2014 started out with the promise of being a great year for Mexico. Twelve months later, “Mexico’s Moment” is over, and many think it won’t be coming back.
The fall of Mexico’s image was precipitous. The “Aztec Tiger” appeared to be moving forward under the leadership of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who was building consensus among lawmakers to pass key reforms in government and Mexico’s energy, finance, education and telecom sectors.
In February, drug lord Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán was finally nabbed. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson called it “a significant victory and a milestone in our common interest of combating drug trafficking, violence and illicit activity along our shared border.”
Everything appeared to be going well. A report published in August by The Economist hailed the president’s achievements and urged his government to “maintain the momentum.”
Foreign Affairs magazine also predicted that Mexico was in a position to “excel over the next five years,” making it a “good bet for investors.”
Then September happened, and it all came off the rails. “They promised it was Mexico’s Moment, but the night of September 26 raised the curtain on a successful public relations campaign mounted by the president and his team,” Univision anchor and Fusion contributor Enrique Acevedo said about the night when 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher’s college vanished after a deadly clash.
Meet the students who disappeared:
The sudden disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapos triggered nationwide public outcry. The federal government took 10 days to enter Iguala, Guerrero and take over the investigation. Federal intervention led to the discovery of numerous mass graves. Simultaneously, authorities began cracking down on a criminal gang known as Guerreros Unidos, identified as an Héctor Beltrán-Leyva cartel splinter cell operating in the town of Iguala.
But the government’s inability to clarify what happened to the students sparked demonstrations in Mexico and around the world.
Watch Fusion’s Mini-Documentary on Ayotzinapa:
On Nov. 7, Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam announced that apprehended Guerreros Unidos members had confessed to killing the 43 students, whose remains were incinerated, crushed and dumped in a river.
The federal government accused the Iguala municipal police of kidnapping the students and handing them over to the gang on orders from Mayor José Luis Abarca. The attorney general explained the mayor, who was captured along with his wife a few days prior to the announcement, had ordered the attack on the students to prevent them from protesting an official event organized by his wife.
But the federal government’s investigation and subsequent arrests did not quell the demonstrators or the various expressions of social outrage. The brutal findings struck a nerve with Mexican society at large. “Mexico is embroiled in a crisis of violence, impunity and corruption,” wrote Univision and Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos.
THE TURNING POINT
“Ayotzinapa was a watershed for an obvious reason: the victims in this case were students, known for their activism and militancy. The disappeared were unlike the thousands of unidentified victims that vanished during the presidential term of Felipe Calderon and the first two years of Peña Nieto,” said Gema Santamaría, a fellow at the UCSD Center for US-Mexican Studies. “The missing had a name.”
The fact that the victims were students also prompted universities across Mexico to join the marches. A movement began to take shape and many protesters shifted their anger towards the federal government.
Javier Vega, the director of foreign affairs for the ruling party (PRI), said that 2014 marks the end of “Mexico’s Moment.”
“We had it, we lost it, and I don’t think it will return.”
However, Vega said Ayotzinapa has become “a cloud that does not allow us to see beyond security matters.” He stressed both the failures and accomplishments of 2014 have to be seen in their right dimension. “When I have meetings with ambassadors they are far more optimistic than we Mexicans are,” he said, “I do believe the reforms implemented by the government will show results in due time.”
President Peña Nieto has now added security to his set of ambitious reforms in an attempt to close the gap between the “two Mexicos” — a country regarded as an economic powerhouse and another one ravished by violence, corruption and inequality.
Javier Osorio, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that the promises and structural reforms achieved during the first two thirds of the year generated great domestic and international expectations for Mexico.
“Ayotzinapa was a catalyzer but the signs were already present,” he told Fusion. “Mexicans were well aware of the reality, the unemployment, the lack of security, the inequality, the same old Mexico was there, if anything, Ayotzinapa awakened Peña Nieto and the country’s ruling class.”
“It’s a tragic end of the year for Mexico,” he added.
Many of the social protests that Ayotzinapa unleashed, both on the streets and social media, honored the missing students with the following phrase: “They tried to bury us, but they did not know we were seeds.”
Just as the year ends and 2015 commences, both a social and political awakening is starting to flourish in Mexico.
Ayotzinapa might have been the turning point that plunged Mexico into a crisis but it could also be what ends up saving the country as society and politicians alike snap out of the illusory trance of ‘Mexico’s Moment.’
Photographs by Encarni Pindado