The Obverse

Luis Rubio

Leaders inherit their circumstances, affirm Zelikow and Rice.* “Facing those circumstances between the years 1988 and 1992, some leaders chose, quite  deliberately, to transform the basic operating principles of whole societies. They chose to abolish countries and create new ones. They chose to roll back and substantially disarm the larger and most dangerous military confrontation in the world… But, like all human creations, their new system made trade-offs, flaws and set up new issues…” The authors refer at the end to the Soviet Union, but the concept is applicable to a good number of nations that, during the same years, focused on transforming themselves, the majority of these in integral fashion, as in the case of Korea, China, Spain, Portugal, Taiwan and many others, including Mexico: great transformer leadership, but with unanticipated consequences.  The judgements arrived at decades later are logical and politically relevant, but not always useful for correcting the sequelae of those unforeseen consequences.

One common characteristic, although with enormous differences in degree, in all the nations that opted to transform themselves was the authoritarianism that characterized them. In some cases, these were military regimes, in others authoritarian governments and in yet others systems devoted to the integral control of their populations and that came to be called totalitarian. The transformation undertaken by those leaderships, in some cases with great clarity, vision and sense of purpose, in others less so, threw open a vast window to the freedom of the people.    

“Imagine the hopes and fears of this generation [Gorbachev, Kohl, Mitterrand, Bush, Delors, Thatcher]. For the majority of these men and women, words   like ‘tyranny’, ‘freedom’, ‘war’ and ‘security’ were no empty extractions. They brought back very real traumas…” Something similar can be said about Adolfo Suárez, Felipe González, Carlos Salinas, Kim Dae-jung, Lee Teng-hui and Deng Xiaoping. Some of these leaders procured a strictly economic transformation, others understood that it was impossible to separate an economic liberalization from its consequent political liberalization (a concept that China continues to defy).

The transformations have been real and have changed the nature and circumstance of dozens of nations, in most cases for good. But the unanticipated consequences to which these authors refer are not lesser ones and have translated into factors of true contention: from the war among the nations comprising the former Yugoslavia to governments that, more recently, have tried to turn back the clock of history or that, simply, have constructed, strengthened or recreated authoritarian systems. AMLO’s morning press conferences are a perfect example of a unipersonal leadership dedicated to moving back the hands of time as if to return the genie to its bottle or the toothpaste to its tube. But, beyond the personal style of misruling of each reactionary leader, there are two things not at all in doubt: one is that, in effect, there were indeed unanticipated consequences, and these must be seen to; the other is that it makes a huge difference in how those consequences are in effect seen to.

The how of something is on occasion as much or more important than the what. For example, it is undeniable that the liberalization of the economies brought about a redefinition of the logistics of industrial production at the worldwide level and this, in turn, generated very differentiated impacts. On liberalizing their economies, the developed nations saw many jobs leave for countries that aspired to become industrialized. Korea, Taiwan and other nations embraced the opportunity and transformed themselves along the way. Mexico arrived a little late at the party and its attempt to transform itself was less ambitious, thus translating into lost opportunities of which China diligently took advantage, becoming the factory to the world. 

The key point is that it is fundamental to understand that governmental actions have consequences and that, therefore, the way in which the problems are attended to entail impacts that frequently do not appear evident beforehand. To what extent should the government act in a direct manner in the economic arena? What consequences involve an apparently unstoppable tendency to transfer all projects and institutions to the Army? Utilize the market for assigning resources or harass it? It does not matter what the government does or the ambit within which it acts, its deployment gives rise to effects that incentivize favorable or unfavorable actions. That is, although the country has few formal counterweights, the informal ones are overly effective and do not always yield the results that the leader anticipates or prefers.

Each one will have their preferences regarding the questions in the latter paragraph, but the important part is that what leaders desire or prefer is not always the result. That is why it is so important not to lose sight of the fact that the function of governing is much more delicate than is apparent.

As Orwell wrote, “the fact is that certain rules of conduct have to be observed if human society is to hold together at all.”

*To Build a Better World


Luis Rubio

During her campaign, today’s President-Elect repeatedly stated that two contrasting models of the country and the government were at stake in the election. In effect: democracy and tyranny are two models in counterpoint that entail fundamental consequences for the citizenry and for the country’s future. Whatever way each citizen voted in past election, the question today is in which direction is the country headed.

At the heart of this question reside two central queries: First, should a government do whatever seems better to the president due to the mere fact of their being president and without any limitation? And second, does a majority vote imply absolute power for effecting a change of any sort that the governor determines?

If the answer to these questions is in the affirmative, then one is inexorably speaking of a dictatorship because there is no other way to define a government that wields all the power and that can do what it considers desirable or necessary with no limit whatsoever. That was how the outgoing government conducted itself in everything it was able: attacking the judiciary, undermining the autonomous organisms, disqualifying criticism, all signs of a tyrannical government.

