Between the seventies and the nineties, Mexico underwent an era of financial crises, the product in good measure of the laxity with which the public finances were managed: enormous deficits, huge levels of debt (mostly in foreign currency) and little attention to the profitability of the public investment. Between 1976 and 1995, Mexicans became inured to crisis at the end of each six-year presidential term that, abruptly, impoverished the population and eroded the social cohesion. The lesson that today’s president derived from that experience was clear-cut: the public finances must be looked after to avoid falling into that pattern. The question is whether he did not lose sight that the world, and Mexico with it, had changed.
Nearly three decades after the last foreign-exchange crisis the message emerging from the daily address at the pulpit, the mañanera, usually ironic in tone and accompanied by abundant disqualifications, is that governing in Mexico is very easy. Perhaps it would not be amiss that the President recall one of his predecessors -Porfirio Díaz- who, during infinitely less-complex times, uttered that “governing Mexicans is more difficult than rounding up turkeys on horseback.” The Mexican paradox of today is that the principal challenges are being presented by the political, not by the economic, flank.
Despite the prodigious obstacles that persist for the economy to truly excel, self-inflicted limits that arise from well-entrenched interests that prefer poverty under their thumb to accelerated development, the factual evidence is very clear: the country’s economy is functioning. Not the least doubt exists that there are vast regions of the country that continue to be left behind or where the potential for growth is infinitely greater, but, given the circumstances, the country’s economy is growing and, despite the existing fiscal fragility, no one is suggesting that the situation could become complicated in the mid-term future. The latter of course does not imply that everything would be a bed of roses, but instead only that the economy appears to have divorced itself from the political cycle: exports and remittances have bestowed on the economy a degree of stability that is in good measure immune to the avatars and excesses that characterize the government.
On the other hand, political complexity grows day by day and the rail guards that gave it shape and expression -in addition to limits- have been evicted almost completely, in part due to their natural erosion over time, but to a large extent because of the intentional destruction of institutions that implemented the present administration. The country evolved from a political system that was very structured and one with concentrated power based on “metaconstitutional” rules (that is, what the overlord of the day wished) toward a process of transition ending in democracy, but one without moorings, map or compass beyond the electoral. Today the country is besieged by extraordinary challenges in its federal structure, in the relations among the branches of government and in the capacity of the government to lead the country. The crises of justice, security, poverty, corruption and inequality are not the product of chance.
It is within this context that it is necessary to ponder the priorities typifying the government and the dangers that these involve with respect to the looming succession process, where the risks are inexorably exacerbated. In contrast with other successions starting with those in the seventies, what seems to be in order is the economy, while political viability is exceedingly uncertain.
The matter is crucial. The great constant that distinguished Mexico throughout the XX century was its political structure. When an economic crisis arose unexpectedly, the country always possessed the capacity to restore order and stabilize the economy. I do not propose a return to that schema because, in addition to its historical impossibility, the country in the present day bears no resemblance with that circumstance. But that does not resolve the fact that Mexico is immersed in a process that will inflict pressure on and strain the political structures, opening the door to potential situations that have not been seen since the times of the revolution, more than a century ago.
The economy is advancing and exhibiting solidity and resilience, not thanks to the current government, but rather to the reforms of the nearly last four decades, whose rationale was precisely that of isolating the modern component of the economy from the political ups and downs. In absolutely irresponsible fashion, the present government has attempted to undermine these sources of stability, but it has been unable to achieve that, despite all its attempts. On the other hand, the deficits are evident: solely one part of the economy and the country enjoys the privilege of functioning: the remainder perseveres under the yoke of extortion and the worst of governance. Mexico is far from having erected a solid and sustainable platform for the creation of wealth toward integral development but, compared with past successions, it finds itself at present in a benign situation.
The country is governed today as if it were a feudal lordship and not as the twelfth largest world economy with a population of nearly 130 million that demand not only solutions, but also clarity of course and limits to the potential excesses of its rulers. The coming months will demonstrate whether that type of government is adequate and, above all, viable, for the complex reality characterizing Mexico. No serious country should be subjected to that kind of test, with all the risks it entails.