Mexico seems to never leave the spotlight, either if it is for a new sprout of gruesome violence, the Army taking over an entire State, or the discovery of another mass grave for which nobody will ever make jail time. Even Colombia has managed to shake off its reputation and circumstances from the past decades 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? Being classified a MINT has any impact on daily life and economy? Was Stratford right about Mexico being a failed country, left behind from the prosperity boom and peace enjoyed by its Latin American partners?
Despite Mexico has a long tradition of failed governments, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the current situation is not of a failed State. Period. It is true, though, that many areas are slipping away from Federal Government control, and in the almost entire country has already lost the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, but is precisely the Federal Government the last bastion and backer of public services and certain levels of justice, safety and order or least, an appearance of them, which is equally important. At State/local level it might seem everybody is losing it, but the Federal Government, through its multiple agencies and institutions glues it all together, with more or less success.
So Mexico is not becoming a Wasteland and its cities Megatons anytime soon despite what it might seem from outside. But even not being on the verge of a Borderland live reenactment (as many seem to want), there’s an issue to be addressed: the stillness of the country. We’re not hitting rock bottom, but it doesn’t seem also we’re freeing ourselves from the same burden we’ve been dragging since the Revolution of 1910.
Mexico seems locked in permanent apathy and inertia over key issues, there are no visible changes, no fight and no push forward, the country seems to be in the same shape and have the same issues as a century ago, and no, Dudeism is not the dominant religion here.
So the question about Mexico should be: why isn’t the country moving?
There are many answers to this question, but for me, there are 10 key issues that hamper Mexico‘s future.
1. PEOPLE DON’T BUY IT
Octavio Paz, a Mexican writer, in his book ‘The labyrinth of solitude‘ (an essay on the origins and causes of the Mexican behaviour, morality and psychology), says “El 15 de septiembre la gente grita por espacio de 1 hora para callar todo el año“: On September 15, people scream for 1 hour to shut up all year“. This day is the celebration of the ‘Grito de Dolores’, where Mexicans remember the proclamation that led to the War of Independence, and for the President of the Republic shouts few patriotic lines and people corresponds the same way.
What this writer meant is Mexicans seem to be passive about their involvement in current events. This attitude (among others) are sewn into the fabric of what a Mexican is ought to be. Mexicans resist revealing themselves to others in any way. Being open, express opinion, standing out, and demanding are attitudes frowned upon by the rest of the society, seen as a weakness, and being a whiner.
The point is that despite having huge needs in many basic areas, people hardly fights openly for them. It is said that this attitude comes from Castilian settlers, who ingrained in the local Amerindians and later mestizo population the passive, conquered mentality during the Colonization, and it kept on for generations.
In the end, and being more pragmatic, Mexicans had and continue to have too much to handle, and little can be done at this point. The Tlatelolco massacre, permanent impunity at the highest ranks, clientelism, rotten law enforcement, and a long list of abuses that left a legacy that reinforced all these definitions made by Octavio Paz, among other authors (list of resources at the bottom of the post). Why bother to fight for anything, if I will change nothing, and I
can will end up tortured, killed, disappeared, laid off, beaten… done by none other than the Government itself more often than not.
I do really recommend the lecture of the chapter ‘Mexican Masks‘ from the aforementioned book to have a better grasp of Mexican mentality, behaviour and society, and most important, its consequences.
2. TRADE UNIONS
In Mexico, labour unions are the Dark Side of syndicalism: while in the Old Lady and other parts of the world these organizations are meant to be a counterweight from the employers and their Trade Associations, meant to prevent excessive power from each other, here they are just an organized mob focused for one purpose only: preserving the (wealthy) status of their governing elites, as well as constraining free market and Mexico’s growth since their creation.
Trade Unions have become extremely corrupt, sometimes even violent, led by gangsters-wannabe who use the massive manpower from their affiliates to pressure Federal, State and local governments, leveraging and blocking laws, getting concessions and other privileges in their favour.
Labour racketeering is the proper term for what they do. La Cosa Nostra started it in the US, and now Mexican unions carry on the tradition in here.
Through these tactics, their power in Mexico has grown beyond control. It is unclear in which extent the Government has allowed or even pushed forward this situation. 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 on the Federal budget for 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 these practises down, they disrupted in riots, occupying Mexico City for months. Somehow, it had become so normal to be a teacher by inheritance that trying to start a system based on qualification, merits and academic record faced heavy opposition.
Another major lamprey in Mexico’s economy is Pemex Worker’s Union, the National Oil Company. See here for a résumé of their practices, because I could end up with an endless post.