If the response is negative, then Mexicans are addressing the possibility of a democracy in which winners as well as losers are considered legitimate citizens before the government, society and the political process. Mexican democracy is clearly imperfect and, in fact, highly primitive and deficient, but its essence comprises the coexistence of persons, groups and interests that think differently and that do not cease to be, and deserve being, respected and respectable because of that.

The point of this contrast is not theoretical but instead absolutely practical: no election can, in itself, define the destiny of a nation, whether or not a majority of the electorate has voted for the governor or even when the governor enjoys wide-reaching popularity. The whole point of civilization is that no one -winner or loser- wins or loses everything because there is always a tomorrow and the cards can invert themselves, with whoever won today ending up on the other side of the table.

Of course, the government’s agenda, the victor’s mandate as it is called in some nations, is the product of an election in which the content of that agenda was widely debated and that, on winning, constitutes a program of government. Despite the latter, in a democratic nation it is always indispensable to channel that agenda through the legislature so that that other branch of government representing the electorate as a whole openly and publicly process the resources necessary for the accomplishment of the governmental objectives.

Unless the next president has as her aim the total dismantling of the current structure of checks and balances (that does not for its being weak stop being crucial), that is, unless she is decided on constituting a dictatorship, the only way that the country could advance and prosper is to fortify and, in many senses create or recreate, institutions susceptible to functioning as a counterweight before the presidency. This would imply accepting, once again, that the formal and de facto objective of the government is to advance toward (or consolidate) free and duly administrated and processed elections; a consolidated Rule of Law (including an autonomous Supreme Court); full freedom of expression and association; and protection of the civil and human rights of the entire citizenry. In other words, a majority system of government limited by institutional counterweights, beginning with the constitution and respect for minorities. In this manner, the opposite of what Mexicans underwent during the outgoing presidency dedicated to institutional destruction.  

Amid the climate of polarization promoted by the departing president, the very notion of the presidency entertaining institutional limits was considered an outrage. In serious countries and in those with consolidated democracies, there is a frequent replacement of governments guided by contrasting objectives and philosophies, but, whether they like it or not, they accept the fact that there are limits to their potential excesses. Of course, in all democracies governments seek ways to advance their agendas, looking for any and every recourse, such as decrees, anti-constitutional laws and other mechanisms, but, at the end of the day, they accept the verdict of the courts and autonomous regulatory entities. The latter is what is crucial: no government is headed by The Sisters of Charity, but in all civilized nations there is a limit to what the government can do to affect citizens who have the same rights, whether they voted for the government or not.  

This last point is the essence of the matter that the next president must endeavor to elucidate: Is she going to attempt to strengthen the Mexican democracy or to accelerate the pace toward tyranny. That is, in a nutshell, the choice is clear.  The “popular sovereignty” must subject itself to the same rules and limitations as the rest of the electorate, because the true tessitura lies between democracy of and for all or the dictatorship of the majority.

Paul Johnson, the famed historian, defines this with great clarity: “democracies work best when the remit of politicians is reined in.”


Luis Rubio

1982. Mexico finds itself in a difficult situation. The public finances have deteriorated due to the gambles that the outgoing government has taken throughout its administration, betting that at the end everything would translate into economic growth. While that was happening, the presidential election continued along its course in normal fashion. The month of July arrives and Miguel de la Madrid wins. The circumstances are not optimal, but the president-elect is a sensible individual, stable, exceedingly circumspect and armed with experience in public administration. Despite the complexity of the financial moment, the environment is promising because a government saturated with corruption and frivolity is about to come to an end, anticipating the advent of an austere and measured administration. But the first of September arrives, the day of the 1982 Presidential Address to the Nation. Instead of recognizing his last opportunity to tranquilize the population, the outgoing President, José López Portillo, opts for exacerbating the circumstances on announcing the expropriation of the banks, thus throwing open Pandora’s Box. With this action he divided the country and condemned his successor to having to deal with a nation in crisis, near hyperinflation and with constant deterioration. The new government, inaugurated three months later, was born destined to do battle with the dire consequences of its predecessor: rather than “manage an era of abundance” as previously foreseen, it ended up extinguishing fires. The action of the departing president changed the country, destroyed his image (never stopping being the “Dog”) and damned the country to a decade of ups and downs and continuous perils. 

Mark Twain, the great American writer and humorist, said that “history never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” Might it be that President Lopez Obrador, who is  taking his leave in 2024, would repeat the dirty trick of 1982, provoking a radical change of direction, above all after such a successful election?

President López Obrador finds himself before this tessitura: leave the country in a reasonable situation, saddled with the normal difficulties and challenges, but without an uncontainable critical situation so that his successor can begin her era in a promising manner, or risk its future   -his personal one, that of his successor and that of the country- for the sake of saving his image and his pride? 

The notification of the processing of the twenty legislative initiatives that he announced last February 5 constitutes a threat to his successor because it recasts the lay of the land and would create conditions rendering it impossible to govern. Who wins in such a scenario?

