Trump piñatas became common in Mexico beginning in 2016. Trump piñatas became common in Mexico beginning in 2016. Carlos Jasso/Reuters

Why the year has been so terrible for Mexico

Opinion pieces on topics including Donald Trump, violence and corruption tell why

With three runaway governors, two deadly earthquakes and one Donald J. Trump – not to mention an average 69 murders a day – the past year has been rough on Mexico.


As Americas editor, it has been my job to bring expert analysis of these painful events to an international audience throughout 2017. Admittedly, it wasn’t my favorite task: I have lived and worked in Mexico on several occasions, and it’s hard to see a country that feels like home struggle so much.

So, to commemorate the end of a very bad year, here are seven articles that lay out why 2017 was so terrible for Mexico — plus one slightly rosier perspective.

1 and 2. Donald Trump

On Jan. 21, 2017, the United States inaugurated as president a man who throughout his campaign attacked Mexico on Twitter and in person.

So it was unsurprising when, six days into his administration, Donald Trump’s first international crisis was a diplomatic standoff with Mexico.

It all played out – where else? – on Twitter. After signing a series of executive orders cracking down on immigration, the U.S. president threatened to repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement, tweeting that Mexico had “taken advantage of the U.S. for long enough.”

President Enrique Peña Nieto, who had previously welcomed candidate Trump to Mexico, stayed calm early on. At first Peña Nieto’s plan for dealing with the U.S. president’s belligerence was “to respond to his hostility with conciliatory gestures and goodwill,” says political commentator Carlos Bravo Regidor.


But then Trump tweeted that he would cancel an upcoming meeting with Peña Nieto if Mexico refused to fund the construction of a “badly needed” southern border wall.

“Even for mild Peña Nieto this was too much,” comments Luís Gómez Romero, a political scientist at Australia’s University of Wollongong. Mexico’s president canceled his meeting with Trump on January 26 – not with a press conference but, yes, via Twitter.

3. Two earthquakes

Nature brought chaos to Mexico in 2017, too. In September, the country was rocked by deadly twin earthquakes.

The first, a magnitude-8.2 September 7 quake, was the strongest to hit Mexico in a century. It killed nearly 100 people in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, in an area previously thought to be seismically inactive.

“The Tehuantepec region is actually one of the few parts of Mexico’s Pacific coast that had never suffered a major earthquake,” commented seismologist Luis Quintanar Robles, of Mexico’s National Autonomous University, after the disaster. Previously, scientists believed the Tehuantepec gap to be aseismic, or unlikely to cause a quake.

Weeks later, Mexico City was convulsed by a second earthquake, which toppled thousands of buildings and killed over 350 people. It was the country’s deadliest earthquake since a 1985 killer caused some 15,000 to 30,000 casualties in and around Mexico City.

4. Rampant corruption

Donald Trump wasn’t the only politician giving Mexicans a headache in 2017, says Luís Gómez Romero. Three state governors were arrested abroad while trying to escape justice.

Among them was Roberto Borge of Quintana Roo, home to the tourist mecca of Cancún. In June, he was apprehended in Panama after fleeing accusations of, among other crimes, using thugs to drive people out of beachfront hotels after illegally seizing the properties.

Meanwhile, former Veracruz governor Javier Duarte was detained for not only allegedly stealing almost US $3 billion from his home state but also for allegedly diverting health funds meant for children with cancer.

“Rather than receive the chemotherapy medication Avastin, the children were dispensed distilled water,” Gómez Romero explains.

By fall 2017, he says, fully 11 of Mexico’s 32 governors were under investigation or fighting prosecution for corruption. On December 20, a high-profile ally of President Peña Nieto was arrested on charges of campaign-finance embezzlement.

Public malfeasance is “pretty old news in Mexico,” Gómez Romero says. But “by any measure, graft in Mexico has reached stunning new highs this year.”

5. Record violence

Homicides did, too. With 20,878 murders reported by November, 2017 is officially Mexico’s deadliest year since such data was first published in 1997.

On average, 69 people are murdered and 13 “disappear” daily in Mexico. In one particularly bloody month, October 2017, there were 2,371 murders in 31 days.

“This nightmare of unremitting violence is inflicted by both criminal organizations and agents of the Mexican state,” writes Gómez Romero, who attributes the country’s high homicide rates to the government’s 11-year war on drug cartels.

6. Soldiers gone wild

To tackle crime, in December Congress approved legislation allowing the Mexican military to take over law enforcement duties. Security analysts and human rights advocates strongly opposed the Internal Security Law, saying it will only increase casualties.

