Upon learning about the incident in which Andrea Benítez, daughter of the head of the Federal Consumer Office, managed to mobilize a group of verifiers from the aforementioned institution with the aim of closing down a restaurant who wouldn’t assign her the table she asked for, it was impossible for me not to think about two issues: 1) In Mexico, cases of an almost patrimonial use of public service persist, where having a high-ranked public official as a relative may even close down a business without any justifiable reason 2) However little or anecdotal the tantrum may have seemed, it inevitably sends a message to society that there are classes in the exercise of citizenship (as well as the consumer’s role): first-class citizens with the ability to mobilize authority and second-class citizens unable to receive help from the bureaucratic apparatus.
I will not go further on the implications of the first element about legal certainty to do business in Mexico, a matter that Carlos Puig clearly exposes in his Milenio article (Goodbye, Humberto Benítez Treviño). Implications of the second element are not minor, either. Taking up the idea on the Luis Rubio article published on Reforma (CNTE and citizens), there still remains a division in Mexico regarding the legitimacy of authority and, consequently, of the acceptable mechanisms to transform reality or defending particular interests. To sum up, there are those who consider blocking roads or universities is acceptable because – given that the authority is perceived as arbitrary – anything goes and, on the other hand, there are those who see it as a clear transgression. The answer to the affirmation “authority in Mexico is arbitrary”, obtained through the Values Survey (done by CIDAC along with the Tufts University), sets an example.
In its proper dimension events like #LadyProfeco just go to show that it does not make any sense to play by the rules since laws are made to protect a minority and are not accessible to the everyday citizens, no matter if they have legitimate interests or not. It is no coincidence that, in the aforementioned survey, 71% of the respondents affirm that Mexican laws protect those with power.
Promoting transformations (at education, energy and tax levels) that undoubtedly affect powerful and potentially belligerent interests, will eventually put the State in of these scenarios: 1) to exercise its authority in a legal way upon acts that hinder order but with a public perception of illegitimacy 2) to perpetuate blackmail as means of solving conflicts effectively bypassing national institutions or 3) reduce its transforming intentions. The three scenarios would unquestionably offer major political and electoral costs even more so when the current government will be pursued by its “end of the untouchables” rhetoric. Over the last few hours, several voices have requested decisive actions from President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration regarding the #LadyProfeco case. Those actions range from dismissing the head of PROFECO to attribution of liabilities. Of course, nobody wants to remove one of his high-ranked officers due to a cause that would send a weakness signal to political adversaries. Nevertheless, assuming that inaction has no costs is certainly wrong. Finally, it’s true that chickens should not be counted before they hatch nor authority actions are almighty in the perception and acts of everyday citizens. Despite the tide of criticism and mockery to #LadyProfeco in social networks and op-eds, it is impossible not to acknowledge that there are still feelings of aspiring to use, not to reject, influences as means of power and not playing by the rules when there are no consequences. When the question “why do public servers in Mexico do not resign with events such as the aforementioned?” comes up, the answer is relatively simple: they’re one of us. And even though it’s the authority’s responsibility to inhibit this kind of behavior, there are more Mexican citizens than public servers to convince of that reality.