Something peculiar took place vis-à-vis the Bicentennial celebration: the government organized it, but the population appropriated it. The transcendence of the fact should perhaps not surprise anyone, but it speaks volumes about the Mexico of today, above all concerning the enormous potential for development that it has ahead of itself, but also concerning the quality of the governments that we have had and their inability to take hold of this potential and make it possible. It does not cease to be noteworthy that the celebration had been nearly a “tale of two cities”, two contrasting narratives –citizenry and elite circles- who do not communicate between themselves.
“The future”, wrote Will Durant, “never just happened. It was created”. But the government stemming from the PAN decided not to construct a future; rather, it concentrated on the celebration. There is nothing inherently wrong about having organized a magnificent spectacle with the exclusive objective of feting and celebrating, but it is odd that the PAN accepted the PRIist “official” history without further ado. At last count, the PAN was born as a response, a reaction, to the development of an official party, a virtual monopoly of public power. Its first manifestations were to reject the greed and excesses of the revolutionaries and to reclaim basic ideals. How strange it is for its own version of history to be absent.
Manuel Gómez-Morín, founder of the PAN, was not a man given to ideological passions. A prudent attorney, he was director of the Bank of Mexico and president of the UNAM: impossible to type-cast him in an ideological or political-party story line. His writings reveal a dedicated character, thoughtful, and profoundly nationalistic, who did not accept the dogmas of either the left or the right. His mantra was to contribute to the development of the country and to fight against the excesses of the official party and its agents. His decision to drive the creation of a new political party responded to the wish to debate the country’s core themes and to maintain an open dialog that was civic -citizen based- and intelligent in nature. Within this context, it is interesting to observe how the PAN abandoned its great patriots and relinquished the historical narrative.
In an excellent interview with Leonardo Curzio, historian Ilán Semo explained how the PRI took custody of the interpretation of history. Using the free government-sponsored (obligatory) textbooks, the PRI developed an articulate historical narrative that neatly explained its view of the world, telling its version of things and denying all others. What is surprising is that, given its origin, the PAN accepted this narrative and silenced its own version, to the extent of not even mentioning, not to say utilizing, the dignified luminaries of the country’s history such as Gómez-Morín to vindicate itself. According to Semo, Mexico will only grow as a nation to the extent that the narratives of all groups and all members of our society acquire historical legitimacy and begin to communicate among themselves in order to share and build a much richer, and above all, less Manichean projection of the past. In this, the government waived the opportunity represented by the Bicentennial. In another hundred years there will be a new possibility…
But the marvelous part of the celebration was in the encounter between theories and critics and the mundane reality. While the government had neither vision nor perspective in its project, the population had not the least restraint in imposing theirs. For the ordinary Mexican, there was everything to celebrate and nothing to regret. The government put on an extraordinary spectacle that did nothing other than enkindle all the emotions and peoples’ expectations. In some places around the country, such as Monterrey, the population took to the streets to commandeer the great public square, to take as theirs the public space, to say “basta”, no more, to organized crime. In Mexico City, the population made it evident that “the streets are ours” and no one is going to take them away from us. For the population, there was no complication or contradiction: we are celebrating what we are and what we want to be. The intellectual arguments can be interesting, but they do not impede the feting and celebrating.
It is impossible to ignore the goodness inherent in the popular response. Governments –good or bad- come and go, but nothing changes the nature of, and the underpinning of, the meaning of being Mexican. The criminality of the recent decades has generated weighty divisions in our society, destroying the framework of minimal coexistence that is needed to construct a solid and integrated social structure. The fear of being the victim of criminal mafias that distinguish themselves by their violence, and above all, the cruelty in their modus operandi, has led to the breakdown in social relations and to the weakening, if not the extinction, of that crucial cohesive factor, trust, the key element for economic development. And, nonetheless, the nation’s patriotic fiestas disclosed a living people, disposed to and rich in manifestations of future yearning: to whom the grievances between politicians and parties are of no matter.
On watching the audiovisual spectacle and observing the popular manifestations, I reflected upon what would be possible to construct in a country with such great wealth, with such a desire to overcome and prevail, the disposition to defy not only authority, but also, the official version of history. The population exhibited no compunction or difficulty in acting what the PAN was incapable of doing with the PRIist account of Mexico’s history. The PAN ended up making the “official” narrative deriving from the textbooks its own, implicitly ceding not only its history, but also, going back to Durant, the future. But not so the population.
In all of this I ask myself how much would it have been possible to achieve had the government implemented a celebratory project oriented toward generating hope in a better future, hope in a better country, hope in defeating the common enemy, hope in constructing a promising future. Fox devoted himself to heightening expectations, not to constructing hope. A more tempered government, such as that of Calderón, held in its hands the possibility of giving hope to a populace avid for answers, desirous of opportunities, but turned it all down.
The numbers on criminality say much on how an important sector of the youth of the country has become unhinged. Theories proliferate on how and why this occurred, but the fact is that the phenomenon exists. It is evident that it is urgent to create conditions to raise the growth rates of the economy and employment in order to reduce the incentive for youth to incorporate itself into the crime mafias. But beyond the economy, the Bicentennial celebration demonstrated that the overwhelming majority refuses to surrender: it does not want to be part of the country that is a loser, and more than everything else, yearns for a very distinct world. With this attitude, and this population, Mexico could be another in the wink of an eye. If only the summons were issued.