In My Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer: Mexico showed the way in 2013


Of all the things that happened in Latin America in 2013, the one that could have the most positive long-term impact — if it's implemented properly — is the agreement between Mexico’s three biggest political parties to approve fundamental reforms.

Granted, the so-called Pact for Mexico — the deal between Mexico's biggest political parties that was sealed in December 2012 — has already been broken. Its leftist members abandoned the deal recently in disagreement with the newly-approved energy reform, which will open parts of Mexico's oil industry to the private sector for the first time in 70 years.

And, granted, the Pact for Mexico's newly-approved political, educational, labor, telecommunications, fiscal and energy reforms may be watered down under pressure from various interest groups in the near future, when the Mexican Congress issues regulations to implement the new laws.

And it is also true that President Enrique Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has led the passage of the new reforms, deserves a medal of political hypocrisy for having systematically blocked these same reforms when it was in the opposition.

But the fact remains that in 2013, Mexico was the only country in the Americas —including the United States — where the government and opposition parties broke decades of political paralysis to approve profound reforms that could speed up the country's development for many decades.

That's no minor achievement in a region where some presidents — Venezuela’s, for example — refer to peaceful opposition leaders as “enemies of the fatherland,” and where some legislative blocs such as Tea Party Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have almost brought their country to a halt by relentlessly blocking most agreements.

Consider what the Mexican deal between the ruling PRI, the center-right National Action Party and the center-left Party for the Democratic Revolution achieved in 2013, before the agreement's de facto dissolution:

• Education reform: Mexico's political parties passed a law in September that will break the country's once almighty teachers unions' control over the education system and will allow for the first time the hiring, promotion and even firing of new teachers based on standardized tests and periodic evaluations. Until now, Mexico had thousands of teachers who couldn't be fired even if they failed to show up in class.

• Political reform: Mexico's Congress agreed to change electoral rules to allow future members of Congress to be re-elected and to reserve half of congressional seats for female candidates. Re-election of legislators had been a long-sought demand by citizens' groups, which complained that, without re-election, Mexican legislators were not accountable to their constituents, but rather to their parties' bosses.

• Fiscal reform: The Mexican Congress, with major backing from the left-of-center Party for the Democratic Revolution, passed a fiscal law that will raise taxes on the wealthiest and impose a new tax on soft drinks and stock market gains.

• Labor reform: In the biggest labor law shakeup in four decades, Mexico's Congress passed a law aimed at making it easier for employers to hire and fire workers. The new law’s intent is to drive millions of people out of the underground economy.

• Telecommunications reform: Under the new law, two new regulating agencies will try to bring about more competition in the telecommunications industry, which has been dominated by companies owned by billionaire Carlos Slim.

• Energy reform: By far the most covered by foreign media, Mexico's new energy reform will change the Constitution to allow private firms to work with the giant state-owned Pemex oil company in the exploration and drilling of new fields. The constitutional overhaul is expected to bring billions of dollars in foreign investments over the next decade.

“Mexico has proved capable of doing the politically impossible,” Mexican Congressman David Penchyna, who heads the congressional Energy Committee, wrote in the daily newspaper Reforma this week. “We have opened a new page in history.”

My opinion: It is too early to tell whether Mexico's 2013 reforms will indeed turn the country into the new star of the emerging world. Much of it will depend on whether Peña Nieto is able to keep the new laws from being watered down by special interests in the implementation process.

But Mexico has given the Americas a lesson in civility, which many countries in the hemisphere would do well to emulate. Wouldn't it be great to see a Pact for Argentina, a Pact for Venezuela and a Pact for the United States 2014? It seemed impossible in Mexico, and yet it happened. Happy holidays!

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