Mexico's socialist president is deluded if he thinks he can turn the clock back and restore his vision of the welfare state.
MEXICO CITY — The past will not return. Mexico and the world have changed, each at its own pace and in its own way, and the only thing we know for sure is that the future looks different. The old order, as it were, is over. We are at a gigantic breaking point in history, and any delay in absorbing this fundamental truth could only make the future worse.
Humanity's most natural propensity is to cling to what exists, to what is familiar. The clearest illustration of that is in our unending, daily efforts to put the genie back into its bottle. Instead of accepting new realities, we dream of returning to what he had: if only the attacks of September 11, 2001 had not happened, candidate X (insert name of choice) had not lost, etc.. It is like trying to force toothpaste back into the tube. So the only question left is: what next?
Amid his struggle for India's independence, Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilization, to which he reportedly replied, "it would be a good idea." Attaining civilization means achieving a new state of stability, growth and civility, which are the three big elements missing in our current reality. Clearly the path we have taken will not lead to any of these, so Gandhi's response is entirely pertinent to Mexico today. Civilization must be built, not received.
We need to recognize that the juncture at which we find ourselves is not fortuitous, nor the result, originally at least, of the current government. The blame falls on a succession of governments that made changes and implemented reforms without repairing either the societal or political structure in which they were working.
Reforms began in 1983 when the country was at a dead end: the governments of the 1970s had bankrupted Mexico. One may or may not agree with the reforms' direction, but there was no alternative to the urgent need to restructure the government and stabilize the economy. Subsequent governments gave them their own slant, some with a bigger vision and greater abilities, others with greater clarity in direction, and one at least with an utter inability to understand the challenge ahead.
Street scene, Mexico City — Photo: Carl Campbell
Without a doubt it was the last government, of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which failed most of all to understand: firstly why the electorate had given his party, the PRI, a new opportunity; and secondly, the enormous potential placed in its hands. Instead of building a "new state," his project kept to advancing certain reforms (which were not negligible though we shall only see their worth when the country falters in the medium term), while the country was ransacked as never before.
Yes, without Peña's government, Mexico would be a very different country today.
Nobody can blame President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, AMLO, for the causes of his victory. His decisive win was a condemnation and a clear message: voters felt betrayed by the outgoing government and shifted en masse toward the one option that offered something different. And that different thing is the polity being forged today with an eye on the future. This is not just another government, but another way of seeing and understanding the world.
Like in the rest of the world, nothing here is guaranteed to endure.
There is a lot of talk about the end-of-the-world order built after World War II. The reason, as inside our country, is that there are new actors, new power realities and new rules of the game. We are at the end of a cycle where the new powers-that-be will try and impose themselves on different political, socio-economic and electoral sectors and institutions. Gradually, new values and criteria will emerge and affect for better or worse, the way people rise to power, the effective rights of citizens, the way in which the economy is run and how social controls are acquired.
This new order does not necessarily mean less poverty, more equality or an improved economic situation. It only implies new rules that meet the needs of the groups in power. As in the rest of the world, we find ourselves in a moment of change when everything is being remolded and susceptible to change, and nothing around us is guaranteed to endure. All this creates an environment of inexorable uncertainty.
The president has set himself to the task of reassuring the various social interests that his conception of the old Mexico is viable, and like it or not, the country's key actors in business, politics and the trade unions, have heard the message and are trying to adapt. Yet this is a deceptive scenario, a calm before the storm: for the new rulers will in time impose their rules, interests and values. That will be the new order in the world, with no good reason to assume it will be benign.