Author Archives: Luis Rubio

The measure of impunity

Luis Rubio


A somber panorama was presented by the parents and relatives of thousands of the disappeared on Reforma Avenue a few weeks ago. An infinity of crosses, on both sides of the avenue, each representing people whose relatives -children, parents, brothers- one day simply did not return. Nobody knows if they were killed by a gang of criminals, whether they were recruited by drug traffickers or stopped by the police. Walking those four long blocks of Reforma reminded me of crimes against humanity in the Second World War, Rwanda, Cambodia, Argentina and others that should never have existed: wars, governments that tortured or the total absence of authority. No event illustrates our reality better than that of those disappearances because that which was responsible did not act or, worse, colluded with the murderers.

The procession was not innocent. The political and, at this moment, electoral charge is more than evident: the easy thing is to blame the administration -the current or the previous one- but the reality is that the country is experiencing an accelerated decrease in government capacity in what really counts, in the raison d’être of the State itself: the protection of citizenship. A demonstration of that nature at this time was obviously designed to discredit the candidates of the PRI and PAN respectively, but that does not change the fact that, as a government, the Mexican has failed the population, and this has gone for longer than one can count.

Everyone is negligent on this one: presidents, governors, mayors and heads of government in Mexico City are equally responsible for their inaction, if not their complicity. One may disagree with the strategy designed by Felipe Calderón (and that, de facto, although reluctantly, Peña Nieto has followed), but no one can fail to recognize its merit in recognizing that a government cannot remain undaunted in the face of the massacre that society suffers. López Obrador criticized the strategy at the time with the arguing that “they should not have hit the wasps nest,” suggesting that passivity -that is, the status quo- is a better way to conduct the affairs of State.

Should he win the elections, AMLO would find a very different scenario than what he has been promising. The reality of crime does not disappear if a government proposes to negotiate with drug traffickers, for two very obvious reasons: first, the underlying problem is not the crime itself, but the lack of government, the absence of authority. The Mexican government has spent decades encroaching itself and evading its most elementary responsibilities: instead of modernizing and reforming in parallel to the demographic, industrial, political and security transformation experienced by the country, the political class -at all levels and political parties- remained undisturbed, as if the obvious deterioration were routine. In this way, Mexico went from a very powerful and centralized political system to a decentralization without structure, resources or responsibilities. Had the government been reformed, there would be no security crisis. Thus, the notion that a new president, by virtue of taking office, changes that reality speaks for itself.

Second, gangs of narcos and criminals are involved in a territorial dispute to the death that ignores and transcends the formal authorities, when it does not corrupt or subjugate them. The government cannot negotiate with the narcos, but it must develop the capacity to impose rules and limits as narrow as it has the capacity to enforce them.

The case of Ayotzinapa is very revealing. There the local authority was in collusion with the narcos and was clearly responsible for what happened. The only reason why the government of President Peña ended up being held accountable was because of its arrogance: pretending to control everything made it responsible for everything.

The extent of the impunity that characterizes the country can be observed in the fact of the disappeared. It is easy to blame criminals, tax evaders or simulators of this or that criminal act, but the real absentee is the government, whose authority vanished when it stopped performing its most elementary functions, beginning with that of protecting the citizenry.

When the next government takes office, it will have to find a way to respond to the citizenship, because if something is clear from the current electoral process, it’s that Mexicans have exceeded their tolerance for corruption and impunity.

One day, walking in a huge urban artery in Seoul, I observed the measure of authority: the avenue, with eight lanes, was full of trucks, cars and motorcycles moving at full speed, generating a great bustle. Suddenly, coming out of a little single-lane street, I saw a boy of no more than four or five years old springing out on his bicycle to cross the avenue without stopping or turning around. The green light gave him the right of way and he did not hesitate. His parents evidently trust the authority and allow the child to cross without restraint.

There was the authority, not in the form of a person, but in the rules of the game that all those trucks fulfill in a strict and absolute way. That’s a government that works and fulfills its duty. The day Mexico gets to that, impunity will have disappeared.




Two worlds

Luis Rubio

This election is becoming clearer every day: the dispute, not in a rational but in a subliminal sense, is about two worlds, two perspectives on life and the role of government in development. Rather, it is about arrogance versus redemption. A large part of the citizenry is simply fed up with the status quo: insecurity, governmental arrogance, corruption, unfulfilled promises and the clash between political discourse (of all parties and candidates) and the harsh reality of everyday life. Against that, the offer of all candidates except one sounds frivolous, if not banal. There is no doubt that the vision implicit in that (mainstream) offer -of whichever candidate one prefers- is the one that Mexico needs, but to the average voter sounds false because it has been the same for decades.

