Real life in beautiful and ugly Guadalajara.

Historically, social rights have been created and advanced thanks to the actions of political movements on the part of large collectives.  The Independence movement and the Mexican Revolution represented, in certain form, justifiable struggles for liberty, equality, and well-being of all Mexicans.  From these massive social movements, primarily the Revolution, such rights were achieved as access to land, union organization, and education among others…  This march signified the movement of one of the largest academic communities in the country, demanding the right to a fair financing for the institution and, above all, the respect of another social right, today consecrated in the Constitution of the Republic:  university autonomy.

La Gaceta – 11 Oct, 2010, pg.6

Part 2:  The Melodramatic Politics Part

Political distemper always trumps philosophical delusion – in the public forum and minds of the masses, that is.  This is because politics is about capturing the imagination in order to cultivate popular support.. and philosophy captures no part of any society that turns away from the burden of thinking on its own.  It simply doesn’t arouse the emotions, much less generate any great number of votes.  Currently here in Guadalajara, we’re all witness to a conflict evidently of biblical proportion.. not that its epic tone makes it unique in any way.   The clash and all the juicy splatter that comes with it occurs in this case between the public University of Guadalajara (UdeG) and the state government, namely the governor himself, Emilio Gonzalez Marquez.  

The ordeal at hand is a question of funds.  UdeG is a federal and state funded institution of higher learning, which over the last 85 years has benefited an enormous number of Mexicans, many of whom would never have possessed the money necessary to attend any private university.   The students pay nothing, although entry is quite competitive (that’s good).. unless one of your parents works there and/or is on the faculty.. then somehow you’re able to cut to the front of the line.. hey – but just zip it, eh?  I’m not sure anyone’s supposed to know that.   Since 2007, Emilio’s first year as governor, the state budget has increased by nearly 50%.   During the same time, the state’s  ‘UdeG portion’ of the budget has increased by only around 25%.  UdeG points out that this difference in budget increases has amounted to a total net loss of 701,000,000 pesos of university funds that the state (Emilio Gonzalez, essentially) is unjustly ‘holding back’.  

Over the last couple of months, there have been over 50 marches, demonstrations.. however you wish to call them.  Students and teachers from one department or another, or from this or that public high school (also which belong to UdeG), on any given day have taken to the streets, heading to Casa Jalisco downtown where the state government offices are located.   Their demand:  Emilio – you have no right to take away our right to an education!  Give us our money!!  Education is Mexico’s only route to a better future!!! 

Really, now… who´s going to argue with that? 

But why such bellowing and fist pounding animosity toward Emilio Gonzalez?

Well, he is the state governor.. so, that’s a good place to start.  But more importantly, he’s a member of the National Action Party (PAN), which is Mexico’s most conservative political party.  Conversely, and equally as important, UdeG’s leadership and faculty have shifted greatly to the left over the last 20 years.  But Emilio’s greatest political deficit is his personality.   No one would intelligently attempt to defend the PAN by drawing your attention to Emilio.   Would you ever defend the legendary status of a group like KISS with such a priceless gem as “I was made for lovin’ you baby, you were made for lovin’ me…”? (some of you actually would.. but please, let’s not step into that twilight zone..)   While Emilio is nowhere nearly as creepy as that, he’s exposed enough character flaws in the last four years to be branded an imbecile by even most of his would-be followers.  So it’s quite easy, then, to set the stage with Emilio Gonzalez as the antihero who turns out to be the eternal fool as the tragedy unfolds, stubbornly and obtusely holding back funds that are so dire for the survival of public education.


Political scandal or political stunt, the fiasco as a whole seems to have achieved complete distraction from the fact that the real fools here are the supposed academics hitting the streets.  And why would I say this?  Because I’m in bed with Emilio scratching his hairy ass?  You ask any one of these students on the street precisely where the generous quantity of funds that UdeG really does receive actually go.  They haven’t a clue nor could they care any less.  For if they did, they’d be marching instead to the homes of those who run the university, demanding that they come clean and allow an independent, external audit. 

