The old Sugar-mill Model

 Luis Rubio

For the President, Mexico should return to its roots and attain happiness through a pathway of negation. That’s the vision he extols in a video* about an old sugar-mill, the trapiche, a primitive gig employed to extract juice from sugar cane as well as to use as an ore crusher in mining, a technology that arose in the XVI century. Therein appears to lie the point of convergence of the presidential vision: Mexico should summarily move backward four hundred years.

The economic indicators permit us to envisage that the President is procuring his objective: economic contraction accelerates, unemployment grows without limit and, without any doubt, the human dramas that are a product of the lack of income and growing needs become more acute. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the dimensions of unemployment as well as the deaths in the glutted hospitals are substantively greater than those recognized by the authorities, at least in public. Deceit lies at the heart of the project.

The problem is not the pandemic that gave rise to this indeed unfortunate scenario, but rather in the government that prior to the pandemic had already produced a recession without possibility of recovery. The President attacks Neoliberalism as the causal factor of the ills afflicting the country, but that is mere rhetoric. The evidence demonstrates that his vision is not that of development nor of progress, howsoever these are defined, but rather of a return to a very basic way of life, perhaps ancestral, all subsidized by oil. The devil with not only the (his) institutions -a phrase he uttered and that became famous in 2006- but also with the entire modern Mexico, the productive plant, and the eagerness to be better, civilized and developed. His plans –written and those in his daily dissertation- reveal a fundamentalist conception of life that starts with the recreation of agricultural self-sufficiency, the promotion of self-employment from the revitalization of diverse skills, as illustrated by the sugar mill, as well as barter and the simple and moral life. Religion is always an instrument to advance his vision.

The religious component is fundamental in the vision of the President because everything is judged through a moralistic filter determining who or what is or is not corrupt. Contrary to what many of his disciples assume, this has to do with an extremely conservative vision in which the definitions of corruption, honesty and mettle are all relative and not absolute: what matters is not the fact itself (stealing from the public funds, abuse in the sale of goods and services to the government or in personal conduct) but instead the purpose for which it is undertaken. If it contributes to the presidential objectives, redemption is not long in coming. Any action, conviction, or behavior that that is not conducive to the presidential project is corrupt, neoliberal, therefore contemptible and, yet more importantly, immoral. The preacher in the pulpit decides who lives and who does not.

From this perspective, it is perfectly explainable why the growth of the economy (one of the central factors in the President’s criticism of so-called Neoliberalism) no longer matters, violence can be ignored and knowledge is reprehensible. In addition, it is very convenient to pretend that there’s no reason for the government to be accountable for the country’s situation. Behind this lies the reality of a massive portion of the population that has endured the “education” made (im)possible by the two teachers unions, the CNTE and the SNTE, both sponsored and validated by AMLO himself. What is relevant is not consistency but expediency, wholly cloaked in the moral posturing that, at least to date, maintains a fairly high number of voters still believing in the President. In a world of fundamentalist poverty, education and health are irrelevant, because a higher authority says so, the very same authority which follows a single rationale, the only one that matters: the electoral.

The problem of the presidential vision is that it derives from a fallacy: that people are foolish and do not understand anything. That is, that the average Mexican can be lied to, cheated and duped because they have no way of grasping what is going on. The reality is precisely the opposite: the majority of Mexicans may have been furious with Peña’s flagrant corruption and arrogance, as well as with the promises and errors of technocrats in general and with the day-to-day sub-standard treatment of the population by bureaucrats and politicians, but they know well –they see it on television and hear it from their relatives in the U.S.- that the world works on the basis of openness, , democracy and the markets. Many will perceive the President as faultless, but that will be irrelevant when the dilemma is between an old sugar mill or a real job. Mexicans know that the future lies not in XVI-century technology but in the ultra-modern manufacturing plants of el Bajío or the Mexican North. The fact that many Mexicans receive money from the government does not deceive them, even while it naturally compels them to do what’s necessary to preserve those transfers.

The world of the old sugar mill leads nowhere, making it clear that the present government has no future and that its demise will end up being accelerated by this pandemic that lays everyone bare and makes evident what does not work. But the cost of all this will be enormous.