Thursday, April 18, 2024

Opinion: Is Mexico’s government governing?

Problems pile up when the capacity to respond diminishes. Even more so when those responsible appear utterly unwilling to respond.

It comes as no surprise to anyone these days that problems such as insecurity, criminality, corruption, racketeering and electoral conflicts continue to mushroom while candidates for office are assassinated, journalists are disappeared, land is expropriated without the least bit of a warning and attacks are made on anything contrary to the message put forth by the president. These are all examples of the contentious environment characterizing Mexico today, and evidence of a complete absence of governance.

To the latter, one must add the day-to-day governmental affairs that do not function as they should, from schools to the supply of drinking water or medicines, to cite three obvious examples. The same may be said of the extraordinary budgetary and financial imbalances taking place this year that will inevitably impact the finances of the next government.

If one accepts the definition of governance by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (“governability comprises the mechanisms, processes and institutions that determine how power is exercised, such as decision-making with respect to issues of public concern and how citizens articulate their interests, exercise their rights, comply with their obligations and mediate their differences,”) the country is in effect not being governed; nor does there exist the minimal understanding of governance in order for it to occur. Considering that governance includes the planning and anticipation of future needs and challenges, Mexico maintains stability truly by a miracle. And miracles are always put to the test during the election cycle, during which the outgoing government loses its capacity for action, and the incoming government has not yet begun to focus on and organize itself for the same.

A sensible government that recognizes its limitations would seek out ways to decentralize decision-making to reduce risk and increase its problem-solving capacities. Mexico’s, however, has put all of the decisions not just in the hands of the federal government, but in the hands of the president. The institutional scaffolding constructed during the past decades has proven insufficient to stop this authoritarian onslaught, but it was at least an attempt to prevent this cardinal problem. Today, the only decentralization happening is that of transferring an increasing number of decisions to the army.

Resorting to the army is practical due to the vertical nature of the institution, which confers upon it a capacity for action even beyond that of an authoritarian government. However, the breadth of the activities entrusted to this institution have rendered the attainment of its goals impossible. I do not mean to undermine the work done by the army in this administration. Rather, I seek to acknowledge a simple fact: no one institution can take on the construction of mega infrastructure projects, administer airports and airlines, respond to natural emergencies (such as earthquakes or floods) and provide for national security. 

The diversity of responsibilities bestowed on the army is such that their performance is always poor. It is not by chance that nations in which the government absorbed everything (like the former Eastern Bloc) ended up decentralized so as to raise the population’s standard of living. In other words, it is impossible to control everything and, at the same time, comply with the essential aim of any government, which is the physical safety of the population and to create the conditions for economic progress.

It is clear that these factors have not been a priority (or even an objective) of the current government, but their absence constitutes a major challenge for the current electoral year and for the incoming government. It is easy to lose sight of this while the president entertains high levels of popularity at the same time that economic variables (such as the peso-dollar exchange rate and the price of gasoline) remain stable. 

But anyone who has observed the country’s evolution over the past decades knows that this is unsustainable. In other words, the absence of governance not only creates a risk for the outgoing government, but also for the country in general — precisely at the most delicate moment of the sexenio: that of the transition of power.

Max Weber, the early 20th-century German sociologist, wrote that there are three types of legitimate authority: the charismatic, the rational-legal and the traditional. Mexico has lived through five years of a charismatic exercise of power, the most unstable of the three according to Weber. Upon abandoning the responsibility of governing, the president has ceded the state to criminals and to chance, therefore guaranteeing that any stability we see today is exceedingly precarious.

Luis Rubio is the president of México Evalúa-CIDAC and former president of the Mexican Council on International Affairs (COMEXI). He is a prolific columnist on international relations and on politics and the economy, writing weekly for Reforma newspaper, and regularly for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mexico News Daily, its owner or its employees.

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