What Mexico feels like

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 06/14/2010 - 08:38

I have been recently approached by several friends, from different countries. Mexico and the violence seems to be a frequent news topic all over the world.

I live in Mexico City, as ~25% of the country's population does. This is not an easy city, of course, and I won't deny it has tons of problems of its own. However, Mexico City (and even more so the approximately ⅓ of it that is politically located in Distrito Federal, the formal country capital) is very lucky in this regard. Still, in most of the country, the violence is mostly in the news, mostly a worrying perception that is every day more insistent.

My parents live in Cuernavaca, Morelos, ~80Km south from us. Morelos has been known for decades for being the druglords' getaway and safe haven, so it remained a mostly peaceful state for most of this time. This has changed, and at some points during this year, militarization feels quite creepy... Fortunately, just for a couple of weeks, and then back to what seems like normal. The real problems in Morelos is the undeniable corruption of its successive governments, the lack of regard for the population, the inexistent urban planning...

However, I know from several friends living in the North of the country (and all along the very long border - The most drug-related violent states nowadays are Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, with only two states in the South — Michoacán and Guerrero) that violence is really felt by local population on the streets. Some friends say they have grown used to hearing shootings (Durango), others say that it is now usual that the cartels openly strangle the city's vial system with the express purpose of showing off their strength (Monterrey, Nuevo León, one of Mexico's most important cities and taken in the past as a token of industrialization and first-world-like life conditions... Just don't look towards the poor areas). About Chihuahua, I'd rather not even talk, as by all accounts (official even) it rivals Iraq in the lack of control the government has of its territory.

Still, with all that as background... I am afraid of what I read today in the news. I know a single declaration is not enough to worry about (as said in El Quijote, «una golondrina sola no hace verano», a single swallow does not mean it's summer), but those things always start small... Until they explode. La Jornada reports that The retired general Luis Garfias Magaña recommends suspending constitutional guarantees in the country to be able to properly fight violence.

The last century we had a sad and long history of cases where the military took over civilian power and suspended the constitutional rights in basically every nation in Latin America — Except for Mexico. Not one of those cases was overall successful. Not one of them went by without raging abuses, without terrible consequences. I don't see imminent we will go over to a military rule nor anything close to it, but the environment is getting each time closer to how it was like before said rights suspension. We should learn that it is just not the way, it leads nowhere.

I am convinced, and will keep insisting on it at every ocassion, that the only possible way to fight violence is by reducing the social distance, and that should be achieved most importantly by reducing poverty, but also by making it harder to become incredibly rich. Mexico's percentage of poor people has grown over the last decades, but at the same time, the amount of wealth concentrated in very few hands has grown much faster. A society with terribly rich and terribly poor people leads to hatred, leads to desperation, leads to violence. A flatter society, even if the overall standard was to be somewhat lower, tends to a better equilibrium. And yes, I know the original problem with drugs is that Mexico is a great transit area for drugs to reach the USA (and I could also rant about drug legalization — I won't, it's late and I must go to work), but the main fuel for young people to leave everything behind and take the risk of starting a life of open ilegality is the lack of future they face all life long. That leads many to risk their lives attempting to cross the border to the USA (Mexico "exports" 500,000 people every year), but also lures them to jobs where they will have easy money... In exchange for their lifes, ultimately.

Anyway... Just to repeat and round off: The answer to this problem is not repression, is not policial or military strength. Our only way out is through social justice.

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Anonymous's picture

I have absolutely no problem

I have absolutely no problem with the concept of aid to ensure that no one ever falls so far that they can't pull themselves back up; no one should ever have to worry about whether they'll manage to survive.

However, addressing one extreme of the economic spectrum does not mean that the other extreme represents a problem. Those who make money *legally* should not have to fight to keep the wealth they've created.

You described problems arising from "A society with terribly rich and terribly poor people". I don't believe the situation of the poor becomes any better by dragging others down; misery does not love company. A society with terribly poor people, or more to the point people without hope of recovery, leads to problems by itself whether or not others have managed to succeed. Solve the problem that *needs* solving, not the sour-grapes problem.

gwolf's picture

Socio-economic difference hurts

I attended a private school for 12 years, most of that time with a granted scolarship. Believe me, being close to extreme wealth can easily bring up the hate. And I have never been poor, only relatively to my fellow students.

I have lived fairly close to poorer people. I know firsthand the resentment that comes from the waste, the show-off, the opulence.

I will insist that big social distances will always lead to hatred and, thus, instability.

GaRaGeD's picture

That would be on an Utopic world

Yeah, there are a few guys and girls out there that have managed to get ahold of a little fortune mostly legally, and mostly moral, but the reality here is that most people cannot afford to even have a nice wage (let's say above 20,000 pesos monthly) by being totally legal on their jobs, you need to make arrangements with providers, you need to look to other side when your boss is making familiar contracts, when it favors one contracter because it's offering more "mordidas".

That's the reality, and not wanting to see it only makes our problems bigger, just look where we are.

And let's keep thing clear, when your wage is below the 10,000 mark, you're way more forced to accept this reality because getting fired will put your family in a terrible situation, thank you very much.

gwolf's picture

I cannot but preach with the example...

And I know it's damn comfortable to "preach" from a comfortable position such as mine, coming from a middle class family and having had the opportunity to learn enough to have a decent living.

Still, I have managed to live my adult life without breaking the law, without giving any "mordidas" (I was basically forced into giving one in 2002... But still, it's a very good record IMO), paying (not avoiding!) my taxes, and so on. If I say I believe in legality and in behaving according to universally agreed rules, the first thing I should do is to abide by what I preach, right?

Alejandro's picture

Now, I disagree with you,

Now, I disagree with you, anonymous. It's not about "dragging others down" to the misery level. Of course misery doesn't love company.
It's about capping the unnecesarilly wealthy in such a way that nobody is left behind. It is a reality in some countries (Sweden, for instance) and it brings many benefits - free education, super good working conditions, fatherhood and motherhood aid, aid in times of illness, safety on the streets -in general no-one is _forced_ to steal-, trust between people, a more relaxed lifestyle with a lot of less worries. Of course, all this comes from huge taxation. But the results are out there, for everyone to see.
Does it cap innovation or people's desire to succeed? Not at all. Sure, many people whine about paying high taxes, and there are a few people who will live only on welfare, but that's unavoidable in any kind of society, and the general population has a much, much higher standard of living than in "that country with the richest guy on earth".

This is at least my impression in the almost 2 years I've been living as a guest student here in Sweden.

soliosg's picture

Well noted: "...reducing the social distance"

Completely agree with the fact that most of the insecurity problems in Mexico come from the unequal distribution of the country's richness. Including also, the inefficient and corrupted administration in most government offices.

Congrats gwolf. This was a nice post that reflects the real landscape (no more, no less) and a feasible solution. Btw, you should have your own space a in a newspaper.