The success of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the polls is due to the fact that he offers something radically different: a return to a quiet life where there is no more promise than that of redemption. As with Trump, he has managed to penetrate the subconscious of the citizenship because he does not operate in the real world but in that of the despondency that legitimately characterizes a good part of the citizenry. When those of us who pretend to live in the 21st century see him not answer questions, evade relevant matters or promise absurd things, we congratulate ourselves that he lives in another world and that, therefore, no one in his right mind would vote for him. But today’s numbers say something different: his messianic discourse has a redeeming effect and therein lies the reason for his success.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador has a great sense of himself and of his ability to, by his mere presence, transform reality. Under normal conditions -that is, in a context of social peace, economic progress and reasonable optimism about the future- his message and public presence would have no chance of prospering: everyone would see the absurdity of his proposal and, particularly, its lack of reality. But, as with Trump, a significant portion of the population sees it as a means, an instrument, to stick it to those who have been promising solutions for decades without resolving anything.

Lopez Obrador’s offer clashes with objective reality, but nobody cares about that because people are fed up and profoundly angry, so that anything different from the status quo seems better to many voters “on foot”. Whoever wants to see the numbers will recognize the enormous advances in quality of life, longevity, health, consumption and many other objective indicators, that has taken place but none of this is relevant when the electorate feels offended by the arrogance of the government, something not new, but incomparably superior in the current administration. Previous governments at least understood that Mexicans were anxious for improvement and thus devoted their rhetoric to mitigate their annoyance; the current one is so full of itself that it does not even have the capacity, let alone the humility, to understand that its attitude is the main source of the problem.

What sensible politician in the world would come up with a media campaign focused on complaining about the citizens? That is precisely what the current government has been doing throughout its term, first with its “stop complaining” campaign and now with a new one that says exactly the same: “let’s do the numbers.” With that obvious arrogance and indifference regarding the people’s sentiment, it is not difficult to understand the position AMLO holds in the polls. His mere presence says something different.

AMLO lives in a different world from the rest of the Mexicans. His programmatic proposal is a-historical and dangerous insofar as it consciously ignores the world of today; his opposition to the new Mexico City airport is revealing and, indeed, very similar to Trump’s wall, that is, it is a symbol. It is not that the saturation of the current airport isn’t obvious, but that, as with AMLO’s “to hell with your institutions,” his position on the airport constitutes an affront against those whom he has disqualified as  the arrogant ones who promise but do not deliver and become rich at the expense of the rest. The position, and the strategy that lies behind, is impeccable.

It is significant that AMLO never refers to the citizenship because, in his vision, it does not exist. He embodies the “people” because only he understands it and represents it, ergo, his mere presence ends with corruption and the “mafia of power.” In his world, checks and balances are bad (and unnecessary), institutions serve as a means for the president to impose his vision and the almighty ruler is the only one who can decide. In other words, the essence of AMLO’s project lies in ending individual freedom, the market system, trade agreements, the independent press and social organizations (business, trade union, civil) because they all limit, in greater or lesser extent, the president’s ability to act as he pleases.

AMLO touches a very sensitive fiber that can only be countered with a truly transformative proposal, one that starts from the principle that the political status quo must be changed because that is where the obstacle to the development of the country lies. As long as that does not exist, the redemptive discourse will continue to be successful.


The old-new dispute

Luis Rubio

Mexico has been fighting for the future for at least half a century. After decades of stability and relatively high economic growth, in the 1960s the economic order based on the substitution of imports and the political order based on the tight control by a closed political system began to crumble. From then on, the country has divided into two main currents: the one that sought to build a new future by looking forward and outward; and the one that persecuted to return to the revolutionary nationalism originated in the Mexican Revolution, particularly in its cardenista phase.

The way in which the dispute was resolved, after the economic crises of the 1970′s, was typically Mexican: with a hybrid of past and future: building new economic strategies but without abandoning the old political structures. No one should be surprised that this contradictory combination is making water right now.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador is a faithful representative of the revolutionary nationalist current and is exploiting the errors, but especially the shortcomings and inadequacies, of the modernizing current. These shortcomings and inadequacies -in an environment of openness, ubiquitous information and social networks capable of transmitting any message in nano seconds- make it possible to highlight the corruption, privileges and excesses of the old system that, due to this unfinished modernization, persist in Mexican society. It is obvious that all those forms of abuse existed before and, without a doubt, they would continue under an AMLO government, but that is not the point of this contest; what exists is something unbearable for the citizenry and that is the heart of AMLO’s strategy: to show the shortcomings by promising nirvana that, everyone knows, is a utopia.

Although the modernizing currents have dominated the economic and political landscape for these decades, the dispute never disappeared. And that is the core reason why the NAFTA was conceived: to guarantee the viability of the process of modernization, at least in a part of national life, that of investment. That is to say, from the beginning, the modernizers understood, at least in a pragmatic way, the existence of a flagrant contradiction but, instead of solving it once and for all, they built a mechanism that was implacable to protect at least the heart of modernity: the economy. So strong was the PRI political framework that the two PAN governments did not take a hair out of the cat.

