You end up in the social strata where you were born, said Alejandro Hope, an analyst at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a nonpartisan think tank. People need to believe they can make it to the top. Right now, they dont think they can.
Mexicos malaise comes despite conditions that ought to foster a boom. The market economy is open and stable. A champion of global commerce, Mexico has free-trade agreements with 43 countries, among the most of any country on Earth. The autonomous Banco de Mexico keeps a tight lid on inflation. Mexicos beaches and Mayan ruins draw a steady flow of tourists despite crime elsewhere in the nation. The country has also made decisive steps toward the sharing of power. Indeed, Mexico today is what it never really was before a democracy.
But analysts say Mexico lacks a sense of purpose and is torn by the seeming relentlessness of the drug war, which has been the dominant feature of the current government, led by the PANs Felipe Calderon.
There seems to be in Mexico today a nostalgia for a Mexico that no longer exists and that we fought against, and at the same time a disappointment in the democratic Mexico we now have and that we fought for, Arturo Sarukhan, the Mexican ambassador to Washington, said in a talk in early April.
Sarukhan said Mexico needs a clearer vision and sense of purpose, and a map with a path to follow.
Where do we want to be in 20 years? What do we want to look like? Sarukhan asked. And how do we get there?
Mexico carries a chronic culture of lawlessness and impunity and faces a grave crisis of public security, with a political system that is often the obstacle rather than the solution, said Gerardo Gutierrez Candiani, head of the Business Coordinating Council, a business umbrella group.
An array of powerful interests with a stake in the status quo have kept the economy from expanding more than a paltry average 2.4 percent a year for three decades, Gutierrez said. He asked why it couldnt grow at double or more that pace.
Nearly everyone cites the drug violence as a major drag on Mexicos economic and political hopes. Under Calderon, who took office in late 2006, crime gangs embraced ever-more terrifying tactics beheading rivals and hanging slain enemies from bridges. The death toll surged from 2,826 in 2007 to an estimated 12,539 in 2011. Calderon will leave office Dec. 1 with well over 50,000 homicides on his watch.
But experts say the crime problem may sort itself out. Cocaine use is falling in the United States White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske recently said the number of cocaine users had dropped by 40 percent in recent years and Mexican authorities are better trained than they were in the past.
My guess is that drug trafficking will decline over the next 10 to 15 years, Hope said.
More intractable are the political forces that block reforms. They include political parties, trade unions, private-sector monopolies in areas such as telecommunications, banking and transportation, and, perhaps surprisingly, state governors.
Santiago Levy, an economist who is a former chief of Mexicos social security institute, said these forces have formed a sturdy political equilibrium.
Political parties and trade unions receive huge sums of money funneled through federal and state coffers and use the cash freely to protect their interests. Under decentralization efforts dating to 1997, state governors receive revenue from Mexico City for which they barely have to account. They do not raise state taxes and thus do not make promises to voters about services they will offer.