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Trustworthiness. The transformation Mexico needs

Actualizado: 11 abr 2020

By: Alberto Equihua

Interesting enough, recently in Mexico the public discussion is turning moral. Take just the following example. On April 9th, 2020 the digital media published an article under the title: "El presidente AMLO metió al Consejo Coordinador Empresarial en una trampa ética" (President AMLO has put the Business Coordinator Council in an ethical trap). The good news here is that journalists are bringing the ethical dimension in the public discussion. As some other recent published materials may prove. And that is good in a country like Mexico, because, the legal reasoning based on rights and obligations usually falls short as explanation for the troubles we are usually struggling with. Or "crisis", as many often choose to call them.

The bad news is that almost no actor in Mexico is really in a position to stand upright in such a discussions, simple because they oft lack moral authority. In other words, they are not trustworthy. Sadly enough, in general that includes politicians, businessmen and journalists too. That is the result of a long historical chain of forgone promises and of perceived abuses and resentments.

I know. I have contended that almost no public figure in Mexico is trustworthy. If there is an exemption, it could be precisely Mr. Andrés Manuel López Obrador (nicknamed AMLO, like above), the current constitutional President of the Mexican Republic. A title that he rightfully won after three attempts, in the general elections of 2018. At that July his party coalition was able to capture 30,113,483 votes; that is 53.19% of the total votes. Way ahead of his next opponent, which was Ricardo Anaya (PAN) with only 12.6 million votes. After more than a year at the government and a number of challenges and demonstrations from the opposition, the President still keeps an approval rate just under 50% and enjoys one of the highest trust grades for Mexican institutions (7 out of 10, same as the army, both shearing place 2 ½), ahead of business people, for example (6.4/10 at 11th place) according to polls by Consulta Mitofsky (AMLO tracking poll and Ranking of Trust in Mexican Institutions). If we were in a sort of Trustworthiness contest, AMLO would probably win.

But moral issues are not as simple as grades and notes. They are more a question of dilemmas, conducts and consequences: what are we persons going to do in such and such situations? What would be the right thing to do? Furthermore: what do we expect the other to do? What the other "said", he would do? What he actually did?

The above quoted article by actually does give a superb example for a case, to be analysed from an ethical point of view. They believe that Mr. President López Obrador has directly set up a trap for Mr. Carlos Salazar. According to this perspective, the President legally cannot publish any list of business and persons including not only their names, but information about the taxes that they haven’t paid. But Mr. AMLO has given this list to Mr. Salazar, who may apparently be free of prohibitions, to make the list public. Of course, the list was given to CCE’s chef, shortly after he had proposed the President in a counter crisis plan, some relief for businesses, troubled by the current difficult economic situation, which now has been worsened by the recent coronavirus crisis. According to now Mr. Salazar should make the list public, doing sort of favour to Mr. President AMLO. On “ethical grounds”, they suggest. Probably not.

There are other dilemmas which must be considered along. Mr. Salazar owes his position as CCE’s Chef to his constituency: Business, businesswomen and businessmen, who appointed him at CCE. They trust Mr. Salazar to represent their interests, precisely towards the government and the President. They trust as well that he is discrete enough as not to exhibit them in delicate a matte like tax issues. If Mr. Salazar were to publish the list, he would at least partially lose that trust of his constituency and with it his legitimacy and representativeness would get hurt. His negotiating position in the name of the business sector would debilitate as well. That wouldn’t either help Mr. López Obrador, who would so discredit a valuable negotiations counterpart, whom he actually needs too, to bring any political agenda forward.

Traps like these are in the long run bad idea. They configure situations with no (at least easy) exit. In stylized fashion, trapped like this, Mr. Salazar would be bound to “betray” someone. Either his constituency, should he choose to publish the list or the President, if he chooses not to. Actually, the trap cannot benefit anybody. Whatever Mr. Salazar does, Mr. López Obrador erodes a spokesman with the business community. What could it be the gain of blowing up a communication channel with a sector he needs? I should point out, that here we don't want to entertain the hypothesis, that the President may have given up the democratic dialog with this sector.

This so called “ethical trap” has still deeper roots. Distrust or a lack of trustworthiness. Mr. President doesn’t trust business, particularly big firms. Like the ones presumably in the mentioned list. The other way around, the business community doesn't trust that President AMLO will apply “sound” economic policies to foster production an employment in Mexico (and for the same token profitable business). Therefore, a first question seems to be: how to build trustworthiness among political actors in Mexico? More precisely, between the President and the Business community.

To begin walking in this direction we would need to assume, that there is the wish in both sides to come closer and eventually to cooperate. Maybe based on the conviction that there is a better place ahead where everybody can win. Then, each side had to show some valuable commitment, with proofs that each one is ready to go really far to comply.

Just as examples for the sake of the argument here. To keep close to the situation stated at the beginning. Business could offer to organise the production of items required to overcome the Coronavirus crises in Mexico. If possible, for free or close to. And they would show the resources they are ready to pull together in order to produce those items. In return, the government could offer to consider the provision of that required counter crises items as tax payments. Alternatively, business could pay a good part of the requested taxes or all of them, and the government would in return buy from business the insumes they can provide to overcome the health crisis. They are just loose ideas for illustration purposes only. Nothing more.

But these examples let us underline the following active principles behind ideas like these:

  1. A valuable promise for the counterpart (for exchange)

  2. Investments enough to keep that promise (on each side)

  3. Delivering at least as promised (both comply timely)

There may be some other considerations about time, visibility, communications and so on. But seasoned negotiators should be able to figure them out on their own, according to the particular circumstances.

But let us come back to the ethical point. In Mexico we badly need to heavily invest in trustworthiness, if we want to stop setting and falling in “ethical traps” of the sort discussed here. The truth is: currently we all are trapped in this world of zero-sum interactions, with its typical depredatory behaviour among Mexicans and everybody fighting for his or her own survival. From our present point of view, it is naturally difficult to visualize another world, in which everybody can win. A win-win world. But we must try to imagine it. The way towards that world is paved with trust. That would surely be a long ago needed transformation in Mexico. Turning it into a land of trustworthiness.


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