Do you hear it? It is coming! The rattling, earth-shattering end! The end of Mexico’s popular revolution! Institutions die slow; this specific one, the Mexican State, began its decline about the mid-80s and really took off with Carlos Salinas de Gortari. The decline is inexplicably linked to a rather odd 30 years long fire sale. Everything must go, and so it did and does until there is nothing left, slowly bleeding itself dry. When historians look back upon it, it will be described as one of the most fascinating exercises in economic suicide ever to strike a country.
PEMEX will soon be another privatized disaster, just like telephones, banks, trains, and planes. If you want to hear a Mexican complain about something, bring up Telcel and Telmex. Or ask them what the hell happened to all the trains. Or why a large portion of the population doesn’t even have a bank account. Or why Televisa and TV Azteca have monopolized control over the Mexican television market. Just let them explain to you what privatization meant. They will cast doubt on the idea of increasing competition through privatization.
As Mexico completely aligns itself with corporate interests, the cement settling the neoliberal apparatus into place permanently, Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN), Mexico’s President, has been given the media’s propagandistic attention. EPN’s structural reforms, done this time without the World Bank or IMF’s “Washington Consesus”, over-indebted noose, are being advanced by all three main parties through the “Pacto por México”. The clarion calls of the population to be consulted go unanswered. The media continue cheering the same garbage they have cheered for three decades, without improvements for the majority. They are unabashed and blushing. Christmas will be year round for the oligarchy. Hell, of course, will remain de facto for the poor.
My favorite propaganda was broadcast on the program “HOY”, where the interviewers were nodding politely at EPN’s act; a ridiculously staged event. No surprise, as Raúl Araiza and Andrea Legarreta did campaign ads for the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), a coalition partner with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). The running joke is the only thing green about PVEM is the color of the 200 pesos lining their pockets. Also, not a surprise because Televisa is notoriously in the pocket of both neoliberal parties, PRI and PAN, normally just referred to as PRIAN (with the PRD starting to tag along).
One should wonder why people who do a skit show with dancing, gossip, horoscopes and cooking should be called upon to discuss serious matters. Even worse, it shows a level of contempt for the general population’s intellect, or maybe positively, it shows a fear of it. You can only imagine how prepared they were to ask probing questions and challenge answers. Of course, they weren’t at all.
Raúl started to mimic EPN with the Mr. Burns hand gesture and Andrea’s constant nodding was absolutely nauseating. They just wanted to know his feelings, his hopes for the reforms, his aspirations; touchy-feely propaganda. At one point Andrea even says “that sounds very good” and “it’s emotional to hear it” as a way to beef up EPN’s vapid answers on the invisible gradual benefits supposedly accruing to the entire population. I am surprised they didn’t give each other big hugs and congratulations for the interview right on camera. They weren’t hiding their mutual affection.
Truly, it should be a given. HOY spends most of its time acting as a commercial for telenovelas run on Televisa’s stations; a telenovela interview for a telenovela president, how charming. Maybe he can get another spread in the gossip rag, ¡HOLA!, with his daughter who disparages the Mexican people calling them proles. Or there was the fawning done at Foreign Policy, making EPN a “Global Thinker 2013” for policies that have been proven historically ineffective to combat poverty and corruption. Lastly, for tabloid journalism was TIME’s belief in his reforms and their cover story headlined, “Saving Mexico”, a highly dubitable hypothesis, especially when the same policies that have been pushed for 30 years are labeled as “changing the narrative”. Oligarchs support oligarchs I guess you could say, borders and nationalism quaint ideas of the ill informed.
The horror though, the damn horror, was when the respectable publisher and public institution Fondo de Cultura Económica (FCE) got a “panel” together to discuss the structural reforms with EPN. It was quickly called out as a publicity for EPN, which FCE’s director, José Carreño Carlón, considered disparaging remarks. However disparaging they are is positively correlated to how correct they were in their analysis of the spectacle. Not a single opposition journalist was invited; not from La Joranda, like Luis Hernández Navarro; or from Proceso, such as the poet Javier Sicilia; or maybe Alejandro Nadal, an opposition macroeconomist; or Pablo Casanova González, ex-rector of UNAM, sociologist and author of the groundbreaking Democracy in Mexico.
Instead, nothing to satiate the thirst for justice. No Zapatistas or other indigenous groups and definitely no teachers who had protested for months. Just the typical elite, having a polite conversation about perpetuating structural violence. It must be the fashion that makes it all legitimate. Or maybe the décor. Something about nice décor and impoverishing millions makes everything ok.
The formality oozed symbolic violence, as it legitimized the fire sale. It showed established doxa with the idea that, paraphrasing EPN, political parties can have differences, but not over economic development policy. So, have your cutesy ideas about sexual liberation Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) or be virulently pro-Catholic cultural conservatives Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), because those cultural matters do not matter to the general economic functions of capital; all the powerful social actors support the “Pacto por México”. This is what makes Mario Llosa Vargas wrong about the “perfect dictatorship”, because that has always been Capital, the unseen administrator of the world-system.
Alas, there not being any legitimate opposition was an actual answer to the question, what did EPN see as the purpose of the “Pacto por México”. The question was posed to him by Denise Maerker, commentator for Televisa’s “Punto de Partida”. Her links to Televisa are obfuscated by the label “periodista” (journalist); general catch-all term meant to symbolize something virtuous, but on this occasion a way to mystify her role as soft-ball question-asker for an absolutely biased network rumored to be paid for positive coverage of the PRI. EPN’s response reduced all opposition that did not collaborate to people who have “other principles”. What those principles are or whether or not they should be considered was not given his time.