The NAFTA resolved the crux of the problem by depoliticizing an enormous chunk of public activity, since its essence lies in the fact that it constitutes, for all practical purposes, a space of exception: there are rules, functional mechanisms to resolve disputes and enforce contracts. With the NAFTA, a fundamental part of the economy was shielded from corruption and isolated from the broader political dispute. However, for the losers in that dispute, the NAFTA became the factor to defeat; their problem was that the trade pact became extraordinarily popular because its virtues are obvious to the citizenry: it is the only relevant engine of growth of the economy and, more importantly, although for the majority it is something distant, it constitutes a vivid example of what the rule of law is.

When AMLO calls “PRIAN” the modernizing governments of the PRI and the PAN, he obviously does so to disqualify them but, in reality, he’s addressing the struggle between the past and the future: openness versus autarky; market vs. government in charge; democracy vs. vertical control. It is not that the governments of the PRI and the PAN have been a paragon of virtues, since they all spoke of modernity but they continued to preserve the world of privileges. But what is relevant is that the common denominator is the PRI system of yesteryear in its political aspect: that which, however much free elections, has not changed in the essential.

The old-new dispute lies at the heart of the old PRI system of which Lopez Obrador and Peña Nieto are equally paradigmatic: both are worthy representatives of the PRI of the sixties and none promises anything other than preserving that old system in its political aspect; where today’s candidates -AMLO and Meade (or Ricardo Anaya)- differ radically is in the economic aspect: one wants to return to the idyllic world of the sixties, just when it was beginning to crumble; the other wants to move towards modernity creating greater development opportunities that are, in the end, those that have stabilized the economy and created a growing and booming middle class.

Contrary to what AMLO proposes, the real challenge of Mexico lies not in the economic “model” but in the old political order, because that is where the country has stuck, preserving a world of privileges and crony capitalism. Thus, the dilemma for the citizenship lies in deciding how to change: forward or backward.

It is worth remembering the wise words of Vaclav Havel: “a better system will not automatically ensure a better life. In fact, the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed.”


Fear vs. Anger

Luis Rubio

Emotions are an inherent component in human nature, thus in electoral processes. When we say that a candidate “connects” with his audience we mean that he or she achieved establishing empathy with the latter that is, they captivate their public, convincing them to favor the candidate’s perspective of things. Psychological studies conducted on current surveys suggest that this election will be resolved within the fear vs. anger axis: anger against the status quo in the face of fear of losing what has been achieved or what a person has achieved during their lifetime.

The anger that arises against the status quo derives from the evidence of corruption, a system of self-absorbed government and a total disconnect between the citizenry and its governors. Clearly, the Mexican political system, born in the first decades of the past century, was not created to function in the era of social networks, which give free rein to the expression of grievances, only in turn to confront a closed and, in great measure impermeable government. The problem is the system, the starting point from which all political parties and candidates participate (today and always), thus the notion that a person can solve all of the problems with a magic wand, is as absurd as that of supposing that our problems are simple –instead of structural- and can be worked out by the determination of a single individual.

Fear derives from the enormous changes that the country has undergone in the last decades and that have engendered a platform of opportunities inconceivable some years ago. Having a home of one’s own, access to a vast diversity of consumer products of increasingly better quality and an institutional grid that, with all of its avatars and imperfections, allows to elect (rather than impose) those who govern us, all of which are not minor achievements that could be forfeited with a destructive politico-economic project. The risk of losing what has been attained is not a lesser one and explains the reticence of a wide-ranging percentage of the electorate on agreeing to be navigated by the call of the Sirens.

Some decades ago, Bertrand Russell –British philosopher and mathematician, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, who was distinguished by his opposition to nuclear arms and the Vietnam War- wrote about the paradox of the elections in his country: a person is fed up with the Conservative Party and so elects the Labor Party, only to find that the things important to them do not change, therefore going back to vote conservative and so on successively.  What Russell described at that time is not very distinct from what we have at present in Mexico: what is wrong is that the system of government is not suited to the current reality and does not possess the characteristics necessary to be able to operate in the XXI century. The key question for our upcoming presidential election is: which is the best, or the most likely, way to produce a political transformation that makes possible the social and economic renaissance the electorate plainly craves.

On one of his recent books,Francis Fukuyama describes to perfection the nature of our problem. Without referring to Mexico, he says that that there are three key components for the successful functioning of a country: a strong State, the Rule of Law and accountability. No country can be in running order if the government is weak and dysfunctional: to flourish, every nation requires a system of government capable of satisfying basic but crucial tasks, such as security, justice, a legal system and a regulatory framework for the working of the economy. While all three are indispensable, continues Fukuyama, order-of-appearance is fundamental: nations that were democratized prior to their having built the capacity to govern effectively ended up failing because democracy, though imperfect, exacerbates hardships and deprivations, eroding to an even greater degree the capacity to govern, the exercise of its authority and the channeling of demands emanating from the population.

It would be difficult to chance upon a better diagnosis than this of the problematic Mexico faces as a country because it reveals a challenge Mexicans have before them and that radically differs from the proposals the citizens hear in the present electoral contest. The citizenry is right to be angry with a system that not only does not favor the country’s development, but one that thwarts it with its structures of privilege and of contempt for what affects its daily life. Likewise, the fear of outstripping what has been gained should strike fear in the heart of anyone because it is not inconsequential: it should be enough to observe other nations in our midst in order to recognize that, first, there have been important advances and, second, that we could be infinitely worse off.

