Politicos Pobres

Posted on February 8, 2014



Pobres Politicos


Despite gruesome massacres, massive poverty that thrusts thousands of jobseekers northward and military confrontations that have made no man’s lands of huge swaths of Mexico’s territory, the country’s outmoded political system creaks along unabated and unchanged, a cumbersome dinosaur oblivious of its twenty-first century surroundings. Nearly half of Mexico’s federal budget is devoted to paying salaries and benefits to the country’s bulging bureaucracy. Mexican law makes no provisions for recall; once an individual is elected governor, senator or president he or she has free rein to award (or sell) construction contracts, appoint administrators and judges and divert funds intended for social services into personal bank accounts.

“Un político pobre es un pobre político” (“a financially poor politician is a poor practitioner of politics”) is the guiding principle in Mexican politics. Although both appointees and regularly elected federal lawmakers show up now and then in the areas they represent the majority of them live in the Federal District when they’re not vacationing in Cancun, Miami or Europe.

Openly disputed primary elections often are shunted aside and national and state party bosses “dedazo” (“finger”) candidates of their choosing. As a consequence, an officeholder-candidate needs to ingratiate himself or herself to those making the dedazos. Politicians holding elective or appointed offices continue to be mapaches (literally raccoons” but politically vote hustlers) for other offices and only peripherally have time for committee meetings or other legislative activities.

The constant turnover and non-stop electioneering creates an intense, hermetic competition like that of a fantasy sports league where participants close out the real world to concentrate on the details of fantasy team competition. Public reaction to this hermeticism varies from accepting and ignoring the self-serving coterie to demonstrating against it by blocking highways, calling for work stoppages and taking over government buildings.

“I won’t vote for any professional politician,” asserted Proceso magazine columnist Sabina Berman when she was approached by an election official. “The professional politicians ought to find out that we’re not cabbage heads, Teflon skillets, amnesiacs.”

         In Juan Carlos Rulfo’s documentary film Los que se quedan a campesino accuses the country’s president of lying 80 percent of the time, then shrugs, “But I don’t blame him. That’s his job” as though lying 80 percent of the time is a political requisite. People that I live among in Oaxaca find that percentage too generous.

         “Ninety-nine percent of the time?” I’ve asked.

         “Or maybe more,” is the usual answer.