International Reflections on 2002

Out with 2002 with Nothing to Celebrate; In with 2003, Bringing an Uncertain Future

Two thousand two was a transitional year for Mexico just as it was for the rest of the world. The consequences of Sept. 11 still govern the planet’s course, which was paralyzed at that moment and has yet to decide to revolve again; even now we can see that when it does, it will be in a way different from what it was before. The perspective of a multipolar world, as was envisioned at the end of the Cold War, has evaporated.

Using its military force, the United States will seek to exercise its global supremacy in the years to come. Europe, for its part, has taken a vital step with negotiations for the admission of Eastern Europe into the European Union and with the debate over whether or not to admit Turkey, whose geopolitical location converted it into an indispensable ally for the interests of NATO. However, the consequences of this will not be felt this year, no more than we are now able to gauge the effects of China’s admission into the World Trade Organization. All that is reserved for the future. In Mexico, this radical stasis has been even greater. We keep waiting for the promises of 2000 to be fulfilled. Baltazar Gracian said that good improvisations are born of a lucky readiness, and adds that “some people think a great deal only to later fail at everything, while others achieve everything without ever having thought about it al all.” What is sure is that during this year, there was not much thinking in Mexico, nor was much of anything achieved, and that we trusted to our luck, which was determined by the improvement and later slowdown of the American economy. So it seems that Fortune, the goddess of luck, is the queen as well of our history and our life, because this year, we Mexicans did very little for ourselves.

For that reason, it may be best to remember 2002 as it ends as a year of reconfiguration. A year that witnessed the reordering of the elements of world conditions, of which we ended up being a dependent variable. It is perhaps a bad omen in this regard that in 2002 two of the philosophers who represented most clearly the contradictions between equality and liberty both died: Robert Nozick and John Rawls. Both of them reflected upon the values that sustain Western society. Rawls defended equality within a liberal society. For him, justice is based on two principles: the inviolability of individual rights and the idea that, faced with social injustice, the first priority must be given to those worst off. For his part, Nozick noted that in practice, such principles are irreconcilable, for any attempt to correct inequities in the distribution of income implies, sooner or later, an irremediable loss of freedom.

Beyond the ambit of philosophy, their debates could be a metaphor for the crushing reality brought about by globalization and economic inequality. On the one hand, the rise of a global social class, virtually a new estate ignoring national boundaries, consisting of professionals in economics, design, engineering, computers, and telecommunications—with the proviso, of course, that they got their degrees in the developed world.

On the other hand, the marginal peoples of the world, the indigenous populations, the illiterate, the illegal immigrants, and those poor people whose numbers seem to increase every day in every country, and who can trust in nothing except themselves and their bodies as media of exchange. A group that constitutes the economic horror of our days.

As in previous years, this static 2002 ended in Mexico with the holiday shopping boom, though not everyone had grounds for celebration, for even if inflation has been kept under control, rising unemployment has meant that many families looked forward to the new year with less than rosy prospects.

Two thousand three will be a year of uncertainty, both in the economic and political sphere. President Vicente Fox’s promises of structural reform remain vague, not going beyond an ambiguous speech that left the questions of how much and how deep unanswered.

These are issues that, sooner or later, he will have to discuss openly with the public when his reform proposals reach congress. However, the fact that he decided to slap the opposition in the face, using the media, during the midterm elections, is a clear signal of what his strategy will be: confront the opposition, hoping to get a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, and only then, present his proposals for reform. However, if his plans do work out, this will not happen before September 2003, and another half year will have been lost. If they do not work out, the relations between the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party] and PRD [Party of the Democratic Revolution] will be seriously affected and perhaps the reforms will have to wait for the next presidency, which would be very costly for the country.

In any case, hope is the last thing to die. Finally, if we do recover the mythical and pagan sense of the New Year festivities, we will see that they symbolize the desire to abolish time past, and to inaugurate a new era. In Mircea Eliade’s words: “The periodic festivals that close a one time-cycle and open a new one mean the complete regeneration of time.” Thus the frontier of 2002 is crossed, and a new cycle is begun, so long as it does not mean a return to the primordial chaos of the agrarian conflicts that set off the Revolution.

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