A real anal exam of an audit is something UdeG leaders will go to any length to avoid (the last UdeG chancellor actually did try to have this done, but it was too far a reach.  He was involuntarily retired from his post by others who really do run things at UdeG.  He put up a legal fight to get his post back.. and subsequently wound up dead in his home.. a suicide.. go figure).   But of course it’s not because there’s anything to hide, claro que no.  It’s simply a matter of safeguarding the university’s constitutionally granted autonomy.  Yes it’s true.  University autonomy is indeed protected by the Mexican Constitution, just as it should be.  Autonomy, however, when you consider what the word really means, is not a term you can seriously apply to students, teachers, and university leaders in the streets clamoring for more pesos because the recent increase in state funds wasn’t enough evidently to ensure that learning happens. 

Moreover,  it doesn’t take a fifth grade education to know that the money they’re demanding won’t result in one teacher pay raise more, nor even a cheap bar of soap in the UdeG latrines.   UdeG is not hurting for funds.  None of what UdeG lacks for the benefit of its students or teachers (which is a lot) is due to any shortage of state and federal money.  The political movement its leaders seek to advance, however, is hurting for power.  The students in the streets, all too clearly it seems, are oblivious.. in so much as they think that this is truly about the future of education in Jalisco.   But you want to talk about autonomy?  Ask them or the teachers what consequences they’ll face if they don’t cooperate and participate in the march.  

There’s something to be learned here about the consequence of trying to ensure the right to a costless education for everyone.  And it’s not the realization of the political ideal of equality, much less the danger we somehow like to think it represents for snooty rich people.   The consequence illustrated by these marches is derived from something deeper than politics.  It originates in our belief that a right to an education is an ideal that must be fought for, attained, and defended.. and furthermore in our unwillingness to question the institutions responsible for ‘providing’ it  -  especially, as this case so clearly shows, those institutions that don’t generate their own funds. 

Now I realize that I must sound absolutely delirious to say something like the above.  But if I’ve at least maintained your attention in doing so, allow me then to explain exactly what I mean.

Part 3:  The Cheap Philosophy Part

The importance of an education is unquestionably clear to any of us with the knowledge and experience necessary to advance ourselves over a lifetime.  The emphasis that we give to the fact, however, possesses an authority over our imaginations and sensibilities that, all too often, we submit to far too blindly and irresponsibly.

What people mean when they say that everyone should have the right to an education is that everyone should have the benefit of being recognized by society that he or she is capable.  But how do we recognize such capability?  We allow the university to be the arbiter, to determine for us who’s competent and who isn’t.  Even though any university that’s worth half a cent would reveal to any student the foolishness in such a blind faith.  But whatever.   The real point that people want to make is that no one should be denied the opportunity to bow before the exalted authority and bestower of knowledge, good (enough) grades in hand, and be officially anointed … “qualified”.    Yes, I know.. that’s laying it on a bit thick, hence, our tendency toward the far simpler outcry for “the right to an education”.   It rolls off the tongue so much more easily.  Never mind that real knowledge and experience in most fields of study are quite attainable with complete independence from the university’s blessing. 

And then from there many of us somehow make our way to the more controversial argument that education should be “free”.. yes, another virtually angelic term, equally as pardoned from scrutiny as the word “education” itself.  The ‘free’ argument, barely able to support itself upon the thin “right to an education” logic that sustains it, easily gets caught up in emotional whirlwinds and reduced to toddler blocks.

So we rework the whole idea, coming up with something like this:  “It’s imperative for the advancement of any society that it’s members be educated.. or inversely, the less people we educate, the worse off our society will become”.  And though the term ‘education’ here is still forced like a puzzle piece that doesn’t belong, this argument is much more compelling to be sure. The idea resonates especially clear here in Mexico, or any country that has a long political and cultural tradition of the big people ‘taking care’ of the little people, and the belief that society can only advance for the better of all – with ‘education’.  Of course this equalizing of the masses rarely if ever truly happens in the real world, ruled by human nature.. but is it not fascinating how an overwhelming number of us remain devoted to the idea?

Again, no one can overstate the importance of education.  What’s misguided is that we refer to it as though it’s an entitlement, and from there that everyone should have a right to it.  Philosophically, it doesn’t wash.  There’s no philosophical basis for the right to breathe, either.  Honestly now, with no system or law granting us the right to breathe… for free.. is it not curious that we’re all somehow able to get away with it anyway?  .. even victims of asthma and lung cancer?  A bit of a stretch?  Yeah, maybe..  but even those locked away in a prison cell for years, who have the fewest rights among any of us, can educate themselves if they choose to.  No one ‘needs’ a ‘right’ to an ‘education’, and I think we all know it.