While it is evident that an administration does not terminate until the day that the president delivers the mandate to his successor, the (Mexican) political reality is that the government concludes on election day and what constitutes conducive behavior is for the outgoing president to contribute to ensuring an uncomplicated transition to magnify his successor’s probability of success. Particularly when the president has achieved the foremost milestone of his administration on being widely endorsed by the electorate in the form of the election of his candidate. Placing her at risk would be a supremely irresponsible act or, as the 18th century statesman Talleyrand (supposedly) said, “more than a crime, it would be a mistake.” With less restraint than the diplomatic language of the Frenchman, the Hanlon Razor principle states “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

In effect, in terms of Mexican political logic, the citizenry currently finds itself in the process of transition in which the already de facto new administration is now commencing and the president ending his term of office must recognize that not only has his time as president concluded, but that, as spoken by the voters, the supreme judgement of all, his success is undeniable and any change in the path going forward would do nothing other than complicate  the panorama for his successor. Suffice to exemplify this with the date on which AMLO cancelled the Mexico City airport, months prior to his being formally sworn in as president. His cycle is coming to an end, and it is time for his successor to decide what is next and how to achieve it.

None of this has to do with the substantive part of the president’s legal proposals. The package of twenty reforms, eighteen of these constitutional, that the president proposed entail an extensive variety of matters, some of much greater transcendence than others. Given that the composition of the Congress that is finally confirmed will be the same in September as after the inauguration of Dr. Sheinbaum in October first, there is no reason for the precipitation that the president expected when he launched the process at the start of the year. A serious-minded country does not rush things, but instead processes them, debates them, socializes them and reconsiders them according to the circumstances. In addition, the small show of force that the financial markets put forth when the absence of the counterweights that produced the electoral result became clear should be pondered with enormous seriousness. The president flaunted, once and again, the solidity of the peso and it would be an act of superlative obstinacy and temerity to tempt fate in this manner. 

James Carville, Bill Clinton’s famous electoral advisor, said on one occasion that “I used to think that if there were reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.” The risk of going ahead with the reforms package is superlative. And wholly absurd because it is unnecessary and above all, dangerous.


 It Caught Up with Us

Luis Rubio

The end of one more electoral cycle will not be like all others in the past. With this election the country is fast approaching a moment of unravelling not due to the result itself, but instead because the process, the antecedents and the imponderables evidenced along the way stripped the political system of its guise and revealed the fragility that the country is currently experiencing due to the risks of and taken by a sole individual and, above all else, the impossibility of further pursuing that course. Those who are newly elected do not recognize that fragileness, but they will soon experience it.

AMLO is unrepeatable because of his characteristics and his circumstance, as well as because of Mexico’s present moment. As soon as the next government assumes office the shortfalls will come to light: the absence of structures, institutions and rules of the game, as well as the counterpart of these: the tendency toward violence or to other means, legal or illegal, for advancing particular interests and objectives. In a word, the country is about to enter a new political era, one only negligibly promising. 

This is not the first time that the country finds itself faced with a challenge of this nature, but the solutions employed in the past are no longer possible. Now, at the twilight of the López Obrador administration, the country must begin to deal with the consequences of the fragility of the institutional structures erected in recent decades, as well as the intentional destruction engaged in by the outgoing government.

Throughout the 20th century, the formal structure of the Mexican political system did not correspond to the reality of the power characterizing: the judicial and legislative branches existed, but the dominance of the executive was legendary.  However, that dominance was tempered by the existence of the official party (the PRI), whose institutional structure favored substitution of the elites as well as continuity of power. The famous British maxim “The king is dead, long live the king!” was reproduced (almost) naturally in the Mexican system, permitting the transition of power, but also the existence of limits. That structure of political control and institutionality as it pertained to the party of the PRI came to be degraded little by little (not intentionally, but with poor leaderships), until nearing extinction, presumably to be replaced by a never fully consolidated democratic system.

Therefore, there are important questions that only time will allow us to elucidate, commencing with the power of the departing president. The weakness of Institutions, not a new issue, will now become paramount and a matter of primordial transcendence. The absence of institutions and game rules throws open a veritable cornucopia of possibilities in terms of political degradation and the potential emergence of real or “de facto” powers throughout Mexico’s territory, regional as well as national, criminal and political. A new era of caudillismo is not inconceivable, similar to that present at the end of revolutionary period, but in the digital era, right now in the XXI century.

Beyond the election itself, the politico-structural legacy of the government that is about to end will be much more transcendent and relevant that it might appear, but not necessarily in a benign way. The president taking his leave is exceptional, for his history and his characteristics, while the winner of the election will have to find her own manner of facing the challenges -her own and those of the country- that she must confront. Like no one else in the entire post-revolutionary epoch, she will have to deal with the enormous feat of building at least a minimal of scaffolding in order to be able to govern, given that the previously existing structures -those conceived since President Plutarco Elías Calles and those forged for an age of democracy during the last decades- have given their all, were destroyed or are inoperative when not counterproductive.

The governance of Morena, a structureless entity that only its founder had the capacity to articulate and control, will comprise a major challenge, and that is if the outgoing president does not try to utilize the party to hinder her. The country that aspired to replace the rule of men with the rule of institutions runs the risk of falling apart into fragments under the shadow of caudillos, leaders and organized crime, all in the midst of an economy living and functioning exclusively thanks to a free trade agreement with our complex neighbor to the North. 

The era that starts in 2024 entails remarkable opportunities, but also unusually large risks, both internal and external.  The country has lived through   five years as if residing within a bubble, connected to the rest of the world and feigning to be independent and that it can isolate itself all at no cost. The next president will find out very quickly that the viability of the growth engine of the Mexican economy is at risk and that accountability due to the omissions and acts contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Free Trade Agreement will not be long in coming. It will be at that moment when Mexicans will know what the new president is made of to face those challenges.  

AMLO was a little like the PRI, a factor of cohesion and control, but ephemeral for obvious reasons. Now the weaknesses of before and the new ones will become evident, those that the outgoing president left bare and those that he destroyed. Complex times are afoot.


The New Truth

Luis Rubio

Years ago, during my student days, I attended a performance of an experimental theatrical work that, I think, was called Chaos in the Scenario. It was a parody of an orchestra conductor who was unable to decide on which work to interpret. Each of the orchestra’s instruments attempted to convince him to select the score that would allow for the greater showing off of its instrument and played small selections of those works to exert pressure for its proposal. Since the conductor would come to a decision, passions flared in parallel to the volume of the music, until the play ended up in absolute scenic and acoustic chaos.

After last Sunday it is crucial to give serious and careful thought to how Mexican politics will advance from next October on, if not before. The election produced a return to the party monopoly, but from a party that is not a party. Morena, a “movement” that responds to a sole individual, its only source of cohesion and contention, will now pass on to a leadership that has never been a relevant political factor, leaving more questions than answers, with respect to both the next president as well as to her predecessor. And many more questions about the future of the country. 

Mexicans will have a presidency legitimized by an overwhelming popular vote, qualified majorities (or close to it) in both legislative chambers and nearly total “control” of the national territory. However, control here is a relative term because no one controls anything in today’s Mexico, starting with Morena itself. López Obrador attained an extraordinary milestone, the product of his personality and political shrewdness, but those elements are not transmittable nor are they repeatable. No one else will achieve the appearance of control garnered by President López Obrador. The question then is how to function?

According to Max Weber, there are three types of authority: the traditional, the charismatic and the legal-rational. The president has been a charismatic figure (which surely explains 80% of the result). Notwithstanding that, charismatic authority is not inheritable, and Mexico does not possess traditional characteristics of leadership. Historically, the non-existence of traditional structures or exceptional charisma was what led to institutionalization. Paradoxically then, the winner in the polls could come to be the great institutional transformer. I cannot imagine any other scenario under which she could be successful within the current political context. 

The typical and traditional manner of acting in Mexico’s government was to fill potholes. I remember the headline of a newspaper during a presidential campaign some decades ago in which a woman from the state of San Luis Potosí told the candidate “Better cover up the ravine instead of pulling the ox out every six years.” What’s facile, what’s typical of Mexican politics, has always been the easy way out: settle the immediate problem to avoid having to engage in a substantive transformation. But this election, and the complex political reality in which the country finds itself, does not lend itself to that. What’s key would be to turn a politically complex scenario into an inclusive and broadly based summons for institutional change that truly transforms the country or that, at least, lays the ground for that to happen. In other words, to cover up the ravine, as in the previous example.

Last Sunday night there were two emblematic speeches: that of the winner of the election and that of the president of Morena. There is no way to hide the contradiction of visions, postures and realities at the interior of Morena that were exhibited there. While the next president was conciliatory and revealed full understanding of her new role as leader of the entire citizenry, her party’s head accentuated the divisions and the polarization, to a degree even infrequent for the outgoing president. The contrast illustrates the exceptional complexity of the political management soon to be required. And of the challenge for the next president.

The country’s situation is increasingly difficult in the fiscal arena, in the relationship with the United States, in the reigning corruption and in security, at least four of the most precarious spaces and ones clamoring for immediate attention. Being able to confront them is going to require an unusual capacity of political articulation because, while these might appear to be technical issues, confronting them will require exceptional political skills to bring together interests in conflict, building complicated alliances and maintaining the control of groups that, in addition to being violent and belligerent, are part of the movement called Morena. And, to fill the plate to overflowing, there is the agenda of constitutional reforms, AMLO’s toy chest, which, were they to be approved, would deepen the divisions and place at risk not only the next government, but also the whole nation. How will the new president do it to contain all these factors so that the country does not come apart in her hands?       

The country is exhausted and each of the rubrics that the next government’s team will soon have to tackle will demand uniting rather than polarizing. Critical decisions regarding crucial appointments (e.g. Defense, Treasury) and criteria that could divert from the current administration will demand exceptional political talent. In addition, the first great challenge lies closer to home: impose limits on President López Obrador and resolve the relationship between the two. Without that there is no future.

The citizenry should come around in support of the victor of this presidential election and trust that she will succeed in this central task.