When the idea was first floated back in April, Gómez Romero wrote a scathing assessment that credited the military – a “lethal killing force” – for the drug war’s already unacceptable death toll.

After the Internal Security Law’s hasty congressional approval in December, which has triggered protest in the country, Gómez Romero commented that “the militarization of Mexico [is] a painful episode” for Mexico.

7. Political disarray

Violence and corruption have turned many Mexicans against President Peña Nieto, whose approval rating hit 26% by November 2017. This voter anger is shaking up Mexico’s 2018 presidential campaign, notes pollster Salvador Vázquez del Mercado.

“Mexico’s 2018 campaign season has not officially begun, but the race for the presidency is already a nail-biter, featuring a powerful ruling party, dozens of independent aspirants . . . and very strange bedfellows,” he observes.

To defeat Peña Nieto’s incumbent PRI, numerous right and left-wing parties have teamed up to form coalitions that Vázquez del Mercado calls “ideologically incoherent.”

Resistance to these strange alliances, both within parties and among the citizenry, has been fierce.

8. Economic ups and downs

Concern about the Trump presidency also unsettled Mexico’s economy. The peso dropped 15% after the U.S. election, hitting a modern historic low value of 21.95 pesos to the U.S. dollar by late January 2017. It took six months to recover.

Mexico’s economy has suffered from Trump’s attacks on NAFTA, which he has called “the worst trade deal ever.” Talks are now under way to renegotiate the 33-year-old agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

While Mexico has benefited hugely from reduced tariffs on its exports to neighbors, reshaping NAFTA may actually have some upsides for the country, say Asit Biswas and Cecelia Torjada of the Institute for Water Policy at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

NAFTA has been good for American farmers but rough on their Mexican counterparts, depressing domestic agricultural production. That, in turn, has endangered Mexico’s ability to grow enough of its own food.

Fearing a NAFTA repeal, the country is now diversifying its trading partners, offering U.S.-style favorable terms to Argentina, Brazil and other major agricultural exporters. It is also trying to help Mexican farmers produce more crops.

The Conversation“Mexico has more policy options than it thinks,” say Biswas and Torjada of a NAFTA rewrite. “And it may have less to lose than its northern neighbor.”

Catesby Holmes is global affairs editor at The Conversation.  This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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  • cooncats

    All one has to do is to read this piece after the first part and figure out why the U.S. may have finally had enough with Mexican impunity on the topics of immigration and trade. Not to mention the idea Mexicans have they can riot in U.S. streets, wave their flag, burn the U.S. flag, give Americans the finger and not create a backlash with all of the above. And then there are those inconvenient facts like 1 in 5 federal prisoners in the U.S. is an illegal.

    Mexico’s biggest problem isn’t Donald Trump but it has become Mexico’s favorite red herring for distracting attention from the gross corruption and criminality this country is sinking into. It’s a lot easier to blame Trump for your woes than to notice that a rather large portion of your public funds are being stolen, your roads are falling apart, your environment is getting ever more dirty and dangerous and much of the country is in the hands of the cartel.

    Yes, your greedy and callous rich and thieving political class have done a bang up job of sabotaging the energy and ability of this country to the point it can only manage to grow by a couple of percent despite having a near optimal population demographic. It seems the big growth story in Mexico these days are homicides and robbery on the roads.

  • ss

    Stand for something or fall for anything. You get,what you deserve.

  • LosOjosRojos

    What gall! Trump is the LEAST of Mexico’s problem.

  • Awww, my Mexican paisanos don’t like the Donald because he says mean things about them! Suggestion: Quit sneaking into the U.S. without permission. Then the Gringos will like you better.

    • Ge0ffrey

      Trump always distinguishes between the legal and illegal immigrant. The lame-stream press reports it as if he doesn’t.

      • Not just the press. Leftists invariably drop the word “illegal.” They contend that conservatives are against all immigration, turning the issue into xenophobia instead of what it actually is, support for the rule of law. Leftists are masters at wordplay. And, alas, too many people fall for it. Their biggest success is labeling themselves as “liberal” and “progressive.”

  • Güerito

    Half of the dollar’s rise, from 12.2 in early 2013 to 15.7 in the Summer of 2015, took place before Trump even announced his candidacy.

    The sharp fall in the peso began in the fall of 2014, when the issues of corruption and increased violence came to the forefront (despite the government’s attempt to ignore these issues), when the Iguala Massacre and the Casa Blanca and other scandals received international press attention.

    Things have been going downhill since. Almost comic levels of corruption now reported daily, and horiffic levels of violence now affecting the general civilian population to such an extent many experts now say it’s incorrect to speak of “narco violence.”

