To Truly Change Mexico, It's Now Or Never

People are increasingly disgusted with crime and shoddy government in Mexico. Whatever happened to President Pena Nieto's promises to take on the country's vested interests?

Wind of change in Mexico City?
Wind of change in Mexico City?
Luis Rubio


MEXICO CITY — Four years is not a lot of time, but it's enough to allow a country to lay down transformative foundations for its development, or to destroy the achievements of recent past.

The difference can often come down to the presence, or absence, of the right political and economic strategy — and that kind of singular leadership that can bring the right solutions to fruition. As Martin Luther King said, only light, not darkness, can banish darkness.

For Mexico, where is that light going to come from?

The six-year term of President Enrique Peña Nieto began in December 2012 with a rambunctious resolve to implement reforms and with the creation of a political mechanism to do so, the Pact for Mexico, together with the main opposition parties.

Yet the glitches were not long in coming. They began with proposed constitutional reforms that affected particular sectors and interests — reforms always do — combined with the government's reluctance to confront them. Some reforms were frozen, others diluted and others effectively renegotiated. The result was many small changes but little probability of winning tangible benefits, beside a new and dangerous tendency to destroy the (bit of) institutional life we already had.

It became evident within months that the criteria used to implement reforms had less to do with their success and more to do with avoiding ruffling specific interests. Take education reforms: Each and every one of the trade union sectors that rose up against them has extracted some concession or exception clause. It is to some extent natural and commendable for a government to give precedence to social peace and stability by making occasional concessions. But these are only useful if they buy time and allow the later, full implementation of reforms. Otherwise, they become political faits accomplis that curb the government's ability to attain objectives in the long run.

The 19th century French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville qualified reforms as the most dangerous phase for a government, and in this case the danger facing Peña is that he has shaken the bases of the old constitutional order but has nothing to show in their place. He has undermined interests and groups (like the massive teachers union) that used to back the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) without replacing them with a new coalition of supporters.

Peña Nieto and Barack Obama — Photo: White House

A tragic milestone

Even before the massacre of 43 schoolchildren in Iguala, the government was in trouble. Iguala had the effect of uniting all those who felt threatened and aggrieved in the country, many of them otherwise having little in common and few mutual sympathies. The government's failure to respond to the violence amplified the event, which was obviously dramatic and tragic, though not exceptional in a country that has seen 100,000 violent deaths in just under a decade. It also altered the political equation. What didn't change was the government's vision, as it has doggedly followed a script and a conceptual framework that no longer work in Mexico.

What next? Those countries with solid structures, that don't depend on the dexterity or state of mind of individuals, can wade through difficult periods for a long time without falling apart, like our northern neighbor the United States. That can't happen in Mexico, where the absence of institutions gives so much power and responsibility to the person in charge.

Simply put, the country can't keep drifting as it has for another four years. The government must act, and act differently. The strategy of avoiding conflict at all costs leads to anarchy.

Paradoxically, this government does have the characteristics necessary to lead the process of political transformation, but it appears reluctant to touch interests close to the president himself, not to mention join with its natural allies and beneficiaries — the citizenry.

Successful reformers tend to give their political goals priority over friendships. In their book In Praise of Treason, Denis Jeambar and Yves Roucaute observe that honoring your word and being honest are praiseworthy in principle, but this was not a notion scrupulously embraced by great rulers of the past. President Peña should reflect on whether he wishes to take the ship of state to a new destination or let it sink under the weight of corruption, the resistance of incumbent interests and an economy that shows no sign of real growth.

Argentina's General Juan Perón used to say that the most sensitive part of the body was the wallet, and that applies to both workers and the rich. The current uncertainty must be tackled with credible and enduring rules, clear policies and a functioning economy.

A destructive wave could overwhelm us, and it is for the president to stop it by changing the rules of the game. A determination to impose the rule of law would be a great start.

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Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Poland-Belarus Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.

It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

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