President Enrique Peña Nieto’s tenure is coming to an end in Mexico, and he leaves a trail of the dead behind. He has certainly been the worst president in Mexico’s modern history, a statement that I base on data: Under Peña Nieto, more Mexicans were killed than under any other recent administration.
In the last six years, 122,889 Mexicans so far have died as a result of violence. These are official figures ( available here), beginning on Dec. 1, 2012, though they don’t include intentional homicides recorded in October and November of this year.
The numbers bring to mind a war zone:
— 2012: 1,699 deaths
— 2013: 18,106 deaths
— 2014: 15,520 deaths
— 2015: 16,909 deaths
— 2016: 20,547 deaths
— 2017: 25,339 deaths
— 2018: 24,769 deaths
The death toll during Peña Nieto’s tenure far surpasses the 104,089 deaths recorded under Felipe Calderón, who was president from 2006-2012. Additionally, Peña Nieto presided over the surge in intentional homicides that started in 2014, and his administration proved to be incapable of an effective response. As a leader, he was quite useless.
In fact, Peña Nieto was president only in name. He always seemed paralyzed by circumstances, never knowing what to do. During his election campaign in 2012, which was overloaded with TV ads and impossible claims, he pledged that he would stop Mexico’s rampant violence “promptly and efficiently.” It was all a sham.
The least you can expect from a president is that he work to protect his fellow citizens from murderers. But as the number of victims rose, Peña Nieto claimed that all the bad news was simply a matter of perception, and spent millions on publicity. He never understood that not even a thousand TV ads could prevent a single death or erase a family’s agony.
People who supported Peña Nieto either helped him cheat his way into power or then became accomplices of one of the most incompetent politicians the country has ever seen. Elections have consequences. They aren’t merely chess games between political parties. When you vote for a disastrous president, the consequences will be disastrous.
The numbers of the dead are indeed terrible, but it’s sadder still when you recall that each victim had a name, a face, a life. And each left a void that cannot be filled merely with vague statements or excuses. Peña Nieto was a failure: He couldn’t, didn’t want to, or didn’t know how to pursue justice for the victims or console the grieving. In an administration marked by ineptitude and indifference, thousands of people were killed, yet nothing was done about it.
It’s impossible to summarize Peña Nieto’s presidency without mentioning the way he kowtowed to a bullying Donald Trump; the disappearance in 2014 of 43 college students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College — we still don’t know what happened to them, which is unbelievable — and the corruption scandal involving a home purchased by his wife. Did it really never occur to Peña Nieto that the first lady buying a $7 million house from a government contractor would not be a huge conflict of interest? His blindness in this matter was the clearest sign that Mexico was in serious trouble because it had elected a morally impaired president.
In years to come, when we recall Peña Nieto’s administration — when students read in textbooks about massacres, burial pits and impunity — many will ask: How could someone like that get to be president? How could Mexicans allow it? Why did the opposition, if there actually was one, never remove him? I hope the new government has the ethical wherewithal to investigate Peña Nieto’s involvement in the purchase of that luxury home. If not, the best that Mexicans can hope for is that he will just go away. He has done enough damage.
P.S. Deploying an army in the streets of Mexico has never succeeded in reducing violence or corruption, nor has it prevented human rights violations. I hope that Andres Manuel López Obrador, Peña Nieto’s successor, doesn’t follow in his footsteps with the recent proposal to form a new national guard to combat violence. It’s critical that López Obrador not make mistakes in this regard.