violence is not a new thing,” says Jose-Pablo Buerba about Mexico’s civil
unrest and protest in recent weeks. An international political economist from
Mexico City, Buerba works with heads of state around the world on matters
economic. He is a native of Mexico City, where he has lived and worked these
last few months.
his December 2014 departure from the Distrito Federal (Mexico City), Buerba had
asked not to have his identity revealed in an interview he had granted me within
twenty-four hours of protestors setting fire to Mexico’s National Palace door.
“Please don’t,” he had requested, adding that he would “rather not get
killed-off.” Now, Buerba agrees to weigh in for a follow-up interview, and to
go on record about key issues that international and Mexican presses have
either failed to report, or outright ignored. Specifically, Buerba’s insights
nuance current depictions of the polemics surrounding Mexico’s Missing 43.
Despite the fact that Buerba’s opinion elucidates the dodgier elements that continue
to shape unfolding coverage, it is an opinion that remains virtually absent
from the overall story.
the violence associated with Mexican politics does not seem new. Buerba broaches
the obvious, namely that the frequent sequester of and killing of people in
Mexico has appeared in news almost conventionally—and for quite some time. Per
the foreign perception of Mexico, violence has become a sensationalizing hallmark
that the media uses to mystify the nation. Thanks to mass media, international
onlookers are conditioned to “accept” Mexico as despotic and violent. But this
recent “news story” happens to be cloaked in a layer cake of political
prestidigitation that strongly suggests local and international coverage have
been all but earnest. Specifically, the violence reported seems more than a
self-sustaining newspiece; it is a red herring that helps distract and take
away from other issues surrounding the Missing 43.
was a story last year, in 2013, about a handful of young Mexicans who went to a
club, were kidnapped, subjected to a ransoming, and eventually killed. Yet,
when compared with the ugly fate of the 43 students that transpired only
recently, relatively little came of the club-goers or their story. Buerba
invokes the disparity in the coverage of these two current events didactically.
Juxtaposing the two events, and the press they each received, evinces the
overall media bias apropos the violence in Mexico, which it either elects to
cover or not. In fact, the reason as to why the Missing 43 (and the polemics
surrounding their disappearance and murder) garners maximum attention nowadays has
less to do with the heinous act itself, than with those who control the media
in Mexico and the US. This is not to say, however, that such a “story” does not
warrant full attention. It does!
why now the 43 students; why did it even make international news?” asks Buerba,
rhetorically. “The real reason why it gets media attention is not because of
the act itself,” says Buerba, “but because…the people controlling the media [in
Mexico] are inflating the stories for their own purposes.” He cites the
employment of media by powerful elites to manipulate popular sentiment and
political fervor, especially through the dissemination of information/disinformation
through television. “Essentially,” says Buerba, “the most important powers in
Mexico are the Bible, and Televisa,” a mass media corporation. A lack of
education, coupled with a “religious attachment” to television, exacerbates the
problem, and it presents an inroad into the public conscience that is easily
accessible to powerful Mexican media magnates.
states it is peculiar that “43 students would rise-up randomly,” and congregate
somewhere for their own political reasons. Then he summons Esther Gordillo, the
leader of the largest labor union in Latin America since 1989 (the 1.4-million
member Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or
SNTE). “Peña Nieto, when he came to power,” says Buerba, “put her behind bars
because she allegedly embezzling hundreds of millions of the union’s dollars.”
Gordillo has been one of the most powerful people in Mexico for the last few
decades, and Buerba suggested that Peña Nieto’s actions apropos Gordillo were a
political attempt to solidify his status as a “doer.” In fact, jailing Gordillo
was one of the first political actions to take place within Peña Nieto’s
Nieto also helped pass a contentious educational reform, along with many others.
While some believe the passage of this reform would raise the standards of
education within Mexico, others reacted vehemently; the new reform implies
alterations to professional titles, demoting students’ and teachers’ socially,
lowering their market value in the Mexican workforce. The popular reaction to
the reforms indicates it was definitely perceived as a move to disempower
teachers and their union. Logically, the less economic power the workers
(teachers, etc.) wield, the less powerful and less threatening the SNTE is
relevant to the power of the Mexican government.
influence from behind bars, Gordillo yet incited political action in her union.