“Everyone should have the right to a golden ticket” is what we’re really trying to say.  Nonetheless, we continue to force this word ‘education’ into that place.  Why we insist on the latter has everything to do with politics and virtually nothing to do with sound logic.  We like to think that a college degree is an indicator of education.  It’s not.  It indicates that we probably passed exams in a classroom.  The political side of the coin does not require us to consider what exactly the point would be in everyone being entitled to and receiving a golden ticket.  But we can be sure that it would cease to be anything golden, if it ever was in the first place.

When we talk about the importance of education, it should always remain fundamentally clear that it’s not the university’s role to ‘educate’ anyone.  That’s our job, as individual free citizens, whether we attend a university or not.  The purpose of a university or any school should be nothing other than to be shamelessly exploited by people who want to learn, rather than blindly exalted by those who worry endlessly about exams and put all their faith in the golden ticket.

While it’s perfectly possible that a state and federally funded institution be a standard setter for efficiency and positive results, it’s always far from likely.  Our nature is that we produce and improve these qualities through an instinct of self preservation in the face of competition.  UdeG is not in this position, nor is it by any means an exception to the norm among government funded institutions.  It hasn’t to worry about going broke.. ever.  There’s no motive therefore among the leadership to provide anywhere near the best service to the students.  After all, where would the students get off complaining and demanding anyway?  UdeG is providing their ‘education’… for ‘free’.   Should the students not instead be kissing the university chancellor’s feet for divinely defending their right to an education?

Oh, but how they do.  You really think it was the students who thought up the idea of filling the streets and howling at Emilio for more pesos to fund their ‘free’ and ‘autonomous’ education?  Of course we’re talking about Emilio, who’s going to argue, right?  And then what?  Do you really think that the same students will organize, demanding and pressuring to know just what will be done with this money if UdeG gets it?

As long as there’s a golden ticket at stake, don’t count on it.   

Surely their intention here was not the sad irony that no one can help but notice…

categories: politics, rants, society

Sympathy is not what I feel for people who cry and complain about how poorly maintained their city’s infrastructure and environment are… and yet take to the streets protesting like some impetuous mule train when any genuine effort is made to improve conditions, because the measures taken to resolve the issue inconvenience them personally.  Most of these are the same ones that marvel, for instance, at how China is advancing, while shaking their heads in disgust at the ineptitude of their own government.  Bureaucratic incompetence aside, what’s easily forgotten is that democracy is hard.  Just ask the Chinese how they’re coming with it…  

That said, why is it I find myself aligned with the blubbering whiners when it comes to this contentious issue of the Macrobus?  Am I so hopelessly, say.. ‘Republican’ in nature, that I simply can’t stomach the concept of public transportation, or the supposedly downtrodden who use it having their day in the sun?  Do I break bread with special interests such as certain transit unions that might be adversely affected?  Nope.  In fact, to loosely quote Monty Python – I tend more to break wind in their general direction…   Or perhaps it’s as a well-known and beloved statesman of sorts once so elegantly put it:  “I’m not giving in to the mob mentality… I’m jumping on the bandwagon”.   Is that what my gripe boils down to?  I’m not sure what the arguments of the rest are, or if I would even agree with them.  You certainly won’t find me out there with them blocking traffic… 

But here’s my precious point of view:

The complete Guadalajara metro area maps out to about 300 square miles.  In this relatively tiny patch of land live somewhere between 4.5 and 5 million people (by comparison, the Kansas City metro area is nearly 1200 sq. miles and houses around 2 million -  the Wichita metro area is closest to scale, around 280 sq. miles, with population of close to 600,000).  How do I know this stuff?  I’ve counted every last one of them.. do not question me on this.  In this entire cheaply asphalted entanglement are only four stretches of road that aren’t painfully and pathetically riddled with traffic lights (yes, I´m.. quite aware of what traffic lights are for, just as much as I’m aware of what proper street planning is for…).  Three of these four little breathers are on the outskirts of the city, the other spanning only two thirds the distance through the middle.   The all too common bottlenecks throughout are caused primarily by the aforementioned.  ‘Me first’ drivers are another major contributor…  Fortunately, the city does have a public transportation system;  it most certainly needs public transit – not because its people are too poor to own cars (although not having a vehicle here is why most people use it), nor for the environment (although cleaner air is always desirable),  but because its infrastructure simply can’t (or worse, won’t) keep pace with the growing number of car owners. 