Luis Rubio

The Mexican electorate today faces a fundamental dilemma. Howsoever each citizen votes, it is impossible to minimize the transcendence of the casting of the citizen’s ballot. In the elections the future of the country is at stake and the central question is how to elevate the probability of the result’s being benign while simultaneously minimizing the risk of its not being so.

The tense present political climate characterizing the country is half due to the polarization strategy that has driven the President who is now concluding his mandate and half due to the lack of effective results for the majority of the population in spite of many years of promises, but above all the perception of few lasting and sustainable achievements. And this is exactly the factor that is crucial for the voter to bear in mind in this election: how to avoid the prodigious fluctuations and ups and downs that have been the characteristic more than the exception for too long.

In Greek mythology, Ulisses, the prominent personage of The Odyssey, faced a similar dilemma when he returns after his defeat of Troy. While navigating his ship he comes upon immense danger of having to transit between two sizeable threats on the part of Scylla and Charybdis, a six-headed sea monster and a monumental whirlwind, respectively, both posing menacingly. 

The threat that we Mexicans face is, before anything else, that of an excess of power concentrated in a sole person. Mexican history is rich with examples that illustrate this point and the citizens, little by little, will come to realize the huge cost that the outgoing President has incurred and for which all Mexicans will be asked to foot the bill. Thus, beyond the preferences that each of us entertains with respect to the two candidates in the presidential race, the first objective that the citizenry should advance is that of reducing the risk entailed in the fact that a sole individual or group concentrates so much power and the grave damage that this situation represents for the country. 

A philosopher on the 20th century, Karl Popper argued that what is crucial is the following: “How can we best avoid situations in which a bad governor causes too much harm?” In electoral terms Popper would have recommended a divided government (one in which the Executive Branch and The Congress are not controlled by the same person or party), in such a way that the propensity for abuse diminishes in the case of the governor turning out to be bad.

This would imply voting for different political parties for the presidency and for Congress with the objective of procuring an equilibrium between the two branches of government, which is precisely the purpose of being able to count on distinct entities that require each other mutually. Hopefully, the next Congress must come to understand the absurdity of the years of opposition at any cost (1997-2012), those of unrestrainable corruption (2012-2018) and those of denigrating submission (2018-2024) in order to build a co-governmental schema, in the best sense of the word. The worst scenario by far, the same for a President C as for a President X, but above all for the citizenry, would be a majority in the hands of the party that is victorious in the presidential duel.

After this comes the vote for the presidency. Also here, voters must define their vote. Some have already done so by conviction, by experience, by association with the President or by rejection of the President or of some political party in particular. The truth is that, however much the de facto campaigns have been conducted for nearly a year, no one knows the candidates to the core. We have all seen their biographies, have heard them, have seen them make mistakes and pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and we have formed an opinion.  However, when one looks back in history, it is more than evident that very few presidents of the past behaved and made decisions during their mandate as they promised or how it seemed that they would govern when they were candidates. That is normal (the circumstances forge the personage), but it is also the product of everything that they hide and that the electoral rules impede the citizens from fully knowing the individuals who aspire to that job, transcendent as it is.

It is interesting to observe the contrast existing outside and inside Mexico with respect to this presidential race. The articles emanating from the international press, from the rating agencies or from investors suggest that it does not matter who wins the race because both candidates guarantee the viability of the current economic schema.  The latter can result in being true or false, but it reflects structural factors (such as the USMCA) and the candidates’ discourse. But, for Mexicans, the dilemma has directly to do with their political freedoms and the checks and balances within the political system, from which all else derives. The biases are distinct, but suggestive: for the citizenry, what is crucial is their physical, judicial, political and patrimonial certainty, all of these certainties duly ignored and relegated to a lower standing throughout the government that is now coming to its end.

The polarization existing today impedes many Mexicans from recognizing that in electing a new government all that should matter is that whoever wins should do no damage to those voting for another candidate or, above all, do no damage to the country. Each of us will have their preferences, but the risk of erring is enormous and irreversible. Thus, the certainty bestowed by the existence of effective counterweights is best.


The alternative

Luis Rubio

At the heart of the electoral dispute that is about to end dwells the central actor: the citizenry.  Next Sunday is the day on which, with their vote, the citizens will express their view with regard to the government and their expectations with respect to the future. In contrast with other stellar moments of Mexican politics, this election day undoubtedly constitutes a watershed, the situation in which the outgoing president has placed the country through his strategy of confrontation and erosion of democratic institutions. Beyond the individuals contending now, the citizenry has a choice of two very distinct types of government and perspectives of the future. And the big question is whether the country can navigate with tranquility, certainty and harmony towards a new stadium of development starting from next October first.

In the year 2000 Mexicans confronted a similar tessitura but the contrast is dramatic with that moment during which the country was undergoing a species of honeymoon: a recently inaugurated National Electoral Institute (INE), an economy in healthy conditions, institutions avowing the consecration of a new era of peace and development, and candidates who conducted themselves like Statesmen. The country was plunged into a wave of optimism due to the milestone of having broken with a partisan tradition that had lasted for seven decades. Today that idyllic moment seems remote, but not so the opportunity confronting the voters.

