Grievances and (Dis)enchantment

Luis Rubio


Mexican society has never been one to trust its government. At least from the time of the proverb of the Spanish Conquest “Obedezco pero no cumplo (“I obey but I do not comply”), generation after generation has been skeptical of their governors and have trusted them only on exception. Government after government has attempted to win over their trust and, while things worked, that credibility, with all of its potential (and limitations) worked miracles. However, the aggregate of bad governments, crises, unfulfilled promises and interminable stories of governmental arrogance ended up honing a not only skeptical population, but also an exceedingly chary one. On not procuring this credibility, the present government runs the risk of turning out as one of the worst.

Mao Tse-Tung once said that, to govern, one needs an army, power and the population’s trust, but if only one thing were possible, the key is trust. The government of President Peña Nieto never attempted to cultivate or gain the trust of the population and it’s now paying the price of that kismet.

What’s tangible in Mexican society today is dismay, which is the opposite of trust. This dismay springs from many sources, but all, or nearly all, of them derive from what the government has done, or has omitted doing. Due to its action or omission, but above all due to its disdain, the government has generated a multiplicity of victims, conjoined above all with insecurity in its multiple manifestations. Others include victims of governmental decisions in matters of contracts, threats, intimidation or censorship. All discern a critical economic situation with no improvement in sight. Iguala made it possible for the dismay that had already taken hold of the entire society to see the light.

History has taught Mexicans the risks of a government that clings to dogmas with economic consequences for everyone. In addition, a society cloaked in dismay is a society that not only won’t cooperate with the government but also one that perceives the latter as menacing. That’s nothing new, except perhaps for the government, which pretends to ignore learnings from the past.

Although the content of the majority of the reforms of the eighties and nineties was economic, their true transcendence resided in the recognition on the part of the political class that the world had changed. Economic liberalization and all of the consequences of that action in financial, commercial and fiscal matters and for government-owned enterprises was something that the political class did not accept easily, but those reforms betoken acceptance, often through gritted teeth, of that the country could not prosper unless the logic imposed by an authoritarian government were to change. In a word, in the final analysis they accepted the fact of globalization and its implications. To that time, the nation had lived under iron-fisted governmental control in all ambits: from the economic to the media With the liberalization that took place at that moment, and the subsequent steps, the world of control passed on to a better life. From commanding and controlling, the government proceeded to the need to explain and convince. Some governors did this better than others, but all who continued on into the eighties understood that their reality, and their function, had changed.

Not so the government of President Peña, which took office convinced that everything done in the decades immediately past had been wrong and that country should return to its origins. From that premise, the government has joined forces to reconstruct the former world, whether or not in contradictory fashion. One day it liberalizes energy, but the next day it awards Pemex control of the sector; the government negotiates within the framework of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but subsequently reinserts controls on foreign trade and wholesale subsidies for entrepreneurs unable to compete. It’s the same on the political front, where its strategy has been to introduce control mechanisms on the media, entrepreneurs and the society in general.

Now that the reality has caught up with us, the government is facing, but not recognizing, manifold grievances and the aggrieved with no idea of how it should respond. Felipe González alluded to this phenomenon on saying that: “Politics has always interested me more than power and I am concerned that in politics the homo sapiens capable of assuming the burden of the state of the dismay of others is disappearing”. The Spanish ex-President understood to a fault that his function was not that of controlling, but that of convincing and, even, shouldering the status of the citizenry’s dismay as his own. Like Chairman Mao, González understood that without trust, no country is governable.

Dismay has taken hold of Mexico and Mexicans and everything appears to indicate that the government’s errors do nothing but exacerbate it. The government may have grand plans and pretensions but the population only asks for certainty and a clear sense of direction. It is possible that, in 2012, bankers and journalists of other latitudes were willing to believe in unfulfilled promises, but Mexicans have the harsh experience of bad governments. The current government has the opportunity of gaining that trust and all it requires is a reasonable plan, a committed team and a willingness to speak and listen to the population. Instead of censorship, which gives rise to infinite rumors, truthful information is required. This shouldn’t be too much to ask for and less so with four long years ahead.

When dealing with vanquished peoples, the Romans were despised for their strategy of “make a desert and call it peace” approach to counterinsurgency. But even the Romans knew that they had to offer subjected populations “bread and circuses” to win them over to Roman rule rather than just brute-force oppression. Mexicans require certainty and clarity; the government requires their trust. These are two sides of the same coin.