Not being a religious follower and member of the Church of Manmade Global Warming, nor a believer in the merits of a daddy state, I certainly advocate having a vehicle over being completely dependent on public transportation.  But if the latter can move me “quickly” and “cheaply” “whenever” and to “wherever” I wish or need to go within reasonable walking distance, it sure beats wasting a tank of gas on some endless breaking and accelerating ritual trance that takes 30 minutes to move my car five kilometers… and then where the hell am I going to park the damn thing?

Guadalajara’s public transportation system however, necessary as it is, doesn’t exactly fulfill that need.  Between the two prominent modes, the problem is also twofold:  That which can get me practically anywhere I want to go – a vine swinging jungle of bus routes – is far too sluggish.  The agonizing wait for the busses to show up, the endless meandering of routes, and the constant stopping correspond in no meaningful way with any ‘time is money’ principle.  It does provide for quite a cheap thrill, however, if you’ve got a day to waste away on a scenic safari of unending urban wilderness… take a camera along.   The other system – a light rail completed 20 years ago – is able to move me much more quickly, but has only one stretch from north to south, making a T in the middle toward the east.  Quite efficient actually, for getting me to wherever it goes… practically useless in terms of getting me anywhere close to 85% of the rest of metro area.

The Macrobus has been presented, proposed, and imposed (so far only as one route) as a cost effective method (for the city, not the users) of resolving these two deficiencies mentioned.  But the benefits have been mediocre at best.  What used to take an hour and a half to move a distance of 12 kilometers via a series of rambling bus routes now takes only a lightning quick 40 minutes…  12km.  It manages this stunning feat  1) by not meandering, and 2) by having a lane all its own for the entire span… It has to stop however, like all the rest of traffic, for every freakin’ red light along the way… 

        Inauguration Day  -  March 10, 2009

But what about location?  Doesn’t it take you to other parts that the train can’t?  Well, sort of.  It basically runs from north to south also, just like the train, but practically parallel to it within a range from 1 to 4km…  And those are the positive attributes.  The negative is that it takes a street that was designed in the 1920’s with three lanes both ways, looking ahead to that necessity for the city’s future, and leaves it now with just two lanes in 2010.  Absolute brilliance.   I sure hope I can one day get my kids into the fine school that produced the guy who came up with that plan.

Calzada Independencia, 1925…

… and in 2009, during construction of Macrobus route #1

So what, then?  It’s polemic because it isn’t perfect and swipes a lane from gas guzzling aggressors against the Earth?  Well look, if you want to start there, be my guest.. it eventually comes back to that, but the list details far more important factors.

It’s polemic because it would hardly make sense to develop a route for light rail that runs parallel to an existing route just 1 or 2 kilometers away, but as long as you have a cheaper version of it, it’s evidently a marvelous idea.

It’s polemic because currently the only Macrobus route, the one that so marvelously runs parallel to the train, from its inception was planned specifically to cater to the PanAmerican Games that will be held in Guadalajara in Sep. 2011.  It was originally decided that a “Villa PanAmericana” would be constructed next to the historic downtown area – in, over, and throughout – a park (about two square blocks in size), which itself is just as much, incidentally, a part of the city’s history.  The facility would house athletes and media, and would later be used for…. bueno, no one knew… but it was imperative to show the visiting Americas that Guadalajara was up to the task of a sleek, state of the art public transit system.  A lot of people and businesses had to be ‘persuaded’ to move out of there to make room for the construction of the ‘villa’.. some of the buildings that once housed them have since been bulldozed.  But alas… the poor planning and the budgeting and the shady contracting and the curious obstinance of the local mayor all boiled into a giant fiasco.  The mayor is no longer.  And no longer will there be any Villa PanAmericana near historic downtown.  In fact, as precious time ticks away, a new location still hasn’t been officially decided upon yet.  350 million pesos of tax money had already been invested, and it’s all vanished.