There are other examples, and these two are just the most representative, but each economic sector has its union that blocks free market or competence. Want to be a taxi driver? Better be unionized. Bus driver? Salesman? Whatever economic activity, there is a Union for it. And despite appearances, the huge power Trade Unions seem to have here only applies towards the Administration: when facing corporations, they drop pants quite fast…
3. SOAP OPERAS
Besides the main Mexican exports (oil, electronics, cars, coffee and marijuana) there’s another lesser-admitted product: their awkward, baroque soap operas. And their actors, of course, which they end up at some point going to Dancing with the Stars, pursuing the American dream.
Telenovelas play a huge role in here (and in Latin America in general). First of all, diverting attention: people don’t talk about their low wages, corruption, violence or how public money is spent. They discuss (long and heavily) about why Mariana is gonna marry the evil Juan Jose Alberto, or how pretty Maria Guadalupe Dolores was with the white wedding dress. Why is that? Because there are soap operas airing all day long, round the clock, if you could miss any and start thinking too much. Combine this with the first or the fifth point in this article, and you understand why people goes so intense with the entertainment industry.
Also, soap operas are used to shape public opinion and perception: do we have to get people 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):
Mexican soap operas also cut the lines in what is or should be considered Mexican and what not, always according to the governing party. Anyway, I spoke long and better about the impact of soap operas and the distorted image of Mexico they try to promote in a previous post, so better take look there.
Corruption here is systemic. Don’t think about it as something that just goes for local cops and politicians. It jumps through ranks, education, or social class and spreads into almost any kind of business activity, public or private. Corruption (and any of its forms) is not a part of the system, it is the system, it is how everything keeps spinning.
The causes for this levels of corruption are not really clear, but I’m inclined to believe that they have to do with the leading party PRI and its history. Their leaders at different levels have ruled Mexico for almost 100 years (and they still call it democracy). Since the 19th century, and to keep in power, this party spread the practice of rewarding their supporters in many fields: corporations, individuals, associations, even they practically monopolized the press to get positive coverage. Journalists who complied with the modus operandi were paid with government handouts and gifts; those who do not, were intimidated or laid off.
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 the current rampant corruption in the Administration, which normalized corruption for the rest of the society: if the Government does it, why shouldn’t do it myself too? And on top of this, the scarce salaries paid here are not enough to get your job done, it’s the plus from the bribe what makes you really do your job.
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.
Corruption can be also horizontal: purchasing managers expect to receive a ‘bonus’ for choosing your product or service over the competence, teachers are bribed to get better grades or to pass a test; doctors too, to skip waiting lists, the cable man is bribed to cut the waiting period for a reparation, 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, not to speak about traffic tickets and well, again the list could go on forever.
As many have explained and justified it to me, corruption
It is just a way to stay ahead: everybody else abides to these rules, so must you if you want to make money
Of course, there are business that can be done without having to backhand anything to anybody. In fact, many companies have strong policies against it, and their employees abide with pride to them, and many and good business fly straight, but well, being realistic…
5. GRUESOME VIOLENCE
Ok, I landed in Culiacán, which is a bad place to use as a pars pro toto: 15th most dangerous city in the World according to Business Insider, but hey, I’ve just been pointed with a gun just two times… Hooray? I mean, despite appearances, the city is quite far from other parts of the Republic, with ghost towns and plunged into permanent, open violence.
Anyhow, violence escalated fast and hard since PAN took office. Each group competes in the most terrifying tactics to scare both rivals and officials, and not only murdering in open daylight, but showing off mutilated corpses, increasing the level of gruesomeness in their display from human piñatas, human stew soups, with insatiable thirst for blood and gore in order to scare the rivals, to the point that even the military got involved in this game.
Violence preys on the economy: people flees towns, close business, leaves the State, pay no taxes, the Government has no income, so it has to get more indebted, and the spiral downwards keeps going on. It also blocks investment and the attraction of foreign capital, the need for qualified workers, and if there are no companies, there are no jobs, no opportunities, so more people turn to organized crime as the only source for a decent living, and in the end, the dual combination of violence and poverty triumphs yet again in Mexico.
Violence distorts reality. Many seem to have become too comfortable about the current situation: crime-related news have become merely informative notes relegated to the last pages on the newspapers, as journalists investigating those crimes and their connections often disappear. People learnt to accept certain levels of violence, certain numbers of corpses found, beheading, disappearances, kidnappings, corruption too… slowly but steady (and unconsciously), Mexicans are lowering their standards of normality. And it is a dangerous thing to do.
- Octavio Paz (1950); ‘The labyrinth of solitude‘. A must have;
- Stanford University; ‘Economic Consequences of Drug Trafficking Violence Poverty and Governance‘ (PDF);
- Samuel Ramos (1951); ‘Profile of Man and Culture in Mexico‘;
Kara Michelle Borden; ‘Mexico ‘68. An analysis of the Tlatelolco massacre and its legacy‘ (PDF);
Kate Doyle; ‘Mexico’s Dirty War‘ (PDF) on the Administration involvement in violence and terror tactics.