The problems we face should not only be solved, but it is entirely within the realm of feasibility to do so. The key lies in recognizing that Mexicans must continue to forge ahead with a project that constructs the country’s next stage of development, which can be no other than beginning with a profound reform of the power structures, something certainly impossible were we to return to a former stage that collapsed because it did not work and that produced the chaos that today justifiably begets such anger.


Electoral Speculations

Luis Rubio

With the Morena-Social Encounter Party Alliance in Mexico the 2018 elections took on a new twist. Whether due to conviction or strategic decision, merging an ostensibly leftist party with one that is clearly conservative unleashed great controversy: Is this a marriage of convenience or an association of two ideologically similar entities?  Whichever the case may be, there is no doubt about religion playing a role in this election.

In recent years, one electoral process after another -from Brexit to Trump and including various governorships in Mexico- has evidenced a disconnect between politics and   development. Some attribute this phenomenon to an emotional element, others to the lack of results on the part of traditional politicians, but the relevant fact is that Mexicans are now living in uncharted times: the vectors that served in the past to understand the voters’ way of acting have ceased being valid, as illustrated by failed surveys in nearly all recent instances worldwide. Voters are no longer predictable or, at least, the instruments that would forecast the results are not as useful as they once were.

Of course, all politicians engage in all types of efforts to exploit the emotions of the electorate, because that is the time-honored way to inject the voter with enthusiasm and generate followers of the person or the project that promotes a determined candidate. Religion, at least in a political sense, is no more than another emotion and, from this perspective, it would not be strange for it to become a novel factor in the national spectrum. However, a follower, however faithful, is not the same as a believer:  the former supposes a conscious decision, the latter a conviction that is the product of a belief; both are respectable but bring about very different political consequences.

A documentary on César Chávez, leader of Mexican farmworkers in the U.S., whom I had the opportunity of observing a little while ago, prompted me to reflect on the religious component. Chávez began his movement against the current not only because it was about foreign workers, but also because there was not a sole recognized rural farmworkers’ union in that country. It was not simple to mobilize workers who felt vulnerable in the face of being deported from the U.S. and against the opposition of the employers.  However, Chávez not only achieved recognition, but this also took place in a peculiar manner: one Good Friday he was offered the possibility of an interview in the Nation’s capital and confirmation of the recognition was issued on Easter Sunday. For union members, these two factors were providential signs.

Chávez was not a religious leader in any sense, nor is Andrés López Obrador. Whatever the religious convictions of either are or had been, both are innate politicians who pursue an objective and employ all means possible to attain it. Viewed in this way, the entire conception of the Morena Party and its association with the Social Encounter Party respond to an attempt to inspire a religious feeling and fervor that exceeds any other argumentation in the decision of whom to vote for. That is, the quest is for believers, not citizens.

In a strictly pragmatic sense, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with plying the use of religious symbols for accomplishing a political aim; at the end of the day, in these times, few facets of political competition so flagrantly disregard any ethical considerations whatsoever with respect to means and ends: we have come to the point that anything goes as long as the objective is met; there is one winner and all the rest lose. Some do this with religion, others with gifts and some with the outright buying of votes.

What’s crucial with an election –at any time, in any country- is that a government be chosen so that it should govern: it is not a beauty contest but instead a political decision entailing consequences for the voters themselves.  When the electoral mechanics are geared to removing citizens’ capacities in order to to generate disciples and believers -thus, mobilizing by factors distinct from those of a rational decision – the resulting government ends up having attributions and powers that are contrary to the essence of a democracy because it lacks checks and balances, hence becoming a potential source of impunity, which is the natural breeding ground for an authoritarian government capable of imposing its preferences without any counterweight. Not very different from the past, albeit more extreme.

Each candidate uses symbols -religious or ideological (such as nationalism)- as a strategy to advance their cause; the old political system achieved an ideological hegemony for decades. The novelty, which is worrying, of Andrés Manuel López Obrador´s thrust is his search for believers to follow him to the gallows if that is what the leader demands. This is what explains his reluctance to explain his project or to answer absolutely legitimate and logical inquiries.

The key question ends up being whether the citizens have the capacity and disposition to defend their rights and achievements with the candidate of their preference without opening the door to full impunity, implicit in the believer that accepts anything without a fight.




Paradoxes of Power

Luis Rubio

In his extraordinary book on Quetzalcoatl -the Aztecs’ Plumed Serpent- and the Virgin of Guadalupe, Jacques Lafaye affirms that all Mexicans are Guadalupanos, even the Atheists. One can almost add to this that all Mexicans are PRIsts, even the PANists.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is the origin of practically all of the political history of modern Mexico. It came into being in 1929 to incorporate the entire politically active society of the epoch in order to channel their demands and to control it, as well as to convert it into a mechanism for the transmission of information and political participation. At the time of its creation, after the feat of the Mexican Revolution, the leaderships of all types of organizations, political parties, unions and militias and, some years afterward, the organizations themselves came on board. The institutionalization of Mexican politics arose within the PRI.

