Tuesday, November 18, 2008

democracy is not a spanish word

I have started acting like a press secretary for a news-challenged candidate.

Ever since I decided to move to Mexico, I read every news story with a jaundiced, but interested, eye. I am usually paid back with tales of drugs, kidnappings, beheadings, and corruption. It is almost like hearing women discuss their first husbands.

But I know there is always one source that will provide an objective view of Mexico with all of its glory and warts -- The Economist.

I opened the current edition to find a story about democracy in Latin America, with several accompanying polls. The polls were designed to determine how the public in each of 18 Latin American countries view democracy within their borders.

The result for Mexico is a mixed bag.

First, the bad news. The pollsters asked: "How satisfied are you with the way democracy works in your country?" The further the balls are to the left, the more pessimistic the responders.

If the poll is to believed, only people in Paraguay and Peru are less optimistic about the way democracy works in their country than are Mexicans. And, taking into account that democracy is as new to Paraguay as brevity is to Joe Biden, the result is hardly something to cheer about. (I had a friend from Arkansas who, when seeing his state listed in similar ratings would say: "Thank heavens for Mississippi.")

Why such pessimism about the way democracy works in Mexico? When you are a recovering one-party autocracy, it takes time to build confidence. And the afore-mentioned tales of drugs, kidnappings, beheadings, and corruption? They, of course, are real. Hardly the stuff that makes you to write home about how well the city council is doing.

The next two questions were designed to elicit the respondents' belief that democracy or authoritarianism are preferable types of government.

This one surprised me. Only 43% of Mexicans polled believed that democracy was a preferable form of government. Only the people of Guatemala had a lower opinion of democracy. And when you consider Guatemala's recent political history, that is hardly a compliment.

At least, only 15% of Mexicans were willing to fall back on authoritarianism as an alternative to democracy. Latin American countries with recent military dictatorships had far higher percentages in this category.

So, what do the numbers mean? Mexicans believe that democracy is not working well for them, that they are not very optimistic that it will work for them, but that the alternative of a man on a white horse is not their cup of hot chocolate. Until recently, they were satisfied with whatever pleasant technocrat their single party would give them.

Taking into account Mexico's recent history that resulted in the Revolution (an event being celebrated this week), the poll results are predictable.

There is an old Mel Brooks' song: "Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst." The more I learn about Mexico, that could easily become a daily tune.


Islagringo said...

"could easily become a daily tune"? It is a daily tune! It's almost like singing a round. Just keep singing the same thing over and over.

Calypso said...

Amigo - I think this is less of a problemo than you have portrayed - first off people here are very aware of the corruption in their government - much more so than the people in U.S. are aware of the corruption in theirs (and believe me they are very similar in that regard). Of course they would express dissatisfaction because of that alone - not to mention other factors.

I consider their awareness encouraging. They have voted the right party in office for the last two presidential elections which is more than can be said of the U.S. as well. IMHO

The facts are Mexico has more freedom and less government intervention than the U.S. for expats. I think you are a libertarian, like me, the less government the better - just stay out of my face. You will enjoy that about here and laugh at the rest of it.

Hope for the best and get better than you will NOB - bottom line. Come on down! Viva Veracruz!

Babs said...

Two comments - one Mexico has only been a "democracy" for 99 years - it is working things out.
Second, murders, beheadings, drug cartels sell newspapers. If you were to statistically take the amount of homicides in the US against the 4000 in Mexico this year, I think you would have an eye-opening experience. I know I did. WAY more in the USA.
I'm not saying the drug mess right now isn't happening but it is something we read about and that doesn't, at this point, affect our daily lives.
My prognostication is that you'll talk yourself out of coming to Mexico........sadly.

Islaholic Trixie said...

Steve, Just saw last night on Jay Leno that the Mayor of Mexico City is handing out free Viagra to anyone over 70!! Do you think the Mayor was looking for a positive vote???LOL

Steve Cotton said...

Wayne -- Fortunately, the Mexican Constitution's restriction on gringo political activity will keep me from worrying about this aspect of Mexican life.

John -- Eddie Willers has written several times about the fatalistic effect that Iberio-catholic philosophy has on Mexico. THat explains part of the political problem. But, you are correct that Americans are far more prone to the type of soft authoritarianism than a Mexican would ever accept -- or either one of us.

Babs -- My post was supposed to reflect how Mexicans view their government, not necessarily how I view Mexico. I have much higher hopes for Mexico's future than the poll reflects. To be fair, Mexico has not has 99 years of democracy. For most of those years, there was little democracy in the etire system -- either politically or economically. At best, Mexico has had a decade of experience with true democracy. Maybe the comparison with Paraguay was not that inaccurate. As for moving south, not only am I coming, I am looking forward to the experience. I have signed my housing agreement. My house has a sitter. I just need to get past the retirement milepost. And that will be soon. Mexico is not perfect; its warts are all too apparent. But it also has its glories. And those I intend to enjoy.

Brenda -- You do not hear about that many stand up guys in politics any more.

Anonymous said...

Some of the countries listed above Mexico in the satisfaction rating list are very suspect including Venezuela, Bolivia, The Dominican Repubiic and a few others. Collecting good information about anything in Latinamerica is difficult to impossible. Nope, I don't believe the data collection was valid because it is an impossible project.

Babs is right according to the best statistics available (see above disclaimer). Per capita, the crime rate is about the same for both countries. They have their specialities, we have ours.


Steve Cotton said...

Muycontento -- I agree with you (as would The Economist) that polls of this nature are always a bit suspect. But they do catch an overall mood. People in Venezuala are probably more optimistic because the opposition actually scored a win against Chavez. But the poll undoubtedly reflects the fact that Mexicans are concerned that government at every level has not been able to address problems that cause daily concerns. That is all it does. It is also a good reminder that politics and government is a miniscule part of our lives -- and that is as it should be. I managed to live through a fascist disctatorship in Greece, blithering Labour authoritarianism in Britain, and the incompetency of the Ford and Carter years. That is just the way life is.

1st Mate said...

Steve - IMHO as long as huge wealth is required to win an election, it may look like a democracy and talk like a democracy, but it ain't a democracy.

And if Mexicans are pessimistic, maybe they're just paying more attention.

C'mon down, you're going to love it.

Steve Cotton said...

Bliss -- You make a good point. And that is why I have never liked the term democracy. It smacks of mobbery to me. Even democratic republic is not a very good term for the American system. But whatever it is called, I am very happy with it. It could stand a bit of tinkering. But, not by me. I will be in Melaque enjoying my new adventure.