Discover more from The Mexpatriate
La Semana: "Double reality"
From the Ayotzinapa case to textbook spats, trying to sort truth from fiction
Welcome to a Sunday round-up edition of The Mexpatriate.
This is my 51st post since launching this newsletter in January 2022.
I’ve covered a wide range of topics—everything from trade disputes to AMLO’s mega-projects to maternal health to firefly tourism to lithium nationalization—in these past 20 months, and as my subscriber list grows, I want to help readers explore my archive. You will now find categories of posts listed on the homepage and starting today, I’ll include a look-back link to a post from a year before in every newsletter.
Ayotzinapa: the wound that won’t heal
On July 25, the two remaining members of the group of international experts (GIEI)—Carlos Beristain and Ángela Buitrago—who were brought in as independent investigators in the 2014 Ayotzinapa case, presented their sixth and final report.
The meticulous investigation carried out since the team first arrived in Mexico in 2015 has hit a wall (again), stymied in their attempts to obtain key evidence from the military, and as a result, they have decided to end their investigation.
The GIEI previously left Mexico during the Peña Nieto administration after their revelations contradicted the government’s “historic truth” about what happened that night in Iguala, Guerrero. López Obrador’s administration brought them back, as part of fulfilling the president’s campaign promise to bring closure for the families of the 43 missing students. Today, even though there have been over a dozen arrests (including of former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam), the prospect of revealing the whole truth of this tangled case, and bringing those responsible to justice, seems to be fading.
The remains of just three of the students have been identified to date. And while the GIEI’s work has been exhaustive, there are still layers of enmeshed interests, motives and cover-ups that obfuscate the full story. A July 26 article published in the ReVista Harvard Review of Latin America explores yet another dimension to the criminal networks operating in Guerrero: mining and smuggling of mineral resources. Which opens up an array of new questions, in a case that has too few answers.
In an interview with The Associated Press before Buitrago and Beristain left Mexico last week, they described their experience in Mexico as a “double reality”, unlike any they had ever encountered in their years of work around the world investigating human rights violations.
“For the families and victims of the case, the GIEI has been an essential source of reliable information, of support in the recognition of the truth, and above all, of hope. It is that hope of the families, and of society itself, which requires answers.”
Final statement from the GIEI (July 31, 2023)
Mexican household income rose from 2020-2022
“These are the results that make me very happy.”
This is President López Obrador on statistics released July 26, showing an 11% increase in quarterly earnings for the average Mexican household between 2020 and 2022. The data come from a survey carried out by INEGI every two years, and while the increase shows the economy recovering from the pandemic, the 2022 average income is only 4.6% higher than it was in 2018, and 0.2% higher than in 2016 in real terms. Also, quarterly expenditures increased by a whopping 17.2% compared to 2020 (hello inflation), but were only 2.1% higher than in 2018.
The data reveal not only a bump in income, but also a narrowing in the gap between richest and poorest (15:1 ratio in 2022, compared to 18:1 in 2018 and 21:1 in 2016).
This administration has doubled social spending payments since 2018, reaching a historic 36% of Mexican households. And according to analysis by columnist Viri Ríos, from 2018-2022, the percentage of Mexicans living in poverty dropped from 41.9% to 36.3%, which is the biggest decline in 22 years. However, as noted by Ríos in a recent column, those in extreme poverty are actually receiving less than during the Peña Nieto administration. According to Ríos, this could be chalked up to the difficulty of reaching this population, often living in remote, rural areas.
“This has created an irony. López Obrador is both the president who has lifted the most people out of poverty, and left the most behind.”
Throw out the textbooks?
If AMLO’s educational agenda achieves nothing else, it has accomplished one improbable feat: making textbooks interesting.
Probably not to students, mind you, but certainly to politicians, advocates, parents and pundits who have piled on the administration’s new curriculum, which is supposed to launch when the 2023-24 school year starts. Some have cited factual errors (apparently the wrong birth date for Benito Juárez in one book), while others criticized the shift towards project-based learning and away from essential subjects (math, for example), and a few, like news anchor Javier Alatorre, went as far as to warn the books will spread “the communist virus”. The president quipped in his Thursday morning press conference: “… some conservatives see communists everywhere, like UFOs.”
PAN (National Action Party) leader Marko Cortés encouraged parents to throw out the books—or at least rip out some of the pages—alleging they contain “dangerous ideological content”, which led to a statement from Morena state governors comparing Cortés to Hitler and Pinochet.
This is not the first strident battle in the war over “La Nueva Escuela Mexicana”: the Department of Public Education (SEP) was supposed to start a pilot program with the new textbooks in 960 schools, but suspended it last October, after judges ruled in favor of lawsuits brought against the program. The latest legal hurdle for the textbooks was a judge’s order in May to suspend printing if the government could not demonstrate compliance with regulations in the preparation of the textbooks. However, AMLO said this week that there is nothing legally blocking their distribution in time for the start of the school year on Aug. 28. Secretary of Education Leticia Ramírez said that SEP will share more details about the textbooks and how they were developed on Aug. 8.
While the insults and allegations fly, it feels a bit like people fretting over furniture placement in a house that is on fire. Mexico’s public education system has been plagued with problems for decades, and is still struggling to recover from the setbacks of the pandemic. According to World Bank estimates, prolonged school closures resulted in an average of two years of learning loss for Mexican students. If you want a deeper dive, check out my two-part series on the state of education in Mexico:
Do you want a factura for your aura cleanse?
The Mexican tax authority (SAT) has added some new subcategories to their online invoice catalogue: under Alternative and Holistic Medicine, you can now select “witch doctors”, “curanderos”, “shamans” or “energy work”. That’s right, that weekend you spent in Tepoztlán is now tax-deductible—if you paid your spiritual guide by bank transfer or credit card.
Thank you for reading, and as always, send me your feedback by commenting below or sending an email to email@example.com.