but it became more symbolic than effective.

Today, enraged and politically alienated youth are amassing in a more organic way, and their reasons for protesting will not dissipate after electoral polls close. Local, state and federal incompetence and corruption have created more reasons than ever for people to take to the streets and demand a change.

There is no sign of this trend reversing. In fact, all strategies used by the government to tackle the protests only seem to aggravate them.  With accusations of police beating up and arresting peaceful protesters, Peña Nieto’s presentation of a security reformthat would unify local police forces was met with skepticism. The spokesperson for the relatives of the Ayotzinapa victims called the measure “like his words—false,” and a move by Mexico’s lower house of Congress to revise rules on social mobilization (Senate approval pending) was received as a threat to freedom of speech and freedom of movement.

Why aren’t these strategies working? In part, because they were the wrong solutions to begin with. In his recent op-ed in El Economista, the founder and president of the Mexican think tank Instituto de Pensamiento Estratégico Ágora A.C. (IPEA ), Armando Regil Velasco, identified the root cause of the prolonged problem:

“When your moral authority is so fragile, it doesn’t matter what you say. Skepticism will impose itself and little to nothing will be believable. [The Federal government] lacks honesty, courage and determination.”

The Mexican political elite, with Peña Nieto heading the list, has lost whatever  trust the citizenry once had in them. The phrase “more crooked than a politician” has risen to new heights in today’s Mexico, and those brave enough to mobilize are finding more and more reasons to do so as more cases of corruption and inadequacy develop.

After two years of Peña Nieto’s government and with the current social chaos the country is facing, I wonder where those 2012 notions of “Saving Mexico,” “Mexico’s moment” and “getting back in the game” have ended up. The best place to look for them is probably in the gutter.

La mejor manera de pasar un cumpleaños


Hoy ha sido un día de grandes satisfacciones. Empecé el día al lado de mi bebé que me regalaba sonrisas al tiempo que se tomaba su biberón. Un poco después se nos unió mi esposa que me dio dos excelentes regalos… de esos que se nota que fueron pensados específicamente en ti. Durante el día he recibido una infinidad de muestras de cariño de familiares, compañeros y amigos que se tomaron el tiempo para mandarme un mensaje o llamarme. También tuve una mañana muy productiva en la oficina sacando pendientes importantes antes de cerrar el año. De verdad, un gran GRAN día.

Pero les quiero platicar muy brevemente de otra cosa que hice el día de hoy… y se los platico no con las intenciones de proyectarme magnánimo ni mucho menos. Si les comento de esta experiencia, es sólo porque obtuve de ella TANTO, que me parece egoísta no compartirla invitando a que ustedes consideren hacer algo similar en su cumpleaños. Por lo pronto, yo pretendo hacerlo una tradición en el mío.

Anoche reflexionaba acerca del hecho de que en este año he recibido mucho de muchas personas y del tiempo que he podido pasar alrededor de la gente que quiero y haciendo las cosas que me gustan. Ha sido un año sumamente gratificante en todos los sentidos. Guardar tanta gratitud en una sola persona es muy difícil así que anoche decidí que dedicaría una parte de mi cumpleaños a dar, aunque fuese un mínimo detalle y en poco tiempo.

Después de comer con compañeros de la oficina y de sacar algunos pendientes, fui a una pastelería y compré un montón de bolsas de pequeñas hojarascas. Un poco antes de las 3:30 de la tarde llegué al Hospital San José (lugar en donde varios familiares y amigos han sido atendidos) y me dirigí a la sala de espera de la Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos. Ahí, en distintos y pequeños grupos, había alrededor de 25 personas, en espera por obtener noticias de sus seres queridos que estaban siendo atendidos.

