The impulse to lie is often hard to overcome. Most societies have figured out ways to temper, as best they can, the urge people feel (when their backs are to the wall) to bend the truth to suit their own interests. In this respect, Mexico is similar to most places.
But there are notable differences. In politics, few Mexicans expect more than an indirect correlation between a politician’s promises and actual deeds. This has been true for so long that journalists have only recently started comparing candidates’ pledges with their achievements in office.
In many small towns, if a single promise made during a campaign comes to fruition, large and lavish banners are strung across municipal headquarters, and the word “CUMPLIMOS” (“we kept our word”) is emblazoned everywhere.
‘Keeping one’s word’ is a big party, with speeches, alcohol, celebration. Why? Because it’s rare. Not just because of politician’s over-the-top promises, but because of profound differences in how Mexicans perceive and judge language.
Stated differently, Mexico is way more complex than Germany or Canada. So many verbal references exist here that are by nature non-literal, including the notions of time, intent and (most of all) personal responsibility.
The resulting communication is complex, non-direct… and often makes Anglo-Saxon literalness irrelevant. For this reason, the language used by officials in public is usually so abstract, generalized and idealistic that it borders more on fiction (or fantasy) than real life.
Accountability, not just by politicians but by ordinary people, must be evaluated in this context. What matters more in Mexico are things like subtext and symbolism, what a person is really saying… and what that means (or could possibly mean).
All based, of course, on profound distrust.
Most people everywhere recognize that lying is an integral part of politics. Politicians lie, and power usually accrues to those who lie best… if not most. In Mexico, things are no different. But here other values often take precedence over “telling the truth”.
For example, the case of the “Missing 43” shows clearly that when faced between loyalty and honesty, Mexicans choose loyalty. 43 students were taken away, murdered and their corpses “disappeared”.
Although few people know all the details, there were scores if not hundreds of witnesses, including local, state and federal level officials, not just of the incident but the cover-up.
43 students massacred in cold blood by gangsters – and probably police. The military has already been implicated… soldiers were present at the scene. An atrocity beyond words, arguably the worst tragedy in Mexico for decades. Yet up to now, not a single person has opened his or her mouth.
Should the so-called truth take priority when one’s own interests, family or party is involved? Many Mexicans say no. And the PRI taps into this; by now, they’re hardened pros.