John Lennon once said about the early years of rock and roll, “Before Elvis there was nothing”. Iguala promises to be something much like this for President Peña’s government. What was, was; now the reality sets in. The question is whether this breaking point will lead to a rethinking of the long term strategy of the government or whether it will mark the moment in which it failed, as it happened to so many administrations in the past.
In Mexico’s context, killings like those of Ayotzinapa or Tlatlaya are not the exception or unpredictable. Everyone knows that these things happen and that they’ll continue to happen and that’s the problem: in a civilized country these things don’t happen. That they’re “natural” in Mexico is what distinguishes it and places the government up against a challenge that, to date, it had been indisposed to assume. The pretentiousness that the insecurity and violence would be solved by denying their existence or by making it certain that no information of violence is presented in the media ended up being futile and even counterproductive. Paradoxically, these events are going to be more high-cost for this government than for its predecessor because the latter had no compunctions about recognizing them, not to imply that its strategy was fruitful at all. There is a total absence of long-term strategy that takes into consideration the consolidation of an institutional environment (police, judicial, governments) in which those events do not happen or, if they were to, would be a true exception to the rule.
The unusually long honeymoon that the government had was due in good measure to its extraordinary success in advancing an extensive agenda of reforms that captured the attention of the country and the world. The government evidenced great capacity of political leadership and negotiation within the legislative context, achieving a break with decades of paralysis in matters of economic transcendence. In parallel fashion, it ventured a combat strategy against criminality solely differentiated from that of the previous administration in that it included a political component whose merits have not been exceptional, at least in the case of Michoacán. All in all, the legislative advance as well as a novel tactic in security matters granted the government nearly two years of sweeping and almost fully uncontested latitude.
No sooner had the legislative process concluded than the matter of governing commenced, and from thence it’s been an uphill climb. There’s not the least doubt that the government’s capacity of management and political operation is remarkable, and more so when compared with that of earlier administrations; however, situations such as Ayotzinapa and the failed negotiation with the IPN students evidence the absence of a political project that transcends the mere objective of calming the waters (which clearly has not been accomplished either). That is, there is unmistakable response capacity but no solution strategy for the problems paining the country; worse yet, it is obvious that within the government this is not considered necessary. In Iguala it was clear that the municipal president doubled as a hired gun for the drug mafias; for its part, the notion of negotiating (for example with teachers’ unions or with the Polytechnic students) is the equivalent of conceding the entirety of the demands ended up being counterproductive and otherwise costly. The country demands solutions, not just politics.
Is the federal government responsible for the mayor of Iguala’s second job? Definitely not, but the fact that the narcos are in control of vast regions of the country, impose their law, extort the population, pose a threat to the peace of the citizenry, assassinate at will and submit (or buy off) many state and municipal governments constitutes a challenge to the nation’s governability but, above all, to the idea that a “strong” government is sufficient for the country to progress and gain stability. It is evident that an institutionalized and competent government is required at all levels and not only one characterized by short term management capacity. The government’s opportunity lies in rethinking its project in that direction, but its reactions these days don’t suggest that this is being considered.
Before Iguala the government enjoyed enormous latitude for imposing its style and law. Now it will have to deal with the protests that will doubtlessly beleaguer it inside and outside of the country and, yet more important, with a reality ever subject to deteriorating in the economic as well as in the political. Above all, President Peña’s government has been characterized by a systematic attempt to adapt the reality to its predilections instead of dealing with the reality and trying to mold it little by little in order to reach the transformation it promised from the start. In the political arena it began from the assumption that the problem was one of the lack of efficacy in the way the governmental operated, an efficacy that now is inadequate or insufficient (and which, in any case, has not been achieved except in legislative matters); in the economic arena it ignored the crisis era that preceded the last two decades of macroeconomic stability and is running the risk of leading the country, once again, back to those ill-fated times.
In Iguala the complexity of the country as well as the risk of ignoring the problematic that lies at its core were brutally exhibited for all to see. It is this, more than anything else, which Iguala changes, without doubt permanently: the before and the after.