Denise Maerker did question EPN a bit. She does ask about the majority of the population being against the energy reforms in particular (code for privatizing PEMEX). He quickly rejects the polls, because who is going to trust polls showing repeatedly Mexicans being against the “reform”. EPN says we just need to wait for the benefits, which Mexicans are still waiting for from NAFTA or the privatization of Banamex and Telmex. Promises, promises, promises! Promising cheaper gas and electricity! Gas prices go up every time I go to Mexico, and that is when it is subsidized. Please, let me know when the private market will offer something cheaper than a publically subsidized product. O, it doesn’t work that way; well, someone should tell EPN.
Someone should explain to EPN a few other things, such as I wrote about PEMEX a while back. Most of what I wrote is because I had read Alfredo Jalife-Rahm, who laid out the case that the largest oil companies are all state owned. He also demonstrates that Mexico has sufficient oil reserves to be more than profitable and continue the benefits derived from fossil fuels. Even Brazil thought so when they tried many times to develop and deepen a partnership with Mexico to boost productivity. Instead, of upgrading and increasing capacity while remaining fully nationalized and working with other state-owned oil companies, Mexico has chosen to privatize. They already extract oil and send it to Texas to be refined into gasoline. As Paco and AMLO describe it, “it’s like selling someone oranges to buy orange juice from them.”
The “Conversaciones a fondo” was filled with a lot of other empty phrases, such as “the only cause is to move Mexico forward.” This was a response to the son of fence-sitting liberal historian Enrique Krauze, León Krauze, from “Hora 21”on Televisa’s FOROtv, labeled “periodista” as well. Conflicts of interest should never be brought up; they might taint the political theatre.
There was no follow-up about what the hell “moving Mexico forward” means. As if there are groups out there that want to bring it back to horse and buggy days, as if that is a cause. False binaries are built up constantly to disparage imagined oppositions. The real opposition being sensible and having legitimate policies cannot be allowed to participate in the debate.
Actually, it was worse, as Krauze asked about the opposition (oddly, there exists an opposition that is not an opposition according to Krauze’s question). Peña Nieto ignored the protestors, the popular resistance, and the calls for a debate on the issues with the people. The opposition that is not an opposition signed the “Pacto”, because it is going to make the “economy grow, more economic dynamism and more social development”, according to EPN. This is when Krauze smirks and tries to help EPN finish his lie through omission, as the only opposition ever actually discussed was the one who worked with EPN.
When Ciro Gómez Leyva asks EPN about being called a traitor for selling off the country, EPN responds to its legal formality, rather than its explicit meaning. Explicitly, people call him a traitor, because Uncle Sam and the rest of the oil oligarchy in Gringolandia are going to get rich off Mexican oil, along with the Mexican oligarchy. It does refer to a constitutional amendment, but the population does not see a legal/formal case for being a traitor, but instead an emotional-political case. He is a traitor, because even if these reforms would save the day (which they won’t), they do it at the expense of patrimony, of the collective.
And, if any collective needed to be reinforced, bonds recreated, social cohesion given new life, it is Mexico now. Mexico lying injured as it continues the losing drug war; Mexico home of Juarez, of wage-slavery factories brought to you by the lowest bidder; Mexico, as the old adage goes, so far from God and so close to the United States. A Mexico described by Charles Bowden as a human rights disaster with a military running rampant torturing, kidnapping and indiscriminately killing the poor, and drug cartels having almost absolute impunity as police are paid off or too frightened to do anything. All of this is going to be exacerbated by the reforms, as the EPN administration throws all the bad under the rug.
None of this shows up during the “Conversación”. The few examples I have given are the general flow of what could have been a chance to have a critical dialogue. But, in reality, there never was a chance, for if that chance existed, the “Conversación” never would’ve happened. Just make do with Lily Téllez of TV Azteca, the other side of the Mexican television duopoly, repeating over and over “historic moment”, referring to when the three parties united to sign the “Pacto”. That was the depth of the questions, which is why EPN only had to repeat over and over again similar answers. Nothing else was expected of him, let alone reasons and justification beyond the simple campaign slogan-styled platitudes.
And then came EPN’s chance to truly shine, a moment in time carved out just for him to talk to the captive Mexican audience, the “Segundo Informe” (Mexican Presidential State of the Union). Described sardonically it is a public relations moment, despite EPN calling it a “democratic act”. The mention of human rights a travesty from a President who many consider responsible for two deaths at Atenco and a slew of human rights violations during the stand-off between protestors and the police/military.
Most of the speech repeats from his time selling the “Pacto”. Another grueling hour and some change of the same lines about advancing Mexico, modernizing her, getting her out of the stagnation she is mired in. It is not just that neoliberalism is regressive economic policy; it is that it is so uninspiring. Not surprisingly, I could envision the walls and the dais falling over. Not to reveal that it is fake, but to reveal reality, a reality mystified. Instead, the claps drown out the cries, the pomp hides the dirt.
And so, it has been this way, a 30 years long fire sale; 30 years of similar speeches and interviews from different faces with different names; 30 years! The structural reforms have been passed. PEMEX will be privatized. Everything must go! The lights, the cameras, the pretty faces done up so nice, the tailored suits and bright smiles all came together to make for quite a nice show, as the Mexican elite propagandized selling Mexico.
Andrew Smolski is a writer based in Texas.