Mexico is on the rise. Big time. There are of course endemic problems of bad governance, political corruption, fraud, waste, poverty, abuse of power, and narco violence.
But there’s good news too.
An ex-law student of mine at La Salle University, Chihuahua, shared a Mark Tacher video that has gone viral on Facebook with more than 3.5 million page views, the subject of which is a positive take on economic and civic life in La República Mexicana:
The video turns its swag on with a particularly salient observation by columnist Thomas Friedman in a February op-ed in the New York Times:
In India, people ask you about China, and, in China, people ask you about India: Which country will become the more dominant economic power in the 21st century? I now have the answer: Mexico.
Having lived in Mexico for 14 years, Friedman’s piece somehow rang true. I’ve been getting a growing sense of a sea change in attitudes. The traditional “Ni modo” fatalism within the mestizo psyche, it seems, has been slowly giving way to a new “si se puede” mentality.
Nothing to be empirically demonstrated. Just my observation first noticed when I discovered our Satnav was useless as an old road map on a road trip from Playa del Carmen to Chihuahua. Detours everywhere. New highways. Ubiquitous infrastructure projects spackled from Quintana Roo to Puebla to D.F. to Zacatecas. Workers crawling like a million ants over concrete and rebar.
So I decided to do some digging. And the news is good.
Mexico is investing US $590 billion in public and private infrastructure over the next five years, while in the U.S. infrastructure spending remains stagnant due to partisan bickering in Congress.
When adjusted for purchasing power parity, Mexico has the 11th largest economy in the world ─ richer in GDP than South Korea or Saudi Arabia. Economic growth according to the OECD is expected to be 4% this year, rising to 6% in 2016, compared to an anemic growth of 3% in the U.S., 2.4% in Canada, and 2% in Brazil.
As Friedman further points out, Mexico has signed more free trade agreements than any other country in the world, and exports more manufactured products than the rest of Latin America combined. Mexico received $22.6 billion in foreign direct investment in 2014, down slightly from the blockbuster year of 2013, but expected to remain steady as more companies flock to Mexico and eschew China due to rising labor and transportation costs.
While there are problems with higher education (the subject of a future piece), university degrees are more accessible than ever before, and Mexico is churning out engineers, architects and business managers by the tens of thousands. Not surprisingly, illegal immigration to the U.S. is at net zero. There is a spirit of youthful entrepreneurship taking place, the embracing of technology, a paradigm shift in both thought and mood.
The truly amazing thing, however, is that all of this is taking place despite scars and scabs of corruption and violence. Mexico is like the wounded, underweight and outmatched boxer who stays in the fight through grit and determination. And wins the contest.
Imagine a fully transparent, democratic Mexico free from the chains of bad governance, nepotism and a drug war it found itself co-opted into by the U.S. There would be no limits to what she could do.
We shall see. Meanwhile, Mexicans deserve their place in the sun. It’s been a long time coming.
Glen Olives Thompson is a professor of North American Law at La Salle University in Chihuahua.