By Luis Rubio*
It would seem to be patently obvious that in politics there’s no worse evil than fighting reality, but that’s precisely what the government has been doing recently. The government might like what the U.N. court reporter has concluded about torture in Mexico or not, but it can’t simply reject its investigation. Even if the analysis were mistaken, the worst strategy is that of categorical rejection: exactly the same management that it does with internal criticism, as if everyone were its enemy. Machiavelli wrote that “There are three types of intelligence: one understands things by itself; the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither by itself nor through others. The first kind is excellent, the second good, and the third kind is useless”. In this matter, the government appears to conduct itself like the Machiavelli’s third definition.
In the eighties the country chose to integrate itself economically into the world but, in its first iteration, it pretended that it could be part of the international business circuits, attract foreign investment and technology but maintain its primitive ways of politics as usual internally. The contradiction was flagrant and led to interminable disputes in the most diverse forums. On one of his visits to Washington State in the U.S., for example, President de la Madrid breakfasted with the news of columnist Jack Anderson denouncing diverse cases of corruption in the de la Madrid’s government. The column could not have been worse in content or come at a worse time for inflicting severe damage on the visit before it had even begun. The government rejected the information with all of its vehemence, but did not achieve neutralizing the critics. The same happened with the murder of U.S. Drug Agent Enrique Camarena and the annual evaluation of Mexico’s cooperation in matters of narcotrafficking. Each case sunk the government deeper and deeper.
Beyond the indignation that type of accusation aroused in our politicians, above all due to the moral superiority that they involve, it’s no secret from anyone that the country is enduring an infinity of cases of corruption, torture, police abuse, the incompetence of the judiciary, and lack of respect for the rights of the citizens. Similarly evident is that there are no easy solutions to these ills, even if there were the best will and strategy. What’s absurd is to pretend that these ills do not exist, that they are foreign to our reality.
By the time Carlos Salinas took over the presidency in 1988, the lesson had been learned. The great difference between the two administrations was not the general strategy but the recognition that it was impossible to maintain the fiction that the external world is distinct from the internal, that a dual discourse can be maintained or that the leak in the dike can be plugged with one finger. Instead of emphatically rejecting the accusations coming from the outside, Salinas opted for assuming them and at least pretended to solve them. That’s how, for example, the National Human Rights Commission came into being. Rather than confronting, he joined the critics, although in the final analysis the solution was nothing more than cosmetic. Viewed in retrospect, the true change was less one of essence –political modernization oriented toward creating a developed country did not take shape-, but the form was crucial because there was at least minimal congruence between the internal and the external discourse.
Thirty years later it appears that we have returned to the eighties, only that, as Marx said, the second time as a farce. I don’t know whether torture is practiced in the country nor is it obvious to me that fourteen cases would be sufficient for a summary trial or something in that respect; that said, it would appear infinitely more sensible, in this example, to request aid from the U.N. for combating the cases that do exist and the circumstances that produced them, rather than deny that reality and do battle with the community of nations. Worse yet, no member nation of the International Court of Justice and similar bodies can react in that fashion. It’s not logical and, worse, it’s counterproductive. A government should add rather than subtract before anything else.
The far-ranging issue is that we cannot return to the past nor can we deny the reality of the world in which we live, the latter entailing ubiquity of information and globalization not only of the economy but also of values and criteria. The longer the government takes to accept that that’s not the road to the future the worse the future will be for its own efforts and, above all, the economic and political performance of the country. These are not minutiae by any means.
* Global Fellow and Member of the Advisory Board of the Mexico Institute at the WWICS and President of the Center of Research for Development (CIDAC).