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.