Thursday, April 14, 2011

Two Points from Dresser's Speech

I still haven't watched Denise Dresser's speech from the Wilson Center the other day (and I may not; even good speeches are invariably boring, unless they are less than five minutes or they are about you), but I did catch Boz's summary, which is the next best thing. Two points leap out at me:
  • While the audience was probably more interested in the drugs and politics issues, it was the systemic criticisms that Dresser clearly cares most about. She said the power brokers in Mexico, the corporations, unions and political parties, have blocked reforms that are necessary for democracy. She said the PAN, instead of reforming the problems the PRI created in the Mexican system, had become a "less effective version of the PRI." She said Mexico's political reforms in the 1990's had created rotation and competition among the political parties but failed to make them representative or accountable to the population.
  • Dresser indicated that Mexico needs a progressive movement to break up the power structures similar to the era President Teddy Roosevelt in the US.
The second point is a pretty good sketch of what Mexico has lacked in its presidents. With regard to monopolies and entrenched powers, Calderón has a mixed record. He went after the SME, but did nothing on the SNTE, leaves a media environment not markedly different from the one he inherited, has not loosened up the Telecom industry a great deal, et cetera. But even had he been wholly committed to the cause, he did not have a political coalition to really make an assault on all the concentrations of power, nor did he have Roosevelt's charisma or talent in order to build one. The only politician who has had that talent in recent history was probably Salinas, but he was only interested in the special interests that threatened him, i.e. the SNTE of Carlos Jonguitud Barrios.

However, I think the bolded sentence from the first point couldn't be more incorrect. It's a comment that gets made with great frequency. As a bit of hyperbole, it's harmless, but as a serious analysis, it is simplistic and flawed. Mexico had a self-imposed financial crisis every five years or so under the PRI, as of the 1970s. The PRI massacred hundreds of protesting citizens in 1968. The PRI mastered electoral fraud, and demonstrated their mastery on a regular basis. The PRI launched a campaign of murder against the leftist opposition when the PRD was formed, in which resulted in hundreds of dead activists.

It's fair to say that the PAN hasn't gone far enough to dismantle the PRI's governing structures, but that's very different from saying the Calderón and Fox, for all their flaws, have been worse than an authoritarian regime that clung to power for 70 years. Mexico has not reached its potential over the past decade, but if you value democracy, competent macroeconomic policies, and some semblance of liberalism (i.e. the federal government not systematically killing its constituents*), the PAN presidencies have been significantly better. There is a danger once you get a bit of distance from an authoritarian regime to remember it in a far more benign light than it deserves. This should be resisted as much as possible. Cheapening the awful legacy of authoritarian regimes makes it easier for such policies to resurface.

*The deaths from organized crime complicate this assertion a tad. The big difference in my eyes is that the deaths at the hands of government agents related to organized crime are not the product of Los Pinos (at least, not as far as we know), but rather local officials and incompetence. Under the PRI, the highest levels of the executive orchestrated mass murder. This is a bit of a simplification, but it's like the difference between weakness and evil. The results may look similar at times, but the latter is morally worse and more dangerous.

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