“The crisis consists precisely of that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum there appears a great variety of morbid symptoms.” That is how Gramsci characterized the processes of political transition. Mexico ended up in a quagmire in the middle of that process, which can be appreciated in political matters and, especially, in issues of security. Authoritarian politics is very distinct from democratic politics. The question is whether Mexicans presently find themselves in a process of transition or whether they are trapped, as Gramsci suggests, foundering in an interminable limbo.
The evidence is overwhelming in whatsoever ambit one chooses to observe. When the president reviles the members of the Supreme Court for adhering to what is established by the law and for not following his orders, he does nothing other than make it obvious that the separation of powers does not exist and that he does not respect the individual responsibilities of the other branches of government. And it is the same when gangster-like means are utilized to force a legislative contingent to vote the way the president prefers, a flagrant case of extorsion.
Within the scope of security, not even the pretension that the country is found in a process of transition exists: instead of building the foundations of a normal and typical security system for a democratic society (a pretention clearly in place in the political environment as illustrated by the existence of the National Electoral Institute, INE), the response to the heightening violence is limited to deploying the Army, which does not possess the abilities nor the capacities to deal with the phenomenon.
The transitions toward democracy undertaken by nations such as Spain and several in the South American Continent served as rhetorical mooring for the erection of institutions that took place in Mexico during the nineties and that tangibly resulted in the two electoral institutions: the (then) Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) and the Electoral Court. Those two entities have been key in resolving the hottest topic in Mexican politics from the eighties to date: access to power. While costly, those two institutions leveled the playing field of the political dispute, they professionalized the organization and administration of the electoral process along its entire length and breadth and conferred certainty on citizens and political actors. The problem was resolved of how to accede to power, but not that of how Mexicans would govern themselves. The problems Mexicans confront today derive from that absence.
For three decades, one government after another played pretend. Each of these, from the nineties up to 2018, acted as if the institutions that they were building -the Supreme Court of Justice, the IFE/National Electoral Institute (INE), the legislative branch, regulatory entities such as the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Federal Economic Competition Commission- these constituting true counterweights to the president’s manner of acting. Thanks to the way of being and acting of President López Obrador, now we know that all of that was pure fiction. The supposedly independent or autonomous entities were vulnerable and prone to manipulation by a president with political adroitness and, above all, with an absolute unwillingness to accept the existence of counterweights to his own power.
As the Prussian General von Moltke would say, no plan survives the first contact with the enemy. The Mexican presidents from 1988 to 2018 could have dismantled that institutional framework, but they opted to respect it for the sake of advancing a process of (alleged) democratic transition. President López Obrador revealed this to be a fallacy, a house of cards.
The reality is very clear: Mexico had taken enormous steps forward in some ambits, but it continues to be mired in an authoritarian past in most of the others. Worse yet, the authoritarian mechanisms of yesteryear no longer function, which is why all that Mexico of the past that was left behind lives immersed in a sea of violence, extortion, inequality and the consequent resentment. Neither authoritarian nor democratic: a diffuse and precarious space mid-river.
But that river is extraordinarily risky, unstable and one entertaining a proclivity for violence. The grand accomplishment of the president has been in exploiting the sentiments and resentments of that whole population (the majority) that remained trapped along the way, but to which no solution has been offered. His response has been simply rhetorical: perennial and non-stop daily blindsides at daybreak that assign blame without ever assuming responsibility. Everything but solutions.
Unfortunately, examples such as those of Spain, Chile or Korea, to site three irrefutably successful transitions, are not applicable to Mexico. In those nations, each embroiled in its particular circumstances, the transition was integral: the objective was to abandon the authoritarian past in order to edify a democratic society. In Mexico the objective was limited to attending to certain problems, especially those pertaining to investor trust and post-electoral discord. The objective was not, nor is it, the transition toward a democratic society.
Ensnared midway across the river, where nothing works: the economy does not grow, the violence persists and the resentments are brutal. Society -all of it together- must have the last word: with its acting and its activism, it has in its hands the opportunity to lead out of the quagmire. The question is whether it can lead the way. Today’s demonstration will be a test of wills.