The hard working staff here at Spoiler Alerts is in Mexico City for a Global Mexico conference. It is an interesting time to be in the country.
The country is still reeling from the aftershocks of last week’s release of a 600-page report on 43 students who vanished in the state of Guerrero in 2014 under extremely murky circumstances. After initially welcoming an international investigation by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his administration proved less than cooperative. The New York Times’ Kirk Semple and Elisabeth Malkin reported on the discrepancies between the IAHRC’s findings and the Mexican government’s own official inquiry:
Among their other findings in their 608-page report, the experts said they had uncovered new evidence that pointed to a greater role by federal security forces in the events of Sept. 26-27, 2014, despite the Mexican authorities’ insistence that the crimes committed that night were local in nature.
The experts also lamented the lack of investigation into the possible culpability of all but low-level officials.
“You must look for not only the direct authors of an action but also for those who led, supported or ignored the signs of human rights violations,” the panel wrote.
In a New York Times op-ed last week, Ginger Thompson argued that although the report had reverberated throughout Mexico, the government was primed to redirect attention away from the scandal toward — wait for it — Donald Trump:
Government officials appear to be more concerned with Mr. Trump’s sweeping statements about their country and its people — among them, referring to Mexicans as “rapists.” These are, of course, unfounded and offensive. But how can Mexico’s image really improve when its leaders fail to demonstrate some level of commitment to ending the abuses and impunity that matter most to its own people? ….
What came across in conversations with Mexicans I spoke to — and these are mostly people who live in cities, not rural communities — is a cynicism toward the idea that things can get better, and an exhaustion with stories about abuses and corruption. Mr. Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, may be less relevant, but it pushes Mexico’s nationalistic buttons. Mexicans are taught from grade school to be leery of Uncle Sam. It’s easy to take Mr. Trump’s rhetoric as a personal attack, and demand that the government do something about it.
Maybe it’s because Mexico’s Foreign Ministry is helping to organize this conference, but my experience has been somewhat at variance with Thompson. What’s surprised me is how little Trump has been mentioned. To be sure, there were a lot of conversations about the scope and propriety of foreign comments on Mexican affairs. This focus was not on Trump so much as the human rights report, however.
The consensus among a panel of former Mexican foreign ministers was that this report did not violate Mexican principles of nonintervention into domestic politics. Another panel noted that Mexico, by embracing both NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, had invited the outside world to take an interest in Mexican affairs. Indeed, one Mexican ambassador noted that the country needed more transparency, and that the “Americanization” of Mexico was a positive good. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Mexican history might be surprised to hear that sentiment — and the fact that many other Mexican panelists echoed that sentiment.
Trump, on the other hand, barely came up in the conversation. There was an entire panel devoted to migration issues, and yet the Republican presidential nomination front-runner was mentioned only in passing. Indeed, the Mexican perspective on this issue is largely one of frustration that the U.S. debate is about a decade out of date. As one of the panelists noted, when it comes to migration, at this point Mexico, “is less a country of origin and more a country of transit and a country of return.” Not that this will affect GOP rhetoric on this issue one iota.
Compared to much of the rest of the region, Mexico is doing pretty well. Nevertheless, the country is grappling with a very unpopular set of politicians and a deserved erosion of trust in its public institutions. So, in a way, Mexico has become Americanized.