Why Mexico Needs A Revolution (No, It’s Not About Donald Trump)

Mexico does not need more reforms. It needs a complete overhaul of the political system that was put in place a century ago.

Consumer protests on Jan. 3 in Mexico City
Consumer protests on Jan. 3 in Mexico City
Luis Rubio


MEXICO CITY — The word democracy has become trivialized in Mexico's political discourse. Many who despised the old presidential system and devoted themselves to fighting it now despise democracy. If the problem used to be that the president had too much power, now they say he doesn't have enough.

Fundamentally, democracy exists to protect the rights of citizens against their rulers. But democracy in Mexico is an instrument used to elect rulers, then ensure nobody meddles in decision-making.

What is the right balance? In the context of appalling political management and at the start of a crucial political year, we need to debate why the country is not progressing in spite of so many changes and reforms undertaken in different areas. That is the only way to find a way out of this dangerous moment.

Two issues people agree are of foremost relevance: the government's inefficiency and the rock-bottom quality of public services. People will see these related issues in causal terms: The government provides bad services because it is badly organized. Certainly there is a relation here but one must understand the causes because a mistaken diagnosis will produce the wrong solution.

Since at least 1963 when so-called "party MPs' were created, the country has seen many political and electoral reforms that have at best yielded partial results. Only some have improved the system such as the 1996 reforms that created a professional electoral system. Reforms have tackled existing problems among politicians but none have managed to find a way to listen and respond to ordinary citizens. Most of these reforms merely ended up redistributing power among those who already held it.

As Albert Einstein once famously said, madness is expecting different results when you keep doing the same thing over and over again. Why do politicians think superficial interventions will solve the country's political problems?

I do not dispute the need for reform, but do they really work? Dozens of political and electoral reforms, and hundreds of economic, tax and social rights reforms, have not managed to raise people's confidence in those running their affairs. People still don't believe that their streets will be paved nor do they feel physically and legally secure.

The obvious and the blind

When one wonders why the economy is not growing faster, the answer is obvious to people. And it's so obvious that politicians refuse to see it. It's all because there's little confidence in the way the government functions. The system is designed to extract people's money, and safeguard the privileges of those inside and around the political system. Meanwhile, citizens fear government abuse and live amid uncertainty regarding their personal safety and the security of their property. Even paying taxes is complicated.

The Zocalo central square in Mexico City — Photo: Rory Finneren

The old political system from the time of President Plutarco Elías Calle in the first half of the 20th century concentrated power and created institutions out of conflict in the period following the 1911 revolution. Today's problems are, to some extent, the result of the success of that structure while they also reflect a growing population, and social, political and economic diversity.

While much has changed thanks to past reforms the old system still continues — with one big difference: the system that used to work well enough to meet people's minimum needs, simply no longer does. Both problems and expectations have changed. While politicians look around for small fixes to patch things up, the country needs a government that actually functions. Any future reforms would have to be based on a clear and simple purpose: to solve the problems of ordinary people and make their daily lives easier.

If this happened, it would set off a veritable political revolution in Mexico. So far, the proposals have been to return to what used to work, meaning the re-centralization of power. But that was an option that disappeared the day the economy was liberalized.

What we need today is a political system for the 21st century, not the continuation, even through modern institutions, of the Porfiriato - our Mexico's Victorian period. That means transparency and accountability instead of privileges. If we do not set this as our fundamental ambition, nothing will change.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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