It has become commonplace to state, with deep conviction, that everything in Mexico’s recent past was bad and that the current López Obrador administration is therefore the country’s salvation. Although some Mexicans see this as mere political rhetoric, many others believe this is an absolute truth beyond question. However, the argument that everything in Mexico’s recent past was bad is rather peculiar. It was precisely during the now-decried recent past that Mexicans won the hardly-fought freedom of expression that they are now exercising. This idea is even more absurd when we know that the goal of the President Andrés Manuel López Obrador administration is actually to rebuild the authoritarian Mexico of yesteryear.
The idea that everything in Mexico’s past was bad is heard everywhere. It is repeated in legislators’ speeches, in presidential aides’ statements, in president López Obrador’s daily press conferences and as a mantra in social networks. For that group of believers in the president, the authoritarian Mexico that resulted from the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century never took place. Nor the multiple financial crises Mexico experienced. There was never a growing Mexican middle class. There were never any currency restrictions for the normal functioning of the Mexican economy. There were no competent Mexican administrations or successful companies. Mexico never had award-winning scientists, or Nobel Prizes. The world was born in 2018 with López Obrador’s victory in the presidential election of that year. Prior to that, chaos, like in the Bible.
If the world was born yesterday and everything in the past was chaos, Mexico’s future will inevitably be better. If Mexican citizens manage to believe this fact as an act of faith, they become mere pawns at the service of a manipulative leader. Therein must lie the origin of the so-called “fake news” phenomenon. A phenomenon where beliefs –not facts- matter, particularly so if the former become the new and indisputable dogma. The problem for Mexico is that many, too many, believe it and beliefs are not subject to debate or learning. This explains a lot of what transpires in Mexico’s public sphere, beginning with López Obrador’s morning press conferences and in the Mexican legislative arena. The issue here is about revealed truths, not matters subject to legitimate debate. Isn’t this a new Mexican authoritarianism?
The belief that there is nothing good or salvageable from Mexico’s recent past is objectively false. Not only because the opposite can be proven, but because most of those Mexicans who hold these views exhibit, in their own lives, enormous advancements and family progress. Of course, objectivity is irrelevant when dealing with beliefs. It is even worse when such beliefs ar so deeply ingrained.
Around 10 years ago, when Luis de la Calle and I published the book “Clasemediero” (that in Spanish means “A Member of the Middle Class”) we invited several Mexican political leaders to comment on it. One of them, a prominent member of the leftist PRD party at the time, began his remarks by saying (I quote from memory): “When I was invited to comment on this book I felt very uncomfortable. For me, in my college days, the term middle class was used in a derogatory manner to belittle someone who did not act as an underprivileged individual. However, when I began reading the book I realized that it was describing me.” The PRD politician then went on to say that he was born in a rural town, the son of peasants, but that thanks to a scholarship he had been able to study, attend college, and then live in a city apartment the likes of which his parents could never have imagined. The commentator discovered that that social mobility existed in Mexico and that he himself had experience it. He also discovered that Mexico had made such political headway that he could express himself freely thanks to changes that had taken place over the last 40 years.
As Aristotle wrote in his Rhetoric facts are only about the past and the present. The future is only about aspirations and interests –politics’ fundamental concern. The past is a matter of legitimate debate because there are concrete facts. Regarding the specific issue of whether a country has made progress, pinpointing if this has taken place or not is a simple task. For example, nobody can deny that there are some Mexican states (like Aguascalientes) that have 40 years recording annual rates of growth above 7 percent, a milestone by any measure. It is also objectively true that other Mexican states like Chiapas and Oaxaca have not changed much during the same period of time. These are two indisputable truths. To deny them would imply that Mexico should follow, or recreate, the great achievement of Mexico’s southern states instead of learning from the success of states lie Aguascalientes or Querétaro.
It’s easy to get lost in president López Obrador’s rhetoric that pursues two obvious goals. One, to preserve poverty because a country of poor people is a country of dependents and, therefore, of manipulable people. The recipe is not a new one and is always an effective tool for those leaders who want to remain in power. Two, the goal goes beyond simply creating a dependence on a leader, it pursues obtaining blind loyalty. President López Obrador’s great success is that he has a large number of followers who believe in these falsehoods. Reasoning is to no avail.
Mexico’s tragedy is that progress is not possible when the population treads blindly in the footsteps of a commander-in-chief whose objective is to perpetuate poverty. For this goal he requires believers and not citizens. He needs to focus on political clienteles and not in increasing the country’s productivity. The victims of this scheme -whether they recognize it or not- are those who believe instead of reason. Those Mexicans who are the “beneficiaries” of the dependency relationship that the López Obrador regime instigates.
* Luis Rubio is chairman of México Evalúa-CIDAC and former chairman of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI). A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @lrubiof