To govern, an authoritarian system requires no more than skill, some institutions and minimal rules because everything revolves around the capacity of the governor to impose his will. Open political systems –consolidated democracies as well as nations in transition- require rules known by all, which are complied with and made to be complied with. The Mexico of a half century ago was authoritarian and, due to its characteristics, relatively easy to govern. The Mexico of today is big, complex and with a broad and diverse population that requires rules and procedures, because without this it is impossible to reconcile natural differences of interests, objectives and modes of thinking in ambits as dissimilar as interests: electoral, economic, political and social. The recent reforms have done nothing other than strengthen the need to advance in that direction because, inevitably, the number of interested actors and parties will multiply (investors, contractors, operators, analysts, bureaucrats, etc.) and, with these, conflicts.
The experience of the last half century does not garner praise as an example of ability and aptitude for constructing State capacity, understanding the latter as instruments and competency for maintaining peace, response to a changing economic environment, regulation of markets and, in a word, construction of a modern State that makes the development of the country possible. The changes undergone in the last half century have been so enormous that they would require the construction of an altogether new political regime: a new system of government to replace the old authoritarian system. Instead of the change that would be required, Mexicans have been witness to the construction of innumerable revampings and patches. Many of those “patch-up jobs” can be valuable institutions (e.g., Human Rights Commissions, regulatory entities) and I do not wish to hold them in disregard, but they are solely substitutes for a true institutional transformation, the only one susceptible to providing viability for a demanding society desperate due to insecurity, absence of opportunities, poor jobs and, no less important, systematically shattered expectations.
Over the past several months we have observed an alluvium of reforms and new legislation, much of it modifying the “sacred cows” of yesteryear. But the laws, in themselves, cannot evoke a change. Change is the product of implementation of the laws. Expressed in other terms, there are now instruments in the hands of the government for carrying out an extraordinary transformation. The question is whether the government will make the opportunity its own, a not trivial matter because of the enormous cost it entails. At its core, implementing the new reforms will require affecting interests, many dear to the government, that at present are the true obstacles for making reality what has taken shape in law.
Unless change results from revolutionary action dedicated to stifling the existing order through non-institutional means, the change inherent in the adopted reforms can only come from the side of the government, that is, from the political class and the bureaucracy, both actors with multiple interests in the process. What, in other words, would be necessary for carrying out the great change that the laws presuppose?
Part of the response depends on the ambition required for the transformation to be carried out. In the nineties we saw an ambitious strategy of change but one limited in reach: massive structural modifications were performed but integral reform of the economy and, in general, of the country was evaded. Those changes were sufficiently large to be transforming, but their limited reach ended up planting the seed of many of the problems we are experiencing today, including exacerbated informality, underemployment, extremely low productivity of a good part of the industrial sector and the rejection of any change on the part of the society.
The recently approved reforms are, potentially at least, infinitely more transcendent. In this sense, a possibility would lie in merely attacking the sectors that the law has modified, a gargantuan task in itself because, on being integrally carried out and if the aspiration is the creation of a competitive market, this would imply modifying the status quo in activities and sectors with tremendous economic and political fallout beginning with the energy monsters, but equally in telecommunications. Substantive modification of the limited reality of these ambits would be valid in itself, but would run the risk of being partial in the end, as in the prior reform era.
The most ambitious alternative would lie in an additional transformation in ambits such as those of justice and legality. Although there have been diverse reforms in matters of justice, this is far from prompt, while it simultaneously continues to be extraordinarily politicized: the attorney generals’ offices continue to act in the name of their political bosses; thus not aiming at procuring justice. The same is true about legality: corruption is flagrant in so many ambits and visible to the entire population -and the concomitant impunity so costly for the government’s legitimacy- that it is doubtful whether reforms involving international bidding contests, supranational courts or analogous others can be successful without a much more ambitious reform in the political regime.
With its reforms, the government has unleashed the immense opportunity of achieving development. Now the most complex part is left, but also the most transcendent.