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Mexico has taken center stage in the struggle to defend democracy as the population took to the streets in protest against President López Obrador’s aspiration to modify the institutional framework governing electoral processes. Under the cry “INE is not to be touched” -referring to the highest electoral authority- millions of Mexicans gathered around the Angel on Paseo de la Reforma to tell the president that he is out of bounds.
This reaction surprised many analysts, since in Mexico there is still a culture of servitude to whoever occupies the Presidency that resembles that which prevailed in the times of the Aztecs. Mexican presidents have, therefore, been sort of emperors who impose their will on the state without being accountable to anyone. The strength, tone, and haughty vocals that characterized the Mexican protest were therefore surprising.
This development is part of two processes that President López Obrador seems to ignore. 40 million Mexicans living in the United States have inserted themselves into that country’s economic and political life. Of 52 Hispanics elected as members of the U.S. Congress, almost 30 are of Mexican origin. The same is true of Hispanic business people, the majority of whom are also Mexican. These U.S. citizens have family in Mexico and visit that country frequently, just as their relatives visit them. It is inevitable that Mexicans compare their political and economic situation with that of their American relatives and draw the conclusion that the greater the freedom, the greater the progress.
Second, there is trade. Since 1995, Mexico has benefited from a free trade agreement with the United States. This has placed links in the value chain of the American economy in Mexico. And the beneficiaries of this have been workers and laborers who have been able to enter the middle class. That thriving middle-class fears and detests authoritarianism.
Both processes have created what I call the democratic fighters who seek only to defend the gains in democracy and progress and extend them to their children.
The air of freedom in Latin America is very similar to that which characterized the 1980s when the entire region put an end to authoritarian dictatorships and began the transition to democracy.
Then came the disappointments due to the inability of democracy to solve ancestral problems such as the paralysis of development, which is directly attributable to rent-seeking by the elites. And the population took shortcuts to follow undemocratic leadership. But in the face of the worsening political and economic situation, the people seem to have returned to the path of freedom. Mexico has become part of this struggle.
This article is part of an agreement between The American and the Interamerican Institute for Democracy.
Beatrice Rangel es directora del Interamerican Institute for Democracy, Managing Director de AMLA Consulting, responsable de negociar e implementar estrategias y adquisiciones de inversión corporativas en América Latina y el Caribe. Exmiembro ejecutivo de Wharton School de la Universidad de Pennsylvania // Beatrice Rangel is Director of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy, Managing Director of AMLA Consulting, responsible for negotiating and implementing corporate investment strategies and acquisitions in Latin America and the Caribbean. Former Executive Fellow of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.