Five Mexicans to watch in 2017

The past year was a rough one for many Mexicans.

The list of difficulties and indignities was long, from the rise to the US presidency of confirmed enemy Donald Trump to the end-of-year shock of gasoline prices soaring by as much as 20 percent. The political and economic outlook will have many Mexicans bracing for another hard year ahead. Yet international and local instability also present opportunities for change, both politically and culturally.

Faced with a difficult climate, here are five Mexicans looking to make a real impact in 2017.


Margarita Zavala

The Mexico City lawyer and politician has already announced her desire to become Mexico’s first female president. Zavala, who is the wife of former President Felipe Calderon, hopes to become the candidate for the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

Yet as Hillary Clinton discovered in 2016, experience as a former first lady can be as much of a hindrance as a help. Zavala will need to run a well-considered campaign if she is to distance herself from the bloodshed that was unleashed as a result of her husband’s military strategy against drug cartels.

During her visit to last November’s Guadalajara International Book Fair, a protestor whose father had been murdered in 2007 appeared at her side with a placard reading: “Your husband took the life of my father, do you want to take mine?”

The presidential hopeful took the protestor’s cellphone number and offered to speak to him at a later date, showing she can think on her feet. Yet the incident also demonstrated that she needs to take full advantage of 2017 if she is to distance herself from the past and position herself for the presidency.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

No other figure in Mexican politics divides opinion as much as former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. To many, the leader of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) is Mexico’s futAMLO-Morena-Andres-Manuel-Lopez-Obradorure savior. To others, he is a demagogue, hell-bent on importing the kind of economic and social chaos that has ravaged Venezuela. Antonio Garza, the former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico may have been closest to the truth, when he described him in 2006 as a left-leaning centrist who had little in common with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

Lopez Obrador has already run two failed campaigns for the presidency, in 2006 and 2012. Yet Peña Nieto’s historically low favorability ratings are likely to take another tumble in 2017. His meeting with Trump earlier this year was a grave mishandling of the situation, viewed by some Mexicans as borderline treason. Soaring petrol prices triggered by his energy reforms are likely to encourage Mexicans to look to a figure outside of the political establishment.

The next presidential election is not until 2018, but opinion polls suggest that Lopez Obrador will start with an advantage. With Trump in the White House, and Peña Nieto on the back foot, this year will offer important opportunities for Lopez Obrador to portray himself as an agent of badly-needed change.


Kate del Castillo

The soap opera and film star Kate del Castillo started 2016 in very hot water. The actor, who is known for playing a female drug kingpin in the Queen of the South series, found herself under investigation for her connection to captured cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and was forced to file an injunction against her arrest.Kate Castillo

Del Castillo was thrust into the international spotlight after she arranged a meeting between the fugitive drug boss and the actor Sean Penn. She is now accused of accepting illegal funds from Guzman for her tequila company.

While the actor cannot currently travel to Mexico, she is finding success from Los Angeles, by starring in the political drama Ingobernable (Ungovernable) which is due for release on Netflix in March. Del Castillo plays Irene Urzua, the headstrong wife of Mexico’s president, who is closely based on Angelica Rivera, the current first lady.

Long associated with Televisa, the Mexican television channel that heavily promoted Peña Nieto when he was a candidate in 2012, the series represents a departure for Del Castillo. It is a chance to simultaneously take aim at the president, the government and her former employers, all from the comfort of exile.

Jonas Cuaron

Jonas Cuaron

The young director is up for an Academy Award for best foreign-language picture in 2016, for his second feature Desierto, a thriller about a group of migrants stalked by a racist sniper at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Jonas Cuaron, whose previous work includes co-writing his father Alfonso’s space odyssey Gravity, has explicitly linked his film to Trump’s negative rhetoric about migrants.

The film’s international trailer features Trump’s infamous speech about Mexican migrants as the voice-over for a massacre. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists,” Trump says, as the vigilante takes aim at border-crossers in the desert.

While the film received a mixed critical reception, the director’s publicity campaign in the lead-up to its release has helped increase his profile. At a press conference, Cuaron encouraged Mexicans to upload ironic photos of themselves to Facebook and Instagram, holding placards with Trump’s descriptions: “rapist,” “criminal,” “I’m bringing drugs.” He promised to print them and send them to Trump’s offices.


Valeria Luiselli 

The 33-year-old Mexican author had a hugely successful 2016. She won the Los Angeles Times Prize for Best Fiction for her second novel The Story of My Teeth, – her critically acclaimed tale of an eccentric protagonist searching for Valeria_luiselli_2014.jpgnew teeth. She appeared frequently in the Guardian and the New York Times and was featured in Vogue along with her husband, the Mexican writer Alvaro Enrigue.

Her latest non-fiction title, Los niños perdidos (The Lost Children), is scheduled for release next year. The project arose from her experience working as a translator for child migrants in the immigration courts of New York.

The book takes its structure from a 40-question survey that serves as the basis for the legal proceedings determining whether the children are allowed to stay in the United States. Through these questions, Luiselli explores the present legal difficulties and the violent pasts of youngsters who have undertaken the perilous journey north.

“The children interviewed say reticent words” writes Luiselli. “Words full of mistrust; born of buried fear and constant humiliation.”

 Twitter: @Stephentwoodman

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