Narratives and Realities

Luis Rubio

Politics in the era of the ubiquity of information is about narratives: contrasting visions of the world that exaggerate the differences and attenuate the coincidences, all for the sake of capturing the support of the citizenry and its vote. The essence of politics has not changed, but the speed of the message, the social networks and the confrontation inherent in instantaneous communication produce very different effects from those of the epoch of direct or unidirectional politics, through television. The result is a direct face-off that does not contribute to advancing the objectives that all politicians say they wish to procure, such as peace, security, economic growth and stability.

Over the last four decades, Mexicans have experienced two contrasting narratives: one that exalts the transformation that has produced the structural reforms whose implementation began in the mid-eighties, and the other that reviles the current reality, reproves the reforms and extolls an idyllic past. Between those two narratives exists a reality that the population undergoes daily and that probably entails something of each of those extreme positions, which naturally impacts the perception that the citizenry entertains of politics, of the government and of the future.

The narrative of the reforming success is very clear: reforms allowed for breaking with times of financial crises, stabilized the economy, laid the foundations for an elevated and sustained economy and eliminated inflation as a matter of concern for the population. According to this world vision, integration of the Mexican economy into the international technology, trade and investment circuits has permitted Mexico to become an exporter power, whose modern industry has transformed and converted into one of the most competitive worldwide and one in which all of the personnel associated with this segment of the economy are able to find better paying jobs and with greater benefits.  Entities such as the Mexican states of Querétaro and Aguascalientes are paradigmatic of what a good strategy of development can offer the citizens and the country and shows that, on following the chosen pathway, the country will be consolidated as a robust economy with a democratic political system governed by an all-encompassing Rule of Law.

The narrative of economic, ecological and social chaos highlights the poverty by which the reforms have been accompanied, the lack of economic growth (a mere 2% on average), the insecurity under which the population lives and the poor, uncertain means of livelihood without perks, which characterize the majority of Mexicans. The point of departure of this narrative is the high economic growth that typified the decade of the seventies, the social tranquility experienced and the public security that was the norm. This narrative occupies states such as Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chiapas as paradigms that reveal the worst results of the reforms, the poverty that distinguishes those entities and the inequality that accumulates and that is increasingly obvious in the country. Instead of opportunities and achievements, this narrative has at its fore corruption, insecurity, impunity, and excesses of those in government at all of levels and dimensions. Its proposal is to return to the eras, and the strategies, that rendered possible the steadiness of the old days, which would fortify democracy and citizen participation. The problems started precisely when things deviated from the course with the reforms of the eighties, the very reforms that need to be cancelled to restore the capacity of economic growth and social development.

Each individual will amend and embellish the description of these narratives, but what is important is that, due to their nature, polarization is pursued: for some everything is right, for others everything is wrong. For the former what is consequential is to do more of the same; for the others everything must be changed. Were one to analyze the concrete data, the differences are less stunning than the narratives suggest, but the relevant part is less the narrative -that concentrates all the attention- than the reality of everyday life.

A more objective vision of recent decades would suggest that the Mexican economy demonstrates extraordinary diversity, that there are regions growing  at more than 7% while there are others that are lagging behind; that the greater part of those who are employed live in a state of relative precariousness; that insecurity is not associated with the reforms but instead with the lack of a transformation of the government itself and the political system; and that it is not possible to return to the past, but that more of the same clearly will not resolve anything either. In addition, the county is not moving in the direction of democracy or the Rule of Law. Perhaps of greater import is that Mexico’s problems are real and transcend the narratives that polarize but do not solve anything.

The great success of former President Salinas in his first five years of government was that he was able to achieve a single narrative and one which enabled the population to look ahead to make this narrative a reality. His failure in his sixth year in office had nothing to do with the reforms themselves but caused the confrontation of narratives that polarize and generate mistrust. AMLO would do better by displaying an ability to join with the citizens and bring that exceedingly destructive gap to an end.