“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” reads Dante’s inscription above the gates of hell. Many Mexicans must feel like this: that history has betrayed them. Crises, leadership styles, and promises generate expectations and hopes, to wind up quashed in a sea of tears. Causes and circumstances change, but the result is the same: the Mexican feels victimized and believes that everyone owes him a living. In lieu of not resigning himself to and breaking with the vicious circles, the Mexican tends to cling fast to them, therefore losing all hope and possibility. The question is why.
The contrast with other cultures is striking. Avatars in the history in some Latin-American nations are not so distinct, but some countries achieve a split with the ties of the past, while others stay where they are. Independently of his activity frameset, the Mexican tends to be dependent: he wants someone else to solve his problems, the government to protect him and get him out of jams, a leader to work things out, or a perfectly-set, catch-all development project. There are excuses for everything, but few solutions.
The contrast with Brazilians is impressive: their governmental and regulatory system blocked them from progressing; as soon as they introduced appropriate, but far from perfect, reforms, their repressed creativity and ability blossomed forth and they now flex their muscle in entrepreneurial, technological, and industrial spheres. Beyond their recent successes, financed with the export of commodities and foodstuffs to China, the astounding contrast with the Mexican is their drive and willingness to take risks. While we Mexicans tend to see ourselves as victims, the Brazilians perceive themselves as a power in the offing, and see the world as theirs.
None of these observations are new. Samuel Ramos and Octavio Paz devoted their studies to explaining these phenomena and to analyzing the implications of our culture and way of being. Some historians attribute the origin of Mexican nationalism and the sense of victimization accompanying it to the 1847 U.S. invasion. Others explain it as due to the clash of cultures represented by the syncretism of the Conquest and the indigenous world. Yet others attribute the destruction of all individual initiative to the PRIist system and its cultural authoritarianism. Each of these perspectives explains or contributes to understanding the personality of the Mexican. What they do not tell us is whether it is possible to break the vicious circle, and if so, how.
What is certain is that, with all of our differences, poor nations that over the most recent decades have been able to break with underdevelopment entertain great similarities. What makes them alike is the transformation that they have experienced and the attitude with which they have opened up a world of opportunities to their respective populations.
Paraphrasing Tolstoy, it may perhaps be said that all successful nations resemble each other, while each unsuccessful nation is unsuccessful in its own way. Just as it is possible to attempt to elucidate the origin and causes of the personality and culture of the Mexican as brilliantly as these philosophers that I mention here have, I am sure that there are those who do the same for Argentine and Venezuela, Cuba and Nigeria. Explanations abound. What is lacking is some way to break with the gridlock in order to become successful.
An eager and well-experienced observer of our region affirms that the common denominator in nations that have achieved success is clear leadership that establishes a course and does not devote himself or herself to undermining it for his or her own interests. This way of seeing the world is exceedingly pragmatic, but entails enormous risks and leaves everything to the mercy of a savior. Our own experience throughout the past decades is suggestive: there have been very capable leaders who generated impressive expectations and gave hope to the population, only to end up ruining lives, estates, and families.
How, then, to break the vicious circle? Years back, in the 2000 electoral contest, I remember that one of the candidates declared that he was certain of what there was to do to solve the country’s problems. The first two elements on his list were a new constitution, and changing the Mexican. The prescription was simple.
Perhaps the least burdensome way to decipher the riddle is to analyze the unifying elements or common denominators of societies that have transformed themselves. Each successful nation has achieved the conferring of certitude on their populations. This is the true recipe for success. In the same way that the donkey was not born stubborn as a mule, but rather, reality made him so, people safeguard themselves and balk against any change because they are not sure of the future, and, on occasion, not even of the present. It suffices to see how entrepreneurial the Mexican is individually to perceive the immense potential.
Our daily life is a master of uncertainty. Straightforward observation of the quotidian event could stupefy even the most adroit among us. Let’s look at some recent examples: days ago, the Supreme Court ruled to deny the government’s commitment to provide pensions of up to 25 minimum salaries for Mexicans caught up in the transition between the old Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) pension system and that of the Retirement Funds Administrators (Afores). In Chile, this money was submitted by means of a “bond of acknowledgment” the same day that the pension fund administrators (APs), the Chilean equivalent of Afores, were created. In Chile there is certitude; here, deceit.
A second example: in days past, the U.S. Federal Aeronautical Administration (FAA) downgraded the score of Civil Aeronautics services in Mexico, which, in addition to revealing serious procedural gaffes, positions us worldwide as pariahs. The government’s response: budgetary woes. There was not even an attempt to offer solutions, or an indication that the gravity of the problem is understood and that they intend to solve it. Something similar happened with the recent announcement that we have fallen dozens of places as foreign investment recipients. The transcendence of this fall from grace is monumental for the growth of the economy and for the generation of jobs. Notwithstanding this, there is no response or the proposal of a solution by the government or by the remainder of public powers: some self-satisfied; others resigned to the fact.
Certitude and credibility are perhaps the two most fundamental factors of a country’s success. While these can be built by a great leader or a great institutional system, it takes decades for them to be sufficiently established in order for them to excel. To destroy them takes only an instant. Amidships in this rides the hope of every Mexican and the possibility of getting ahead. The bicentennial celebrations would have been an exceptional opportunity to build hope, but that would have required a visionary government.