In recent decades, the country has moved from a political system in which the president ruled (with the only limit of the negotiations that took place within the old political system) towards an imperfect democratic structure to which several presidents more or less adhered, to now end up in a virtually imperial presidency which is even housed in a palace. Clearly, the country did not consolidate a democracy and it is equally clear that the more distant past that the outgoing president idealizes was far from paradisiacal. But it is also obvious (and any reasonable follower of the president should acknowledge) that the achievements of the now-concluding administration are rather modest. Regardless of the objectives that were intended to be achieved, Mexico today entails greater conflict, greater violence and less certainty regarding the future.

Throughout the past year the two candidates have presented themselves before the electorate, they have shown their personalities, their preferences, their abilities, and their ideas regarding the future. In a frank break with the outgoing president, both candidates concur in the imperious need to accelerate the rhythm of the growth of the economy because both recognize that the latter is the only way to break with the vicious cycles of poverty and inequality.

Where they find themselves in disagreement is in the way that each of them would confront the ills that the country is undergoing. While the campaigns are supposed to be the time to propose new ideas and policies, the truth is that, in a country so prone to jolting back and forth, to sudden changes and to depending on a sole individual for everything -a savior or an exterminator- the campaigns only serve to allow the individuals seeking the presidency to be known and for the citizenry to decide on whom to place their wagers.

And that is the core problem: that instead of being able to count on an institutional framework that guarantees the stability necessary for the functioning of everyday life, the Mexican lives in the hope of a better future, relegating to the person occupying the presidential seat the prerogative of conducting the national affairs to the best of their understanding. It is not by chance that for Karl Popper the relevant question concerning democracy should be: “how is the state to be constituted so that bad rulers can be got rid of without bloodshed, without violence?” Something like that seemed to have begun to emerge in that direction, but the current government has made it evident that this was a mere fantasy, thus rendering that option inexistent, and therein lies the inherent risk in today’s election.

Claudia Sheinbaum has laid her cards on the table when stating that there are two governmental projects confronting each other in today’s election. She seasons this with more qualifiers than necessary but puts her finger right on the issue at hand: a country controlled from above with a government that imposes, controls and decides based on its preferences and the interests of its acolytes, or a government that dedicates itself to creating conditions for development to be possible, letting the people to decide how to carry this out. The Morena candidate proposes to concentrate power, Xóchitl Gálvez advocates for power to be dispersed. The difference is radical, and that is what the citizenry must assess.

The problems facing the country are so obvious that they do not require further discussion, but the manner of confronting them entail vast differences and consequences and this does indeed require a conscientious analysis and a far-reaching socialization both within the formal organs of the State (especially the Congress) as well as in the society. Labeling these two perspectives of the future (which inevitably simplifies them), the question is whether the country should advance towards sort of a Chinese model of development, obviously in the Mexican cultural context, with an economy driven by the government and a subjugated society, or a liberal schema in which legislation is worked out so that laws and regulations make possible the development of the country as well as the freedom of the citizens.





Little Gift

Luis Rubio

Whatever the outcome of Mexico’s upcoming June second elections, what is certain is that the winner will be fallen upon by the mighty tiger of insecurity and violence that afflict practically the entire country.  Although the President has minimized and spurned the extent of the impact -and the damage- that the extortion and violence entail for the daily life of the citizenry, the next president will have no other option than to confront it. The current President has been extraordinarily shrewd in eluding the issue, but neither of his two possible successors will enjoy that privilege: she will inherit the enormous irresponsibility with which the outgoing present government has conducted itself in this matter.

One of the effects of so many years of violence, extortion, kidnappings and homicides is the normalization that has taken place. Life goes on despite the obvious risks associated with the enormous disorder that characterizes the government and the growing power of organized crime. What should be scandalous -the lack of certainty about the most basic thing in daily life, security- has become one of the many problems that ordinary Mexicans have to deal with every day.

But six years of negligence, deliberate ignorance and profound contempt for the life of the citizenry do not pass by in vain. While the President was advancing “embraces rather than bullets,” the criminals were consolidating facts on the ground because they saw in this period and in that absurd (absence of) strategy a great opportunity to consolidate themselves and to make it so much more difficult to fight them. The next president will find herself in a country up in flames, with an incompetent government and one without the attributes that made it possible for the president to deceive or, in the best of cases, turn a blind eye for so long to the problem of security.

One of the most ubiquitous myths in the narrative of the outgoing government has been that of unnecessarily “stirring up the hornets’ nest.” According to that mythology, Ex President Calderón chose to launch a war against the Narcos during a time that the country was enjoying complete tranquility, the latter despite the evidence of growing violence, abductions and a then incipient industry of extortion. The strategy of Calderón might have been erroneous, but, just like the strategy Francisco Labastida had planned for the 2000 government to which he did not arrive in the end, they constituted honest attempts to face a problem that was growing in uncontainable fashion. What is clear in retrospect is that the size of the challenge grows and is not going to diminish unless the next government acts in an intelligent and deliberate fashion.

The first relevant question is why, after decades of peace, has insecurity become a challenge of such magnitude. The immediate response is that the country went from a hyper centralized and powerful government that controlled everything, to a decentralized reality in which no one is responsible for anything. It was into that space that the criminal organizations insinuated themselves little by little on becoming the proprietors of regions and activities in increasingly more latitudes.

Four circumstances led to this situation. The first of these had to do with the gradual erosion of governmental controls, the product of the evolution of society and economic liberalization: between 1968 and the end of the eighties, the country underwent radical change in governmental power. The second resulted from alterations in the U.S. drug market (where the patterns of consumption changed) and, above all, in the control that the Colombian government wielded over their own mafias. Both factors evinced the effect of creating and strengthening criminal organizations headed by Mexicans that continued to conduct the Colombian commerce of drug transport to the U.S., but that also began to develop markets and other criminal businesses within Mexico, such as abduction and extortion. The third circumstance was the defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000. That factor fractured the monopoly of power and of control exercised by the federal government and permitted criminality to mushroom in the whole country. Last, and the most transcendent, was that no one assumed responsibility for security at the state and local levels. Despite the governors beginning to receive vast amounts of resources from the federal government for that purpose, practically no one advanced the case for security. Instead of building police and judicial capacity, they absconded with the funds or employed them to foster candidacies (their own or others’).

In other words, the problem of insecurity is not the product of poverty or inequality, but of the absence of a well-planned security structure.

Mexico has never had a strategy of security, nor has it placed the citizenry as it leitmotif and as the principal objective of its responsibility as a government. In plain language, the measure of success or failure in the matter of security should be very simple and down-to-earth terms: Can a young woman walk alone without risk at night in her neighborhood? On the day that the response to this is a categorical YES, the country will have regained its security. That is the challenge.

The Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson expressed what has come to happen, and what will follow, in a most singular way: “Sooner or later, everyone sits down to the banquet of consequences.” The legacy of President López Obrador will be pathetic in general, but especially severe in matters of security. The consequences, and the challenges, will not be long in materializing.


Luis Rubio

As Marx pointed out, history repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy, second as a farce. For his part, Santayana argued that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Repeated or not, it is imperative not to ignore key historical moments to at least understand the risks and potential implications of the times in which Mexicans are living. Certainly, the experiences of each nation have to do with their particular circumstances and these are not transferable to other latitudes, but, at the same time, there are similarities that it is always important to elucidate. Starting from these perspective, Frank McDonough* has just published a magnificent history of the Weimar Republic in Germany between the two world wars. What follows are the conclusions reached by the author and which it is impossible not to look at with concern in view of the parallels, similarities and differences that they entail.

“The commonly held view that the ‘Great Depression’ led to the collapse of Weimar democracy, and brought Hitler to power, is not credible. The USA and Britain suffered economic problems often as difficult as those of Germany, but democracy did not collapse in either of those countries. This suggests there was something specific about the nature of the political and economic crisis that was peculiar to Germany and this time…

A total of 13.74 million people voted for Hitler of their own free will in July 1932 [of a total of 37.2 million votes cast]. Solid middle-class groups, usually the cement that holds together democratic governments, decided to support a party openly promising to destroy democracy… Hitler’s party grew because millions of Germans felt democratic government had been a monumental failed experiment. To these voters, Hitler offered the utopian vision of creating an authoritarian ‘national community’ that would sweep away the seeming chaos and instability of democratic government, and provide strong leadership…

There were two aspects pf the Weimar Constitution that undoubtedly contributed to the failure of democracy. The first was the voting system, based on proportional representation, which gave Reichstag seats in exact proportion to the votes cast in elections. In Germany, this system did not work. In July 1932, 27 different political parties contested the election, ranging across the political spectrum with each representing one class or interest group. These differing parties reflected the bitter divisions in German society and made the task of creating stable coalition governments extremely difficult, and eventually impossible…

Those who drafted the Weimar Constitution were unwittingly culpable in offering a means of destroying democracy. This was the special powers the Weimar Constitution invested in the role of the President. No one realized when drafting the Constitution how an antidemocratic holder of the post could subvert the power of the President. Article 48 gave the German President extensive subsidiary powers in a ‘state of emergency’ to appoint and dismiss Chancellors and cabinets, to dissolve the Reichstag, call elections and suspend civil rights…

The two German presidents of the Weimar years were quite different. Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert was an enthusiastic supporter of Weimar democracy… Paul von Hindenburg was a great contrast. He was a right-wing figure, who had led Germany’s militaristic armed forces during the Great War of 1914-1918… It was President Hindenburg who mortally damaged the infant democratic structure in Germany more than anyone else. It was not the Constitution or the voting system that was the fundamental problem, but the culpable actions of Hindenburg, who chose to deliberately subvert the power it had invested in him…

The real problem Hindenburg faced was that the three previous Chancellors had no popular legitimacy and no parliamentary support. Hindenburg’s presidential rule had taken Germany down a blind alley…

Even in the period of deep political and economic crisis between 1930 and 1933, during the time or authoritarian ‘presidential rule’, there was no attempt to overthrow the Republic… The two decisive ingredients in the period from 1930 to 1933 were the supreme indifference of President Hindenburg, and his inner circle, to sustain democratic government, and the dramatic rise in electoral support for Adolf Hitler.”