De manera respetuosa y tratando de ser lo menos intrusivo posible, fui visitando a cada una de estas personas, a quienes ofrecí las galletas como regalo y les di palabras de aliento, deseando la próxima recuperación de sus pacientes. Pasé tan sólo alrededor de una hora con ellos, pero quiero decirles que fue un momento INCREÍBLE. Todas las personas ahí me mostraron enorme gratitud por lo que no era más que un pequeño detalle… algunas estaban confundidas y me veían inicialmente de manera incrédula. Otras me preguntaban por mis familiares y me deseaban que ellos también mejoraran, sorprendiéndose aún más al aprender que afortunadamente ningún familiar mío estaba internado. Recibí bendiciones, palabras de agradecimiento y una señora mayor, con la que estuve platicando un rato más que con los demás, me felicitó y me dijo que hacía mucho que no veía una acción desinteresada de una persona a otra. Realmente me llegó al corazón y me hizo reflexionar BASTANTE sobre la necesidad que tenemos de rescatar el sentido cívico en nuestra comunidad. Me preguntó por qué lo hacía y al explicarle que era algo que había querido hacer para festejar mi cumpleaños, la señora (a pesar de lo que a su edad esto significaba en esfuerzo) se paró de su lugar y me regaló un abrazo.

Es evidente que nuestras acciones individuales no necesariamente resuelven los grandes problemas que aquejan a nuestra sociedad pero es muy fácil olvidar que la gente que nos rodea, a veces no necesita que les resolvamos esos problemas. A veces una sonrisa, un abrazo o un pequeño detalle son suficientes para volver a depositar la esperanza en aquellos que pueden haberla momentáneamente extraviado. A veces la gente sólo necesita una mirada empática… y eso, no cuesta nada.

Mis mejores deseos a todos ustedes. Que tengan un 2015 lleno de satisfacción, de grandes logros y de muchas razones para sentirse orgullosos y agradecidos. Que sea un año en que avancemos como sociedad y nos acerquemos de nuevo a lo que debería de ser una comunidad.

Con cariño y respeto,


P.S. En este blog y a través de mis redes sociales el día de hoy compartí una serie de ligas a organizaciones cuyo trabajo considero valioso. Muchas gracias a quieres se sumaron al proyecto y las han apoyado el día de hoy. Si todavía no lo hacen, por favor consideren la información contenida aquí.

It’s my birthday so please… Give a little bit.


Today, December 30th, is my birthday. Happy birthday to me. This year, I want to try to make the day count so please, if you can, indulge me on my very special day by giving a little bit.

Your generosity would be my greatest birthday gift and I would be extremely thankful if you could take a couple of minutes to consider donating to one of the following organizations/causes:

VOLUNTARY DONATIONS (These are organizations I’ve either donated to, worked with and/or know well enough to trust. Their work is really valuable and worthy of your generosity)

FREE DONATIONS (All you have to do is CLICK and companies will donate for you)

Since I do not monitor traffic to any of these sites, there will be no way for me to know if you donated to them or not but in all truth, me knowing about it is not the objective so I’m ok with that. But hopefully you were able to take 2 minutes of your time on my birthday and through small but significant actions, help make a change.

Want to do more? Tell your friends about this project! Invite them to participate!

Happy birthday to me and thanks!


Why I Wasn’t a Fat Kid in Mexico


Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Nov. 27th, 2014.

I grew up in Manzanillo and Monterrey, two Mexican cities that are opposites in many ways. Manzanillo is on the southwest coast of Mexico; Monterrey is in the dry northeastern desert. Manzanillo is a small town; Monterrey is one of the country’s most important urban industrial centers. In Manzanillo, people are laid back and relaxed, whereas Monterrey’s citizens are famous for being laborious, high-strung and dynamic.

When I was growing up, Monterrey and Manzanillo did have one thing in common, though: the general rule was that children played outside. Without even asking for permission, we would leave the house (which was always unlocked), and the world was our playground.

We did have some rules: don’t talk to strangers, don’t go farther than two blocks from home—but that was about it. We rode bikes and skateboards, played soccer in the street, set up a lemonade stand, and played tag and hide-and-seek. We also had videogames and TV, but they were limited to a couple of hours a day, and we really didn’t complain about it (mostly because TV programming and videogames were so limited back then).

