Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Mexican Tragedy (A Rant)

My poor, poor country. So far from God, so close to... ignorance.

The original saying, voiced by our last (official) dictator Porfirio Díaz somewhere at the turn of the last century, was "so far from God, so close to the United States". Mexico's story has been shaped by the gravitational pull of the US in everything from idiosyncrasies to economics and the unappeasable American hunger for oil.

It's easy to blame the US for Mexico's problems. It's such a great country, the US--so huge, so powerful. The role of puppet-master almost comes with the job description. Plus, there's that Monroe doctrine that turned the US into the pater familias of the whole American continent, and for a good chunk of the second half of last century, into the iron fist, perhaps well-intentioned but no less castrating, that the continent bowed to.

It's also easy to point derisive fingers at the US when it comes to the drug-related violence in Mexico, same as with Colombia in the 80's. After all, there would be no cartels and turf wars if there was no market for drugs, right? And Latin America has very low incidence of hard-core drugs like cocaine and heroin, so--where is all that product going? North, yes. The Big Bad North.

But this is simplistic. The US 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows marked increase in the abuse of prescription drugs, while cocaine use hasn't increased. The US has a drug problem, yes--but its relationship with the increased violence in Mexico is tangential.

Mexico's main problem today isn't the US. It's ignorance.

Education is good in Mexico. Grades one through six are mandatory--and free. Private schools abound where half the curriculum is given in English, and elective languages like French and German are common in certain circles. Mexico's foremost university, the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), produces a yearly crop of PhDs that go on to brilliant careers as rocket scientists and researchers wooed by Harvard and the Sorbonne. And this university is free, for all intents and purposes--a semester costs MX$200, roughly USD 15. That's right. FIFTEEN bucks.

But education is not criteria. And criteria, with a not-so-small dose of balls, is what Mexico sorely lacks.

We're about to put the PRI back in the presidential chair. The PRI, the party that ruled Mexico for 70 years in a pseudo-dictatorship monopoly of corruption and inequality, until in 2000 the vote against them was so exuberant, so undeniable, that no amount of election manipulation could save them.

For twelve years--the presidential term in Mexico is six years, with no possibility of reelection--we've had the PAN in power. People had high hopes: this was it, the beginning of a golden age, of democracy--finally!--in Mexico, the end to all trouble. The panacea.

Of course, it wasn't.

Drug-related violence escalated. Bad decisions were made. A few years ago the global economic crisis hit. Companies closed down, people lost their jobs.

Disappointment hit like a tsunami, and in the wake of its devastation, people started to think, "did we make a mistake?"

I get it. Really, I do. Más vale malo conocido que bueno por conocer. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't, right? In other circumstances, with another candidate, I might even agree. The problem this time around isn't so much the PRI (as hateful as the idea of them back in power is to me), but the candidate.

Enrique Peña Nieto and his baby face, his perfected politician's smile, his soap-opera-star wife,his ties to the very worst the PRI produced for the country (Salinas de Gortari, for example), and his absolute cluelessness as to how to run a country, cannot become president.

This man has committed more gaffes in public since formally registering his campaign last November than most presidents commit in their whole lives.

-- At an international book fair in December, he said the author of La Silla Del Aguila (The Seat Of Power, one of Mexico's prime works of literature that takes a critical look at the presidential succession in Mexico) was Enrique Krauze.

BUUUZZZZZZ--it's Carlos Fuentes (who, by the way, died yesterday and leaves Mexico a whole lot closer to the destitution he predicted in this book). He then proceeded to dig a deeper hole by mismatching other authors and books. He then sort of apologized by explaining he focuses more on the content of a book than on the author or the title. (Video, with subtitles in English, here.)

EPN: "I'm not a housewife."
The country would do much better
run by one, if you ask me.
-- The Spanish newspaper El País interviewed him later that month and asked him for data about the minimum wage in Mexico. After some blustery "uuhh," "huh," "uhm," he finally said it was MX$900. Minimum wage in Mexico is low, but not that low (about double his estimate, actually).

-- El País also asked him for the price of a kilo of tortillas. This is a national economic indicator, an important one, much as gas or rice is in other countries. Mr. Peña Nieto did not know. No clue. His excuse? "I'm not a housewife."


-- In a priceless interview in Univision (which was never shown in Mexican TV) in May 2009, Mr. Peña Nieto was asked about the death of his first wife (she died in january 2007). He couldn't remember. He floundered and tossed about; you could see him racking his brain for the details. But bottom-line? He couldn't remember. The fact that he announced his romance with Angelica Rivera, a soap-opera star, a mere year later--almost as if he'd followed the prescribed year of mourning to avoid tongues wagging, like the old days--strikes no one as, at the very least, insensitive?

-- Also in 2009, speaking before a stadium packed full of PRI supporters, he exhorted Mexico to strive for justice and social inequality. Yes--INEQUALITY. He realized his mistake and corrected it, and then proceeded to repeat it: "[...] inequality is the banner we make ours." (Video here.)

Well... Perhaps, for once, he spoke the truth.

And Mexico-US relationships will undoubtedly improve, seeing EPN's impressive mastery of foreign languages:

It is this man that polls show has 45% of the vote.

Elections are on the 1st of July. His two main opponents, Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD), each have around 26%. The remainder, a meager 3%, belongs to the only candidate that seems to have a functional head on his shoulders: Gabriel Quadri de la Torre (PANAL).

Corruption? Certainly. The voto duro, or captive vote, means workers of government-affiliated industry such as energy and communications will vote for the PRI, as will family, friends, and any other fellow villains with more interest in their own ever-increasing Swiss account balances than in the good of the country.