But let’s not be too pessimistic.  We did at least manage to get ourselves the mighty Macrobus, via the villa that was never to be.  And now that it’s there, it should only follow that people will get accustomed and gradually learn to accept its merit.  After all, people eventually have got to straighten up and understand that civic pride isn’t about ‘me and my car’… it’s about everyone. 

But while city planners are currently licking their chops proposing all sorts of new routes for this rolling blunder throughout the city, the residents are foaming at the mouth over it.  It’s polemic.

It’s polemic because it’s a hindrance to the very taxpayers who fund it.  Having a lane taken away from the city’s busiest streets is hardly a sign of forward thinking.  Having two of a street’s three lanes taken away is just ludicrous.  It’s an insult.  And don’t give me this crap about how irresponsible and selfish automobile drivers are.. and how necessary it is that they eventually be weaned off their dependency on them.   Technological genius will soundly decide the fate of the car, and moreover how we wean ourselves off our dependence on petroleum – without driving the global economy into the dirt (in case you think what we’re going through now is bad…).   And in any country that’s worth a shit, the citizens will decide the fate of their leaders who foolheartedly invest their peoples’ money in works that create more obstacles than clearances.  Any honest taxpayer here who also drives a vehicle takes it on the chin, paying far more than his or her fair share for just these kinds of projects: 

1)      You have vehicle property taxes.  Originally a federal tax put in place in the late 60’s to raise revenue to fund the 1968 Olympics, it never went away after observing how easy it was to get people to fork over when daily faced with getting stopped on the street and fined for not having done so.  Last year, the tax was shifted to the individual states, as we also have it in the U.S., to do with it what they wish.  Only one state, Queretaro, has done away with it.   It may well be that the U.S. and Mexico are the only two countries that pull this kind of stunt.

2)       Gasoline in Mexico is not a market commodity. Pemex is a government monopoly.  They like to jokingly refer to it as belonging to all Mexicans.  No attempt is made to conceal that the profits are meant to be used solely to fund government, be it programs for the poor (that political one hit wonder in any part of the world), schools, infrastructure…   So dependent is the government on this revenue that even when they try to keep the price reasonable for the driver, they’re actually accused of populist policies toward the rich at the expense of the poor (you know you don’t get out much into the real Mexican world when you believe that only rich people have cars).   Forgive my rambling ignorance, but someone sure as hell had better get an explanation out for me as to how rising gas prices help the beloved poor.

3)      Extremely exaggerated highway tolls, altogether throughout Jalisco, could easily raise in one month all that has been spent over the last five years for maintenance of Jalisco roads… every last one of them.  We’re talking fees of 110 pesos… only to pay another 90 some sixty miles down the road, and another for 40 pesos some thirty miles after that, multiplied by the thousands of cars that daily pass through them.   To be fair I should point out that there are ‘free’ highways.. if time and relative peace of mind are of little importance.

4)      There’s the sticker you have to get that show’s your car has been ‘professionally’ inspected and is environmentally sound.  Basically, it’s a small, coerced contribution to the Church of Manmade Global Warming.  Surely the thin air into which that money vanishes cannot be ruled out as one of the contributing factors of climate change.

So, if you’re looking to develop a bubbly, billowy, voluptuous ass, your best option would be to get a government job.. sitting on it.  Because the above are among the most foolproof revenue collecting methods that have resulted from the government’s corrupted inability to properly collect from those who easily evade paying their share or even paying at all.. not all that different than the U.S., actually… just a little worse here, is all. 

You’d think all of that would be enough.  But in 2007, the Jalisco government proposed one more idiot-proof revenue raking scheme – the infamous “placazo” (‘placa’ means license plate.. the ‘azo’ suffix refers to a heavy hit, or a blow… in this case the unpleasurable kind).   Beautiful new Jalisco license plates were going to be punched out, with the mandatory privilege of waiting tirelessly in line to obtain a pair of them set at a value of 1200 pesos.  Why?  Infrastructure… and not one word of explanation more.  And that arrogance of feeling it’s not necessary to explain is the biggest mistake a government can make with a citizenry that’s just beginning to get the hang of democratic politics.   There was little doubt, however, that the infrastructure referred to was of the PanAmerican Games sort.  But drivers had had enough, and collectively made it clear that there would be ugly political repercussions if the government went through with it.  Consequentially, in the end, it didn’t happen. 

