Mexico’s Independence Day Marked by Protests and Repression

President Enrique Peña Nieto has become Mexico’s most unpopular president in a quarter-century, according to opinion polls.

Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations were marked with anti-government protests and violent police repression against dissident teachers in the southern state of Oaxaca.

Thousands of riot police officers were deployed in Mexico City as a mass demonstration demanding the resignation of Peña Nieto tried to reach the iconic main square of that city known as Zocalo, however, they couldn’t pass through the human barrier of police armed with tear gas and batons.

The protesters had to stay meters away from the main square where the president traditionally starts the Independence celebrations by ringing a bell on the balcony of the National Palace and shouting “Viva Mexico” before a crowd that effusively chants the same words, in what is probably the most important popular celebration for Mexicans.

Instead around 5,000 people, most of them youngsters, held a peaceful demonstration near the Zocalo in which they held banners that read “Peña out,” or “Resign now,” showing their contempt for Peña Nieto who has become Mexico’s most unpopular president in a quarter-century, according to opinion polls.

Meanwhile, Peña Nieto celebrated the country’s independence in a square that was completely surrounded by fences, checkpoints and with two safety filters for attendees, most of whom were people brought by the government from the State of Mexico, the political stronghold of Peña Nieto.

Anti-government protests were held also in the capital of the southern state of Oaxaca, where striking teachers continue a fierce battle against the neoliberal education reform of Peña Nieto.

Teachers tried to held a peaceful public demonstration in the main square of Oaxaca, but they were fired with tear gas by riot police and clashes began as they responded by throwing flares and stones.

teleSUR

Protesters Demand Resignation of President Peña Nieto

As President Enrique Peña Nieto prepared for the beginning of Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations, protesters took to the streets of capital on Thursday to demand his resignation.

Chanting “Peña out,” several thousand mostly young demonstrators marched peacefully past the glass towers of the city’s main boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma, in the waning afternoon light, hours before the president, whose government has been buffeted by a series of scandals and a weakening economy, was to formally start the long Independence Day weekend by ringing a bell on the balcony of the National Palace.

“I am here because I want my country to have a political system that holds an official accountable for bad performance,” said Alberto Serdán, 37, a public policy researcher and blogger. With each crisis, Mr. Serdán added, the government “simply loses any notion of dignity and capacity to rule.”

Mr. Peña Nieto has become Mexico’s most unpopular president in a quarter-century, opinion polls show, as frustrations mount over entrenched corruption and anxiety rises over economic stagnation and an increase in murders to the highest level since he took office.

Even so, Thursday’s protest was not nearly as large as past demonstrations. City officials said they had expected only 1,000 people. Many more showed up but were blocked from entering the Zócalo, the central square that is the site of the National Palace.

Anger has crystallized over the past two weeks after Mr. Peña Nieto invited Donald J. Trump to Mexico and treated him like a fellow head of state. Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, is reviled here for, among other things, accusing Mexico of sending drugs and rapists over the border.

Mr. Peña Nieto’s finance minister, Luis Videgaray, resigned a week later after news media reports described him as the person who had proposed the visit. But the departure of Mr. Videgaray, a close associate of Mr. Peña Nieto’s and the architect of many of his policies, did little to quell the discontent.

As Mr. Peña Nieto enters the final two years of his six-year term, there is a sense among his many critics that the country is adrift and that he cannot change course.

“The country does not deserve two more years of political distrust and limitless uncertainty,” Ricardo Raphael, a journalist and commentator with the newspaper El Universal, wrote on Thursday.

Last week, Mr. Peña Nieto tried to brush off his critics.

“Political decisions are sometimes subject to enormous polemic,” he said at the inauguration of a park. “And maybe today they are not understood, but I am sure that the time will come when the reason for each decision will be comprehended.”

At the protest, some said their patience had run out long ago.

“I am sick of this government, of this disastrous president,” said Alicia Mercado, 66, who joined the march in a wheelchair. “With Trump’s visit, he couldn’t or didn’t even want to defend his own people.”

Although Mr. Peña Nieto began his presidency in 2012 with a series of drastic changes designed to revive economic growth, he has stumbled repeatedly over the past two years.

His government bungled an investigation into the September 2014disappearance of 43 students at a rural teachers’ college in Guerrero State, an inquiry that was sharply criticized in April by a panel of independent experts who reviewed the case.

The chief investigator, Tomás Zerón, resigned from the attorney general’s office on Wednesday in an apparent acknowledgment of the doubts regarding his handling of the case, which is the subject of two internal inquiries.

But Mr. Zerón was not out of a job for long. A few hours later, the president appointed him as the technical secretary for Mexico’s National Security Council.

The appointment to a post that keeps Mr. Zerón close to the president’s inner circle rekindled the anger.

“It’s making a mockery not only of the 43 and their families, it’s making a mockery of all Mexicans,” said Mario González, a father of one of the missing students.

In recent weeks, Mr. Peña Nieto has also faced new accusations over his integrity, with evidence that he plagiarized part of his undergraduate law thesis and that a wealthy Mexican businessmen paid the property taxes for the Miami apartment of his wife, Angélica Rivera.

New York Times