The government needs to act. Fast!

Luis Rubio

These have not been the best of days for the President. Difficulties accumulate, the economy doesn’t improve and now there are protest marches everywhere. The issue is not the horror of the killings, although that’s what’s caused the current impasse, but rather the fact that the government has been taken by surprise: as if it didn’t (and doesn´t) understand what’s at stake.

The world is falling all around it but the government has acted under a short-term, tactical logic: to score points at the expense of the PRD; in his speeches, the President does not assume responsibility for security: instead, he solidarizes himself with the victims (taking five weeks to meet the parents) not as the authority in charge but as if he were an NGO, a non-government organization. He reminds one more of Fox with his “and why me” than the calculating politician and expert political operator of the recent reforms.

Days go by and the government doesn’t respond or heed other voices. In contrast with the time of his presidential campaign when he bent over backward to anticipate future criticisms with an ambitious proposal in political matters (at least in terms of making a strong media splash), today the government seems to be clueless. This is the moment to set forth a distinct paradigm because the true problem derives from that the two most important assets that he possessed have been lost: the appearance of efficacy and the initiative.

For a year and a half, the government followed a perfectly articulated script, with competent operators in all key places, an effective communication strategy and an infinite capacity –by whatever means available- for engaging the opposition and clasping neutralizing interests to its bosom. Its impacting capacity of execution met with applause even in the most cautious quarters of society. That’s why its paralysis or incapacity of response today is so astounding, which could lead to the protests proliferating, inside and outside of Mexico. Not a very inviting scenario.

Iguala didn’t inaugurate the problems. For months, diverse, ominous signs have been clear, which were overshadowed by the process of passing reforms. Long prior to the recent slaughters the economy showed signs of paralysis that the aggressive fiscal stimulus hasn´t corrected but the debt is nonetheless on the rise. Oil prices are in a downward spiral, threatening already deteriorated governmental legers, and Europe warns of going into a recession, if not deflation.

Although the security conundrum had been suppressed from the media, the reality continues exactly the same: extortion has become an everyday occurrence for small businesses (and many bigger companies as well), abductions grow and theft does not desist, even (above all) in the entity that the President until recently governed. Impossible to turn a blind eye to this massive, albeit slow, destruction of social capital. The killings reflect the disorder holding sway in the country, the connivance between elected authorities and organized crime and the total absence of a strategy for combating criminality. Iguala is crucial because it wasn’t carnage among narcos: there the State was revealed as a henchman at the service of organized crime. Denying the reality is not a strategy. The President has to take charge.

The reforms project was ambitious in itself. But up until now, there’s been no more than a change in paper. Independently of the new circumstances, the complexity entailed in implementation of the reforms is enormous and, above all, calls for skills very distinct from those that the government has deployed to date. It’s not the same to negotiate with representatives or to buy votes in the Senate as to confront mafias devoted to stealing combustibles or biasing contracts inside government-owned enterprises. The former is political operation, the latter, what’s called governing.

Impossible to minimize the challenge that confronts the government and the country but that doesn’t imply that there are no ways out. Perhaps the greatest of the challenges resides less in the situation in the streets than in the vision of the government. The current governmental thrust reflects a vision that rejects the reality of the external world.  Although, for example, the government actively promotes foreign investment, it doesn’t give the impression of accepting the reality of a globalized world in which communication is instantaneous and decision-making criteria are on display for the entire world to see. The connection between protests in Mexico City and in Rome is real and the impact on investors inevitable. The government cannot pretend to be innovative and modern on the outside while inside there are millions of Igualas a hair trigger away from exploding. In a word, it’s impossible, in addition to futile, to attempt to recreate the old paradigm founded on outsiders not seeing what’s happening inside and insiders not communicating with those outside. It’s urgent for the government to recognize the need of a new paradigm of political development. As simple and as complex as that.

No one expects the President to solve the problem of Guerrero in fifteen minutes. What the population expects from the President is certainty and a sense of direction, that is, institutions which allow Guerrero, and the entire country, to enter into a dynamic of stability and political-legal development that, little by little, would render impossible, or at least exceptional, the existence of mass killings such as those of Ayotzinapa. Such a vision would compel the dedication of all of that extraordinary capacity of political operation to construct a new institutional scaffolding and to oblige the key actors –starting with the governors- to construct government capacity instead of simply “getting by” in order to get rich, without any benefit for the citizenry. This is the moment to act.