Basically all political activity in the country from that moment on took place within the fold of the PRI or in reference to it. Many organizations and political parties were born during the successive years, but (almost) all in coordination with or in opposition to the PRI. The National Action Party (PAN), perhaps the most notable organization in this context, was conceived to oppose the Party of the Mexican Revolution (the PRM), the second PRI predecessor; the historic Left, as it called today -beginning with the Mexican Communist Party (founded in 1919) and others of Trotskyite affiliation- grew in parallel fashion. Later would come the groups that were offshoots of the “official party,” i.e., the Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolution (PARM), the Popular Socialist Party (PPS), those created from the power itself, such as the Labor Party (PT) and many of the key actors in PRD and Morena are of PRI origin. The point is that, in the political history of post-revolutionary Mexico, the PRI (and its predecessors) has not only be been the heart of, but also the reference point of national politics. Although much has changed as a result of alternation of parties in the presidency, the essence endures therein.

From its creation in 1939, the PAN comprised opposition: its history and philosophy were anti-PRIist. Born during the pre-WWII era, it possessed scantily commendable liaisons, hauling the latter along throughout its first decades; however, little by little, it assumed the forms of the European Christian Democrats, becoming the prototypical Center-Right opposition party. The PAN, party of the professionals, contrasted with the PRI’s social base and was always distinguished by its pursuit of ideological purity, ethical values and its rejection of PRI ways of operating.  Over time it became the loyal party in the Duverger concept (in that it did not attempt to overthrow the regime, but rather to defeat it electorally), to the degree of being the socio-legislative key in the first wave of economic and electoral reforms in the eighties and nineties.

All of those attributes turned the PAN into the emblematic opposition party, which earned it the presidential win in 2000. That was no small achievement given the history of the power monopoly that distinguished Mexico, but it was devastating for the PAN itself. Rather than substituting for the PRIist regime, it preserved it, and instead of decidedly advancing its agenda against corruption, nepotism and authoritarian control, it imitated the old system and blended with it. On not changing the institutions and the mechanisms typifying them, the PANists exhibited a similar propensity for corruption to that of its predecessors –to the point of introducing innovations in this fashion with their (in)famous “moches” (cuts)- and were only prominent in their form of governing on exception. After two mediocre presidential terms-in-office, the PAN ended up proving their forerunners’ warning: it procured the power, but lost its reason of being.

The PAN has not recovered from its presidential years; much worse, its leaderships do not recognize, and maybe do not understand, the contradiction that has become their signature: a party dedicated to ethics and the struggle against corruption and abuse cannot continue to present itself as the epitome of pulchritude. It also cannot aspire to the presidency with the same discourse that failed the citizenry on two occasions. It advocates the country’s reform, but it does not reform itself.

Nothing better illustrates the crisis of the PAN than the manner in which its ex-Presidents have turned toward the PRI. Vicente Fox was not profoundly nor particularly PANist: he distinguished himself for his pragmatism but above all for arriving at the presidency (an enormous achievement) to later just sit there. Like Caesar, veni, vini, (but did not) vici: he came, he saw, but he did not conquer. Instead, he did the dead man’s float for six long years of missed opportunities, perhaps the greatest of all of these: the political transition that Mexico is yet to accomplish. However, no sooner did he move out of the Los Pinos presidential residence than he became the First PRIist of the nation: he supports its candidates, lives off its governors and enjoys their benefits, even if he never learned from their political sophistication.

Felipe Calderón comes from the hard PAN and is characterized by his deep anti-PRIism. However, bold as brass, as soon as he saw the end coming, he negotiated with the PRI and, in the best of that party’s style, acts in ways that are functional to it. Circumspect and untrusting by nature, he is in constant conflict with his party, handles his wife’s presidential candidacy and, most likely, as do his acolytes in the Senate, drives bargains in the wings. One of life’s paradoxes: from rancid PAN to pragmatic PRI. Must be seen to be believed.


Thus begins the chaos

Luis Rubio

At what point did Mexico get fucked? Thus begins Conversation in the Cathedral, the novel by Vargas Llosa, wondering about the moment when the decline of his country, Peru, began. Now, by consciously promoting it, it seems that the Mexican government is determined that Mexicans know that this process started at the beginning of 2018. The question is, in the interest of what, at what cost?

In a normal country, the government represents, and owes its function, to the whole citizenry, not only to those of its preference or who voted for it. Its obligation is to carry out its activities within the framework of the law, without abusing its attributions or using State institutions for private purposes. Over more than five years, the government of President Peña has shirked its responsibilities on multiple occasions, has employed biased and dubious resources to evade the law, and justified acts of patent corruption with reasoning and mechanisms conceived so that its officials do not have to pay for their errors or the potential crimes in which they may have incurred. The loss of prestige and unpopularity it enjoys is not the product of chance.

