Mexicans too often just acquiesce. The author Octavio Paz wrote about this trait in “The Labyrinth of Solitude,” his 1950 book in which he described the metaphorical masks that Mexicans wear as they deny reality while quietly accepting their lot in life. “The Mexican, whether young or old, Criollo or Mestizo, general or laborer or lawyer, seems to me to be a person who shuts himself away to protect himself,” Paz wrote, “his face is a mask, and so is his smile.”
Though more than 50 years have passed since that was written, little has changed: Denial is still our typical response to many of our nation’s worst problems. But now the time has come for us to break our old habit of passive acceptance. The first step would be recognizing that the democratic process that handed Enrique Pena Nieto the presidency earlier this month was not clean, transparent or entirely democratic — and that it has not been for quite a while.
My decision to write about this topic again might seem a bit obsessive, I know. But now is not the time to keep quiet and move on, when so many people suspect that Pena Nieto’s party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, may have influenced the results by buying the votes of thousands, or even millions, of Mexicans. We must not wait for the next presidential election six years from now before we denounce those responsible. We must demand that the Mexican constitution, which requires free elections, be upheld. The people of Mexico must stand together and say with one voice that this can never again happen.
But through Twitter, Facebook and the media, I have heard many Mexicans say that the best thing to do is just avoid making waves and let Pena Nieto take office. Every political party in the nation buys votes, they say, so why make a big deal of it? Why does it matter at this point?
It matters because the time has come for us to take sides — but not necessarily against Pena Nieto and the PRI. It’s time for Mexicans to choose the side of democracy. Pena Nieto won the election, but his party has been accused by its opponents of buying votes — it is alleged that supporters handed out gift cards in exchange for votes. Mexicans must challenge this election, and not on political grounds; this is a matter of ethics. It’s also about precedent: Let’s not forget that the PRI won every presidential election in Mexico for 71 years, and that PRI candidates were hand-picked by their predecessors in office.
The same goes for journalists — we especially must take a stand for democracy. For us to do our jobs properly, we cannot support any one candidate — the greater the distance between us and the people running for office, the better. The most valuable thing any journalist can do for society is expose the abuses of those in power. In Mexico, it’s now time for journalists to investigate these allegations of electoral fraud, identify the guilty parties and demand — over and over if necessary — that the government launch an independent probe and that authorities punish anyone found guilty of cheating.
The idea that political parties can buy votes and few people will object is a sign of the culture of corruption that has continued in Mexico far too long. In 2011, Transparency International, a nongovernmental organization that monitors corruption around the globe, rated Mexico at a 3.0 on its Corruption Perceptions Index, on a scale in which a zero value is more corrupt and a 10 is less corrupt. And while Mexico’s experiment with democracy has lasted for only three presidential elections so far, the July 1 election and the 2006 vote were both riddled with controversy and doubts about fairness.
Obviously, we still have a lot to learn. But it would be obscene for us to simply let the victory of Pena Nieto and the PRI go unchallenged. For Mexican democracy to progress we have to reject what once seemed normal. We must tell politicians that electoral tricks and cheating are not acceptable and that it is their job to tackle Mexico’s problems — the violence and murder, the enduring poverty and the concentration of power and information in the hands of a few, all of which should not be our status quo. I, for one, believe in this experiment, and that one day Mexico will become a truly democratic country.
I also believe that the country’s great journalists — mostly women like Elena Poniatowsca, Carmen Aristegui, Alma Guillermoprieto, Anabel Hernandez, Sanjuana Martinez, Denise Dresser and Denise Maerker, among others — will not let the powerful continue to lie to us.
I believe in the 131 students who earlier this year created Yo Soy 132, a strong and necessary political movement. I believe in Alejandro Solalinde, the Catholic priest who fights tirelessly on behalf of Central America’s immigrants, and I believe in the poet Javier Sicilia, whose efforts at spreading peace following his son’s senseless murder by a drug gang are inspiring. I believe that millions of Mexicans do not want to see more of the same.
I believe in the possibility of a new and stronger Mexico. But first, the old ways must die. For the experiment with democracy to succeed, our masks must come off.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos
(July 18, 2012)