A clear difference between our political expectations is this – Americans want to believe in the moral qualities of their leaders, while Mexicans know their politicians have none.
This is why it is not surprising to learn, for instance, about the associations of a certain Republican congressman with a group of white supremacists. Since American politicians are supposed to be, in part, the moral compass of society, the poor congressman is expected to resign, or at least apologize, even though he might not see any conflict between his convictions and the office he occupies.
Mexican politicians don’t have that problem. A PAN senator craves attention? He stages his own kidnapping and, upon his release, he comes out reciting entire passages of El Quijote for the TV cameras. A member of the PRI feels entitled to his own harem? He runs a prostitution ring out of his office. A PRD mayor perceives a group of teens as a security threat? He summons the federal, state and municipal police and makes sure those rowdy brats are never heard from again.
Close to eighty years ago, when André Breton famously declared Mexico the most surreal country in the world, no one could have imagined that Mexican politics, still bearing the scars of the Revolution, would become such a pageantry of horror and laughter and pity. But here we are, with a man who has mistaken his role as president for a private stroll down the catwalk.
In keeping with the life of the jet set, Enrique Peña Nieto would have liked to land his new Dreamliner in Washington, but his $580 million (American dollars, of course) purchase is still to be delivered. However, that hasn’t kept him from getting away. In the light of the massive protests taking place in Mexico after the disappearance of 43 students, he left for China and Australia, reassuring us that, as head of state, his obligation was to fulfill a commitment made in the name of all Mexicans. This statement, one must assume, included the 43 kidnapped with the help of the Mexican federal police.
It is not surprising either that he’d decide to travel to Peru right after, during Human Rights Day. His effigy had been recently torched in the Zócalo square of the capital, the ritualistic center of Mexico. It’s hard not empathize with him — the rising smoke signals must have been still too visible and disgusting and disrespectful of his own humanity, spelling God knows what unpleasant messages.
Peña Nieto will find any excuse to get away from Mexico City these days. Education, for instance. During a recent summit in southern Mexico, Peña Nieto committed himself to strengthening his country’s ties to Latin America, promising a total of 200,000 scholarships for students of the region. This, coming from a man who can’t name three books he has read in his life; from a president whose answer to the disappearance of 43 students was, first, utter indifference; then, a meaningless meeting with the distraught parents; later, a fabricated explanation of the unfortunate events of September 26 in Ayotzinapa; even later with a plea to the parents, to Mexico, to the entire world to please move on; and now, embarking in this aimless pilgrimage, going from one place to another, finding no rest from the cosmic conspiracy that’s befallen him.
For Americans, who revere the shrine of their president almost with religious fervor, the visit of Peña Nieto should be an outrage, not only because of everything mentioned above — they should be particularly outraged because the man who inhabits the mythical building is willing to overlook all of Peña Nieto’s actions simply to continue business as usual.
For us Mexicans, one of our only consolations is that Peña Nieto’s extravagances, his frivolities — his floating palace and own White House, to mention only two — bring back memories of the French royalty of yore, and he doesn’t seem to know it.
This commentary was originally published by El BeiSMan. José Ángel N. is the author of Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant.