Geopolitics

Mexican Democracy Has A Basic Problem Of Respect

Mexico is struggling to move past almost a century of semi-dictatorship to become a liberal democracy. But it is plagued by a shared and absolute rejection of the ideas of others.

In Mexico City
In Mexico City
Luis Rubio

-OpEd-

MEXICO CITY — Politicians and industry titans have been talking about building Mexico City's new airport for years now. In the meantime, China has built 10 airports a year and plans to continue until 2020. More notably, each of these airport projects involves not just erecting terminals but also realizing an integrated vision of city and regional development.

In contrast with China, which neither is nor claims to be a democracy, Mexico has not only been unable to build an airport but we have also fomented a social environment of corruption, impunity, denigration, hatred and deceit, preventing us from completing even one necessary bit of infrastructure.

In recent decades, we have moved from the era of vertical control by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, to a system of disorder. Society has changed, though the democratic context has yet to consolidate itself and a culture of dialogue has not emerged.

Social networks are increasingly coarse, and the press seems to believe journalism involves subjecting people to summary verdicts. We are seeing the persistence of pre-modern behavior in certain, supposedly democratic formations. Instead of building weights and counterweights, we see the growth of parallel worlds that don't communicate: society on the one hand and the world of politics on the other, each with its own vices.

What we call democracy has evolved into a form of secular fundamentalism that is provincial, self-involved and deeply anti-liberal. There is no better example of this than our electoral system, where a structure of simulated procedures and impunity hides behind a world of endless rules, all of which serve to curtail liberties.

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Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto — Photo: Presidencia de la República Mexicana

Nobody should be surprised that such an illiberal system should provoke so many disputes. If there were the kind of trust one sees in more solid democracies, there would be no need for so much pseudo-legal paraphernalia.

Society v. politics

For a start, the growing rift between society and politics is evident. While the media cover topics that give the impression of a world on the verge of collapse, politicians not only remain unperturbed but continue to read their beautifully crafted, polished scripts. It makes no difference how much the media argue about certain key bodies such as the National Electoral Commission. They all reflect a balance of power among the parties, and their deliberations usually yield conclusions that were previously determined and as impervious to "public clamor" as the parties themselves.

Perhaps the biggest gap in our society is its failure to evolve into a liberal and democratic community. Instead of progressing toward respectful and serious debate about public affairs, the preferred path remains to denounce, revile and above all, disqualify. Verbal condemnations abound, though without affecting the persistence of corruption and impunity in politics.

That is the stuff of political debate here. People are denounced and sentenced before they can exercise their right to reply. Their critics already know "the facts," so their version is indisputable. There can be no other explanation: The aspiring member of this or that committee or council is a thief, because the radio presenter said so. Where diatribe flourishes, debate becomes irrelevant.

Paradoxically or not, we find the same dynamic seen among politicians, and the same impunity, on social networking sites and in the media. Mexican society and its democracy have turned out to be most anti-liberal. While stating your opinion is a tradition and a right in any liberal democracy, our version is an infinity of monologues, each claiming to possess the truth. Their bottom line: Democracy will come when I win!

Fundamentalism is an attachment to texts declared as sacred or divinely inspired. And these words can be taken from one of the religious books or, it seems, uttered by any local politician or carpetbagger. The real damage comes from a refusal to consider alternate views or allow ways of creating them, and governments and opponents have shown they can be as intransigent as each other here.

Democracy is or should be a method for making decisions in a society. In Mexico, it has become a sectarian instrument, wielded to defend or attack opponents, and always, to serve one's own interests.

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