Selfish, rich, unruly citizens with cars?  Perhaps…  But explain to me how all of the above taxes, including the birdbrained placazo had it been enforced, resulting ultimately with the grand benefit of one or two less lanes for the tax-paying driver get around on , is anything other than a slap in the face for gratitude. 

That’s why it’s polemic… and that’s why I find myself with those that are against it.     

Democracy is hard.  Remember that when asking yourself how the Chinese accomplish all that they seem to.

Above is 16 de Septiembre (Alcalde), at the corner of Priciliano Sanchez in the mid 1940’s…

Imagine this being done…

… to make this possible…

… only to propose what you see below, 60 years later.


categories: politics, society

I’m not a believer. I hear the public announcements and the news on the radio. I see in the newspapers the bellowing for citizens to start acting like they’re citizens with the potable water supply, proposing to up the fines for wasting it by nearly 2000% (meanwhile, another story in the same newspaper glorifies those that go around shitting on public and private property with their graffiti, showcasing it’s evolution and maturing over the years…). I see presentations showing that we must stop the senseless waste of water, pointing out how irresponsible it is to water your tiny patch of grass, wash your car with a hose, spend more than three minutes in the shower, flush your toilet if all you did was piss or just leave a couple of tiny truffles… And all because we’re in a crisis – a shortage of potable water. Maybe we are… maybe we’re not. Where’s the proof?
I’d like to know who stumbled upon the discovery that we’re in a crisis. It certainly wasn’t the guy on my right, or the woman to my left, nor was it anyone in front of me or behind me. It sure as hell wasn’t the city workers you see in the video above.  I have not even a shred of hard evidence that shows I should take the idea seriously. I ask myself what’s more irresponsible – to igore that there’s a supposed crisis, flushing my prized urine away and spending up to eight looong minutes in the shower? ..or fall in line like a senseless boob who camps out in front of K-Mart the night of Thanksgiving to insure that she can get some useless stuffed animal for six bucks off… at 5:30 a.m. the next morning?
Supply and demand, a law that governments controlling sectors of economies overwhelmingly seem incapable of grasping, bless their hearts.. is the clearest factor supporting my disbelief. True enough, it might be a poor argument for the very reason stated in the previous sentence. But the water supply here in Jalisco and most likely all of Mexico is heavily subsidized by the government, making water extremely cheap. Over the last six months, I, one in a population of roughly 7,500.000 (Jalisco), an avid flusher and fan of bath time, have paid a total of 190 pesos (about $15) for my share of the supposedly scarce commodity. Yes, this is the same government that also flushes away loads of funds on propaganda aimed at convincing people to use less water.
If K-Mart wants to get rid of antsy consumers camping out in their parking lot, you can be sure they’re not going to invest a dime in some stupid public awareness campaign; certainly not one that fails to even graze the human psyche. They just call off the damn sale and the blockheads go home. It’s freakin cold at the end of November. And while those running the government may seem like the dumbest bunch of dingbats any junior high school has witnessed in a generation, they know damn good and well how to lift a subsidy, and that doing so on the water would curb the usage — IF, indeed there was a crisis.