In spite of this, it acts as if he were in full control, as if the institutions of the state functioned impartially and professionally and as if its prestige were in its zenith. A government that does not even pretend to have the monopoly of the use of force -what defines the State- has assumed the mission of persecuting a candidate for the presidency as if it were a matter of national security, as if he were a public plague and not a contestant who, with all his attributes and defects, has the same right as any other citizen to compete for the presidency, provided he does so within the established legal channels.

When even the pretense of civility is abandoned, all that remains is chaos or, as Diderot wrote, “from fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.” And the government seems determined to take that step, without regard for the consequences of its actions, that is, with utter irresponsibility. This is how the beginning of the end starts. The strange thing, although not so much, is that it is the government itself -the supposed guarantor of peace- that is bent on pushing the limits of civility in a country that already lives not only an extreme polarization, but a total absence of legitimacy in government institutions.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates and Glaucon discuss the plight of the people chained in a cave in which the prisoners try to understand the shadows that pass over the wall before them. I resort to the Allegory of the Cave to try to understand the governmental rationale in the way it is acting in the face of a presidential contender which, little by little, it is turning into a martyr.

It seems clear that the strategy lies in creating a sense of fear for any change as a means to preserve what exists. As an electoral strategy, the promotion of a certain emotion constitutes a perfectly legitimate mechanism and all political parties and candidates in the world do so systematically. The issue here is that it is not a political party or candidate that is promoting that emotion, but the government making partisan use of the institutions of justice to advance their own political agenda, as if these were the fifties of the last century. Impossible not to remember Talleyrand’s famous admonition: “they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

They did not learn of the risks of polarization, they did not learn from the consequences of the attempted impeachment of 2005 and they did not learn from what has happened in nations like Venezuela, Zimbabwe and many others that, prodded by the government’s own actions, led to chaos. Once that step is taken, it becomes increasingly difficult to recover the peace and tranquility of the population, making it impossible to govern.

Mexican society is angry and that is precisely the emotion that the government should not be stirring up, because it leads to radical electoral decisions. In this, the contrast with China is paramount: there, the fear of chaos has led the government, over several decades, to accelerate the pace of reforms in order to satisfy the population and avoid chaotic situations. In Mexico, the government itself has entrenched itself, is dynamiting the political stability for which it is responsible and defends itself as if the enemy were the society.

Democracy is less about elections than about how to resolve disputes that arise in society and to make the decisions that are required to build the future. The militant, partisan and biased use of the institutions leads to the destruction of the few institutions that the country has and, worse, when the one who throws the first stone (and the second and the third) is a government so extraordinarily discredited by corruption scandals that are infinitely worse than those than those the aforementioned candidate is accused of.

Certainly, any act of corruption or alleged illegality must be combated, but what President Peña’s government is doing recalls another famous phrase of Talleyrand, the eighteenth-century French statesman: “It is worse than a crime, it is stupid. ”




Why Doesn’t It Work?

                                                      Luis Rubio

Now that we are full swing, on all flanks, in the process of presidential succession, it is important to reflect on the opportunities and risks that the country is confronting. The external context is not particularly generous: the NAFTA negotiations have not advanced in terse fashion and the upcoming U.S. Congressional primary elections will surely reopen much of the anti-Mexican discourse that has characterized the Trump administration from the time of his campaign. In the domestic ambit, turbulence is ceaseless, all of which inflates the level of conflict in view of the moment when the voters will decide who it is who will govern us.

In addition to this, we are facing real risks concerning which, above the strategies that the candidates themselves and their parties come to employ in matters of the social networks and manipulation of the electorate (all legitimate and increasingly normal in election processes), other interests -internal or external- devote themselves to influencing the proceedings due to reasons extraneous to those of direct interest to the electorate. Today it is clear that there were external interventions in the British elections that decided on the so-called Brexit, in the U.S. elections Trump won, and in the Catalonian referendum. There are no grounds to suppose that Mexico’s case will be distinct; one must not forget that Mexico, like Berlin and Vienna and other strategic places in the Cold War era, were protagonists in the intrigues swirling among the powers.

The question is how the external interact with the internal interests. That is, who benefits from or is damaged by these deceits and collusions. One obvious perspective is whether the interest of the U.S. is the same as that of Trump and, in any case, how this will play out in the elections to come. I am absolutely sure that the U.S. national interest privileges the stability and prosperity of Mexico and that this interest extends beyond the specific candidates. It is not similarly evident to me that Trump’s interest is the same: in his proclivity for advancing a public agenda that many people in the U.S. reject, he can end up propitiating, consciously or not, results that do not coincide with the general interest of his country. From this perspective, I estimate that Trump, to a much greater extent than NAFTA, will comprise an integral part of the Mexican presidential election.

I return now to the opportunities and risks: for many, this election is especially sensitive because what is involved is of enormous magnitude. Part of what explains this appreciation lies in the nature of the reforms undertaken during Peña´s presidency (above all in educative and energy matters), touching upon as they do two or three nodal precepts of the 1917 Mexican Constitution. Another component of the explication resides in the substantial loss of prestige accompanying the exiting president due to the corruption and his dearth of leadership, lending credence to the numbers characterizing López Obrador in the polls.

