The Sixties

Luis Rubio

“The reality of the myth is the unreality of the country”, wrote Monsiváis, a philosopher of everyday life.  The sixties qualify as mythological in Mexican politics, and more so at the current juncture. The sixties were years of great achievements, but also the seed of the dispute that, from that time, has devoured the country. On its mythological side, the sixties are venerated -in all quarters- as the golden age of growth and stability; on their retrospective side, that decade was characterized by conflict, mostly underground, which from that time consumes national politics.

In the sixties, the country was living through an idyllic moment that no one wanted to end, except that it was buried by the reality. The decade was distinguished by two great circumstances: on the one hand, very high growth rates (nearly 7% annually, in average), and with minimal inflation levels, all of which contributed to the consolidation of an urban middle class and an accelerated social mobility. Not by chance did many refer to the period as the “Mexican miracle.”

However, the flip side of the coin was no less relevant: two events of those ten years showed the limits of the “stabilizing development” model that, from the forties, had bestowed on the country very favorable results. The first of these events heralded economic risks: 1965 was the last year that Mexico exported corn. This might not appear to be a serious problem until one takes a moment and realizes that the entire functioning of the economic model depended on exporting grains and mineral products to finance the importation of machinery and equipment required for import substitution. The fact that there were corn surpluses no longer indicated that the model was coming closer to its expiration date. The reason for this is simple: because of its orography, Mexico had never been a great grain producer.  The economic model required an adjustment that, had it been implemented then, would have accelerated development: the country has demonstrated an infinite capacity to export industrial and agricultural goods and services. That should have been the answer, but it would be twenty years before its political time would come.

The other event was the 1968 Student Movement, which revealed the political limits of the economic model. Although the economy had yielded extraordinary results, many beneficiaries of its social mobility were unsatisfied with an authoritarian political structure that impeded them from expressing themselves and participating in public life.  In addition, the manner in which that movement ended created a new symbol, with enormous consequences for the following decades.

The two circumstances –that of the corn and the Student Movement- became the casus belli of Mexican politics. The economic flank of the government promoted liberalizing measures to initiate a gradual economic transformation, while the political quarter advocated the use of public funds as a means of recovering the high growth levels of the recent past. The politicians won the dispute in the 1970 elections but, by 1982, the government was insolvent, leaving in its wake massive foreign debt, a deep recession and an exceptionally divided society. From that moment on, the economic sector of the government regained control and began to restore a semblance of order, trusting in being able to procure elevated growth levels in this fashion. A few years later, it was evident that it was impossible to reconstruct the sixties and that the only way out was a much more profound reform of the government and of the economy.

Four decades later, the fight continues. The reforms allowed for the restoration of economic stability that created a base for the expeditious growth of exports and generated more productive and better paying jobs. However, what really happened is that the country ended up divided into halves: the half that made the reforms their own, and the half that remained bound to the previous economic model. The former sustains the latter, but the political dynamic in the end engendered the political result of 2018 elections.

What is relevant here is that the Mexican society, through its vote, disapproved of the results of the reforms undertaken from the eighties on, but not necessarily the reforms themselves. I doubt very much that those who voted for a change of course wanted to rid themselves of the jobs generated by exports or by the country’s modern industry. What they did disapprove of, resoundingly, was the so blatantly biased, tantrum-wrought and ineffective way with which public affairs had been conducted, the corruption that, in many cases, accompanied the process and, above all, the huge contrasts experienced by the distinct regions of the country.

Who can object to the presence of ultramodern investments that produce remarkable goods, good jobs and a great wealth of economic spillover? The problem is that it is not possible to change the general trajectory without losing those opportunities. The tessitura in which the government has placed the country gives rise to an unacceptable choice of all or nothing. Mexico needs to eliminate the biases that generate vast inequalities, not the destruction of everything that exists. But everything points in that direction.