category: politics
The other day, on the 16th of September as a matter of fact, I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to write something on Mexican politics and government. She kindly warned me not to get myself into too much trouble with it before asking what specifically I would write about. When I mentioned ‘democracy in Mexico’, she began laughing, and in a cynical tone that would offend any Mexican were she not Mexican herself, she said, “Aaaahhh, democracy in Mexico…. Viva Mexico!!! hahaha… Let me tell you something.. democracy here in Mexico is a fantasy.. I don’t mean this in a bad way ’cause you’re my friend, but you gringos are so gullible.”
…. Right. Never mind the fact that I didn’t mention even one detail about what I was going to scribble down. The fact is that her cynicism is shared by a great many citizens here in this country. Cynicism is this nasty residue that remains after blind optimism has evaporated into thin air. Throw a term like ‘democracy’ around too often and too lightly and it produces just the blind optimism I refer to. So.. what then?
Well, here are a couple of questions I want to propose as a starting point: a) What is the desired purpose of a democratic government? and b) How is that desired purpose fulfilled? Forget about what one country´s constitution says over that of another…it’s better to start from a fundamental philosophical standpoint, however crude it may be – What is the concept of democratic government? From what necessity does it originate? How does it, as well as the administration of it, correspond to human nature? Is its purpose to grant and distribute rights? or to protect rights that every individual inately possesses to conserve their own well-being? What do people living in any democratic system expect from their government? What should they expect? What should a democratic government expect from its people? How do people link their personal happiness with the responsibilities of government?
In the interest of directing these questions to Mexico, here are just a few superficial related facts: The Mexican political landscape seems easy enough to comprehend from a distance. At it’s simplest you have a system more or less like that of the U.S. – an executive branch, a bi-cameral legislative branch, and a judicial. The country is comprised of 32 states, one of them being the Federal District (like we have D.C. in the states). El Distrito Federal (D.F.) is Mexico City. In fact, the official name of the country is “Los Estados Unidos Mexicanos” (The United Mexican States). It is common to hear the country referred to from the inside as “La República”. State and local elections are held every three years; presidential, gubernatorial, and senatorial elections every six. There is no re-election in Mexican politics. This fact is directly tied to the revolution which began in 1910, and it seems to be pretty fair logic when you consider the prior presidential terms of the likes of Santa Anna or Porfirio Díaz. Going further back, Mexico declared independence from Spain on September 16, 1810. Needless to say, in about a year from now there’s going to be some serious partying.
In theory, one could try to suggest that Mexico, since independence, or from its first constitution in 1824, has been a democratic republic. In practice, however, before the revolution of 1910, this is patently false. Even after the revolution, it had remained virtually false for most of the 20th century. Over the last twenty-five years or so, the government finally has been changing more dramatically toward being democratic in practice. Does that mean if you come here today that you’ll find that society looks, smells and feels like democracy? Perhaps, if you’re just passing through, especially during an election period. Most Mexicans I know, however, would consider you at best naïve for believing it. I would agree with them. Although, it doesn’t nullify in my mind the changes that have been occurring over the last couple of decades.

Anyone anywhere who wants to understand why things are the way they are today cannot do so without a fairly accurate historical map to help navigate one’s curiosity. When you look at Mexican history (which is not what I intend to get too deeply into on this post), the cynicism that most Mexicans feel toward the government is quite understandable. The Mexican government had never truly allowed the democracy it promised. On the contrary, it had always been quite authoritarian, presidential (the president having a virtually absolute power), centralized, and not interested in giving up even a tiny bit of its corporatist power structure. Not until the early to mid eighties, when the economy was collapsing and Mexico had to consider opening up to international trade, did the government have to face the political standards of so-called first world countries that would not seriously consider investing in Mexico, unless it improved its own dismal political standards. Most of the many political changes that have taken place since that time have been directly linked to that fact, rather than some new revolution having taken place. On the one hand, people should take whatever they can get and not complain, right? On the other, it does show the democratic advances as much less genuine than they might appear on the surface or from the outside.

But what is it anyway about these words ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic’ that seem so bloody magical to everyone?

Ask a hundred individuals to define democracy and you’re likely to receive just as many different answers… well.. at least 15 or 20.. The fundamental idea is that the people in a democracy have the right to propose, within the limits of an established constitution, how they are to be governed and the state’s resources administrated… and furthermore that they have the right to compete in order that their proposal might win the day. In a truly democratic society (does anybody know of one?), it is presupposed that the citizens as a whole are capable and willing to support/authorize legislation that results in the greatest overall favorable outcome for society. There’s nothing about its nature, however, that even pretends to suggest automatic brotherly love. Because everyone is an individual, accept it or not, it’s impossible that each citizen would have the same interests, proposing and supporting the same ideas, much less what the role of their government should even be. Furthermore, with only 24 hours in a day, it is impossible for most citizens to spend any considerable time devoting themselves to personally compete for that which they propose or support. For this purpose we elect local officials, representatives, senators, etc. to compete on our behalf. They seek the privilege of competing to inact or protect our interests. We vote for them based upon their expressed affinity with those interests, and our assessment that they’ll be able to come through for us.

