Luis Rubio

The stakes of the coming election are much higher than just one person being the winner this coming June second. Mexico has wasted too much time shirking fundamental decisions on how it is going to develop, a circumstance that betrays the incapacity and unwillingness of the leading members of successive governments throughout many decades of assuming the costs, but also the benefits, of effectively democratizing the country. The result has been interminable stop- and-go processes, substantive advances only to be diluted -when not reverted- in a later government, until garnering an enormous polarization that, as strategy, was adopted by the out-going President. Beyond the rhetoric inherent in a presidential election, the key to this process lies in seizing the opportunity to build the foundations of a true “leap forward.” Tonight’s debate should help elucidate who can advance it.

At the dawn of the end of the Mexican revolutionary era (1910-1917), the winners convoked the consecration of a great foundational pact that was ultimately responsible for several decades of economic progress. The success of that first period of economic growth reached its limit in the sixties both because new internal political realities had been created, as well as due to the rest of the world having experienced deep transformation. A growing population, a strong middle class and the beginning of the end of the economic viability of the semi-autarchic industrialization schema forced a redefinition of the economic project, a circumstance that took nearly twenty years to materialize.

The liberalization project that followed has resulted in being extremely successful, as demonstrated by the exports that today sustain the Mexican economy, but it did not resolve all the problems, as illustrated by the election in 2018 of a politician who forged his career denouncing that project’s consequences and insufficiencies. And, in effect,  with all of its attributes, the economic project that continues to function despite all of the obstacles imposed upon it was unable to achieve its purpose of accelerating the country’s integral development because there persist innumerable interests that live from (and pillage) the previously existing order, rendering impossible the attainment of a stable economic and political development, where all Mexicans can thrive. There is no better example of this than the situation of insecurity and extorsion suffered by the majority of the population and that the current government has done nothing other than exacerbate instead of fixing it.

Governments come and go, but none accomplished what Stefan Dercon* says that is key: there is not a single one way to procure development, but the latter is impossible to obtain without the committed participation of the society and its elites, both political as well as economic, in the edification of a new political order. In Mexico the various administrations -both those of technocratic persuasion of the eighties and nineties as well as those of the more political nature of the last two governments- devoted themselves to imposing their view of the world rather than constructing a development platform in which the whole society could be included. They preferred to uphold ancestral interests and to grant privilege to their “cronies” at every turn before negotiating agreements and democratizing decision-making.  It should not come as a surprise to anyone that the country continues to exist in a dangerously unsteady state however many parts of society feel satisfied, independently of their living in an environment of uncertainty and violence.

Expressed in another way, what lies at the core of this election is nothing less than the step toward civilization. WH Auden says “Civilization is a precarious equilibrium between barbaric vagueness and trivial order.” In Mexico we have insisted on protecting unacceptable monopolies and abusive unions, corrupt politicians and mafia-like organizations. Combatting organized crime or establishing the bases for the population to enjoy the most minimal freedom of being able to go out into the street at night have become issues enshrouded in taboo, politically untouchable, all this because of their not squaring with the dogmas of the current President or with the poor strategies of previous governments. Meanwhile, let them eat cake. This does not occur, cannot occur, in a democratic society that espouses vibrant citizen participation.

The election that is nearly upon us will determine who is going to govern Mexico, but not how it is going to be governed or, even, if the winner will be able to govern. The problems pile up and multiply: the consequences of the outgoing President’s tactic of polarizing and taunting the citizenry have sullied the atmosphere and powerful interests dedicated to protecting themselves survive. The candidates would start by lending serious thought to how they must prepare themselves, and prepare the citizens’ terrain, to build the possibility of, first, maintaining order; second, confronting the violence and insecurity; and, above all, decidedly driving the development of the country. None of that would be possible without the active and decided participation of the citizenry in general and that of the elites in particular.

The country finds itself in the midst of an upheaval and neither of the candidates is enjoying great popular support at present. One of them will logically win, but she can only advance to the extent that she summons together the entire society, something not appearing to be in their plans. If the candidates do not want to be crushed, they’d better start to bring the citizenry in.

*Gambling on Development