In 2013, Mexico surpassed the United States as the most obese nation in the Americas. Because I was born with asthma, I wasn’t the most active kid. Yet I still grew up extra-skinny, and so did most of my friends.

What happened to Mexico’s children in the last 30 years? Based on my personal experience and observations, here are a few of the multiple causes of child obesity in Mexico today.

The school system: It is no mystery that Mexico’s school system is in trouble. We have substandard teachers, no accountability, and funding that is often diverted to teachers’ unions—the list goes onl. If you go to a public school during recess in Mexico, you’ll find a basketball court, which will add to numbers mentioned in any government report. Yet those numbers tell a half truth: the court will have baskets with no backboards and broken rims—and, most likely, the school won’t have basketballs available for the kids to play with. Usually, you’ll just see the boys playing kickball on a dirt patio with improvised goals (usually two rocks set apart from each other), and the girls will be on the sidelines, chatting and eating chips.

According to the Federal Program for Sports and Physical Culture 2014-2018, some of our national sports system’s flaws include the lack of school and municipal sports leagues, deficient attention to school sports programs, insufficient federal funding, obsolete state legislation to promote sports, social inequality and a scarcity of female participation in sports, and the absence of physical education in the school curricula.

The food industry and NAFTA: Before 1994, if I wanted to eat a box of Lucky Charms, I had to cross the border into the United States. We did not have direct access to many of the U.S. food products that are now available in every supermarket nationwide, thanks to NAFTA.

A pre-packaged “Lunchable” is much easier to stick in a lunchbox than what I grew up with. When I went to primary school, my lunchbox was full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and my thermos bottle contained lemonade squeezed from real lemons. Today, kids are taking artificially flavored drinks and foods to school on a daily basis.  According to pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig, the U.S. food industry is in great part responsible for turning sugar into a staple food in Americans’ diets. Thanks to NAFTA, all that sugar is now easily accessible to Mexicans, and we’re devouring it.

TV on demand and the technological revolution:  I recently took my kids on vacation and we were staying at a hotel. My three-year-old son told me he wanted to watch a specific kids’ program. We have TV on demand at home, so it was a challenge to explain to him that the only programming available was what was playing in real time: live TV (none of which was interesting to him). Videogame consoles and TV programming for children have existed for much longer than the obesity problem, so the difference has to be the availability and portability of entertainment that encourages kids to be sedentary. I had my first cell phone when I was 17 years old. “Let me get my iPad” is now commonplace talk among middle- and upper-class eight to ten year olds.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Health and Nutrition, children and young adults are straying from physical and recreational activity. Instead, they play videogames, watch television and spend time on the Internet. The survey estimated that 58.6 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 14 do zero physical or sports activities.

Insecurity and loss of childhood independence: Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that insecurity—and the perception of insecurity—has turned children into hostages of playdate agendas.

When I was 12, I would get home from school, have lunch and then say goodbye to my folks, only to see them again after 7 pm. My everyday life included walking to a bus stop eight blocks away, getting on a bus in order to go to a friend’s house, then walking to a basketball court and playing for a couple of hours—and getting into trouble in multiple creative ways.

Were my parents irresponsible? Was I a neglected child? Of course not. I was free, because the era in which I grew up in allowed me to be. My parents had little to worry about.

My kids are not as fortunate as I was. Unless they live in private, gated communities, Mexican kids are no longer allowed to walk out their door unattended—because today, parents have serious reasons to fear for their kids’ safety. The rise of violence and crime in hotspots in the country has made us (reasonably) more paranoid, so kids now have play dates—specific and limited times during the week when they can get together with their friends. Hopefully, they engage in some physical activity and don’t just glue themselves to game consoles in the living room.

In this new Mexico, where child obesity is a reality, parents need to play a more active role in making sure their kids get out and play, eat healthy food, and detach themselves from their gadgets and TV. No one else is going to do it for them.