But the greatest sensitivity does not dwell in the specific factors that denoted the outgoing government, whether the reforms that it promoted or the way in which it conducted the affairs of State, but rather in the immense power that the presidency concentrates. Concentrated power utilized for carrying out positive changes –those driving greater economic growth in the long term, better quality-of-life levels and increased general well-being- should be welcome; but the self-same power employed for destroying and dividing is in the end pernicious under any yardstick. Mexico’s main problem –which may be observed since the invention of the “non-heritable six-year monarchy” in the immortal words of Cosío Villegas- is that one never knows what the next government will do. And that engenders uncertainty and even fear.

In a recent article, Janan Ganesh compared the U.K. with other developed nations. His foremost argument is that England is typified by a system that concentrates the power in the Parliament, allowing it to effect huge reforms but reforms that, at the same time, can be bad, everything depending on the degree of excellence of the Prime Minister at any given moment. That characterization, unusual for a developed country, poses a contrast with the U.S. (where Trump has encountered colossal difficulties in making headway with his agenda due to the solidity of the checks and balances) but also with France, where the immensity of the presidency is curtailed by the commanding mayors and extra-parliamentary powers such as the unions and the bureaucracy.  Ganesh resolves his commentary by remarking that the pathetic state of the U.S. infrastructure, the resistance to change of the French and the scarcity of reforms in Italy mirror infirm central governments that are curbed by strong institutions that protect the citizens above everything else.

In Mexico we lack strong institutions that protect the citizenship and we do not have world-class statesmen capable of bringing the population on board for the sake of integral and evenhanded development. If the candidates endeavor to achieve a stable 2019 they had better begin to respond from now on to the cry for certainty and clarity of course which the citizenry demands and requires.

Dangerous grounds

Luis Rubio

In one of the thousands of memes that I have received in recent weeks, the question is “Will the lists of candidates for pluris federal legislators (through lists) register with the National Electoral Institute or the Attorney General?” The question is obviously ironic but reflects the popular sentiment: political parties, particularly Morena, have chosen a bunch of candidates of dubious reputation for their lists of legislators by proportional representation -those who do not owe loyalty to anyone other than their party leaders- leaving behind any pretense of representing the citizenry or being accountable to it, two of the nodal elements of representative democracy.

In its broadest sense, the relevant question is for what and for whom politics are. The issue that concerns me is not the evident abandonment of ideologies in the formation of party lists and coalitions, but the total absence of convictions that define a clear political or even pragmatic orientation. Opportunism has taken over Mexican politics and manifests itself in all areas; opportunism has the immediate virtue of bringing a party or candidate closer to power, but at the cost of risking the little legitimacy that is left to the political system. When that happens, the collapse of the political system could begin, as happened in Venezuela two decades ago.

The problem is aggravated now that Mexican politics have taken a dangerous course in recent months, turning electoral processes into a judicial flight and leading politics into a space conducive to revenge and vendettas. The sum of these two elements -the almost criminal isolation of politicians and the turning of street fights into imprisonment or threat of incarceration by political opponents- entails a deterioration that does not promise anything good.

The first to initiate this path was the PAN with the arrest of a PRI operative in Coahuila for his imprisonment in Chihuahua, a process that would never have occurred in a serious country: kidnapping, imprisonment with an arrest warrant without a name, et cetera. The governor of Chihuahua squeezed the matter to its maximum potential, politicizing it to the utmost without, until now, having published elements that justify his actions. Was it justice or political-electoral promotion?

Neither slow nor lazy, this week the government seemed to respond to the PAN affront with an accusation of money laundering against Anaya, the PAN presidential candidate. As in the case of Chihuahua, the facts are vague, suggesting a political, rather than a motivation of justice. Of course, it is possible that both of these cases do have merit, but given the electoral moment, it is at least equally probable that this is the beginning of a series of capricious actions in the hands of authorities with too much power in their hands and no scruples. The ease with which these arrest warrants are issued suggests that no one is safe. Worse, it signals that the political leaders have opted for an open war at the most delicate moment of national political life and with the weakest -and directionless- electoral authority.

Both cases manifest two things: on the one hand, the defects of the criminal reform in that it makes it possible to initiate criminal proceedings with the mere mention of a protected witness whose name does not have to be published or known. This could be appropriate in a country where there is rule of law and due process is followed, but certainly not in Mexico, which has not even been able to legislate clearly and concisely. On the other hand, these examples show that, in the Clausewitz style, politicized justice has become a means through which political accounts are settled: politics by other means. The criminal reform created a new avenue to distort justice, obscure corruption and politicize daily life even more.

As Corral and his PAN acolytes found, in the new justice system mere presumption of guilt is enough to grant an arrest warrant. With that instrument in the hands of pernicious and unscrupulous rulers, protected witnesses can been invented and, as the French say, voilà!, everything is solved. With this instrument, the door opens to the use of the mechanisms of justice to address political issues and, even worse, to the politicization of justice. And none of our political masters has clean hands in this area.

