Conflict and Institutions

Luis Rubio

The big question is how Mexicans are going to get out of this one. Aside from the President’s popularity, all indicators are pointing the wrong way: the economy stagnates, employment does not grow, the government continues to amass legal and fiscal instruments to persecute the citizenry and there is not a single topic –from security to childhood, passing health on the way- in which the government can exhibit any improvement.

Conflict, whether social or political, has become the raison d’être of Mexican reality because therein are summed up the expectations, resentments, envies and aspirations of Mexican society as a great collective. Some perceive the government as good, others reprove it; some trust that things will improve, others are sure that the only possibility lies in things worsening.  Independent of affiliations, phobias or preferences, the contradictory rhetoric of the quotidian declarations does not contribute to creating a future in which all citizens can partake.

A clear majority of those who voted did so for today’s Mexican President López Obrador. I entertain not the least doubt that much of the anger and many of the grievances that encouraged that vote are absolutely legitimate because, despite the advances, a competitive economy was never consolidated, one sufficiently broad in scope for all Mexicans to benefit from. The vote of tedium reflected a clash between reality discerned with decades of rhetoric that oversold the future, but delivered poor results.

If one brings this situation into focus as a problem requiring a solution,  it is that the country urgently needs new institutions, a term that has acquired a bad name in the current government’s morning discourses,  but one that is nonetheless transcendent. The problem is that, in the existing chain of events, it is nearly impossible to build institutions that satisfy its sine qua non condition of success: having widespread support and recognition. The environment of conflict and polarization renders it highly difficult to create and consolidate new institutions: at present, the country is encountering two great currents running against the flow: those that want to break with the status quo at any cost and those who demand certainty that can only derive from solid and non-contentious institutions. Beyond the side on which one finds himself in this antinomy, what is certain is that it is impossible to achieve stability and predictability in a society that lacks institutions that are credible for the majority of its citizens.

The milieu is so vice-ridden that anything the government proposes ends up being conceived as an abuse by one part of the population and as a given by the other. The opposite is equally true: the Morena majority automatically condemns, and is ready to dismantle, everything in existence prior to its advent, although many of the best things existing today –and that, doubtlessly, its base appreciates- are the product of the reforms of the recent decades.

The advances of the last decades are not few nor are they small: freedom of speech; free elections; a perhaps primitive health system, but infinitely superior to the madness into which the current government has incurred; access to innumerable first-rate goods and services at infinitely lower prices (after inflation) than those that existed before. At the same time, it is evident that there is a myriad of things, in terms of the conditions of daily life as well as the functioning of the governmental system, that are unacceptable, bad, corrupt and exceedingly inefficient. I do not doubt that, soon, we will find that the stalwarts of Morena, now at various levels of government, will be found immersed in problems of corruption, as occurred with PAN party members, the Puritans of those times. The problem does not lie in persons or parties, as much as the President absolves them, but rather in structures and incentives. That is the reason that the country will not get ahead unless it adopts a new legal and institutional structure. In contrast with the past, the latter would have to be legitimate to achieve its objective.

The dispute with respect to the INE was born in 1996 and reinforced in 2006 because the PRD party, many of whose constituents now espouse Morena, did not participate in decided fashion, and was in fact excluded, for good or bad reasons. Legitimacy was not achieved because there was no consensus, at least once, for this crucial institution.

There’s an additional phenomenon: much of public life consists of negotiating and a serious negotiation cannot be conducted in public. Mexicans have made theirs the myth of transparency, which is obviously necessary, but not everything has to be transparent. In Congress or in the Supreme Court, for example, transparency is indispensable but not in discussions and negotiations among the actors because it is there that, as Bismarck noted regarding sausages, the future is constructed. What is public ends up being merely a show and spectacles do not lead to good government.

Conflict can only come to an end with negotiation leading to legitimacy. The question is whether the government is in the business of promoting and deepening the conflict or building legitimacy. The women’s march of March 8 will be a bellwether of where Mexico stands today.


Twitter: @lrubiof