Almost two years since the party that ruled in Mexico for over seventy years, once defined as the most perfect example of authoritarianism, was re-elected in Mexico’s 2012 general elections; the race for legitimate power is reaching peak point.
After the wondrous National Action Party (PAN) failed to deal with the overwhelming drug violence the country experiences, PRI was controversially elected with a difference of 6%. PAN’s internationally praised achievement of overturning the 75 years-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the year 2000 became irrelevant as Mexico’s violent crimes continue to occupy major headlines around the world. The reestablishment of PRI, however, has been anything but welcome. Protests sprung all around the country almost immediately after the results were published. The Government has not only been criticised by the controversy over the legitimacy of the elections but it has seen significant loss of legitimacy in various rural communities, where the drug related violence has impacted the people significantly.
These rural communities have created the “self-defence” movements which have grown in support across the country. Early in 2013 the self-defence movement arose in the so called “Tierra Caliente” area of Western Mexico; the abundant agricultural and mineral production of this area is a key location for the drug cartels for its fertile land and good connections to ports and highways, which facilitates the production and distribution of illegal substances as well as illegal mining. The purpose of establishing the self-defence campaigns was to take back control of their community and deal with violence and extortion that the government was unable to do so, since in their eyes the government’s failure meant they had lost their legitimate right to act in the name of the people. However, the self-defence movements are not the only ones that have taken action in questioning the rightful power of the government; in the same area drug Cartels have been searching support of the people by building roads and schools in the communities which the government had neglected.
The battle for legitimacy, particularly between self-defence groups and drug cartels, has spread nationally through the social media. Internet reaches people in ways mainstream media does not. This has inspired the self-defence units to post their agenda online and to spread their message. In equal manner, however, drug cartels use this online space with the aims of justifying their actions and their existence itself. The likes of “La Tuta”, one of the “Templars’ knights” leaders, have posted videos on the web were he gives money to poor families and explains that they are supposedly a “necessary evil”. The online media has also served as a platform for the self-defence groups and the cartels to question each other’s agenda and express their rivalry of legitimate control of the region.
The popularity of the self-defence groups has grown exponentially in Mexico throughout the year, and PRI’s government under the leadership of Enrique Pena Nieto is aware of it. The self-defence units are battling one of the best armed cartels of Mexico, thus an extensive armament is needed to equalise their power. From the beginning of the movement the government has questioned the source of such armament, which the self-defence units claim is founded by the profits made by the reclaiming of agricultural and mineral lands the cartel had seized, and demanding the self-defence units to surrender their weapons. However the military intervention that was carried out under this policy was very controversial as it originated more violence and deaths in the region.
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Nevertheless the ruling PRI is not willing to share legitimate power in any sense and other policies are starting to be implemented in Mexico. The self-defence groups were invited to join the new “Rural Force” created by the government after reforms that cut off around 800 police forces in the area on allegations of corruption. However, they will still answer to governmental elements that are believed to be deeply implicated with the organised crime. Moreover, the PRI has allegedly been maintaining close links with mainstream Mexican media throughout most of its ruling period and President Enrique Pena Nieto knows how valuable it is to have sway over the media. This is why he has launched a new federal reform for the telecommunications in the country, where he aims to limit the access of the internet in Mexico. This reform could be very decisive as revolutionary and independents movements have used this space to express their beliefs (famously indigenes movement EZLN 20 years ago in the south of the country).
Whether these reforms pass the senate or not one thing is clear, the Mexican Government will not tolerate competition in the race for legitimate power over the country and independent movements like the self-defence units are in danger of losing all that they fought for over a year now.
By Julian Trejo Pascual