Long-simmering social tensions in Mexico are threatening to boil over as failing neoliberal reforms to the country’s formerly nationalized gas sector are compounded by open corruption, stagnant standards of living, and rampant inflation.
The U.S. media has remained mostly mute on the situation in Mexico, even as the unfolding civil unrest has closed the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, California, several times in the past week. Ongoing “gasolinazo” protests in Mexico over a 20 percent rise is gas prices have led to over 400 arrests, 250 looted stores, and six deaths. Roads are being blockaded, borders closed, and government buildings are being sacked. Protests have remained relatively peaceful overall, except for several isolated violent acts, which activists have blamed on government infiltrators.
The few mainstream news reports that have covered the situation blame rising gas prices but fail to examine several other factors that are pushing Mexico to the brink of revolution.
The narco-state, or as Mexican activists say, “el narco-gobiero,” is a term used to describe the open corruption between the Mexican government and drug cartels. The narco-state has been in the headlines lately over the kidnapping and presumed murder of 43 Ayotzinapa students in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. This has been a source of continuous anti-government protests ever since.
Though the kidnappings remain officially unsolved, members of the Guerrero Unidos drug cartel have admitted to colluding with local police forces to silence the student activists. Twenty police officers have been arrested in association with the kidnapping. Former Iguala police chief Felipe Flores has been arrested and “accused of offenses including organized crime and kidnapping the students,” the AP reports. The corruption apparently goes all the way to the top, as federal authorities say former Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca personally ordered the kidnappings.
One Mexican activist who wished to remain anonymous told Anti-Media that “a lot of people think it’s only the gasoline prices, but the price of gas is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. It all started with Ayotzinapa.”
Much like the U.S., the Mexican government is susceptible to corporate influence. It just so happens that the most influential corporate entities in Mexico are drug cartels — and it’s hard for the government to reign in entities that fund and infiltrate it. Similar to the phenomenon of “regulatory capture,” the Mexican government is at least partially funded and co-opted by drug cartels. This festering problem is an underlying factor in the current civil unrest in Mexico.
Neoliberal policies left the working class behind
NAFTA was a contentious issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but it’s just as controversial in Mexico, if not more so. The grand 1994 “free trade” scheme, signed into law by Bill Clinton, saw a dramatic redesign of both the U.S. and Mexican economic landscapes. Corn farmers, long a vital factor in Mexico’s peasant farming economy, were wiped out by low-priced corn subsidized by the U.S. government, which immediately flooded Mexican markets after NAFTA was passed. The Mexican immigration crisis at the U.S.’ southern border soon followed.
Meanwhile, manufacturing plants soon began moving into Mexico from the U.S. to take advantage of extremely cheap labor — leaving many workers in the U.S. out of a job. American agricultural corporations like Driscoll’s have recently come under fire for employing slave-like labor conditions to produce boutique organic fruit for U.S. consumers. Protests for workers rights in Mexico, which recently raised its minimum wage to 80 pesos (~$4) per day, are often met with heavy-handed police crackdowns.
Incoming President Trump has capitalized on two issues caused by NAFTA — the immigration crisis and outsourcing of U.S. jobs — and his reactionary protectionist economic policies will undoubtedly make Mexico’s predicament even worse.
Mexico’s nationalized oil conglomerate, Pemex, has been plagued by falling production for years. Corruption, which is inherent to state-run institutions, has condemned Mexico’s gas industry to inefficiency and stalled innovation. Theft has become a widespread issue, and oil workers were recently caught red-handed siphoning gas directly out of pipelines.