EDITOR'S NOTE: Mexican voters went to the polls for their national election on Sunday, July 1, and by Sunday night, Mexico's IFE (Federal Electoral institute) had declared a winner: Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), the party that ruled Mexico for 71 years, from 1929 to 2000.
New America Media editor Jacob Simas spoke to author Richard Rodriguez about the election result, and what it can tell us about Mexico today.
Jacob Simas: Mexicans have voted the PRI back into power, and it just feels a bit like someone making amends with an abusive spouse.
Richard Rodriguez: The PRI is a remarkable Mexican invention. The Institutional Revolutionary Party -- already in its title, it suggests a compromise. Life is a compromise between change and stability, between corruption and optimism. I think that what a lot of people in Mexico are feeling right now, at a time, curiously enough, of some economic stability -- Mexico is growing, even faster than its rival Brazil -- is uncertainty of the future. The United States is an unreliable neighbor, even a dangerous neighbor, with this enormous, unsatisfied drug habit. And in relationship to the US, I think that Mexicans are feeling alone -- needing to look elsewhere for the future, but needing the reassurance of the past.
America is a very good country, but it's also a deeply hypocritical country: We always tend to blame other people for our sins, as we do now. We blame Mexico, Mexican drug gangs, Mexico's cynicism, for our drug habit. Never realizing, of course, that our own drug habit has overturned Mexico, as it did Colombia, Afghanistan, Thailand, Bolivia... Mexico, by comparison, is a very cynical country. It has always been formed by a deeply Catholic notion of original sin; that is, that people fail. This is the generosity of Mexico -- it tolerates the failure of human beings. People get drunk; people spend too much money; people stagger along through life; which is why, whenever the gringos wanted to sin, Mexico always was willing to build border towns to satisfy the gringo appetite.
But the problem with cynicism of course, is that you suddenly get into a reformist mood, like the previous PAN party did, thinking, "We're going to clean out the corruption of Mexico." You can't do that without realizing that the army and the police force that is going to help you clean out the corruption, is itself corrupted. So the violence of the last few years that Mexicans have faced, has really been a violence of it's own making. And I think Mexicans were horrified by the extent of the violence, which has now moved into areas quite beyond the drug trade -- like the kidnapping of people of all ages in Mexico, even across all economic levels.
I think Mexico wanted to go back to an earlier economic arrangement that it had, with evil. The PRI has worked out this agreement: We will shake hands with evil, we will allow evil into the society, as long as we also have agreements with evil. Rather like the mafia. You won't shoot at grandmothers, you won't kidnap kids and so forth; that there are rules that also bind evil from getting out of control. And in some sense, that's what I feel Mexico is interested in now. Shaking hands with evil, in order to control evil, and putting away this PANista dream of controlling evil, because Mexico has neither the police force to do it, or now even the will to continue doing it. Americans say that the drug deaths are a Mexican problem. Now, Mexicans are more or less saying that drug trafficking, the drug scandal, is an American problem. Let the Americans deal with it. Let the traffic flow north, if that's where the traffic is going to grow. But don't let Mexico die, to satisfy the appetite of Americans.
JS: This all begs the question, is there any going back? Or have the horrors of the last several years taken Mexico past the point of no return?
RR: That's a very good question, because the strength of the drug cartels now is such that in many ways, they are more powerful than the governors in the states where they operate. And it may be too late to shake hands with the devil.
What Mexico is also interested in right now is, in some sense, a fantasy. And this couple, this glamorous couple that was created by the fantasy machines of Televisa, which is a brilliant enterprise -- feeding a brown country these light shades of brown and even blonde erotic fantasies, now giving Mexico its dashing Latin lover (Enrique Peña Nieto), and his lover, the telenovela queen (Peña's wife, Angelica Rivera) -- it suggests in some way that Mexico wants to dissolve into its own fantasy. And that's worrisome, when a country, at a moment of some seriousness, wants to retreat that far. But is it any different, I wonder, than Americans voting for Ronald Reagan because they saw him in a movie? Are we not equally, as Americans, inclined these days toward fantasy solutions?
What's shocking to me about Mexico is just the manipulation of images by these corporate enterprises, Azteca and Televisa in particular, at a time when the country really is testing both, mainly through digital media. It's a possibility to remake the image of Mexico, and the young are increasingly dissatisfied with the fantasies that come down from Televisa. So in some ways, that's the more interesting struggle that's going on in Mexico. Will Facebook be the challenge to Televisa? Will Twitter be the challenge to Televisa? And what is the ultimate face that Mexico wants to see itself as, if not this agreeable face of the pretty white president?
JS: It could very well be the face of a narco traficante, a drug trafficker.
RR: Yes, indeed -- who doesn't have a face, because he's headless on the side of a freeway. Or, sometimes these guys - particularly the sons of these gangsters - end up in their Armani sports jackets, looking very dapper and not at all like the monster, but like corporate executives. The triumph of capitalism has always been its ability to take criminal money and wash it. Some of the great American fortunes of the nineteenth century began as criminal enterprises, and then after several generations they become sanctified, by education and beautiful wives, and they become the old families of America. Maybe in some sense, the face of the Mexican drug lord will be, in two or three generations, a pretty boy who has a Harvard degree, who plays tennis in France.