These votes represent a large chunk of the country. Still, it's not a majority. If people with criteria--the people that read, that conceive the economy as more than just a localized issue, that understand the global implications, the far-reaching consequences into the future, if these people vote smartly, EPN and the PRI will be out on the sidewalk begging for handouts another six years--six years the country seriously needs to finish firming up the democratic ideals that must prevail if Mexico is to have any kind of hope for the twenty-first century.

But these people are few and far between. And that's what's got me scared half to death.

Mexico doesn't need a movie-star face for a president, or a charming public personality. What Mexico needs is balls. We did it before, in 2000--we simply refused to allow the PRI's farce of democracy to go on and grabbed the bull by the horns. Why not again now? Why give up and let the PRI pigs back into power?

Joseph de Maistre said it best: toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite. Every nation has the government it deserves. If the PRI is allowed to win the presidential elections in Mexico this July, it will be the most tragic truth of Mexico's history.


  1. Thanks for this. I'm in Canada - it is hard to get a sense of what's going on in Mexico through all the media noise generated by the US.

    It sounds like Mexican voters follow a similar pattern to Canadian voters. We tend to swing back and forth between alternatives depending on how things are going, without much attention to the policies that got us here in the first place. People vote emotionally and not logically. Often, the options are not good.

    We voted in our PRI / Peña Nieto equivalent (Conservative Party / Stephen Harper) yet again in 2011, this time with a majority government. (Except Stephen Harper is ugly and not movie-star handsome at all, so there is no excuse.) It has been sad to watch what's happened as a result.

    Good luck this July.

    1. Thanks for the visit, Elizabeth! Glad I could help broaden your perspective of Mexico's present situation. It is just my opinion, but I agree with you--sometimes the media interferes with objectivity. And thank you for sharing this bit about Canadian politics; I had no idea. I guess voters all around the world are victim to the same swaying back and forth--"without much attention to the policies that got us here in the first place". We're amnesiacs, us humans.

    2. Same here in the U.S.--we just don't get that much coverage of foreign politics unless we dig really hard because most people just don't care. I generally know the name of the Mexican president but not much else, so this is really interesting to learn the names of the various parties (which would facilitate further research).

      Like Canada, we tend to swing back and forth from time to time as well; if something isn't going as great, it's much easier for a candidate of the opposite party to get elected in the next cycle. We end up being pendulums as a result, since there are only two major parties and it's unlikely any of the smaller ones will get a foothold any time soon.

    3. Thanks for the visit, Kristin, and for jumping into the conversation. Yes, it's hard to stay on top of international stuff when the media contributes so much noise and, like you said, people just don't care. I'll do a series on the Mexican elections over the next few weeks: the candidates, the parties, a bit of history (and anecdotes, haha), and hopefully that will help you, my wonderful full-of-awesomeness readers, get a little more perspective on this. How I wish you could vote in Mexico :D

  2. Guilie: This is the first time I read your blog. It is brilliant! I cannot stop reading it. This entry gives a quite good glympse of Mexican politics, or better said: EPN. I do fully share your concerns and views. I will take the liberty of sharing in on my FB (I think it is allowed, right?). Un saludo Guilie, no tengo el gusto de conocerte en persona pero tienes todas mis simpatías y respeto.

    César Gil

    1. Cesar, que gusto! Bienvenido, y espero verte por aqui mas seguido, ahora que me encontraste :) Por supuesto, comparte! Todas las opiniones son bienvenidas--nothing's more stimulating than a good discussion, no? Gracias!

    2. Yo tampoco lo conocía! Thank you both for sharing. I, as you know, share the same feelings. Let's keep up spreading the word. Everything is possible.

      Mau Cano

  3. Wow, meet Guilie the political analyst. Great post.

    I think you said it best on FB. Thank God the Mayans predict the end of the world in Dec!

    1. Haha--indeed :D Thanks for the visit, Cindy, and glad you liked the post!

  4. Guilie, thanks for this --a real education. How did this idiot get so far? Never mind. I already know the answer. I hope your piece is read by many, to Tweet it!

    1. Helen, yes: he comes from a long line of politicians (for lack of a more adequate and still G-rated word). I have no doubt he's competent in many areas, and maybe even a nice and fun guy. I'm sure he has qualities many envy. But head of state is NOT his calling :D Thank you for your help in spreading the word around!

  5. The trouble with politics often is the scarcity of credible candidates. Elizabeth mentioned the Canadian elections last year, but in all honesty I couldn't envisage any of the party leaders running a country effectively :(

    Look on the bright side, Peña Nieto can't surely be any worse than George "Dubya" Bush. His cluelessness was legendary. The thought of that man running the most powerful country in the world was truly terrifying on a global scale.

    1. Haha--you're so right :) At least Mexico's inept rulers don't have the power to bring their uselessness into play on a global scale, haha. But, that aside, Peña Nieto probably thinks of "Dubya" (love that--says so much!) as a role model. God love him.

  6. Thanks for the education. In the US, it's all about Obama and Romney now. This reminds me of the blog from Katie over at Creepie Query Girl. She's in France. I never thought blogging would make me more politically aware than the news.

  7. You did a great job summarizing some of the issues Guilie. This is from someone who has nary a clue about life or politics in Mexico. I once visited there and traveled to a bunch of neat towns and villages including Oaxtepec.

    I also visited the pyramids to the north of el Distrito and ate barbecued rabbit with mole sauce at a quaint restaurant within walking distance. The place was empty but what a tasty meal! That may have been the highlight of the trip. It's windy windy up there, hold on to your hats!


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