Political, Social Unrest in Mexico Harder to Ignore as Obama Prepares to Give Immigration Speech

On November 20, Obama will announce his “go-it-alone” immigration plan. After Congress failed to pass comprehensive reform, Obama is proposing what is ultimately a moderate plan for temporary work-authorization and a reprieve of deportation proceedings against mostly parents of legal citizens and young people who came to the U.S. as children, known as “Dreamers.”

The timing of this announcement is perhaps well planned or at the very least an incredible coincidence, as Obama is making his speech on Mexico’s Revolution Day. The country is celebrating the beginning of the Mexican Revolution against dictator Jose Porfirio Diaz in 1910.

Despite the drama around this announcement, which will undoubtedly influence relations at the U.S.-Mexico border, Obama has been mostly silent about a major issue roiling America’s neighbor: 43 missing students who were kidnapped and are presumed to have been killed.

On September 26, 43 male students at the Raul Isidro Burgos College in Ayotzinapa went missing. At this point, evidence points to local police taking the boys, who then handed them over to a drug cartel. The government announced they found the bodies in Cerro Viejo in a mass grave which has since been further investigated.

Due to the distrust between the Mexican people and the state, who are being blamed for the forced disappearances, the parents of the students and human rights groups asked for independent confirmation that the bodies in the mass grave in Cerro Viejo were, in fact, that students. Mexico did not look to their northern neighbors, however, and instead looked further south.

An Argentina forensics team, who gained experience in this work excavating graves of Argentine’s own dictatorship-era crimes, announced that the bodies were not the missing students. Their announcement raised further questions about the location of the students, but also highlighted the extent of the violence in Mexico at the discovery of yet another unmarked mass grave.

Protests against the government, which began when the students went missing, have increased in number, size, and momentum. Joined in solidarity campaigns around the world, from Uruguay to Madrid, Mexicans have waged protest marches and online campaigns to demand accountability, highlighted by a march on October 22, where more than 50,000 gathered in Mexico City.

Underlying this conflict is a deepening rift between Peña Nieto’s administration and the old left. Rural teacher colleges, like Ayotzinapa, were founded on the ideals of the Mexican Revolution, and are “very committed to the peasant, social, and popular struggles.” The college still is rife with lessons for the socially conscious and many of the students arrive at the school from the surrounding poor and rural areas, seeing the school as a vehicle for social uplift.

However, as a recent article in Foreign Policy notes, the “peasant oriented curriculum of the colleges” has often been at odds with the current government’s economic plans for foreign investment. Peña’s government sees the activism and protests against his plans as a threat to implementation, which has only exacerbated people’s resentment in the fallout from the students’ disappearances.

So what is the U.S.’s role in this unfolding drama?

In large part, the United States has been “largely oblivious,” despite the fact that the tragedy has highlighted the links between the Mexican government and organized crime in the country. Some analysts blame American indifference on the fact that the U.S. is implicated in the corruption that indirectly produced the students’ presumed murders.

Others see less ominous links, but argue nonetheless that Obama has remained silent because of his political relationship with Peña. The State Department has called for Mexicans to “stay calm,” asking citizens to trust the state to move forward with the judicial proceedings, despite the fact that the lack of transparency in Mexico’s legal system is well documented.

Ultimately, as Obama directs attention to the U.S.’s southern border with immigration reform, it is becoming increasingly harder to ignore the political and social unrest that is causing people to flee their country in the first place.

Photo Source: Reuters