Hundreds of Mexican politicians have died in the run up to the election – but cultural leaders are fighting back

Hundreds of Mexican politicians have died in the run up to the election – but cultural leaders are fighting back

Mexican presidential elections are to be held on July 1. Congress members will also be elected. The front runner for president is the seasoned left-wing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador who, with his MORENA national regeneration movement, is looking to overturn the political dominance of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party).

Many have faith that AMLO, as he is known, will tackle corruption and bring increased social justice to Mexico. Others fear that he will be autocratic and his policies could damage the Mexican economy.

What has been most troubling about the pre-election political campaign has been the extreme violence that has characterised it. Some 132 politicians and party workers have been killed and 300 attacked (at the time of writing). Hundreds of candidates have pulled out of the elections in fear of their lives. Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, head of human rights at MORENA, puts this figure at an astonishing 600 politicians.

If politicians, from whatever party, seek to tackle corruption or criminal activities, they quickly become targets of organised crime. Drug cartels, in particular, are using the elections to ensure that politicians seeking election do not threaten their power bases. They are using homicide as a strategy to maintain political control over local communities.

This is linked to a wider problem, with 30,000 murders committed last year, principally as a result of the failed war on drugs.

Supporters crowd round presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s car, June 25 2018. EPA-EFE/David Guzmán

El Día Después

So Mexico’s political culture is in a state of crisis. In response, Mexican cultural figures, led by the actor and director Diego Luna, are fighting back with their movement El Día Después (The Day After). The movement is seeking radical change by appealing to citizens, transcending party politics while being deeply socially engaged. The movement’s website informs us that it is:

A citizen’s initiative that invites Mexican society to act with empathy during the electoral process, particularly from July 2 when the challenge of adapting to a new reality and resolving our differences begins.

Diego Luna is joined by high profile figures from the film and culture industry including the actor Gael García Bernal, directors Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

This is no headline grabbing case of celebrity activism. While media sources, unsurprisingly, are highlighting these names, they are joined by many highly regarded journalists, political analysts, academics, singers, musicians, and novelists. The movement is non-partisan and has deliberately refrained from supporting one candidate over another. Yet, it is deeply critical of the behaviour of politicians on the campaign trail and their adversarial tactics.

In this way, the movement connects political leaders with the political violence, and holds them indirectly – or even directly in some cases – responsible for it.

A manifesto for change

In one video made for El Día Después, directed by Gabriela Loaria and coproduced by Diego Luna and Diego Rabasa, the behaviour of the politicians is explicitly linked to the violence on the streets and to deepening divisions in society.

In one sequence, a speaker critiques the way reasoned debate “is being replaced by attacks, and low blows”. This is accompanied by clips and images of political figures engaging in crude name-calling, followed by images of fighting members of the public.

The video is a composite of voices of prominent Mexican cultural and intellectual figures: journalists, academics, citizen’s rights groups, lawyers, and human rights activists. All call for dialogue, reconciliation, empathy, political accountability and citizen empowerment. As political violence takes a firmer hold in Mexico with the election campaigns, these figures are using their cultural status to seek a lasting shift in political culture.

As the name suggests, El Día Después sets its sights beyond the election; it is ambitious and utopian. It is rooted in a 12-point manifesto that promotes peace and tolerance, indigenous rights and voices, freedom to choose gender identities and women’s rights. It professes solidarity with undocumented migrants and Mexicans in the US, support for education, culture, science and the arts, respect for the environment, freedom of expression, and accountability of the government of the day. It forcefully denounces corruption, poverty and inequality, racism, classism, homophobia and discrimination against the disabled.

The manifesto does not, and perhaps cannot, offer specific solutions to drug-related violence and crime. Nonetheless, it is a broad appeal to end corruption and impunity, and to hold those in positions of power accountable.

Time will tell how successful the initiative will be, but at the time of writing – and only days after its launch – 34,058 people have signed the manifesto.

This is an important initiative led by the cultural and intellectual elite, but for all Mexicans. Mexico is leading the way in peaceful citizen activism and can offer an important lesson for the rest of the world in times of deep disillusionment with global political leadership.