A Paralyzed Democracy

Article excerpt

Byline: Jorge Castaneda

How to move Mexico into the future.

As Mexico's 2012 presidential election gets underway, a national conversation has finally begun on the country's future. Thanks in part to the recently published book A Future for Mexico, which I coauthored with Hector Aguilar Camin, one of the country's most distinguished pundits, historians, and novelists, the issue of how Mexico can become in the next 15 years what we call a "middle-class society" has taken center stage. Through public debates with declared presidential candidates, meetings with students, and discussions with businessmen and political activists in many corners of Mexico, Aguilar Camin and I have begun to move the country away from the body- and head-count of the country's bloody drug war, and its understandable obsession with violence and organized crime. Little by little, attention is focusing on how to revive the country's economy, how to create a relevant social safety net, how to construct institutions that allow Mexico to make decisions, whether it should focus on North America or Latin America, and what it should do about security and law enforcement.

Mexico needs to make the 2012 election a referendum on its future, a vote not merely about individuals or parties but also about the prosperous, egalitarian, and democratic country Mexicans want: a middle-class society indistinguishable from others around the globe.

Getting there requires four strategic decisions. The first is that Mexico has to accept the changes needed for its economy to grow. That means removing obstacles from an economy that could be growing at 5 or 6 percent per year and replacing Mexico's current economy, captured by monopolies of all stripes and colors, with a vibrant, competitive market economy. Mexico is more than ever dominated by public and private monopolies in industry, finance, commercial media, politics and labor unions. As long as it is, it will remain stuck in mediocrity. The only way to encourage social mobility and build a middle-class society is by opening it to foreign investment and global competition.

Second, Mexico has to choose the place it wants to occupy in the world. Since the late '80s, the country has been ruled by bold, enlightened albeit authoritarian governments that imposed a deep process of economic integration with North America (through NAFTA) on a largely nationalist and anti-American society. …