By Juan Carlos Guerra
Pope Ratzinger’s most recent visit to Mexico this past March can serve as a gauge to better understand the pivotal moment that Mexican society is experiencing. On one hand, it is laden with symbolic content, as it is has been utilized with the clear intention of legitimating a political class which has widened the rift between haves and have-nots to alarming levels. On the other hand, the catholic church’s leader takes the leading acting roll in a very well orchestrated effort to maintain the population at a magical-mythical state of consciousness - by ‘dumbing down’ the space of public representation and discourse - with the covert intention of keeping us away from political argumentation.
The visit seems to have inflamed controversy in some sectors of public opinion regarding the inadequacy of representation, as the various candidates running for office have not squandered their chance of cashing in on the political capital that has resulted from the windfall of the visit. They are struggling to present themselves as crusaders for the good, hence taking moralistic positions is part of their ongoing performance.
The main contenders are vying to position themselves as redeemers by personally trying to reach out to people, who play their own part in the play by emphasizing personal qualities of candidates, thus rendering from the outset a possible aim at deeper analyses futile. It has been a great opportunity to see how morality trumps reason when it comes to understanding voters’ choices. Ultimately, this exemplifies the importance of identity politics in Mexico - where personal, ethnic, and value positions - are more important than ideology itself.
Some of the structural issues that are not being debated are: the ongoing civil war - including the slip towards an authoritarian and surveillance society, the failing of neoliberalism and the global financial crisis, domestic economics, social mobility, the size of the State’s bureaucracy (which has grown to almost 1/3 of GDP expenditure) a failed sense of communitarian and national identity, political misrepresentation, law and order, the structural consolidation of de facto power structures (media, armed forces, unions, mafia groups, the Catholic Church), the increasing privatization of public spaces, ecological degradation, democracy, and republicanism, et cetera.
We are in short supply of ideas worthy of contravening the discursive effort from the top to contain outright social chaos. In this sense the ‘drug war’ public relations effort has failed to convince us that peace could be in sight, especially when the killings have not diminished (49 torsos were found in Cadereyta Jimenez, a municipality close to Monterrey, Nuevo León). Moreover, it is now evident that a ‘security’ apparatus (with the by-product of a culture of fear) is being set up at a national level, one that has severed people from their civil liberties to a certain degree.
An experiential account of local occurrences in Monterrey
Police and army presence has grown fivefold. Streets are being patrolled day and night; military checkpoints are propping up everywhere. Helicopters fly to and fro at all times and quite low, and surveillance centres -and cameras- are now common in both public and private sectors. Private security firms and bodyguard convoys are a usage of the well to do, and many uptown neighbourhoods are transforming themselves into ‘post-modern ghettos,’ where residents are well secure within surveilled compounds.
A good example of this culture of fear in practical terms has been the downgrading of Monterrey’s status as a great nightlife spot. It is safe to say that attendance has diminished at least in half; hence both economic spills and entertainment alternatives have been dramatically curtailed.
At the national level the legitimacy of the State itself is in tatters - at least for a swathe of Mexicans - and definitely for international observers. The internal conflict (some including calling it a bonafied civil war) that we’re going through is a reflection of an unjust distribution of both economic and cultural capital. Centuries of social neglect are surfacing as rebellion, and it seems that our political class is not taking heed.
Furthermore, the fabrication and sustainment - by the feudally connected media - of a ‘fairy tale’ as if it was reality is perennially hindering public debate. Problems cannot be sidelined or circumvented anymore. A functional way to mend the community by opening alternatives to social mobility and development has to emerge in order to posit hope for peace and prosperity for the nation.