Saturday, March 26, 2005

Si, Entonces

Last night I had dinner with a friend and a friend of a friend and we discussed the 2006 election. In a Seinfeldesque comment, the third person at dinner replied to my question about what might happen in the 2006 election, “Nothing”. His argument was that since Mexico is so close to the US that it was unlikely that they would let anything silly happen to the country, so whoever is elected would be proscribed from doing real harm by their neighbor to the north.

In Spanish I am working with a construction of if, then – si, entonces – and as I thought about my new friend's comments, I kept coming back to si,entonces. OK, so the US will not let something bad happen - but what are the consequences of that stopgap.

When I started working in Mexico, there were a lot of indignities for travelers. For example, one always drank bottled water. A second problem, even in the best hotels was the lack of a consistent shower – you either froze or boiled – but no matter how hard you tried you could not get a consistent or temperate shower. That is no longer true. The hotel I stayed at while caring for my friend has a note in the rooms that says our water is fine – but we have bottled water if you want it (for 19 pesos). They have a good business center and a passable fitness center (as good as most in the US) – in short, the hotel is a competing for a world class traveler. Mexico is different than it was when I started coming here. It is not the US (even with Dunkin Donuts and KFC and McDonalds) - nor should it be.

Early this morning as I was leaving Mexico, I raised the question with my friend in whose apartment I was staying - and who had a typical Mexican shower. He said two insightful things. First, he commented that at some point people have been willing to accept the perversities of life. In his opinion - that may no longer be true. Indeed, if you look around the economy there are numerous changes where the prior indignities are gone - based on consumer choice.

The second insight was on change. The political system is continuing to change in spite of the relative ineffectiveness of President Fox. Part of the message of the 2000 election was enough! (Basta!) A good portion of the electorate had had enough of 70 years of the PRI, of cold showers and non-potable water and all the other indignities of life. Fox and his administration have not been successful - when we did a workshop for them at the start of their administration I found a lot of smart and idealistic people but not a lot with deep political experience. Running a political system is not like running a business. My ultimate faith in the electorate is that they will not settle for a silly choice.

I think the question facing Mexico is does the country revert or does it keep going forward? This morning as I was leaving my friend’s apartment, I remarked about the shower problem and he said – one of the things he will change first in his new apartment is the shower – so that he can have consistent temperature. The if, then for this Mexican is clearly understood.

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