This post originally appeared on Medium.com on October 4, 2015. I’m republishing it here for personal posterity.
Last month the Economist put Mexico on its cover to make an argument about development: macroeconomic policies (free trade, tackling monopolies, privatizing the oil industry, investing in infrastructure) are necessary for development, but not sufficient. To become fully developed, Mexico (and other emerging economies hoping to follow the paths of South Korea and Taiwan) must address corruption, inequality and justice reform. Unfortunately, Mexico has made very little progress on all three counts — mostly because the Peña Nieto administration refuses to acknowledge that there are any problems.
Yesterday Peña Nieto’s administration published a video to their YouTube account titled “Enough already with your complaints.” The video was clearly directed at activists that have been protesting recent human rights abuses, corruption scandals and rising inequality. It inspired a tweet storm and no shortage of hilarious memes under the hashtag “YaCholeConTusQuejas.” It represents the wide gulf of distrust that separates Mexico’s government and its citizens.
Political commentator Mario Campos makes a plea for activists to think in trendlines rather than headlines, to lengthen their time horizons of social change, to become involved with civil society organizations that are increasingly unified and strategic in their efforts to advance social change when the political opportunities do emerge. What follows is my translation of Mario Campos’ latest Op-Ed published in El Universal:
Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but something is happening in Mexico, and it gives us reason to hope. It’s not easy to see since our media only repeat official government discourse, and our government projects an image of normalcy, as if nothing is going on, when the truth is that all is not well.
Just look at two events that took place this past week. The first, organized by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness and Transparency Mexico among others, convened experts in transparency and accountability from Russia, the US and Mexico to discuss how to combat corruption. The second, which is organized by the Heinrich Boell Foundation and will take place on Wednesday October 15 at Casa Lamm, is a debate on what can be done to address persistent corruption with case studies from Brazil and Guatemala.
And just as there is now increased attention on how to fight against corruption, something similar is happening with regard to human rights, which has been at the center of the political agenda in recent weeks thanks to the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN Commission on Human Rights. Human rights organizations have been able to attract national attention to problems that previously were only noticed by a handful of people.
And if there were not enough, there are also other efforts from civil society to create alliances that help us understand how to combat poverty and inequality. Anyone interested in learning more can follow the work of groups like the Citizen Action Against Poverty, the Institute for the Study of Democratic Transition, Society in Movement, among others.
Here’s what’s happening in Mexico: civil society is doing things differently. First, it’s more strategic. Rather than addressing problems as abstractions, it’s zeroing in on the symptoms, their causes and the necessary measures to take. Instead of losing the fight on individual demands, civil society organizations are building common agendas. And more politicians are beginning to realize they can find a solution to their crisis of credibility by working in collaboration with civil society.
This is all in the right direction. It’s not spectacular and it doesn’t generate headlines. Nor does it produce small, short-term wins — in part because the Peña Nieto administration doesn’t recognize the three crises we face: corruption, human rights abuses and poverty. Without recognizing what is wrong, they’re obviously not going to do anything to fix it. The lack of responsiveness from the government can create discouragement that leads to inaction.
To avoid this we need to change the time horizon and stop thinking that everything has to happen now or in the remainder of the presidential term. We can still make progress by advancing our agendas and alliances for when the political will does arrive. In 2018, during the next presidential election, there will be a space to seriously discuss these issues.
In times when it seems that no one listens to the social unrest, when the government minimizes all problems, and when the media serve the powerful rather than the citizens, it’s worth noting what’s taking place on the edge of the radar because there is hope that our future will be much better than our sad present.