From Below

Luis Rubio

In its eagerness to impose its manner of seeing the world, the federal government has gifted us with a true picture of what does not function and what, for that reason, it should not be. Decades -if not centuries- of centralized government with vertical control structures had the effect of stabilizing the country, but not of achieving its development. The decentralization that has characterized Mexico during the last decades did not translate into a generalized renaissance of local creativity, perhaps due in good measure to the enormous weight of the idea of central control that the president intends to recreate. As Marx wrote nearly 200 years ago, what is tragedy the first time, is a farce the second.

Accustomed as Mexicans are to powerful central governments, it is perhaps difficult for them to understand the transcendence of the local governance and, above all, the costs incurred of imposition from “the center.” The great economic successes of the last decades have arisen in states and regions that devoted themselves to promoting growth and they addressed themselves to creating conditions for this to be possible. The boom undergone by the states of Querétaro, Aguascalientes, Yucatán, Nuevo León and others has not been the product of chance, but rather of effective structures of local government.

Contrariwise, the incapacity to eradicate violence, extortion and other forms of criminal activity, as well as the poverty that continues to prevail in many zones of the country, especially in the South, reflects local governments that are incapable or, more to the point, that are dedicated to control and plundering.

The numbers show that the deterioration in matters of security advanced in parallel fashion with the weakening of the structure of centralized control from the nineties and, although there was a certain improvement at the beginning of the second decade of this century, this was not consolidated. The centralized controls of yesteryear became unviable in a country that was diversifying and democratizing, but nothing was done, especially at the local level, to build government capacity, starting with the police, the local judiciary, and mechanisms of interaction and communication between the citizenry and the elected authorities.

With the “divorce” between the PRI and the presidency in 2000, the governors, organized as a syndicate, “purloined” the federal government’s checkbook, but did not employ this sudden wealth of resources to transform their structures with an eye toward the development of their entities, but instead to get rich and/or to promote their own political careers. In manifest confessions of their priorities, the governors found no motivation to protect the citizenry in view of the brutal increase in organized crime.

From that time, we have witnessed two equally erroneous and absurd responses: on the one hand, President Felipe Calderón mobilized the Army to confront the criminals. The value of his radical decision lay in the fact that he recognized the threat that organized crime constituted    and its impact on the destruction of all vestiges of stability and economic viability; but his deploying the Army would not constitute an ideal response: the military, not being policemen, know how to pacify a region, but not to develop capacity for long term security. Aside from a few months of peace, the criminals returned, and nothing changed for the people.

The second response is that of President López Obrador, who has taken the opposite route: arguing that the ultimate causes of criminality must be attended to, he has impeded the National Guard from acting, with which he has in fact promoted a new wave of criminality, which expresses itself in the form of extortion, abduction, protection rackets and all sorts of illicit businesses. Half of the country experiences that terror.

What none of these strategies takes into consideration is that well-being -from security to development- starts from below, from the bottom, from the municipal government. The most successful cities of the world have block or neighborhood police officers who know their residents and who, by their mere presence and the authority that they represent, become guarantors of the population’s peace and security. The attempt to impose security from above has failed for the simple reason that it has never been recognized that the objective, and the raison d’être of the government, is (or should be) the citizenry and its security.

Mexico is too vast and diverse to pretend that it can be controlled from the bastions of the federal government. The thrust of the current federal government in this matter will fail, as occurred in all the previous experiments.

Fixing the security issue can only be possible to the extent that it is recognized that, first, the government’s raison d’être is the population’s well-being and, second, that the latter is only possible with the citizenry’s active involvement and participation. It is possible that in societies with autocratic cultures, or in those under dictatorships, the order can be issued from above, but that is not the Mexico of today and thus all experiments in that regard will continue to fail.

Mexican democracy suffers from multiple shortfalls because the citizenry continues to be held in check, while organized crime flourishes. This set of circumstances has made the country increasingly unstable and its economic potential dwindling. We must start with recognizing the citizenry as the heart of the future and build from below. There’s no other way.