Mexico is Burning

Mexico is facing its worse crisis in 20 years, as protests against violence and corruption threaten to derail Enrique Peña Nieto's presidency. Peña Nieto must confront the political elite that brought him to power, or risk a populist backlash that could destroy much of what Mexico has achieved over the last two decades.

MEXICO CITY – The last time Mexico experienced a political crisis more serious than the one it is undergoing today was in 1994, when a group of so-called Zapatista guerrillas staged a semi-armed uprising in the southern state of Chiapas. The president’s handpicked successor was assassinated, and, as if that was not enough, the value of the peso had plummeted by nearly 70%. Today’s crisis is not quite as bad, but it is getting close.

In December 2012, President Enrique Peña Nieto took office under inauspicious circumstances. He was elected with just 38% of the vote, without a majority in either house of Congress, and with the opposition in control of Mexico City, the capital. The presidential runner-up, opposition leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador, questioned the results of the election.

Peña Nieto faced serious challenges. His Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had governed Mexico for 70 years, until it was swept out of power in 2000. A large majority of Mexican voters continued to suspect it of corruption, authoritarianism, and economic incompetence. Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón, had bequeathed him a war on drugs that had already caused more than 60,000 deaths; at least another 22,000 Mexicans were missing.

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