Enrique Peña Nieto is the governor of Mexico State, the most populous in Mexico. After President Felipe Calderón, he is probably one of the best known political figures in the whole Mexican Republic. He is a handsome, charming person who also happens to have recently married a very famous, and highly photogenic, soap actress, Angélica Rivera. Peña Nieto belongs to the Partido de la Revolution Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI), where he is linked to a faction associated with ex President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994). His political office and connections within his party make him a very powerful figure, while the understanding he has forged with the principal television companies in Mexico (Televisa and TV Azteca) make sure that he receives a very favourable press on national television. He is, understandably therefore, a very ambitious man whose sights are firmly set on the 2012 presidential elections.
Unfortunately for him, not all is rosy on this front at the moment. As readers of this blog will be aware, Peña Nieto is also unlucky enough to be the governor of the state in which most feminicidios (femicide: the murder of a women for reasons linked to her gender, see my other blog post here) have occurred in the last few years. To be exact, 922 women have been murdered in Mexico State since 2005 and, just in the last 18 months, there have been 4, 773 reports of sexual violence in the state. As I reported last November, the Federal Senate had formally drawn the governor’s attention to this problem. Since then human rights groups have asked the Sistema Nacional para Prevenir, Atender, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia contra las Mujeres (National System for the Prevention, Attention, Sanction and Eradication of Violence Against Women) , a body set up in 2007 in response to pressure from groups campaigning against violence against women in Mexico to issue what is called a “alerto de género” or gender alert in the state, a process that would involve the investigation into the deaths of the women and the manner in which they have been handled by the authorities. That such a measure needs to be taken is quite clear. As I have mentioned repeatedly on this blog, the level of impunity enjoyed by the murderers of women in Mexico State (and, it must be noted, in the Republic as a whole) is quite lamentable. In the cases of women murdered between 2000 and 2005, only 35% of murders have been convicted; while in 20% of cases an arrest warrant has been issued, but no one has been arrested; and, in the other 45% of cases the investigation is still ongoing . The Non-Governmental Organization, Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio (National Citizen Femicide Observatory) estimates that in general 50% of femicides in Mexico State are mishandled and neglected . Furthermore, as Amnesty International highlighted in last year’s “Write-a-thon” Campaign, cases of institutionalised abuse of women by policemen and federal officers have also not been adequately dealt with (see my blog post on the subject here).
Peña Nieto does not see things quite like that, though. In his opinion, the call for a “gender alert” in Mexico State is politically motive with the intention of undermining his presidential ambitions and the state governor elections which are due this year (and whose outcome, he obviously would like to control). Immediately prior to the meeting in which the Sistema Nacional para Prevenir, Atender, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia contra las Mujeres was to decide on this issue he denied that there had been more femicides in his state than any other in the last five years . Moreover, he used his political muscle to lean on those members of the commission who came from state ruled by the PRI and as a result, the integrants voted against the measure. As journalist and human rights activist Lydia Cacho later reported, the Mexico State Prosecutor, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes tried to minimize the figures with arguments that laid bare his own misogyny and amply demonstrated why his officers are woefully incapable of confronting this problem. Castillo said that most of the women had been murdered “porque consumen drogas, alcohol o usan inhalantes; trabajan en bares en los que alternan con los clientes o salen a altas horas de la noche” (“because they used drugs or drank alcohol or sniffed glue; they worked in bars in which they mixed with their clients [this appears to a euphemism for being prostitutes] or they went out very late at night”). In a nutshell: they deserved what they got and their deaths were not worth looking into.. He also made the faintly laughable excuse that not all of the women murdered had been born in Mexico State and so shouldn’t be included in the figures.
State and Federal deputies from the PRI also waded into the row, speaking out in favour of Peña Nieto. They highlighted Castillo Cervante’s argument that 60% of the victims were not natives of the state and pointed out that if the figures were broken down proportionally Mexico State was far from being the most violent: a ratio of 1.38 homicides for every 100, 000 inhabitants, lower than Baja California with 3.22, Sinaloa with 2.60, Sonora with 2.35, Michoacán and Morelos with 1.97, Hidalgo with 1.65 and Guanajuato with 1.53  This was meant to defend their political overload, but the figures hardly help their case. So, proportionally, Mexico State is not more violent than its neighbours, but this is hardly a reason not to investigate the deaths. Rather in the light of these figures it is a reason to demand similar “gender alerts” be issued in other states if not nationwide. What is clear is that there is an unacceptable level of violence against women in Mexico as a whole, and that state governments plus their investigating and prosecuting officers (known as Ministerio Público orPublic Ministry) and Procuraduría del Estado or State Prosecutors ) need to take measures to deal with it.
In the face of the negative media attention the decision not to impose a “gender alert” in Mexico state and the criticism levelled at Peña Nieto and Castillo Cervantes from human rights and women’s’ groups, the governor announced he would set up discussion fora at the end of the month in which experts on gender violence would be convened to look into the situation in the state. It can only be hoped that this will not be just a talking shop and an opportunity for Peña Nieto to have his photograph taken alongside the participants. But for now, it looks very much like a typical damage limitation exercise which aims to do nothing more than counteract all the negative publicity this situation has generated for the PRI’s golden boy and presidential hopeful.
See update to this post added on 25 January 2011 here.
 http://webapps01.un.org/vawdatabase/searchDetail.action?measureId=5801&baseHREF=country&baseHREFId=864 This a commission made up of representatives of the Secretaría de Gobernación (Equilavent of the Home Office or US State Department) Secretaría de Desarrollo Social (Ministry of Social Development); Secretaría de Seguridad Pública (Ministry of Public Security); Procuraduría General de la República (Federal Prosecution Office); Secretaría de Educación Pública (Ministry of Education); la Secretaría de Salud (Ministry of Health); el Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación (The National Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women) ; el Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (The National System for the Integral Development of the Family or DIF – the nearest thing Mexico has to Social Services) and the 32 Women’s Institutes from Mexico’s different states.
 A very widespread opinion within both the police and prosecuting offices throughout Mexico, see my post here.