In times of crisis, a head of state who gets re-elected in the first round, having already served two terms, is a rarity indeed. One such is Evo Morales, whose win, with 61% of the vote, should have received more attention than it did. All the more so since he pulled off this electoral feat in Bolivia — which had five different presidents between 2001 and 2005. His victory follows a 25% reduction in poverty, an 87% real-terms increase in the minimum wage, a lowering of the retirement age (1) and an annual growth rate of over 5% — all since 2006. Given how often we’re told we need to overcome our disenchantment with politics, why hasn’t this good news been more widely reported? Could it be because it stems from progressive reforms implemented by leftwing regimes?
The mainstream media are as reluctant to talk about leftwing Latin American governments’ success stories, they also, to be fair, omit the failures of conservative regimes, including in the security arena. This year, for example, five journalists have been assassinated in Mexico, including Atilano Román Tirado, who was killed while recording a radio programme last month. Tirado had often demanded compensation, on air, on behalf of 800 families who lost their homes through the construction of a new dam. His willingness to get involved carried a deadly risk in a country where abductions, torture and assassinations have become everyday occurrences, especially for those who question the rotten, mafia-infested social order.
On 26 and 27 September, 43 students from the town of Iguala in the state of Guerrero, 130km from Mexico City, held protests against the neoliberal education reforms introduced by President Enrique Peña Nieto. Local police intercepted their bus and took them to an unknown destination. There they were probably handed over to a drug cartel, who were to execute them and conceal their remains in clandestine graves. There have been many discoveries of such graves in Mexico in the past few weeks, some full of burnt, dismembered bodies. Iguala’s mayor and security director have fled and the authorities are now looking for them.
Peña Nieto has won adulation in the business press (2) for opening up the energy sector to the multinationals. France has awarded him the Légion d’Honneur. Will his admirers question him one day over the almost complete impunity that corrupt policemen and elected officials in Mexico enjoy? Perhaps the major western print media, intellectuals, the US, Spain and France are hesitant about what questions to ask the Mexican president. In which case they only have to imagine what would have leapt to mind had the student massacre had taken place in Ecuador, Cuba or Venezuela. Or indeed in Bolivia, where President Morales has just been re-elected.
Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique.
(1) From 60 to 58 for men and from 60 to 55 for women with three or more children.
(2) See “Aztec tiger begins to sharpen its claws”, Financial Times supplement, London, 28 June 2013. The sharpening was apparently complete by 16 December, when the Wall Street Journal hailed “the Mexican model” in an editorial.