The big question is where this path takes us. In countries where democracy has led to the independence of law procurement and enforcement, as has been the case in Brazil, their societies have managed to build an alternative footing to the legitimacy of the system, facilitating (at least potentially) the transition to a new, stable, regime. Paraphrasing Joaquín Villalobos, when justice is politicized, it is impossible to seek political agreements, fight corruption or guarantee macroeconomic stability and social inclusion.

The parties, the government and the candidates that promote this anti-political thrust are taking Mexicans on a slippery path that cannot result in anything positive. Opportunism serves for a moment but sooner or later it reverts into crisis, if not chaos. It is still time to avoid such a destructive closure.

No one is safe

Luis Rubio

“I am God”, the brand-new Attorney General told me. “This institution confers upon one enormous power to persecute or pardon.” Those are the words that I remember from a visit to the Attorney General’s Office some time ago and they did not seem surprising to me: the power of the Mexican government has no parallel in the civilized world; when a civil servant accumulates such power –faculties so vast as to unilaterally decide who lives or dies, who goes free or who goes to jail- civilization simply does not exist; we are all losers. In the era of the old system, many believed that the country was buttressed by strong institutions when, in reality, there was an authoritarian system that maintained discipline through mechanisms of control and loyalty that, in retrospect, typifies the enormous primitivism that characterizes Mexico’s polity.

The power evidenced by the then freshly minted Attorney General is nothing exceptional. From the most eminent public servant to the most modest of these, the entire country functions like this: all of the operators of all of the systems –ministers, attorneys general, inspectors, auditors- possess prodigious powers for pardoning or persecuting, each in their own space and circumstance. A citizen who makes a small home improvement –an additional room, remodeling- comes face to face with that excess of faculties in the person of the municipal inspector: attributions so massive that they can make the difference between “resolving” the matter in a few minutes or spending the rest of the citizen’s existence immersed in bureaucratic intricacies that would make Kafka the famous author of daily life in Mexico.

All Mexicans exist within that interlining of potential abuse. Anyone who has perused the newspapers in recent months knows that no one is safe: “Are open investigations being conducted against Marcelo Ebrard (a former Mexico City governor) in the capital’s Attorney General’s Office?”, the City’s Governor Miguel Ángel Mancera was asked: “We in Mexico City have no open inquest”, he responded. The phase is revealing: we do not have an inquest, but one can always be initiated; yet more important: I decide. It does not matter how powerful the functionary has been in the past, today he is subject to the whim and fancy that propitiates the immense bureaucratic power enjoyed by functionaries-in-turn. A few weeks ago, the victim was Manlio Fabio Beltrones, probably Mexico’s most accomplished and effective politician: no one is safe from the all-powerful one of the moment.

All depends on how the winds are blowing, not on adherence to or violation of the law. Examples are infinite and proliferate in all ambits; in some cases, perhaps the majority, the arbitrary powers relished by the authority-in-turn exists to advance the enrichment of the functionary; in others, the most visible of these, those attributions comprise the instrument by which those in power castigate, control or subordinate their enemies.

The first case concerns municipal inspectors, who can permit or stop a construction work already underway, a nightclub or bar, a street or a restaurant. How long were the main traffic arteries under construction in the Condesa borough of Mexico City a few months ago as a means of amassing “donations” for the political campaign of the area’s delegate? What distinguishes that tactic from that of those who demand protection money from local businesses? Only the subsequent use of the money. Under the same rubric we find the Federal Commission of Electricity (CFE) inspectors, who come around to a house to count the number of light bulbs, but whose purpose is none other than to utilize their credentials to take a bribe, something not distinct from what transit police officers do on a daily basis. All have such broad powers to “persecute or pardon” that are nothing more than means of extortion.

If the previous examples explain part of the hatred that the citizenry has with respect to the authority, then the following illustrate the personal and political use of the State institutions: the businessman who is audited for supporting the wrong candidate or the politically incorrect cause; the candidate who is suddenly found to have links with “money laundering”, and thus finds his personal banking accounts, and those of his or her relatives, frozen, so that, once the election is over, a statement comes out declaring that “there is no accusation,” once the harm has been absolute.  The use of the State institutions -in this case the National Banking Commission, the Office of the Attorney General, the Bank of Mexico- for the personal ends of the powerful one of the moment.

If there is a measure of civilization or of primitivism, surely judicial persecution is found at the top of the list because it concerns freedom, the most basic human right. That power, manifest in distinct ways at every level and variety of authority, brings to light everything that Mexico is still to address and how far from reality the daily political rhetoric is found. The reality evidences a primeval country; the rhetoric attempts an inexistent concretion, and all of the functionaries and governors, without distinction of party, work the same way, when they are in power: power for personal and party ends, not for the development of the country.

The day that those excessive, arbitrary powers disappear, Mexico will begin to live the world of civilization, while in the meantime    those who aspire to remove those lusting after power do not perceive that, sooner or later, they themselves will be on the other side. No one is safe.