Mexico carried out innumerable reforms –economic as well as political- along the last four decades and, however, the results were insufficient or, at least, very unequal. Some sectors and regions of the country grew and benefited, others stagnated and have been unable to emerge from their lethargy. But even where advances have been notable, other factors, such as insecurity and poor educative performance, hindered better results. In this, Mexico lies in pronounced contrast to other nations that embarked on a reformative route during the same decades but that, with all their avatars, achieved greater benefits. The question is why.
Every country has its particular characteristics, history, culture and conditions. Some reside within a geopolitical context that imposes urgency on them and reduced latitude in what they can do, with Taiwan coming to mind, a nation on which enormous pressure by the Asian dragon hangs, leading it to subordinate small interests to its most fundamental viability. Other nations underwent abrupt breaks with their past due, for example, to a dictatorship, as in the case of Spain, Chile and Korea, which opened the opportunity for change, while simultaneously generating immense social pressure to attain this. In Colombia, the recovery of the nation as a workable entity after the era of the narco mafias –a process lasting decades- obligated the general transformation of its country.
The common denominator of all these nations is that they split from the past. Some did so because of the existence of great leadership, others because the circumstances caused it to happen or because the society did not permit deviations and because it possessed the strength to accomplish it. Some came upon moorings that left no option other than to follow a path, as was the case of Spain and Portugal in the face of the magnet then represented by the European Community. All, however, have procured an integral transformation, everything within the natural and logical restrictions that every nation faces, bringing to mind the famous phrase of Otto Von Bismarck that laws and sausages entail a similar manufacturing process and what results is not the most perfect, but what is possible.
Mexico has been a prodigious reformer in some ambits and very poor in others. The reason is a twice-fold and explains part of the reason why the electorate acted as it did in 2018. To begin with, the country has not undergone a change of regime since the post-revolutionary government in the last century’s decade of the twenties. Although of course there have been all kinds of changes and alterations in the manner of governing -and in that of electing- the rulers, the essence of the regime continues to be the same. The two PAN-party governments failed to carry out substantive modifications in that structure and the present government finds itself running toward the revitalization of the old centralist and unipersonal system.
In this context, it is clear that the reforms that Mexico undertook –many of these highly ambitious and transcendent- took place under circumstances very distinct from those of the nations mentioned in the previous paragraphs and of other, similar countries. In Mexico the reforms were promoted by its own regime and its main vector was that of transforming economic activity in order to recuperate high rates of economic growth and the benefits to be derived from them. But the objective of the regime was not, could not be, its dismantlement, as occurred in countries in which there had been a real and definitive rupture, essentially thanks to the end of a dictatorship.
Adolfo Suárez, and later Felipe González, broke with the Francoist regime and devoted themselves to building one that was new, democratic and representative, with a modern economy. Its objective was an integral economic as well as a political reform and, while as time went by they experienced crises and recessions diverse in type, their compass was keen and they persisted along the path, as happened in other reformative nations.
In Mexico, the objective was to reactivate the economy, whenever this did not affect the nodal interests close to the heart of the regime. This produced peculiar situations that distinguished the process with respect to other latitudes; in the economy, for instance, privatizations were conceived as means to generate income for the government, not as vehicles to provoke a sudden rise of productivity in the economy. In the same manner, some sectors were liberalized –chiefly industry- but protection was preserved for services (banks, insurance, communications), inciting arduous competition for Mexican industrialists without there being competitive services to assist them. In some cases, markedly in the south of the country, the government not only tolerated (and more now), but has also protected the pernicious unions such as the CNTE (one of the dissident groups within the Teachers’ Union), closing the door to the development of pupils who require another form of education to get ahead in this hypercompetitive world. They also deepened impediments to the installment of new, highly productive investments in the region.
The persistent backwardness, the regional inequality or the electoral result of 2018 should come as a surprise to no one.