In this issue…
November 14, 2014 No. 212
Mexico: Outrage over Student Disappearances Grows Central America: Presidents Bring Their Case to Washington
Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing the most serious crisis of his tenure as widespread outrage over the disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students in the state of Guerrero in September has sparked national protests. … The government’s perceived ineffective response to the tragedy is also fueling public discontent. … Peña Nieto's decision to depart the country for the APEC Summit in China in the midst of the crisis, combined with a scandal involving a multi-billion rail construction bid won by a consortium allegedly linked to the first lady's $7 million mansion, have contributed to the image of a presidency under siege. … To date, the wave of protests has resulted in 30 major incidents of violence and vandalism against public property. … Violent groups have burned buildings (including the main gate of Mexico’s Presidential Palace); closed highways; assaulted public servants, military officers, soldiers, policemen and civilians; stolen public property (including a tanker truck carrying 2,600 gallons of gasoline); and caused the temporary closing of Acapulco’s International Airport. … The Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA), led by former Mexico City mayor and presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has seized the initiative and called for Peña Nieto’s resignation and a national strike on November 20th. … Some states in Mexico are facing serious governability issues, and local authorities in the states of Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, and the Federal District appear to have consciously decided not to confront violent protesters. … Several commentators have expressed a fear that this weak response will invite an escalation of violence. … On November 11, Mexico’s Secretary of Defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos, took the extraordinary step of speaking publicly on a sensitive public policy matter, saying that “the development and progress of the nation are at risk.” Cienfuegos
said that the country needs “sound decisions, to ponder challenges and strengthen the course.” He also noted that “indolence, insensitivity, silence, excessive violence and complicity obstruct and limit the true essence of justice.” ► Mexico’s political and economic stability could be at risk if federal authorities fail to organize an effective response to widespread calls for justice and security. Ironically, the sense of insecurity and instability is reinforced by the failure of local authorities to impose order in response to violent groups taking advantage of the current crisis. Only four months ago, the international media praised President Peña Nieto’s political achievement of a series of economic reforms. Unfortunately, while focusing on those initiatives, Mexico’s federal authorities turned a blind eye to endemic security issues that now have spiraled into a governance crisis. Peña Nieto’s plans for modernizing Mexico through economic reform and foreign investment have been undermined by global coverage of unrest. Mexican policymakers can no longer ignore this crisis. Mexico’s democracy, the stability of its institutions and its economy require a joint effort from all levels of government and civil society organizations to quell the violence and address the underlying causes of unrest and public dissatisfaction. General Cienfuegos warnings were without exaggeration and Mexican politicians ignore them at their own risk.
Central America The Presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala traveled to Washington this week to discuss concerns over emigration from the region and to seek foreign investment to bring stability to their countries. … Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala make up what is known as the Northern Triangle, a region plagued by exceedingly high levels of poverty, corruption, gang violence, and drug trafficking, all of which have made it one of the most dangerous parts of the world. … The Northern Triangle was pushed to the forefront of the national dialogue this past summer when a dramatic surge in undocumented minors attempting to cross the border into the United States tested the limits of U.S. border security capabilities. … This week’s visit by the Central American heads of state is focused around a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and the presentation of the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle” at an Inter-American Development Bank conference. … These Central American governments are seeking funding for multiple initiatives designed to address the factors that are spurring emigration from their countries… El Salvador’s Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez echoed this goal saying, “We are calling for the private sector to focus their investment in
Central America (continued)
places where migrants originate from.”… One of the main initiatives these leaders are expected to present will be the development of energy infrastructure. … The high cost and inconsistent flow of electricity and natural gas, particularly to rural communities is believed to be one of the main factors in inhibiting the attraction of new industries in Central America. … Education reform is also expected and is likely to focus expanding access and ensuring security in schools many of which have become recruiting grounds for gangs. … Other expected initiatives include reforms to the judicial system and incentivizing foreign corporations to expand into the region. ►The recognition by the Northern Triangle leaders of the need for heavy involvement from the private sector in stabilizing the region is welcome, particularly given their countries’ often uneven commitment to free and open economies. However, several concerns must be addressed before any economic plan for prosperity is embraced. Corruption is rampant throughout Central America, as are its close relations impunity and criminality, all of which continue to undermine development and security in the region. The governments of the region often lament the lack of progress or international assistance on the critical issues in their countries, but they themselves rarely exhibit the political will to undertake the difficult reforms to remedy the situation. As was evidenced during the recent border crisis, the United States is directly affected by the situation in the Northern Triangle. Simply reinforcing the border is not enough. The U.S. must continue to actively work with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to address the root causes prompting migration from the region and play an active role in promoting security and economic prosperity in the region. The U.S. should also work with these governments to promote accountability, end impunity, and reform law enforcement agencies to lay the groundwork for the establishment of any new economic development efforts in the region.