Who Is Really to Blame for the Metro Crash?


Mexico City Governor Claudia Sheinbaum. Photo: Google


Uncoupling Mexico City’s Line 3 Metro train crash on Saturday, Jan. 7, from the political prospects of the capital´s governor, Claudia Sheinbaum — as both she and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) have asked the public to do — is both virtually impossible and logically absurd.

On the one hand, the president and his leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party have turned every single issue on the political agenda into an electoral issue based on the discourse of his so-called Fourth Transformation. And that, by extension, includes — whether they want it or not — their failures as well as their successes (albeit few and far between).

On the other hand, the fact is that politics has always been scrutinous of public affairs, which is not necessarily unfair, much less petty.

Rulers are evaluated for their mistakes and, when they are skilled enough to point them out, also for their successes.

One of the ways to qualify these is through public surveys that reflect popularity ratings. But what really counts are the ballot boxes and the electoral results they produce.

Politicians are typically remembered for the decisions they make or the situations they face, successfully or otherwise, in the final stretches of their terms.

A six-year term with important long-term achievements in its first five years is inevitably overshadowed by what happens in the last year. For example, that of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari is best remembered for his disastrous 1994, which began with the Zapatista uprising on Jan. 1, and continued with the assassination of Luis Donaldo Colosio in March that same year, followed by the brutal execution of José Francisco Ruiz Massieu in September and closing with the evidence that an economic crisis was knocking on the door.

Likewise, the six-year term of former President Ernesto Zedillo, with some of its most important achievements in the first five years, such as his electoral reform, the consolidation of the separation of the economy and politics and the renewal and independence of the Supreme Court, are clouded by events that occurred at the end of his mandate.

Moe recently, former President Enrique Peña Nieto had two initial years of vertigo and unprecedented achievements. In the first third of his six-year term, he achieved structural reforms that Mexico had not achieved in the previous 18 years. However, a series of the scandals — such as the dubious acquisition of a private mansion in Mexico City’s upscale Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood and of the disappearance of 43 rural education students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero — caused his gleaming reputation to tarnish as the end of his term.

As her term in office nears a close, Sheinbaum is facing a torrent of unresolved problems, from growing insecurity in Mexico City to the collapse of the capital metro in all its lines and stations (under her watch, there have been four major accidents). Pointing this out is not — as Sheinbaum’s supporters would have us believe — an act of meanness, but rather a civic duty.

What is mean is the government’s firing within just a few hours — and without justifying arguments — the deputy director of operations of the metro in order to simulate an act of justice.

It is absurd that the monitoring of underground trains in one of the largest cities in the world is carried out manually through a system of paper with glue and a blackboard.

It is also absurd that Guillermo Calderón continues in the position of director of the metro when he has been unable to stand up to Sheinbaum to demand the necessary budget to correct the structural deficiencies of the system.

It is unthinkable that the Mexico City legislators would turn the other way and feign innocence when they were responsible for having approved the cuts and the budget stringency that turned the metro into a death train.

Sheinbaum was warned by her opponents, by society and, above all, by reality, of the deplorable conditions in which the metro is currently at. She was faced with this reality in May of 2022 when the worst accident in the history of that transportation system resulted in the deaths of 26 people.

But despite that tragedy, she opted to ignore the warning signs and spend historic budgets of self-promotion and glib festivities, including a giant party in the metro itself to mark the reopening of Line 12 just one week after the latest deadly accident.

What would truly be unforgiveable would be for the Mexican public to close their eyes and pretend that nothing really serious happened on the metro. Neither the Mexican government and the Mexican people can turn the page and continue to ignore what is undeniably an act of continued negligence over more than four years in the maintenance of a metro system on which millions of people depend each day.

Inevitably, someone will have to pay for this crime, whether criminally or politically.

ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER is a lawyer and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) School of Law. He directed the political magazine Cambio and Radio Capital for 15 years. He also founded and directed GreenTV, a cable television channel specializing in sustainability and the environment, for five years. He has been a commentator and host for various radio and television shows and has written political columns for the newspapers El Día and Unomásuno, in addition to publishing articles in more than 20 regional newspapers in Mexico since 1995. He is the author of the books “One Hundred Names of the Mexican Transition,” “Chimalhuacán, the Empire of La Loba” and “Chimalhuacán, from Lost City to Model Municipality.”

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