    Added to this is the growing awareness that the much-touted “reforms” have not had the expected positive economic impact. In fact, the post-“reform” Mexican economy continues to grow at or below 2%, pretty much the same over the last 25 years. With nearly half the country still in poverty and more than half of all those employed working in the informal economy.

    In response, the Mexican government is flooding media with pro-government propaganda, while it harasses, audits, and spies on journalists and anti-corruption activists. And they’re now politically manipulating poverty and other economic statistics, rather than attempting to deal with reality.

    Trump’s candidacy and eventual win, just brought these fundamental underlying problems into sharper focus.

    • cooncats

      Very well put. Frankly it is hard for me to see how AMLO could make things worse in Mexico. If I could vote here he would have mine.

      • Güerito

        Thanks. I agree.

        This is the kinda thing I mentioned and have been posting about for a while. From today’s NYTimes.

        Using Billions in Government Cash, Mexico Controls News Media;

        “President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration has spent hundreds of millions of dollars a year in government money on advertising, creating what many Mexican media owners, executives and journalists call a presidential branding juggernaut capable of suppressing investigative articles, directing front pages and intimidating newsrooms that challenge it.

        Despite vowing to regulate government publicity, Mr. Peña Nieto has spent more money on media advertising than any other president in Mexico’s history — nearly $2 billion in the past five years, according to government data compiled by Fundar, a transparency group. It found that his administration spent more than twice the generous media budget Mexican lawmakers allotted it for 2016 alone.

        And that is just the federal money.

        Leaders from all parties marshal hundreds of millions of dollars in state money for advertising each year, money they dole out to favored news outlets, Fundar calculated. According to the executives and editors involved in the negotiations, some government press secretaries openly demand positive coverage from news organizations before signing an advertising contract.

        The result is a media landscape across Mexico in which federal and state officials routinely dictate the news, telling outlets what they should — and should not — report, according to dozens of interviews with executives, editors and reporters. Hard-hitting stories are often softened, squashed or put off indefinitely, if they get reported at all. Two-thirds of Mexican journalists admit to censoring themselves.

        Pick up a newspaper, tune into a radio station or flip on the television in Mexico and you are greeted with a barrage of government advertising. In some papers, nearly every other page is claimed by an ad promoting one government agency or another. At times, as much airtime is dedicated to venerating the government’s work as it is to covering the news.

        The extraordinary spending comes at a time when the Mexican government is cutting budgets across the board, including for health, education and social services. The federal government spent as much on advertising last year, about $500 million, as it did to support students in its main scholarship program for public universities.

        The co-opting of the news media is more fundamental than any one administration’s spending on self-promotion, historians say. It reflects the absence of the basic pact that a free press has with its readers in a democracy, where holding the powerful accountable is part of its mission.

        “It’s a common problem in the developing world, but the problem is much, much graver in Mexico,” said David Kaye, the United Nations special representative for freedom of expression. “It’s remarkable what the government spends.”

        Particularly troubling for readers of Mexico News Daily, is what the article says about El Universal, which is very often used as the only source for articles published here:

        It describes how the leader of the PAN party won a defamation case against the paper, and goes on:

        “El Universal receives more government advertising than any other newspaper in the nation, about $10 million last year. Critics argue that the newspaper has become something of an attack dog for the government ahead of presidential elections next year.

        In July, a half-dozen columnists announced their resignations in protest over what they called biased coverage, saying the owners had destroyed the institution’s credibility.

        Salvador Frausto, an investigative editor who earned the paper many awards, also left. Colleagues said he was clearly uncomfortable with how close the paper was becoming to the PRI and its new presidential candidate, José Antonio Meade.

        The person who replaced Mr. Frausto as the new investigative editor was most recently a press officer at the foreign affairs ministry, according to his LinkedIn profile.

        And the news director of El Universal had close ties with the new candidate: His wife was Mr. Meade’s international press chief at the finance ministry.”

        • Ge0ffrey

          I’d be careful about citing anything from the NY Times, which is in part owned by Carlos Slim.

        • cooncats

          Just a comment on your first sentence, I’d be concerned the reform vote will be divided by too many candidates allowing the PRI to get back in. The reformers need to come together and vote as a bloc.

  • alance

    Economic independence is good for all nations.

  • Dead Dog

    The 8 listed has nothing to do with why the year has been so terrible for Mexico.
    It’s the people, they have no courage to rise and take back their country.
    It’s easier to cross the boarder illegally then to change their own country. SAD ! ! !

    • desertpatriot

      good point!

  • WestCoastHwy

    Happy, Happy, Happy…….not! Mexicans just smile and say they’re happy because Guadalupe is watching.

  • desertpatriot

    mexico can only dream they had a president like trump.