According to the historian Micah Goodman, the difference between animals and humans is that the former live exclusively in the present and act instinctively, while humans think and care about the future. The future is always unknown and generates fear, for which humans turn to religion and politicians. Religion allows to calm the spirit and the soul; politicians take advantage of the fear to deceive the voter: while on the campaign trail they make promises that can never be fulfilled, and thus clash with the reality, once they become responsible for the duties of government.
This story is repeated again and again in all latitudes. But today Mexicans are living something peculiar: the president is not only trying to fulfill all his promises, but he does not believe that there are limits to his capacity to achieve it. This has introduced an air of freshness in the function of governing that had not been seen in a long time and that the majority of the population recognizes and seems to appreciate.
The case of gasoline speaks for itself: by now it is evident that the government acted without much care, knowledge of cause or foresight about the consequences of its actions. But, after decades of flagrant robberies to the treasury through Pemex, the citizens applauded the boldness with which it acted, even if the latter implied tens of hours lost in the search of fuel for their automobiles.
Since the 1995 crisis, the post-revolutionary vision has returned to the forefront, which affirms that higher growth rates have not been achieved, that inequality has increased and that the country has lost the stability and security that characterized the pre-reform era.
However, the story will only end when those responsible for the theft of gasoline are identified and detained, which does not seem to be in the cards or, given the weakness of the justice system, within the realm of possibility within the government. In that scenario, what began as a laudable goal could end up becoming a highly costly.
The theft of gasoline is part of a complex chapter of public life in recent decades. In these years, there has been a dispute between two ways of conceiving the national reality and its future. On the one hand, those who promoted the reforms, especially the economic ones that stemmed from the virtual bankruptcy of the government in 1982, proposed the integration of the economy into the technological and commercial circuits of the world as the means to increase productivity and, with it, to generate much higher rates of economic growth that, in turn, would improve incomes and create many more jobs.
On the other hand, especially since the 1995 crisis, the post-revolutionary vision has returned to the forefront, which affirms that higher growth rates have not been achieved, that inequality has increased and that the country has lost the stability and security that characterized the pre-reform era.
While much of the north of the country grows with extraordinary speed, the south has frozen in time, with what that implies in terms of employment, incomes, and expectations.
If one goes beyond the political narratives and interests behind each of these positions, it is clear that both approaches have a basis in everyday life. Regarding the first, nobody can deny the virtues of the reform project in terms of economic growth, employment and productivity in virtually the entire northern half of the country.
On the other hand, if one observes what has not happened in the south, the conclusion is equally evident: the contrasts and differences are clearly breathtaking. While much of the north of the country grows with extraordinary speed, the south has frozen in time, with what that implies in terms of employment, incomes, and expectations.
What is a common denominator throughout the national territory is the collapse of security and justice structures, producing great impunity. That is, various regulations and concepts were reformed, but the necessary governmental capacity was never developed to preserve the most fundamental aspects of life in society: the safety of the people.
The government has to review its biases about the national problem so that it becomes realistic about what it can actually achieve.
The president has proposed a project for these purposes that, like its predecessors, is incomplete, not very well thought out and very risky, first of all because it is does not stem from a diagnosis that recognizes that the problem lies in the governmental structures themselves. Thus, by ignoring this, the new program will only deepen the problem, but this time politicizing the army along the way, while potentially corrupting it.
The problem of security is not different from the theft of gasoline. In both cases, the nodal factor is impunity: those who steal gasoline—and the officials and governors who charge a fee so that the robbery can take place—are no different from those who steal, extort, kidnap, or kill without even blushing. In both cases, this occurs because there are no restrictions on their activity and abuse.
It is this impunity that the president apparently wanted to show with the closing of the gasoline pipelines. But evidencing the phenomenon does not solve the problem: this is not a group of thieves, but a system within the governmental apparatus, at all levels, that benefits and promotes impunity.
The problem does not lie in the reforms that the president condemns day in and day out, but in the lack of clarity of the nature of the problem. At the end of the day, as the historian Margaret Macmillan says, “Reforms forestall something worse from happening.” The government has to review its biases about the national problem so that, as Goodman says, it becomes realistic about what it can actually achieve.
Luis Rubio is a Pacific Council member and president of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI).
This article was originally published by COMEXI.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.