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OPINION: One Mexico, or Many?

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, argues that there is more than one Mexico, but that all versions have been exposed to view by the tragedy of the disappearance and probable massacre of more than 40 young rural schoolteachers in the state of Guerrero.

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico, Nov 1 2014 (IPS) - Mexico can charm, irritate, wound, inspire and confuse the casual visitor as well as the informed researcher. But no one is ever left indifferent by it. Mexico leaves an indelible mark.

To understand it properly, one has to assume that there is not one Mexico, but many. This is partly what made Lesley Byrd Simpson’s book ‘Many Mexicos’ a famous bestseller in the 1960s; it is still required reading for travellers and academics alike.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

One Mexico appears to be caught in a time warp. Another is cruelly open to nearly all the evils and tragedies of the present age.

One lives in the past, while the other is not sure of its place in the future. One exudes peace and happiness. Another is systematically killing itself. One is generous, the other takes delight in robbery and corruption.

All the versions of Mexico have been exposed to view by the tragedy of the disappearance and probable massacre in late September of more than 40 young rural schoolteachers in the state of Guerrero.

A diabolical combination of hunger and poverty with private and government corruption, linked with drug trafficking, has contributed to this atrocity. The education profession which could have provided a modest corrective to Mexico’s endemic inequality – and that of the rest of Latin America, the world’s most unequal region – has instead become its victim. 

“One Mexico appears to be caught in a time warp. Another is cruelly open to nearly all the evils and tragedies of the present age. One lives in the past, while the other is not sure of its place in the future. One exudes peace and happiness. Another is systematically killing itself”

After turning a blind eye to countless past complaints, the crimes of illegal detention, kidnapping and extortion have now blown up in the face of three layers of government (municipal, state and federal). The authorities expected that the idyllic Mexico would once again cover up the reality of the vestiges of what Mario Vargas Llosa aptly called “the perfect dictatorship” – now the title of a blockbuster movie.

A remnant of the mirage of “the end of history” proposed by Francis Fukuyama, Mexico today is a stubborn exemplar of the endurance of the apparently eternal Mexico that refuses to disappear.

The services rendered by the populist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to the United States, by maintaining domestic order in a country that might potentially develop into a second Cuba of over 100 million people, have achieved its reinstatement after surviving two six-year terms of the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

The economic reforms instituted by the new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who affects a modern image with Kennedy-esque overtones, appear to be castles in the air. A new airport for the capital city, a high-speed rail network and a spectacular proposal for private participation in exploiting energy sources are to perform the miracle of launching Mexico definitively into modernity and progress.

The rough underside of Mexico has reminded the president that things are not so easy. Insisting on the validity of all the national myths does not appear to be sufficient to erase the serious shortcomings of one of the few countries in the world with a character and a solid history of its own. 

Mexico vies with Brazil for the leadership of Latin America, and rivals a handful of nations around the world in terms of international presence. It boasts remarkable banking activity which acts as a magnet for investments and the development of technology parks.

Its streets and highways are jammed with traffic, including a surprising number of high-end cars. But most of its citizens have no alternative but to walk or take crowded buses to get to work, a process that takes up a scandalous amount of their time in return for insulting wages.

However, Mexicans seem to be more optimistic than citizens of many other countries in the rest of the world, displaying a strong sense of loyalty on national holidays, when they wave enormous flags and even hoist them above the crosses on the tops of churches.

It is repeatedly said that Mexico is eternal. The Olmecs, Aztecs and Mayas are claimed as part of the nation. A decorous veil is drawn over the colonial and imperial periods, but there is generous and serious recognition of the Spanish contribution after President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940) welcomed Spanish exiles to the country.

Mexico is a varied civic community modelled on inclusiveness and individual decision-making, not based on ethnicity, blood ties or religion. Mexico is the future, without renouncing the heritage of the past.

But undying loyalty reaps an unacceptably meagre reward. Recently, the Mexican government set the daily minimum wage at about five dollars. Across the border, U.S. President Barack Obama announced an hourly minimum wage of 14 dollars.

No wonder, then, that Mexicans vote with their feet and are drawn inexorably to the magnet of the United States. With more than 40 million Mexicans living north of the Rio Grande, the unity of the body politic is an illusion.

If this nation depends on the labours of rural schoolteachers of indigenous extraction being paid barely subsistence wages, who are discriminated against, forcibly disappeared and massacred, the project of Peña Nieto and the new PRI is Utopian. Many Mexicos will continue to coexist side by side. For how long? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

 
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