Saturday, July 20, 2024

Opinion: The risks to liberal democracy and an effective state in Mexico

There are more ways to destroy a liberal democracy than just sending troops into the streets, storming radio stations, and arresting opponents, as Hitler discovered after the failure of his coup attempt — the so-called “Beer Hall Putsch” — in Munich in 1923.

The collapse of the German Weimar Republic in 1933, when Adolf Hitler — already a democratically elected chancellor — began to urge his supporters to take to the streets, demonize his critics and political opponents, to label the media as “enemies of the people,” subordinate the judiciary, science, and universities to politics, and to subsequently cancel elections, is a clear example of how a state and democracy can be destroyed from within.

In “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” Karl Marx began the text with the famous phrase (originally formulated by Hegel) that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

AMLO leaves a weakened and inefficient state

In Mexico, we have witnessed in these almost six years of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s presidential term a demolition of the state and its institutions. And no, before readers have a fit, I am not comparing López Obrador to Hitler or what is happening in Mexico in 2024 to Nazi totalitarianism in Germany in 1933. 

But on Election Day, the majority of the Mexican electorate unequivocally chose to give six more years to this administration’s vision of the nation. And the problem is that this project is potentially fraught with limitations and own goals, as we head towards the transition on Oct 1. One of the main challenges we as a country — and especially President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum — will face is receiving a deeply weakened and dysfunctional state.

The urgent issue of our time for the liberal state that we should all advocate for has nothing to do with its ideological orientation, or the size and vocation of the government in power, themes around which the right and the left have been in constant ideological and political-electoral struggle for decades. The central issue, in my view, is its efficiency and effectiveness.

The COVID-19 pandemic made this clear: the essential difference in how various nations around the world fared was not whether some governments were right-wing and others left-wing, or between democratic and authoritarian regimes; the essential fault line was between effective and ineffective governments.

What is happening today with the institutions of the Mexican state is simply the logical conclusion of the obsession that has largely driven López Obrador. From the beginning of his administration in 2018, the most serious danger on the horizon was always going to be an imperial presidency, all-powerful and centralizing, and the elimination of checks and balances as well as autonomous institutions that a generation of Mexicans laboriously worked to establish over more than three decades to anchor and deepen our nascent democracy.

Government institutions and agencies, as well as their powers and responsibilities, and the few relatively depoliticized civil service bureaucracies, have been eviscerated and cannibalized or, in the worst case, demolished.

The president has fundamentally sought to weaken Mexico’s institutions so that they cannot constrain him, purging them of cadres he considers disloyal to him and the Fourth Transformation (4T) movement. But this also means that he cannot rely on these institutions to generate growth, mitigate the costs of the pandemic that have not dissipated, resolve social conflicts, tackle growing public insecurity, leverage Mexico’s geostrategic assets, or even secure what he most desires: to leave a legacy.

Mexico must be more plural and open to the world

And all this also contains a great paradox: for a president who from day one boasted that “the best foreign policy is domestic policy,” it is precisely the weakness of his public policies, exacerbating the internal weaknesses of the country, that have opened fronts of pressure and vulnerability abroad, particularly with respect to the United States. Just look at the numerous examples related to the inability to manage migration flows, curb fentanyl trafficking, or address issues of civil aviation, fishing, agricultural exports, or maritime preservation to grasp the impact this is having on the country and the state’s capacities.

Therefore, we Mexicans and our society must continue to push for a country that is fully democratic, plural, tolerant, liberal, balanced, just, secure, with a market economy, open to the world, with a strong, solid, effective state.

And for this reason, I want more Mexico in the world and more of the world in Mexico; a state that relies on its professional diplomatic cadres, a nation that stops navel-gazing and floating aimlessly in the international system, that finds its moral compass and geopolitical bearings in a highly fluid global environment; that leaves behind old foreign policy crutches and paradigms; that decides to contribute to global public goods; that returns to being a weight in the multilateral arena, particularly on issues such as disarmament and nuclear proliferation, which today loom as emerging threats; that has the vision to design an integrated migration policy paradigm; that rediscovers its vocation to preserve biodiversity and once again lead on global climate change issues; and that recognizes the enormous value of promoting the country abroad, whether by rebuilding agencies to attract investment, designing a true cultural and creative industries promotion strategy, or confronting the brutal degradation of the credibility and perception of the country abroad.

History shows over and over that populism and demagoguery — on the left and the right —are shortcuts that often end in disaster; they fracture and polarize societies and divide people into rival camps of intolerance. Instead of building the future, they always invoke the past, but nostalgia can neither be nor should be established as public policy.

Today in Mexico there are plenty of excuses, shouting and insults and a lack of rationality, debate and consensus. Listen, respect, tolerate, understand, converse, debate, reach consensus, build, negotiate, move forward. If someone finds those lost verbs somewhere, tell them that Mexico’s democracy is desperately looking for them.

At this turning point for the republic, I hope the president-elect recognizes this, and decides to act accordingly. We Mexicans urgently need it.

Arturo Sarukhan has had a distinguished education and career, serving as Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S. (2007-2013), and in additional advisory roles in both Mexico and the U.S. Currently based in Washington, D.C., he writes about international issues for various media outlets and is a regular opinion columnist published on Mexico News Daily.

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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