The past will not return: Mexico and the world changed, each at its own rhythm and circumstance. Thus, the only certainty is that we are facing a different future. The “old” order is over; we find ourselves in the face of a historic rift of enormous proportions and the more one delays in assimilating this basic premise, the worse that future will be.
The most human propensity is to cling to what exists or, more commonly, to what is known. The clearest image in this respect is that of the interminable efforts that we all make, every day, for the genie to go back into its magic lamp. Instead of dealing with the new realities, we dream of returning to what there was: that the September 11th attacks had never occurred, that Candidate X (insert your preference, there are many) would have lost. It’s like wanting to put the toothpaste back in the tube: it can’t be done. The only thing for sure is that the past no longer exists; the big question is what’s next.
Immersed in the conflict for the independence of India, someone asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought about European civilization: his response was “it would be a great idea.” Attaining civilization would imply reaching a new stage of stability, growth and civility, three major concepts that are absent in Mexico’s current reality. It seems evident that the way we are going will not permit any of these three elements to materialize, which is why Gandhi’s response is highly pertinent for the Mexico of today. Civilization is built, it does not come about fortuitously.
It is important to recognize the crossroads at which Mexicans find themselves: it is not the product of chance, nor is it the result, at least in its origin, of the present government. That merit is held by a succession of various administrations that carried out changes and reforms without reflecting on the totality that they were constructing, particularly in the political sphere: in a word, they did not reckon with the need to develop the governmental capacity to cope with the social, economic and political forces being unleashed. But there was a specific Mexican Administration that not only lost its way, but that also never found it: it never understood why it came into power, what it came into power for or what its “mission” was.
The reforms in Mexico began in 1983 because they were the last resort: the governments of the seventies had left the country bankrupt. One might agree or not with the direction of those reforms, but there was no alternative to the urgency for restructuring the government and stabilizing the economy. The Mexican governments that followed imprinted their bias on the process, some with greater vision and skill than others; some with clarity of course and others with an entire misunderstanding of the challenge they were dealt.
But without doubt it was the government of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) which never understood, first, why the electorate conferred on the PRI a new opportunity to govern again and, second, the huge potential that this President had in his hands. Instead of edifying a “new” Mexican State, the project was limited to advancing some reforms (not to be scorned as is likely to become obvious when AMLO’s cart gets stuck in the near future) while the swindle of the century was being consummated. Without the Peña Nieto’s government Mexico would be very different today.
No one ca n blame AMLO for the causes of his victory. The forcefulness with which he won constitutes a sentence of disapproval that leaves no doubt of the message: the electorate felt betrayed by the outgoing government and turned in full to the only option that offered something clearly different. And that distinct part is what today is in the throes of building a different order toward the future: it is not only another government; it is another way of seeing and understanding the world.
Around the world much is being debated concerning the end of the world order constructed after the conclusion of WWII. The reason, the same as that within Mexico, is that there are new actors, new power realities and new game rules. We find ourselves in the stage of the “arm wrestling” in which the new groups in power are attempting to impose themselves on diverse political, economic and social instances and institutions. Little by little, novel criteria and values are appearing, affecting –for good or for ill- the manner in which power is come by, the effective rights of the citizenry, the way the economy is run and how social controls are procured.
The new order does not necessarily imply less poverty, more equality or a better economic situation. It solely implies new rules of the game that respond to the new groups in power. As throughout the world, we find ourselves at a moment of change in which everything is at the verge of sprouting, susceptible to being altered, because what we see today cannot last, all of which creates a climate of inexorable uncertainty.
The President has devoted himself to attempting to provide certainty to the diverse social interests in that his idea of returning to an Old Mexico is viable nowadays. His message, like it or not, has been taken up by many key actors of all spheres –politicians, entrepreneurs, union leaders- all of them jockeying to position themselves well. But it is, nonetheless, a misleading scenario, of a dead calm before the forces, interests and values of the new governing group make impose themselves on the whole of the political scene and establish their law. A new order that despite being new will not necessarily be benign.
* Luis Rubio is chairman of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations and of México Evalúa-CIDAC. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @lrubiof