World of confusions

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“Confusion of goals and perfection of means”, wrote Einstein, “seems, in my opinion, to characterize our age”. It appears he was thinking about Mexican politics. Today nothing is clear: what’s the role of the political parties and what’s that of the government? What’s the relationship between the executive and the legislature? What’s the function of the Pact? What relation should there be between party leaders and the legislative contingents? How should the state governments interact with the federal government and where do their respective responsibilities begin and end? What is the role of ex-presidents in active politics? In a word, what is Mexican democracy and to what does it aspire?
The confusion and contradiction of concepts that characterize the public debate (or dispute) is infinite and reveal a very simple circumstance: the country has not adapted itself to its current political reality. During the years of what now could end up being an interregnum -from 1997 to 2012- the craving for revenge and to move the borders of power would appear to explain and justify the bickering that was the norm of the period. Today, with the return of the old PRIist ways and some of their discipline, what before seemed like confusion is now open conflict.
What’s taking place within the parties is not distinct from what is observed between the executive power and the governors. The forms may be different, but the phenomenon is the same: the country is facing profound disorder in matters of power and there are no appropriate mechanisms to resolve them. Worse yet, the conflicts intensify and deepen, putting at risk not an agenda of reform, but the stability of the country. Left behind are those so very absurd show offs by legislators that tried to present themselves as heroic players, suddenly independent of the president when the PRI lost the legislative majority; today it’s no longer about arm wrestling but about the clear manifestations of a dysfunctional system. What worked under the old system no longer works and what barely worked in recent years no longer tallies with the present reality.
The problems are not limited to the relations among branches of government or levels of administrative responsibility. It’s the same situation with the communications media, union dissent, the obstructionist groups that emerged from the sewers of society and politics (as in Guerrero and Michoacán), and the criminality that reappears simply because the idyllic past cannot be recreated.
Everyone knows that the power arrangements of the past are unsustainable and that the absence of institutional development lies at the heart of the present-day conflictivity. The question is what is to be done about it. Proposals abound for responding to and resolving the disagreements. Some make sense, others sharply mirror Einstein’s observation. Most privilege the objectives being pursued, while the means typically proposed for reaching these are nothing but a string of hackneyed scenarios that, frequently, are not coherent with or conducive to the desired objective. The key is functional means, not grandiose objectives.
The problem is obvious: the reality has changed much faster than the institutions whose place it is to govern it.  In the context of it’s an ill wind that blows no good, as the saying goes, to the most experienced go the spoils, but lasting solutions do not prosper. The country progressed from a centralized regime and one with vertical controls to extreme decentralization in which all of the groups, sectors and interests did whatever possible to expand their spaces and attributions without there being institutional means for channeling the conflicts arising from this. From this derived a rebellion against the old, vast, presidential powers, its rules and forms, with the consequent excesses. Not everything was ill willed: many were the honest attempts to find practical solutions to basic problems in which the forms of yesteryear clashed with a globalized economic reality that did not admit many deviations. The fifteen years that followed the 1997 defeat of the PRI in Congress was a stage of political fits of pique: everyone attempted to impose his preferences that with a little luck would take hold. It lasted while it lasted.
Although there were (and are) many solution proposals, the reality is that political and intellectual leadership did not exist, nor did the capacity or political disposition, to construct the new institutional structure that the reality cries out for. Instead of solutions came occurrences: although there have been serious proposals, the majority of these have not been more than unconnected recipes. The result is there for all to see: interminable -and internecine- disputes, crime, reforms meant to serve private objectives and a weakening of the system’s legitimacy. What didn’t change was the reality. The conflict continues to seethe, acquiring ever more worrisome undertones.
Within this context, one can do no more than welcome the inherent order of the forms and actions of the new government. Beyond the content, the sole fact of the existence of a sense of order implies notable headway. However, order is not a substitute for solutions and much less so of formal institutions that can respond to the issues raised in the first paragraph.
The country demands nothing less than a change of regime, that is, a redefinition of the essence of the relationships among branches of government, entities and functions. A change of regime can be as ambitious as construction from ground zero or as pragmatic as redefinition of the existing relations. What will not work is the pretense of employing rules of the game and criteria that have clearly proven to be dysfunctional or that do not lead to the strengthening of the structures of governability, security and economic performance. The specific nature of the institutions and rules that would be required to give viability to the country depends not on big intellectual concepts, as useful as they may be, but rather on a negotiation at the interior of the power structures. The key to this is that, once the new rules have been agreed upon, all participants would commit themselves to comply with these and that the government, at all levels, would possess effective capacity for enforcing them.
We all entertain our preferences as to how the regime should be and what the role of each actor would be in the process. However, this isn’t about preferences but about negotiation. The only thing that’s indispensable is the existence of effective leadership that is clear on the objective to pursue and dedicated to constructing it. Institutions do not arise from an intellectual vacuum but rather from political praxis. “Men”, said Machiavelli, “never do good unless necessity drives them to it; but when they are free to choose and can do just as they please, confusion and disorder become rampant”. Such is the tessitura.

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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).