Getting Out of the Hole

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Mexico’s problems didn’t start in Iguala nor do they dwell in what the government does or doesn’t do. In any case, paraphrasing an Arab snippet of wisdom, the government is guilty of having celebrated “before having the camel’s hairs in its hand”, but that’s an issue of arrogance and not of intention. The great problem of the government is that it doesn’t have a response, a strategy that matches today’s reality in the face of globalization and of an open society that, though far from having achieved democratic institutionalization, is no longer submissive and timorous as it was under the old PRIist regime. The problem is one of vision and perspective.
The government had tried everything: reforms, spending, threats; it has advanced infrastructure projects and cancelled others; it has attempted to convince the world but has ignored the Mexicans. The events of Iguala have not modified the need for action on multiple fronts nor must these events impede much of what has been achieved to date being consolidated and yielding favorable results over time: the case of energy is emblematic. What Iguala did was to give a voice to an entire society that rejects the imposition of an effete and a-historic concept of government.
It has taken the government months to flesh out a response in good measure because from the outset it repudiated the limits imposed by the reality. The government rejects the fact that globalization should impose severe restrictions on its freedom of action because globalization goes hand in glove with the transparency reverberating throughout the orb, the ubiquitousness of information that has empowered even the most unpretentious of citizens and given options to all social actors, beginning with businessmen and investors. The government demonstrated that it can raise taxes, benefit some contractors over others, privilege one private media outlet over other telecommunications companies and jail a teachers’ leader, but it has not demonstrated that it can remove the country from the hole it’s in. In this paradox lies its challenge: negotiating politicians within the legislative and partisan context is not the same as governing.
The first face of the paradox is key: the initial success, constructed on taking refuge in the Pact for Mexico forged among the political parties, incorporated the benefit of making the unobstructed approval of the legislative agenda possible, but at the enormous cost of rendering irrelevant the other parties as functional opposition. Many applauded the political agreement, but few considered its implications. Given the very restrictive electoral regime characterizing the country –this implying that it is exceedingly difficult to create alternative forms of political participation (including the creation of new political parties)- the country experienced the pressure cooker effect, in which dissidence is being manifested by other means, many of these  potentially illegitimate. The marches, protests, torchings and passive forms of rejection, but not thus less effective, illustrate the risk of closing all spaces for dissent and the manifestation of ideas or alternative proposals. Of course this is not exclusive to the current government, but its devotion to controlling and censuring in general, in addition to corrupting the opposition parties (e.g., moches or “sharing” a percentage of each spending program), has had the effect of annulling other means of access and participation.
On the second face of the paradox lies, in the last analysis, the true challenge of proceeding full face toward the future. The country is confronting a basic problem of governance; in a word, the country has not been governed for decades. Inertia has been getting the nation by, crises have been faced in the best possible manner, but no institutions have been consolidated, this meaning rules of the game that are known by all and made to be complied with by the government without distinction. In one word, means which allow the development of a functional society, a successful economy and, in general, a prosperous nation. There has been inertia but not government, and in that the present one is not different.
Governing does not consist of making agreements among politicians or advancing a legislative agenda. Governing is creating conditions for the functioning of society and ensuring that these operate systematically with the objective of making stability as well as prosperity possible. Without order the functioning of the country is impossible, but by order one must not understand the Porfirian (and PRIist) authoritarian dictum under which nothing moves. Order is a dynamic concept that entails an active participation of the society within a framework of transparent rules.
This has never existed in Mexican society. Mexico went from an authoritarian regime in which the rules were “unwritten” to a pseudo-democratic regime without rules and without government. The economy was reformed (at least in key aspects such as public finances and the trading regime) but a modern system of government was not constructed nor was transformation procured for the traditional productive plant with the aim of raising its productivity and rendering it possible to share the success of the development. Both of these things feed on each other: the old system of government pairs up with the old economy and one lives off the other in a symbiotic relationship that benefits very few, while simultaneously making it impossible for the majority of the population to have a viable and productive future. Anchors of stability are urgent that confer certainty on the population and a means of adjustment for the traditional (i.e., old) productive plant.
The great challenge resides in advancing the transformation of both the system of government as well as that of the old economy. These matters are perhaps not as flamboyant and inviting as energy sector reforms, but without them not even a reform as ambitious and promising as that of the energy sector has any future at all.

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Luis Rubio

Luis Rubio

He is a contributing editor of Reforma and his analyses and opinions often appear in major newspapers and journals in Mexico, the US and Europe (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio).