Mexico has managed to be permanently in the front page of the international news, either for its monthly harvest of mutilated bodies, a new massive and millionaire corruption scandal for which no one will be punished, or because the Army has to take over entire States of the Republic to keep peace. Even Colombia has managed to shake off their bad reputation and circumstances from the last century and come in brand new.
Many questions arise from the permanently stirred Mexican situation, but the big one remains the same: does Mexico has a future? Is the next in line for the jump forward for being in the MINT states, or is just a country left behind from the prosperity boom of its Latin American counterparts, with no hopes to thrive on?
From my point of view, after living and working there for a long time, I’m placing the bets on the ‘it will not‘.
Despite here we have a long tradition of failed governments, particularly in the XIX and early XX century, I don’t mean Mexico will fail as a country or as a whole, becoming some sort of Wasteland and its cities Megatons, but it will fail to provide an equal opportunity to thrive, a basis from which every mexican can reach or hope for a viable future.
The country goes forward, that’s sure, dragged by global economy and the push of the neighbors, but limping: Mexico is on the cusp of both succeeding and failing in the previous terms, but has not yet become neither, and it seems it will be at this brink for a long time.
Don’t get me wrong: this list is not for sheer evil. I’m living in Mexico and I pay taxes in here, so I have something to say about what is going on; also this country has a lot of potential, and this is outrageous: all the talent, opportunities in many areas, manpower, and a long list of advantages this country has are being wasted away.
Here are my picks, in no particular order, as they are intertwined and sometimes ones result of each other. And as an advance no, drug trafficking nor cartels are on the list:
1. PEOPLE DON’T BUY IT
In my wanderings I’ve met people from very different countries, and all of them express their pride of their origins, explaining why their respective countries are great in many areas, or even why they will dominate international policy soon. But not here. Don’t get me wrong, Mexicans have a great pride of being Mexicans, but not when it matters: they are fed up.
No matter how disastrous the situation is in here, people hardly moves (or can move) a finger for it. Corruption scandal? Mehh… everybody does it. Five more mutilated corpses appeared today? It’s offseason! Outrageous cost for a bridge that seems to be glued with spit and baling wire? Who cares! Chapo Guzman gets caught? People riot the streets (which should tell you who brings jobs here).
The point is that despite the huge gaps in many basic areas, people hardly does anything for it. I don’t know when this ‘defeatist‘ attitude started, maybe it’s because the spanish made the locals believe too much they were the defeated ones during the Colonization of the Americas and this mentality kept on, or maybe it was the catholic practice of enduring suffering, maybe the bullying of the USA, or a mix of them all…
In the end, there’s nothing big or scandalous enough to put the people on the streets, to riot, to demand, to shred things apart. Mexicans seem to have entered a ‘whatever, man’ state of mind, not for being totally indifferent, but because they had and continue to have too much to handle, and little they can do at this point of the story. Why bother, if I will change nothing, and I
can will end up massacred, tortured, killed, kidnapped, censored, unemployed, beaten… done by none other than the Administration itself.
2. TRADE UNIONS
In Mexico, labour unions are on the Dark Side of the historic syndicalism: while in the Old Lady are meant to be a counterweight from the employers or Trade Associations; meant to bring balance between their relationship, preventing excessive power from each other, here they are just an organized mob, focused in one purpose only: preserving the (wealthy) status of their governing elites.
Trade Unions have become extremely corrupt, sometimes even violent, led basically by gangsters-wannabe who use the massive manpower from thousands of their affiliates to pressure Federal, State and local governments, leveraging and blocking laws and getting concessions and other privileges in their favor, even if their demands are impossible to met or with no labour/work purpose.
Labor racketeering is the proper term for what they do. La Cosa Nostra started it, and now Mexican unions carry on the tradition.
Through these tactics, their power and roots in Mexico have grown beyond control. It is unclear also in which extent the Government has allowed or even pushed for it. For example, half of Mexico’s government employees are teachers, which makes the Mexican National Educational Workers Union – SNTE, the largest union in Latin America with 1.4 million members.
They control schools and Universities, salaries, firing and hiring teachers, and leverage part of the Federal budget on education. They practically run the schools and Universities. Until recently, retiring teachers routinely could ‘give’ their teacher place in a school to a relative, inherit it, or ‘sell’ it for in between $5,000 and $12,000… When the government tried to take this down, they disrupted in riots and occupying Mexico City for months. In certain areas it is so usual to be a teacher by inheritance that trying to start a system based on qualification, merits and academic record faced heavy opposition.
The other representative business lamprey in Mexico is Pemex Worker’s Union, for the National Oil Company. See here for a résumé of their practices, because this could be an endless post.
There’s many examples, and these two are the most representative: each and every productive sector has its Trade Union that blocks innovation, free market or just entrance of new players. Want to be a taxi driver? Better be unionized. Bus driver? Salesman? There is a Union were to be affiliated, give money to, and which will kind of leverage for your, because despite the appearances, the power they seem to have only applies to the Administration: facing the corporations they drop pants fast.
But no matter the kind or economic sector, all of them have one thing in common: constraining Mexican economy and free market since the 60s.
3. SOAP OPERAS
Besides the main Mexican exports (oil, electronics, cars, coffee and marijuana), there’s another product: their awkward, baroque and overrated soap operas. And its actors, of course, which they go Dance with the Stars.
Telenovelas play a huge role here (and in Latin America in general). First of all, diverting attention: people don’t talk about their low wages, corruption, embezzlement or how public money is spent. They talk and discuss (long and heavily) about why Mariana is gonna marry the evil Juan Jose Alberto, or how pretty Maria Dolores de Todos los Santos was with the white wedding dress. There’s soap operas airing all day long, round the clock, just in case you could miss any of them and start thinking too much or watching the news.
Telenovelas also shape public opinion and perception: do we have to get people to love our controversial National energy reform bill? Better put it in a telenovela, plain language to show how good foreign investment is (video in spanish):
Do we have to teach people how necessary and effective religion is, and how miracles can happen? Let’s make a telenovela out of it…
By the way, seems this soap opera made a 10-year-old girl commit suicide, hoping for a miracle as shown in one episode… Oopsie! But nobody panic, please; nobody will do anything about it…
Among topics including proper romance (Catholic Flirting 101: courting a mexican female and how to tame her) and what is acceptable social behavior (all soaked in traditional values), mexican soap operas also cut the lines in what is or should be considered a Mexican and what is not, according to the governing party… even if many mexicans are excluded from this. Anyway, I spoke long and better about the impact of soap operas in a previous post, so better head there.
Corruption in here is systemic. Don’t think about it about something that just goes for local cops and politicians. It jumps through ranks, education, or social class, and spreads into almost any business activity, public or private, NGOs, and the list goes on. Corruption here (and any of its forms) is not a part of the system, it is the system, it is how everything keeps moving.
Corruption can be horizontal: teachers are bribed to get better grades or simply pass a test; doctors are bribed to skip waiting lists, the cable man is bribed to shorten the waiting time for an installation, any kind of inspection can be skipped, cancelled, or approved, and permits of any kind can be got with a firm handshake and a nice wad of cash… it is not something that it is an option: it’s mandatory. Sometimes even the salary is not enough to get your job done, it’s the plus of the bribe what makes you do really your job.
The causes for this levels of corruption are not really clear, but I’m inclined to believe that this modern madness has to do with the leading party, PRI. They have ruled Mexico for almost 100 years, with all that means. In order to keep power, this party spread the practice of rewarding the supporters in many fields: corporations, individuals, even they practically monopolized the press in Mexico to get favorable coverage in the media. Journalists who complied with the modus operandi were paid with government handouts and gifts; those who did not were intimidated and/or killed. This practice keeps on nowadays.
In all the ways possible, PRI functioned through bribes, as it was the way it was done in Mexico since the Revolution in 1902, and this paved the road to rampant bribery in the Administration, which normalized corruption for the rest of the society: if the Government does it, why shouldn’t I do it?
Therefore, when it comes to the Administration, any project has a cut or commission to be got back directly or indirectly to whoever approved it, but at least you get what you paid for. Corruption in this sense is vertical: money goes up, permits go down, and not only for big businesses or foreign corporations (Wal-Mart, Hewlett-Packard, Citigroup, Oceanografía to mention the most recent). It is just a way to stay ahead in the game: everybody else abides to these rules, so must you if you want to make any money.
Of course there’s business that can be done without having to backhand anything to anybody. Many companies have strong policies against it, their employees abide with pride to them, and there is many businessmen who fly straight, so not everything is lost.
But in the end, everything here is eased and solved with a mordida. At any level. Period. Will talk about this later in detail.
Ok, I landed in Culiacán, and it could seem a bad place to use as a pars pro toto, but believe me, 15th most dangerous city in the World according to Business Insider, but I’ve been pointed with a gun just two times… yayyy?
The thing with violence is that it escalates quickly and has an enormous impact abroad. The words autodefensas, ghost towns, beheading, secuestro, murder, dismemberment, cuerno de chivo, and many more are permanently bonded to Mexico, whether we like it or not.
There’s nothing more to add really at this point, Borderland Beat has a great coverage on this subject, even better than traditional newspapers or TV channels, fed up already, as Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists and among the ones with the highest levels of unsolved crimes against the press. The point here is the Administration in some regions and cities (too many) not only cannot carry out its primary function of imposing peace, but becomes a direct perpetrator of the crime.
Violence blocks investment, as corruption does, the attraction of foreign capital, the need for qualified workers… if there is no business, there is no jobs, no opportunities, so more people turn to organized crime groups as they are the only sources of a decent living and feed your family.
To sum it up regarding the relationship between real violence, perceived security and economy, there’s a great paper on how violence preys on the economy: ‘Economic Consequences of Drug Trafficking Violence Poverty and Governance’, by the Stanford University. Take a read on it here.
Read the second part here.
And you, what do you think?