This story can be read in many ways. My impression upon reading and rereading it is that there are signs of México’s past and present reality -perhaps since the beginning of the democratic transition in the late 90s- that could well end up determining the future. Of course, history is not linear or deterministic and things evolve in different ways in each nation and circumstance. A look back over the past decades shows how much Mexico has changed and the infinite opportunities that could lie in the future. But it is worth keeping in mind that just as the country could confidently evolve favorably, the opposite cannot be ruled out.

*The Weimar Years: Rise and Fall 1918-1933


Luis Rubio

Jack-of-all-trades (Milusos in Spanish) is one of the most accurate, and audacious at the same time, characterizations of the Mexican who can do nothing other than to work for a living. Héctor Suárez, an actor, popularized the term in his film of the same name, a drama and simultaneously a social critique: the enormous capacity of adaptation of the Mexican on coming up against the adversity that the socioeconomic structure produces. The term milusos reveals a very in-depth reality of the Mexican: their search for solutions, their rejection of imposition and, to achieve this, their extraordinary creativity.

In the early eighties, a European ambassador in Mexico told me that she’d gone to see the pyramids of Teotihuacán. On the way, she observed a phenomenon that contradicted everything she’d learned from the preparatory materials with which her Foreign Ministry had provided her, these materials which had characterized the country as a socialist nation. She expected a conformist and timorous population. What she found, literally from the moment she advanced along Mexico City’s Insurgentes Avenue toward Indios Verdes, was the most enterprising population she’d ever seen: no corner was bereft of a vendor of sweets, magazines, cold drinks, and on entering the zone of the pyramids, it was replete with sellers of handicrafts and evocative playthings of the most diverse type.

The creativity of the Mexican may be noted in all aspects of life, but above all in their hunger for getting ahead, for which they work longer hours than in many countries, many more than the average in the nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a testament not only to their willingness to work, but also to Mexico’s very poor socioeconomic organization, rendering as it does such low productivity levels. The differences in the nature and quality of the educational and health systems, as well as a greater investment in the infrastructure of other OECD nations, translate into much higher levels of productivity.

Another way of phrasing this is that the Mexican possesses an enormous propensity for procuring innovative ways of creating, resolving problems and setting up shop. Mexicans in the United States tend to create enterprises with great celerity because they discern opportunities and attempt to convert them into realities for their own greater well-being. There as well as in Mexico, the key lies in that no one has their life all tied up with a red bow for them in advance.

Mexicans work because there’s no other way, but nearly always they work without ideal instruments or with tools that are very poorly prepared for being successful, especially the poor-quality and inadequate education provided to them by the educational system. Despite that, their attitude and disposition do not falter because their skills and tool kits are lacking in comparison with those of other nationalities. They work and put forth their best effort to this in life, but, above all, they work to generate wealth, without which no government would have anything to distribute.

Contrariwise, when a government opts for giving away money for people not to have to work, it impedes the creation of wealth and inhibits personal development. Of course, not all jobs are equally desirable, remunerative or satisfactory, but all contribute to the development of people, therefore to that of families and countries. To eliminate the incentive to work implies destroying the essence of life itself and, consequently, that of the nation.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Argentina was of the wealthiest nations in the world, comparable with the European ones or the United States of the epoch. The combination of natural resources, a fundamentally middle-class population and a disposition to work led to the consecration of a successful nation. One hundred years later, the profile of Argentina is very different, with a very much lower range of product per capita. One of the main reasons for this fall was the disincentive to work and to create wealth incorporated into the Peronist strategy of subsidizing workers and women, children, older adults, the unemployed and persons who retired after only a few short work years. When people do not have the need to work because the government systematically subsidizes them, the country begins to break down.

It is within this context that the recent proposal by the Morena-party candidate looms so dangerous and pernicious with respect to the function of the government in this matter: “It is not true, it is false, that if one does not work, then one cannot have a good living standard. That is the discourse of the past. Here the government, the Mexican State, has to provide support.” One thing is to “support” older adults who no longer entertain the possibility of contributing to the nation’s productive life and another very different one is to subsidize everyone because work is not important. That would imply not only that depending on the government is a virtue, but that, in addition, people do not have the right to develop themselves. Worse yet, that work is not a form of progressing, realizing oneself and contributing to personal, familial and national development.

The reason is obvious why the Morena presidential candidate thinks of work: as past President Porfirio Díaz said, “A dog with a bone in its mouth neither bites nor barks.” But, beyond creating clienteles, Gertrude Himmelfarb had a most appropriate idea concerning the issue: “Work, if not sacred, is essential not only to their sustenance but to their self-respect.”