One way to summarize (inevitably simplifying) the last few decades is the following: on the one hand, a struggle between two visions of developmentalism and, on the other, attempts to deal with their consequences. Both processes have been fruitless, but their main characteristic is that both approaches have meant looking back to the past. For at least two decades, Mexico has been trying to return to a world that was not desirable but, more to the point, that is not possible. Nostalgia is not a good guide: what Mexico needs is to build a different future.
The developmentalist visions are obvious: in first place, we find the current government with its grandiose development projects: highways, great and ambitious reforms, infrastructure, and dreams of recreating an idyllic world. Emphasis is on the long term and on monumental objectives that, sooner or later, would lead to recognition of the grandeur of the government that promoted them. In second place is Andrés Manuel LópezObrador with a similarly nostalgic vision but immediate in conception: his perspective embraces facing up to the challenges of the moment and managing the interest groups that are politically key. Perhaps there is no better example of his thrust than the second-level beltway overpasses that he built when mayor of the former Federal District: major works that the governor bestowed upon the citizenry to enhance their comfort.
The common denominator is the magnanimous government acting with largesse for the good of the citizens without ever consulting them. The government is above all of those petty items, such as the populace, and its sole responsibility lies in magnificent works, infrastructure, and actions that should serve the citizens, and the government is not there to be questioned, to respond, or to be accountable but to impose its own decisions. The two, the exiting PRIist and the Morena Party ex-PRIist, are much more alike than either imagines or recognizes.
The PAN has been quite distinct during its passage through the government: Fox straightforwardly lived out the end of the PRI era without bothering himself with the details of breaking with the pre-Columbian institutions that had sufficed for containing and keeping the population in check. Rather than dealing with the past and constructing new institutions or convoking the development of structures tailor-made for the 21st century (in contrast with those of the thirties of the past century that continue to be the essence of Mexican politics), Fox implemented the dead man’s float and that is how it went for him, and for the country. Calderón responded in the face of the old system’s consequences and Fox’s superficiality with a contention strategy against the criminal hordes, without ever taking upon himself the necessity of a new foundation for day-to-day security at the service of the people. A distinct vision, but likewise adhering fast to the rearview mirror.
Developmentalistic projects are not concerned with consequences because the government always knows better; the PANists do not worry about the consequences because they cling to what exists. Thus, none of them constructed government capacity for the future of the nation; none have engaged in governing in the sense of creating conditions of security, stability, and credibility that would allow citizens to devote themselves to increasingly productive and relevant activities for their lives and, as a result, for the country. No one has advocated for the country of the future.
Governing does not comprise imposing preferences from above, but instead solving problems, generating conditions for the progress and prosperity of the people and, in a word, contributing to the citizens’ enjoyment of a better life. The function of those who govern is not composed (at least not fundamentally) of impressive public works, although there can be these, but instead in serving the citizens: winning them over, and their vote, by serving them. In other words, nearly the inverse of the rationale typifying Mexican politics, which understands the citizen as an obstacle and the government as the solution to all problems.
How many of those who have been in charge of the government thought of curtailing the painful wait time -on occasion many months- for a person to receive medical care at the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS)? How many of our supposed governors have built infrastructure to drastically reduce commuting times in the country’s big cities, with today’s workers using up to five hours of their day for transport to and from their job every day? How many of our civil servants have sought to simplify the payment of taxes? How many of our politicians comprehend the day in, day out anguish produced in millions of parents by the absence of a reliable security system?
Governing of course includes reforms and works of infrastructure, but none of these is going to improve or solve public life if they are not conceived for and with the citizens. Today’s political system was engendered to stabilize the nation and to control the population, circumstances that were fitting for the country’s reality and that of the world one hundred years ago, in the post-revolutionary era. At present, practically one hundred million Mexicans later, that system has been totally outstripped and remedial gestures -such as the electoral one of recent decades- are no longer sufficient.
Mexico must build a new system of government, one that confers certainty and that obligates the elected leaders to govern and to serve the public. Without that, we will stay in the past, and worse in some scenarios.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author. This article was originally published on the Mexico Institute's 2018 Elections Guide.
About the Author
Mexico Institute Advisory Board Member & President; Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales (COMEXI); Chairman, Center for Research for Development (CIDAC), Mexico
The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute. Read more