“She is controlling the teachers,” says Buerba, “and the teachers are
protesting a lot.” Another common suspicion is that Gordillo’s union organized
the would-be 43 protesters that gathered in Iguala, in the State of Guerrero,
in order to protest the speech of the Mayor’s wife—who allegedly had them
killed. “So, another problem with the situation in Iguala, with the 43 students
who were going to be teachers, and who were supposedly going to protest,” says
Buerba, “is that the populists believe the PRI—the party that doesn’t care about
the people—is responsible; however, the Governor of Iguala is from the PRD, the
populist party, and so people who are upset don’t see that members of their party
is killing them.”
from absolving the president of any ties to Mexico’s current strife, Buerba
cites Peña Nieto’s policy an undisputable yet ignored piece of the puzzle:
“What people don’t understand about Peña Nieto is that he has been able to pass
eleven structural reforms unlike presidents before him.” In this light, some
argue that Peña Nieto has truly endeavored to better Mexico, and that he
follows through with his policies. Of course, this is a contentious claim in
Mexico and elsewhere. “Now,” says Buerba, “people don’t see this because all
they see is the 43 students, and they hate [Peña Nieto].” Moreover, the problem
is not just one of violent, state-sponsored oppression; it is one of
antagonistic economic struggle.
Nieto’s reforms have affected Mexico in many ways. Yet, not all forms have
received an equal response from the public. “Most businesses are seeing the
fiscal reforms as a bad thing,” says Buerba, adding, “they only see the
micro-economics.” Small businesses in Mexico have to pay more taxes now, “but
what they don’t realize,” says Buerba, “is the upside of the macroeconomics at
work: paying higher taxes might eventually make the whole country better.” The
energy reforms are a much more concrete example that justify the logic behind
Peña Nieto’s policy. Buerba asserts that, “The energy reform is set to make
PEMEX—Mexico’s state-run petroleum company—a more productive firm; without the
energy reforms, PEMEX will not have the resources necessary to exploit all the
resources that Mexico has.” Thus, collecting new taxes seems an attempt to
cover what PEMEX is losing, including salaries, and to allow it the space to
become as competitive as possible for the supposed benefit of the people. But
when the public at large sees taxes go up “30 to 40 percent,” they also
perceive the looming specter of a corrupt government trying to rob them even
most important part of all this is the telecommunications reform,” says Buerba.
He signals Carlos Slim’s monopoly on market share, represented by tens of
millions of Mexico’s telecommunications customers. “He can charge whatever he
wants,” says Buerba, “and Televisa is similar.” To liberalize the sector,
Buerba claims that Peña Nieto’s reforms were anti-monopolistic in theory,
favoring a much more competitive market of multiple companies vying for
customers and adjusting prices in accord with competition. But what these
already powerful firms see is that Peña Nieto and his reforms constitute a
direct threat to their business profitability.
suggests a crucial aspect of the current state of unrest and strife in Mexico pertains
specifically to the fact that violence has mutated into such a scandalizing
focal point for news reporting national affairs. A port of entry into the
backstory of the Missing 43, questioning the emphasis on violence and civil
unrest yet encompasses the need to question why international media—especially
that of the United States—has taken it up so readily and vociferously. There
has been a widespread exposition of photos and videos of Mexicans decapitating
and burning effigies of the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Due to a
conflict of business interest, and the direct intervention of the Mexican
government in the private sector and its telecommunications monopolies, Buerba surmise,
“The media is behind all of this, and it shows who has real power in Mexico.”
the media coverage of the violence also requires understanding the powerful
figures that lurk behind the propagation of images and video. Certain reports
hold that Slim is one of the largest stakeholders for the New York Times, and
that he could own roughly a fifth of the New York Times Company come 2015.
Buerba asks, “How many articles are published in the New York Times are about Peña
Nieto’s incompetence?” He adds, “It’s not a coincidence; they want him to lose
popularity at home and abroad, and to oust him, essentially.”
all, the tragedy of events remains unmuted. Clearly the Mexican public, as well
as that of other nations, is upset by wanton violence. Moreover, the gathering
of the 43 students/protestors, or of anyone else for that matter, ought not routinely
warrant any form of corrupt, political violence or deadly retribution—no matter
who is behind it. If organizers and students are commissioned, and subsequently
murdered to maintain a power that leeches off the Mexican status quo, then questioning
the motives of those behind political demonstrations also becomes imperative.
For that matter, the repercussions from policy or reforms that in some way get
students and demonstrators killed, are also suspect, and they should be subjected
to democratic scrutiny. The same applies to the media’s coverage of violence in
Mexico, and the reasons behind the press it receives. If not, then justice
remains a chimera, and the struggle between suspect powers is the only thing
the media helps to further. Not to explore the reasons why certain stories,
images and videos get published, and not others, obfuscates the real news in
its absolute complexity, and which seldom gets disseminated in the
international press or media.
Mateo Pimentel is an Axis of Logic columnist, living on the US-Mexico border. Read the Biography and additional articles by Axis Columnist Mateo Pimentel.
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