Another wave of mass demonstrations shook Mexico on Thursday as tens of thousands of protesters marched across the country to demand the safe return of the 43 missing students and the resignation of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Already damaged by the disappearance of the students who were abducted and most likely murdered in late September, Peña Nieto’s image has been further soiled by the scandal over the luxury mansion his wife bought from a controversial government contractor in one of the capital’s most exclusive neighborhoods.
Shortly after returning from a week-long trade mission in Asia, the president appeared to be feeling the heat on Tuesday, when, instead of recognizing the protesters’ legitimate concerns, he slammed them for conspiring to “destabilize” his government.
In a bid to diffuse the crisis that night, First Lady Angélica Rivera posted a YouTube video in which she vowed to sell the controversial property, despite insisting that she had bought it legitimately using her own considerable career earnings as a soap star.
But the gambit quickly backfired and Rivera’s intervention was roundly mocked on social media after she claimed to have earned approximately 10 million dollars in 2010 and disdainfully – in full-on telenovela mode – denounced all criticism as attempts to “defame” her husband.
Mexican politicians stay off the hook
In a stronger democracy the head of state would likely be forced to resign as a result of such a scandal.
Imagine, for example, what would happen if Michelle Obama bought a multi-million-dollar mansion from a U.S. government contractor that had just been granted a concession worth billions of dollars in highly suspicious circumstances. The Republican Party would hound her husband out of the White House quicker than you can say “impeachment bill.”
Yet in Mexico, the only real pressure has come from the public and certain sectors of the media. The silence from the opposition political parties is deafening.
At the very least, one might expect more cynical members of the opposition to take advantage of the public anger at the government in order to further their own political agendas. But only veteran leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador has attacked Peña Nieto with any vigor over the controversial mansion.
And even López Obrador has remained silent over the 43 missing students, likely because both the mayor accused of their abduction and the Guerrero state governor – who resigned in the wake of the incident – belong to his former party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
Opposition parties in crisis
The left-of-center PRD, which had the runner-up candidate in the last two presidential elections, is now enduring its own crisis.
While often at odds with the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the PRD is staffed by many former PRI members and is widely regarded as no less corrupt than any of Mexico’s other major parties.
This week, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the son of the socialist former president, Lázaro Cárdenas, called for the resignation of the party leadership and warned that the PRD faces disintegration if it is not overhauled.
Meanwhile, the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) remains tainted by initiating the ill-conceived war on drugs that has claimed more than 100,000 Mexican lives in the last eight years, according to human rights groups.
See also: The War on Drugs is a failure
Having declared war on organized crime midway through its two-term reign from 2000 to 2012, the PAN slipped to third in the polls in the last election and was further disgraced by a bizarre string of scandals involving strippers, sexual assault and neo-Nazism over the summer.
It, too, has been conspicuous in its absence from the public debate over both the missing students and the First Lady’s mansion.
The reality is that many Mexicans have grown disillusioned by the entire political class and no longer see any real distinction between the three main parties. The protesters’ cries of “Fue el estado” (“It was the state”) are a condemnation of the leaders on all sides of the political spectrum, who share responsibility not only for the disappearance of the students but also for the rampant corruption and impunity that plagues the nation.