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Reforms in Mexico City bring glimmer of hope for Mexican politics

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, second from the right. (Credit: Office of the president of Mexico/Flickr)

After decades of rising unemployment, frequent and violent crime, public discontent and institutionalized corruption that permeates nearly every level of government, Mexican politics is going through a period of change, and there are mixed reactions over whether it will be for the better.

Mexico has renamed its capital city an area of nearly 9 million people exchanging the name of “Federal District” (DF) for the name by which it is internationally known: Ciudad de México, or Mexico City.

The name change was made official by President Enrique Peña Nieto on Jan. 29th as part of a large-scale political reform, which moves Mexico City closer toward becoming a state with more autonomy. According to the Guardian, the shift gives more authority to the city’s mayor, more independence to the capital’s 16 boroughs and a new constitution for the city.

Some hope the reforms and new constitution will mean a new chapter for the country’s capital; others are not so optimistic. According to Mexico News Daily, an assembly of elected and appointed members will begin work on the constitutional document in September and finish by the end of January 2017.

Juan Villoro, Mexican author and political commentator speaks during the Wang Center Symposium "The Countenance of Hope"  at Pacific Lutheran University, on Feb. 26, 2016. (Credit: John Froschauer/PLU)

Juan Villoro, Mexican author and political commentator spoke at Pacific Lutheran University on Feb. 26, 2016. (Credit: John Froschauer/PLU)

One of the assembly’s members is among Mexico’s most esteemed writers and journalists, Juan Villoro, who emphasizes the importance in making sure the document reflects the public’s needs.

“A constitution has to be a mirror of the time and of the people that make this constitution possible, so we need a very inclusive mirror,” said Villoro in an interview with Humanosphere.

“It’s very important to have a constitution like the American one,” he added. “It’s a text that gives you a sense of belonging, and everyone can relate to that kind of spirit. So that’s what we’re trying to achieve: a short, clear and engaging document.”

According to the Guardian, left-wing campaigners started pushing for an end to the Federal District after an inept federal response to the devastating 1985 earthquake left millions to fend for themselves. A subsequent movement toward more autonomy for the city lead to the first informal name change to Mexico City in the late 1990s, but for most residents of the country’s capital, Mexico City had always just been Federal District.

In more recent years, political corruption has become increasingly apparent and disconcerting. One of the most recent high-profile scandals was the mass kidnapping in Iguala in 2014, when 43 college students were kidnapped and murdered on direct orders from Mayor José Luis Abarca, who was concerned that the students would disrupt a speech his wife was giving in the town’s central plaza. The attorney general’s claim that the missing students’ bodies were incinerated at a rubbish dump a conclusion he described as “the historic truth” later turned out to be unfounded.

The government’s mishandling of one the most infamous crimes in Mexico’s recent history provoked mass protests and irreversibly damaged the popularity of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Our government, whenever there is a problem of this kind, they tend to represent justice, not to exert justice,” said Villoro of the tragedy in Iguala.

The Mexican public is widely skeptical of the new reforms, mostly because they don’t trust anything said or done by the Peña Nieto administration. And why should they? The people of Mexico have no reason to to trust a system whose president’s top priority is security for foreign investors rather than for the Mexican people, and where, in the last decade, an estimated 100,000 people were killed in drug violence with traffickers slaughtering police, indigenous communities and one another.

“I am not very optimistic about the final outcome,” said Villoro. “We expect some changes, maybe for the worse. … Maybe not this assembly, but an assembly of the future will remember that there was a document that was intended to express the real spirit of the city.”

“This is a dream. We are utopists, dreaming of a possible world.”


About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email or see her latest work at