Top 5 challenges facing Mexico this Independence Day

(Photo by Johanna Vasquez)
(Photo by Johanna Vasquez)

On the night of September 15th in 1810, Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico’s national hero, rang the bell of the church in the town of Dolores and called for the people to oppose the colonial government and demand a change. It was the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence.

This history, taught to every Mexican child, is today the basis for a yearly independence day festivities as Mexicans gather and shout the exact same words uttered in Hidalgo’s “cry of independence,” while waving flags celebrating their country.

But it’s also a time for retrospection and analysis. Two centuries later, Mexico is facing some of the most serious instability in our history.

As a Mexican journalist who about to relocate to Seattle, here’s what I see as the most pressing challenges facing my home country:

Structural Reforms

In February 2014 the Time Magazine published a cover showing President Enrique Peña Nieto over a headline that read “Saving Mexico.” The image inspired spoofs, blogs and memes and has turned into source of entertainment for millions of Mexicans.

A compilation of spoofs of the Feb. 2014 Time Magazine cover touting President Enrique Peña Nieto's reforms.
A compilation of spoofs of the Feb. 2014 Time Magazine cover touting President Enrique Peña Nieto’s reforms.

Peña Nieto gained wide recognition among the international press for a series of structural reforms that his government has promoted since it came to power in late 2012. The fields of telecommunications, energy, education, labor, politics and elections, economic competition and taxes, among others, have been shaken up by serious constitutional amendments meant to jumpstart a new era of modernization.

Although these reforms were certainly necessary, it is still too early to determine whether they are going to drive real progress, or just represent some kind of political showcase.

Inequality

If one problem has haunted Mexico since its origins, it’s the huge socioeconomic gap dividing the population. While one of the richest men on earth, Carlos Slim, has built its empire in the country, there are also more than 50 million people living in moderate and extreme poverty. Currently, the country’s Gini Index – which reflects income inequality – is among the highest in the world.

Today inequality is a common cause for demonstrations, social unrest and driving factor pushing migration north to the U.S.

Corruption

According to Transparency International, in 2014 Mexico was 103rd among 175 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index with a score of 35 out of 100 points. The high levels of corruption in Mexico, in combination with the lack of substantive results from political parties over the years have led to generalized disappointment and lack of trust between the citizens and the government.

For 70 years there was a one-party-rule in Mexico. It finally came to an end in 2000, and lasted for two presidential terms before the PRI got back into power in the last election. Even though there is a wider range of viable political parties and candidates than ever before, there is still no political harmony or trustworthy options for voters.

As a consequence, several different social movements and demonstrations – from the “Yo Soy 132” student demands or the huge demonstrations following the 43 students disappeared in Ayotzinapa — have been organized during the last few years demanding a more transparent and honest government.

Protesters in Mexico City last November hold up signs reading "We are all Ayotzinapa." (Photo by Gloria Mayne Davó)
Protesters in Mexico City last November hold up signs reading “We are all Ayotzinapa.” (Photo by Gloria Mayne Davó)

Education

A couple of years ago, amendments to the constitution related to education declared that, among other things, professors had to be periodically evaluated in order to keep their jobs, and that senior high school was to be compulsory for the entire population. Nevertheless, actually implementing these goals is a really difficult task due to the enormous number of students and a historical backwardness in the Mexican education system.

For decades the National Education Workers Union, under the leadership of Elba Esther Gordillo (famous for stealing enormous amounts of money to fund her own lavish lifestyle) helped to stymie any sort of development in education. The union had enormous power and made it impossible for the government to negotiate any changes on educational policies.

Now the scenario has changed and the government has taken control, but the country is still far from achieving an adequate educational levels.

According to the OCDE, young Mexican students are substantially behind the average level of mathematical skills in comparison with other countries and there is a tendency to drop out of school prematurely. Only 37% of Mexicans have managed to achieve higher secondary education — second lowest average among OECD countries.

These lowered educational standards prevent the country from developing and make it impossible to achieve equal opportunity among the population, thus exacerbating problems like poverty and inequality.

Insecurity

Mexico’s security problems became startlingly severe under the presidency of Felipe Calderon. During this period from 2006 to 2012, the country adopted a strategy based on direct confrontation of the drug cartels, which had long coexisted with the government. This created a wave of violence that eventually attracted the horrified attention of the entire the world.

At the moment, all of this gossip seems to be quieter, but this is only due to the fact that the current government has adopted a “silence policy,” limiting media coverage and government communication on security topics.

Mexico continues to suffer from cartel violence, especially in the northern part of the country and specific locations like Acapulco or Michoacán. Cities that used to be famous tourist destinations lost their appeal due to the high levels of violence and are suffering tough economic consequences.

Mexican Independence Day fireworks over the Zocalo in Mexico City. (Photo by Daniel Kapellmann)
Mexican Independence Day fireworks over the Zocalo in Mexico City. (Photo by Daniel Kapellmann)

Mexico and the U.S. are undeniably connected by proximity, history and geopolitical status.

Living in such a nice place as Seattle it is sometimes tempting to forget the problems back in our country.

