While the US government fights an inconclusive war 6,200 miles away in Iraq, social controls continue to erode in Mexico, which shares a 2,000-mile-long border with the United States and whose uncertain fate is intertwined with the United States' own. Several events late in 2004 epitomize the progressive fraying of Mexico's social fabric during the administration of Vicente Fox, whose failed presidency has weakened institutions crucial to the advance of democracy, the rule of law, and stability south of the Rio Grande.
On November 23, 2004, hundreds of people watched as an angry mob seized, beat, lynched, and burned to death two Mexican federal agents in San Juan Ixtayopan, a neighborhood of poor urban peasants in southeast Mexico City. TV camera crews managed to film the Dantesque executions. However, municipal and federal authorities behaved like perverse Keystone Kops, who neither cooperate nor communicate with each other. They played the blame game to justify why it took them several hours to reach the scene of the atrocity. This horrible crime revealed the disdain of Mexicans--especially the "have-nots"--towards law enforcement officers. Their sentiments confirm the findings of Transparency International (TI), whose 2004 Global Corruption Barometer identified Mexico's police as among the most corrupt in the world.
After the November 2004 incident, authorities found Enrique Salinas asphyxiated in his automobile, a plastic bag tied around his head. The deceased was the younger brother of despised ex-chief executive Carlos Salinas, whose actions precipitated an economic crisis in December 1994. Meanwhile, his brother Raul is serving a 27-year sentence for masterminding the killing of their former brother-in-law, an official of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Enrique's murder, which followed Proceso magazine's expose of the Salinas family's ill-gotten fortune, bore all the earmarks of a gangland slaying. Ever the Cassandra, Fox found nothing "political" about this macabre incident.
On New Year's Eve, a fellow inmate murdered the younger brother of narco boss "El Chapo" Guzman inside the La Palma maximum security prison near Mexico City. In retaliation for a federal crackdown on cartel operations, six employees of a maximum-security prison in Matamoros were killed and their bodies dumped outside the facility.
Just as these lynchings and murders burst into the headlines, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development placed Mexico last among its 14 members in education and 37th of all 41 countries surveyed. The country's political parties fared only slightly better on TI's barometer. They scored 4.5 on a scale that runs from 1 (not at all corrupt) through 5 (extremely corrupt).
Amid these disquieting developments, Mexico's pampered elite conducted business as usual. Members of Congress, who prefer posturing to policy-making, voted themselves healthy year-end bonuses of US$12,380, which lofts their annual legislative income above US$100,000. This windfall is a bagatelle compared with the Croesus-like wealth of private sector moguls.
Why have conditions deteriorated under Fox, who promised root-and-branch changes? How has he fared with the United States? What are the prospects for his National Action Party (PAN)? Can the PRI, headed by "dinosaur" Roberto Madrazo, recapture the presidency in 2006? Or amid the fracturing of political parties are people ready to jettison conventional politicians in favor of Mexico City's messianic mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador?
The Marlboro Man Takes Power
Headlines hailed Fox's triumph in 2000 as signaling a "New Era in Mexico." Fox, known as the "Marlboro Man" because of his 6-foot-5-inch height and craggy good looks, inflated expectations. He pledged to create one million jobs per year, attain seven percent growth in gross domestic product, boost investment, revamp the educational and healthcare systems, combat poverty and corruption, clean up the environment, gain legal status for his countrymen living unlawfully in the United States, and accomplish sweeping economic and judicial reforms. …