Sometimes it is impossible to figure whether to be proud or ashamed. Mexico has become dysfunctional without the capacity to map out a viable road to development, face up to the challenges that it confronts, or carry out well thought out plans that simply end up in failure.


The interview of astronaut Jose Hernandez Moreno to President Calderon is one of those moments that make us reflect on our circumstance and the nature of our challenges. Jose Hernandez exemplifies what thousands of Mexicans aspire to be and the legitimate success to which they are entitled. The pride of seeing a Mexican reaching the zenith of his career and the opportunity to be part of one of the world’s technological milestones is indescribable. Yet that pride must be tempered by the shame that comes from having to admit that his story is not within the reach of most Mexicans and, furthermore, that his story was only possible because his parents left Mexico in search of a better horizon for their family.


Perhaps the story of the new Mexican astronaut sums up the country’s problem: his story cannot be repeated by most of the rest of Mexicans. This should make us aware that there is something, or many things, that do not permit the country to grow at a fast pace. It is pathetic that for a poor Mexican (or his descendants) to be successful he had to migrate to the US. Such is the case of the major of one of the largest American cities (Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles); Jose Hernandez, who became an astronaut because he lives in the US; or that Mario Molina could earn a Nobel Prize because he was a researcher in the United States. The context migrants face when they arrive opens up possibilities for them than no other Mexican that stays, has within his or her reach.


There are many pertinent questions that arise from such convincing evidence: Why is the country so dysfunctional? Why is there so much corruption? Why is it that nothing works? Why are most people so reluctant to change, including those changes that might benefit them directly? Why are decisions not taken and why are those that are taken so inadequate and often harmful? Why this immobility? How is it possible that even under a crisis as profound as the current one, the country does not respond? In sum, why are we so tolerant of immobility, to the lack of proposals and the irresponsibility of politicians?


Programs and laws come and go, but none achieves its objective. Nearly thirty years ago, in one of those Soviet-driven fits,  the notion of (democratic) planning was added to the Constitution. Since then, governments have churned out and published development plans every six years with their corresponding additions and updates but that is all they have done: publish and talk, not achieve their goals. Nobody questions that the country has undergone significant changes in the last decades but the results are meager. The question is why.


A possible answer, that is both accurate yet imperfect, has its roots in the political transition that began in the eighties and nineties and had its stellar moment when the PRI was defeated in the year 2000. Before the beginning o alternation of parties in the presidency, the political system worked around an all-president that derived his power from his association with the PRI and allowed him to impose his decisions. In recent years, as the reality of power changed (when the presidency “divorced” the PRI), the institutions charged with wielding and managing political power remained virtually the same. This would explain the ineffectiveness of Congress and the absence of mechanisms to generate agreements between the executive and legislative branches. From this, many have concluded that the problem today is the absence of a strong presidency or of democrats willing to play the role key stakeholders in an institutional setting.


However, it’s quite obvious that the country was not created in the year 2000. The reality is that its economy suffers from chronic stagnation since the mid-sixties when the era of “stabilizing development” came unstuck. The attempts to respond to that situation –together with the fiscal excesses of the Echeverria and Lopez Portillo administrations as well as of the liberalization of the economy undertaken by de la Madrid and Salinas- have proven either inadequate or insufficient to achieve the objective of high and sustained economic growth.


Thus, it would be wrong to blame the current paralysis on the political transition since the evidence shows that the previous almighty presidents did not carry out the much needed transformations that the country required to fulfill that economic aim by which they all swore. In one word, the results have oscillated between bad and dismal both when there was the power to make and enforce decisions as well as in today’s era of apparent paralysis.


If to this we add the social dimension: that invisible veil that Mexican migrants have managed to expose and display through their remarkable successes, but also with their own personal family dramas, the country has become a nest of privileges where only a very small fraction of people can achieve their aspirations. The rest have virtually no possibility of envisioning opportunities different from those that their social origin imposed upon them. The success of the poorest Mexicans living in the US constitutes brutal evidence that in other circumstance might make us proud, while in fact is nothing but a ruthless indictment against the country as a whole.


The tangible fact is that the country does not work. Everything seems organized and built to make life difficult for the population, to cancel opportunities and to close spaces for their development. On the other hand, if one looks at the way the budget is allocated and how Congress legislates, there is no possible doubt of where the priorities of decision-makers lie: the resources are allocated to the most powerful unions (for example, we spend great amounts in education, but most will not improve its quality, but will engross the pockets of the union) and the reforms are made so that they do not impinge on priority concerns (as was the case of the “energy” reform that did nothing but fuel the corruption in Pemex and promote the interests of the union and its beneficiaries). The few reforms that are approved, as the one on agriculture reform (the ejido), did not improve the reality, in this case of peasants.


The arena that should exist to discuss and conscientiously analyze the nature of our problems and challenges is rather focused on irrelevant speeches and ideological justifications. The discussion of key issues, such as PEMEX and the utility Luz y Fuerza, was never about improving the performance of the Mexican economy but about the myths of their respective expropriations. The same is true of most decisions of the executive and legislative branches: everything is a smoke screen to maintain the status quo. The pride of seeing the astronaut has to be tempered by the shame of the reality that drove his parents from the country.