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Since Mexico's Enrique Peña Nieto first donned the presidential sash at end-2012, the incoming administration brought in a refreshing and bold reform agenda – looking to increase competition in oil, telecoms and financial services. Confidence surged, and investors' interest piqued. FDI reached an all-time high in 2013.
However, images of Mexico circling the world today are now quite different – those of protest and the doors burning at the presidential palace.
As tends to happen during protests, the burning was the result of a handful of ruffians getting out of hand. There were actually thousands of people that showed up Saturday at Mexico City's main square, the Zócalo, and in cities and towns throughout the country to protest the apprehension, disappearance and subsequent murder of 43 students from Iguala, in southern Mexico's Guerrero state. And which has resulted in the Iguala mayor and his wife, accused of running the city in cahoots with known gangsters, being detained as suspects in the incident.
"The investigation into the enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings has been limited and incomplete, with officials failing to challenge the entrenched collusion between the state and the organized crime which underlies these grave violations of human rights," said Amnesty International in a report.
"Tragically, the enforced disappearance of these student teachers is just the latest in a long line of horrors to have befallen Guerrero state, and the rest of the country. The warning signs of corruption and violence have been there for all to see for years, and those that negligently ignored them are themselves complicit in this tragedy," according to Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director of Amnesty International.
How has Peña Nieto reacted? On Sunday, he boarded a plane to attend an APEC event in China. "We Mexicans say no to violence," he reportedly said during a layover. "We say yes to justice, order, harmony, tranquility; we say yes to justice for these atrocious, abominable crimes."
By no means is Peña Nieto's administration the first in Mexico to be debilitated by crime. His predecessor, Felipe Calderón, was even said to be leading a failed state. In his platform, besides promising economic reforms, Mexico's current president pledged to reduce the drug violence plaguing the country. However, as evidenced by situations such as Iguala, it's clear that Peña Nieto's latest words are so far nothing but wishful thinking.
The president has accumulated a good amount of political capital in implementing the reforms to set the bases for unprecedented economic growth. Now he needs to apply that capital towards something much more basic – the protection of human lives. Peña Nieto will need that capital in a struggle to rip out the corruption entrenched in Mexican politics. Taking a trip to China in the midst of the Iguala protest, no matter what economic benefit may come of it, is not the way to do it.