But the challenges facing Mexico will inevitably be felt here, in the influxes of people and resources across the border, as well as in the progress and adaptation of multilateral foreign policy.

For now, it is enough to say “happy Independence Day” to my fellow Mexicans living abroad and to invite them to share their views on these issues from our new home in Seattle.

Mexican Independence Day celebrations will be held this Saturday in South Park and all weekend at Seattle Center. Details on both events here

11 Comments

  1. “Mexico is facing some of the most serious instability in our history” This can only be written by a person who has no idea about Mexican history. Despite all the furious attacks from political opposition during the current and the previous administrations (which happen to be from different parties), and also from media desperate to survive in modern days dominated by electronic media, the evident truth is that Mexican institutions are so stable, so the the country continues to function day after day despite the great challenges of the cruel war on drugs. Danielito: hablar mal de tu pais es lo que hay que hacer para poder publicar y sobrevivir?

    1. Hello Esteban,

      First of all I would like to say thanks for sharing your comment, it is always enriching to exchange perspectives, second, the country does function in the sense that there is some kind of order, but it is yet necessary to keep in mind that we have serious problems to be solved and this article exactly goes to that kind of reflection. As you say we have great things, oh yeah we do, and I express that in other articles, you could check on future challenges.org for more examples.

      Mexico has a great history and traditions, a rich culture, great food, gentle people that care for each other, tough workers, people is creative, but yet something is missing and today the facts speak by themselves: 50% population in poverty around 15% extreme poverty (rough numbers), .48 Gini index (serious inequality), not doing well also on the innovation index, tough position on corruption indexes, the perception of security indexes throw us to the last places, the economic growth has not reached the fast rates that other developing countries have achieved, the situation in Acapulco or Michoacán among others is rough, etc. Besides I don´t know your party affiliation but many of my political sciences colleagues would agree that Peña Nieto is not so well received as it should be after such reforms and that Mexico isn´t the paradise it should be considering for example its touristic and cultural potential.

      En resumen, no hablo mal de mi país para publicar. Publico lo que pienso para bien y para mal, y hoy pensé que era un buen día para reflexionar sobre qué hay que mejorar. Sobre lo bueno lo hablo cada día desde donde estoy y hay otros artículos que lo cubren, un ejemplo es el de los Muxes para empoderamiento de género en Oaxaca, todo depende del momento y la perspectiva. Hablar de lo bueno es perfecto, pero hablar de lo malo a veces es un buen método de reflexión. Finalmente una breve aclaración, NO requiero publicar para sobrevivir, orgullosamente el mismo país sobre el cual reflexiono cómo mejorar me ha becado doblemente en conjunto con el país en el cual habitaré este par de años.

      En caso de querer platicar más a fondo con gusto estoy super disponible y puestísimo en redes sociales :) saludos!

  2. When you have been a little longer in Seattle you will begin to notice — enormous financial inequality, stunning levels of gun violence, largest prison population per capita in the world, entrenched racism, dangerously powerful corporate influence. horrendous work hours, and (as a generalisation) everyone a lot less happy than down here in poor old Mexico.

    1. Hello Sheridan, first of all thanks for your comment I believe there may be a great amount of truth in it. That is precisely the plan that I want to achieve during my time in Seattle, to eventually be able to compare between both cases, so this first article was from the perspective of someone almost entirely from Mexico, I will try to cover stories that mix both cultures here in the city and in the end some kind of general reflection, since I saw that the Mexican community is sometimes not so covered in this region and also in Mexico we are more involved with other parts of the USA so it will be great to be able to share some of this experience.
      So, I will continue checking interesting related stories and I promise I´ll eventually get back to that as soon as I am able to experience it. Thanks a lot for sharing your perspective and I´ll try to keep that in mind for further stories :).

  3. It seems that Mexico’s greatest obstacle has always been the entrenchment of the ruling class, who essentially own the law and the land. Lots of states/kingdoms throughout history have suffered that dilemma. If you want something, you pay the king’s men. It’s called graft. The novel Crossers (2009) is a tale of trafficking. It has Arizona’s Santa Cruz County sheriff making this statement, “In Mexico, it’s not just extremely difficult to tell the good guys from the bad, it’s impossible.” How it is that in the USA you can assume a cop is honest is question for another topic, but until that can happen in Mexico, nothing will improve.

  4. I have been considering this question lately. The question being how can Mexico improve its number 1 problem which I think is corruption. Because of corruption the government does not work the way it should. This is the central issue.
    I believe the problem has arisen because of leaders up and down the hierarchy did not come from a culture which prized honesty and public service. this is the Criollo culture which has largely ruled Mexico since the constitution of 1917. Think about the presidents since Carranza. Their culture, if not 100% of their blood, is white. Their party is PRI. Where were they when the drug cartels were forming and the bribes were turning the heads of the nation’s law enforcement?
    The one party system of PRI has got to take a good part of the blame. Mexico had to grow in a climate without competition, without checks and balances to keep people honest. Look how the documents on the “dirty wars” came to light when Fox from PAN was elected. What would the country be like if the people in power were always subject to the criticism of the opposition?
    It’s going to take a lot of courage to wrest Mexico back from the criminals who have stolen it. Buen suerte, amigos.

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