Authority and Catalysis

Luis Rubio

In “The Guns of August”, Barbara Tuchman relates how a series of apparently unrelated events and circumstances led inexorably to WWI and the greatest human carnage that the world had witnessed until then. Will the massacre of Iguala have a similar effect?

This is not an idle question. Over the past weeks, the country has been advancing in an increasingly accelerated manner toward a great political conflagration. Or worse: apparently unconnected events have been aligning to produce a large-scale crisis. What is significant is that all of this has been taking shape in good measure thanks to a presence and an absence. The presence is that of a political project oriented toward putting pressure to bear on forcing the resignation of a president before he concluded his second year in office, leaving no option but a new election.

The absence is that of the government, a bizarre situation given the vast array of instruments of control and the resources, of all kinds, at its disposal. Some parts of the government have continued to function, perhaps out of inertia (such as the stringent grip on the media), but others have been conspicuously absent. The most that the government has achieved is articulating its theory of destabilization, positioning itself not as the leader of domestic political life but as the victim of a plot. Its announcements this week do not change the pattern.

It would be easy to assemble an argument such as that of Tuchman. First, in chronological order, the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) movement, probably organized by Morena, the National Regeneration Movement, and imperfectly understood by the Department of the Interior, unleashing forces that its promoters never imagined possible. Second, Iguala, the heart of the country’s heroin production; organized crime in the control of the municipal presidency and its strategy to preserve it with the wife of the president in turn; Ayotzinapa controlled by a rival organization, putting teachers-college students in harm’s way. Third, the matter of the presidential residence, which couldn’t have come to light at a more auspicious moment and that elevated relatively frequent events in the country to stratospheric heights. Whoever devised the IPN stand never dreamed of a conjunction of circumstances like those that emerged in the following weeks.

But none of the latter would have come together had the government functioned with normality. It was its absence that produced the immoderate growth of the snowball effect. This is somewhat reminiscent of how Porfirio Díaz responded –or, rather, didn’t respond- at the time. The rebellion appearing in 1910 and leading to his overthrow was the result of Díaz’s incapacity to contain the uprisings taking place in distinct parts of the country. Although the catalyst of the discontent was voter fraud in the elections of that year, each insurrection had its own local cause (abusive jefes politicos, expansionist landlords, shady land deals, cronyism in local government etc.). It is possible that the atrocity in Iguala has exerted a like effect: it became the catalyzer that allowed people to vent their dissatisfaction out into the open, a distinct discontent for each group and individual involve, all of which failed to be understood by the Peña administration, just as it had in Diaz’s time. There were many reasons for the anger, some nearby in origin, others more distant, but Iguala supplied a common element for channeling it.

Alexis de Tocqueville affirmed that the most dangerous time in an authoritarian or dictatorial government “normally occurs when it begins to be reformed”. While the reforms promoted by President Peña have the potential to affect innumerable interests, their impact to date has materialized essentially on three fronts: first, in the modification of the terms of the Constitutional Pact of 1910; second, in tax matters; and, third, in the security ambit. While amending the Constitution has been a national sport, no one had dared to modify some of the sacrosanct articles: 3 (education), 27 (energy) and 123 (unions). The energy reform attacked the heart of a sector of profound believers in the original writ. The fiscal matter is not less significant in that it returns the country to the era of governmental dominance in the economy by withdrawing resources from the population as well as from investors  and businesses, and using them badly, resulting in a very weak economy. Not comprehending the satiation and pain that organized crime brought forth in every family in the country was a monumental blunder.

Instead of building a broad support base that would sustain its projects while simultaneously privileging its court favorites, the government provoked a strange alliance of bedfellows among key actors of the society, including those that support as well as those who oppose the reforms as well as all those that have suffered from the insecurity. The protests of recent weeks are notable for the diversity of those participating in them: anarchists with a variety of face coverings alongside families with strollers and their dogs. The government alienated –and united against itself- its potential natural support base as well as its enemies.

After the fateful date of December 1 (in this respect eliminating the immediate objective of the unruly), the government must begin to reconstruct its project. In an ideal world, it would come together to raise again its objectives, starting with attending to the obvious: the absence of trustworthy institutions, beginning with that of the Rule of Law.

The past weeks reveal that anger that builds up can snowball, like that which Díaz didn’t know how to contain. President Peña could revert the crisis by convoking the entire society to adhere to the Rule of Law, starting with himself.