Issue 10, August 2009
|Features of Mexican Politics|
As discussed in the Democracy Around the World edition of the Monitor, democracy is about more than holding elections. It is fundamentally about the rule of law, applied equally to all citizens. Several features of Mexican democracy interfere with the rule of law.
A Compromised Social Contract Between the Government and the Governed
The relationship between governments and their governed people is said to be outlined by a social contract – the most basic assumptions about what government is supposed to do for its people. Much has been written about the flawed social contract between Mexico’s leaders and the people who elect them and are ruled by them.
Mexican politics has long been dominated by personalities rather than bureaucracies and agencies responsible for civil rights. This lack of institutions has its roots in the post-Revolution authoritarianism of the PRI. Even though there are more national political parties today, there are few mechanisms to allow them to cooperate and build consensus around policymaking. A Transparencia Mexicana survey has revealed that police and justice systems “are perceived as having worse problems of corruption and inefficiency than other public agencies.” Interestingly, an institution that ranks highly in public opinion polls for its effectiveness is the military, suggesting little faith in civilian government to protect public safety.
In the absence of adequate government institutions, corruption flourishes as personal connections often matter more than laws.
One side of a corrupt system is the powerful interests willing to pay for special treatment; the other is a government highly vulnerable to corrupt influences. In fact, government structures set up by party members are often designed with corruption in mind. Consider this assessment of the way the PRI greased the skids of corruption, taken from the book Opening Mexico, by former New York Times Mexico Bureau Chiefs Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon:
Data taken from the 2008 Global Integrity Report.
Mexico lacks a highly developed, vibrant, and competitive culture of investigative journalism.
Mexico is a big country of diverse areas, with underdeveloped infrastructure connecting them. Leaders in Mexico City often have difficulty projecting their power beyond the capital. A variety of non-state actors fill this vacuum and wield enormous power. Local governments are often ruled as personal fiefdoms of local officials, large landowners, or organized crime.
Whether it is dealing with political opposition, investigative reporters, drug cartels, or Zapatista rebels, the Mexican government has a spotty human rights record. Of particular infamy is the case of over 300 women who “disappeared” in Ciudad Juarez in the 1990s. Allegations of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and even murder are routinely made by international watch dog groups. Calderon’s recent military crack-down in cartel-infiltrated cities during the current drug war have raised fears that innocent civilians will be caught up in the conflict.
Mexico has not had much success with incremental reforms, the mainstay of advanced democracies. Rather, transitions of power and efforts to improve the system have been marked by violence, intrigue, and dramatic swings between liberal and conservative factions.
Mexican history is rife with examples of politicians manipulating populist sentiment to distract from the government’s failings. This includes exploiting class, urban/rural, indigenous, and anti-American sentiment through inflammatory rhetoric and empty political promises.
For Marginalization of Indigenous and Rural Populations, see Inside Mexico: Rural Life in this edition of the Monitor.