This is what makes the maintainance of an efficient and truly democratic system such a delicate balance. It’s very philosophical strength can also be, and too often is, it’s greatest weakness, for while these elected officials are essentially public servants, they’re just human beings with the same human nature as everyone else. Naturally, the more dependent the public becomes on them to promote the well being of each individual, the more warped becomes the essence of this public servitude in the mind of the elected official. Naturally, the more disconnected they sense the public to be from what they do, the more corrupt they’re apt to be. This too is human nature. In Mexico today, it is very rare to find anyone who has something good to say about the supposedly democratic government. They don’t feel that their elected government officials have any interest in serving the public interest. I find some, but not a lot of evidence to the contrary. As a result it’s quite common to hear people scoffing at even the mention of ‘democracy in Mexico’ simply for the fact that people don’t take it seriously and feel that their votes mean nothing at the end of the day. But there’s another obvious factor in this that few seem willing to consider…

All theories about the meaning of democratic government aside, in practice, democracy seems to be seen by most as the duty to vote when election time rolls around, and in having voted, they’ve completed their duty, thus officially earning their democratic right to bitch and moan about how the candidate they voted for betrayed their interests. It rarely seems to occur to people that government officials tend to betray the interests of their supposed voters because the majority of voters lose interest as soon as a day after elections, when they’ve completed “their part” of the social contract. Look at it this way: just like a car is useless without gasoline, democracy can’t flourish without voters. But a lot of good gas will do me if the car otherwise doesn’t function and my personal interest in taking any initiative to make it fuction is at a minimum. If I really believe that just putting gas in it whenever it runs out is all I need to do for it to run like a charm, do I deserve any better than bitter disappointment when the engine disintegrates at just 60,000 miles? If my vote is the only responsibility I owe to a democracy, why should I expect an elected official to remember me as anything other than just that? If I can’t care less about what happens after submitting my precious vote, why should I expect the elected official to care any more about me or my interests? So next time you hear someone complaining about how government doesn’t care about them, ask them: When was the last time you were concerned about your government? They might as well be saying that their broken down car doesn’t care about them anymore.

So what then, about the feeling of helplessness one feels when considering that politicians only respond to money, or worse yet become so dependent on their financial contributors that it’s really the latter that control the direction of government? Well, this is going to sound simplistic, but here goes: big financial contributors have no political or legislative power without some public official to buy off. The public official in turn has no political or legislative power if no one votes for him or her. The threat of losing a substantial number of votes, made clear by voters who show more interest than just voting, has just as much influence on how that politician behaves and votes at the end of the day – because if no amount of money can fund a campaign worthy of soothing the grievances expressed by constituents, well, what then is the point? But then again, this is what things might be like in a real democracy.

Suddenly, this idea of no re-election here in Mexico doesn’t seem to be such a big winner afterall, especially with such a long history of authoritarian, centralized, and corporatist power structure, and furthermore in a society that has always been politically nurtured to believe that its government is the solution to every civic necessity. This is how social capital is prevented from developing or simply destroyed, and unfortunately that is the state that much of Mexico finds itself in today.. not that other democratic societies don’t also share this problem. Social capital is the sum of personal investments in the community (not referring to money here) by the citizens themselves. The greater the social capital, the less overall dependence there will have to be on the promises made by anyone soliciting your vote, thereby increasing the importance of your interests to the public servant that wins your vote…

So if social capital is vital to a successful democracy, what can we do here in Mexico to increase it? Education, yes, is key. But if you’re serious about this, please don’t suggest that we all must count on the government to take care of that one. There is far more necessary to the development of social capital than simply passing exams and making it one way or another through college. Children and adults alike must teach and be taught to develop an optimism based on their own clear vision, rather than blind optimism based on the empty promises of others. Simple things like throwing trash on the ground are not evidence of a lack of education; the people that do it simply don’t care about their role as a citizen. They should be confronted and at least asked why anyone else then should give a damn about them. Poverty is not eradicated through the redistribution of tax revenue… it just isn’t. The solution is found in a healthy development of social capital, which requires the same uncoerced personal devotion to the local community that a parent must have to successfully raise a child.

No one at the end of the day is perfect, and so democracy will never be close to perfect either. But if and whenever the citizens of any democratic government figure out how to successfully pull it off, it sure as hell beats living under the eye of some mickey mouse authoritarian regime.