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The Rich vs. the Poor

Classism: (noun) Prejudice against people belonging to a particular social class. (Oxford Dictionary)                                                                                                                                                      /ˈklɑːsɪz(ə)m/

Referendums have become extremely famous and controversial in the past few years. From Brexit to Catalonian Independence, they have polarized entire societies and even broken up individual relationships. Arguments for and against the matter in question become the every day topic of conversation. The binary choice becomes the spotlight of the media and the entire society turns around a yes-or-no question.

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” (United Kingdom, 2016)

“Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic?” (Spain, 2017)

“Do you approve a constitutional law concerning the scrapping of the bicameral system, reducing the number of MPs, containing the operating costs of public institutions, abolishing the National Council on Economy and Labour (CNEL), and amending Title V of the Constitution Part II?” (Italy, 2016)

This article however, will focus on one specific referendum held by one of the most unequal and polarized countries, Mexico. While being among the top 14 richest nations in the world, over half of Mexico’s population lives under poverty. About 50% of the country’s wealth is owned by only 1% of the population, according to Oxfam Executive Director. While their wealth continues to increase, the poverty rate has not decreased significantly. Today, about 53.3 million people in Mexico, live below the poverty line. This massive inequality has created a polarized society that evidences their differences when important decisions are to be made. Such is the example of the last presidential elections or the recent referendum held by the new president elect Lopez Obrador, regarding the construction of a new airport in Mexico City (see image above).

The huge differences between Mexico’s social classes are nothing new. They have, in fact, existed since colonial times. During the colony, racial differences in the population made it easier to identify a person from a lower stratum. In short, like in most other countries, the whites dominated the higher class, while the native-looking inhabitants belonged to the lower social levels. This hierarchical society barely changed after five hundred years. As reported by research done by Vanderbilt University, darker skin in Mexico is today strongly correlated to decreased wealth and less schooling, making Mexico indeed, a racist country.

Although Mexico has been through wars of independence, social revolutions and student protests to try to change this issue, little to no progress has been made. Nowadays, social classes continue to interact only among themselves, avoiding all possible contact from someone who does not belong to their social circle. The lower classes are isolated to the most remote and vulnerable areas of the country, whereas the higher stratums cage themselves within gated communities in order to dodge “the crime and insecurity that the proletariat brings along”. This double-isolation creates an even higher sense of mistrust. The lack of interaction between social classes builds fear and skepticism from both parties, yielding an awfully polarized society.

This year, Mexico had two good reasons to justify its classism. First, during the presidential election campaign and second, during the above-mentioned referendum. Social media became a battlefield for arguments between the lower and higher classes. What seemed like a united society after an earthquake in late 2017 practically demolished its capital, had turned into a divided country that seemed to care more about harming other social groups, rather than actually voting for the best available option.

This article will not make reference to whether the Airport Referendum was beneficial (or harmful) for the country, nor will this article state an opinion about the pseudo-democracy that the new president elect is trying to portray with his more-than-skewed referendums, but it will rather analyze the effects and consequences that it has had (so far) on Mexican society. To give the reader a better sense of the situation, it is necessary to describe Mexico’s society prior to these elections.

According to George Friedman, president and founder of Stratfor (a private geopolitical intelligence platform), Mexico (along with most Latin American countries) could be divided into two and even three different societies. The country is segregated into diverse social groups that maintain contrasting lives and give an impression of living in different nations.

“Lower” Mexico

Those who live under precarious economic conditions and face the every-day crime that Mexico currently experiences. They are also those that need to commute not less than two hours to get to work (or school), they are exposed to severe violence and need to develop a sense of resilience in order to survive. Lower Mexico is particularly vulnerable to macroeconomic shocks due to their fixed budgets that are hardly adjustable to inflation and unemployment. As a result of their economic situation, they are an excellent recruiting target for drug-traffickers. Lower Mexico accounts for more than 60% of the population.

“Higher” Mexico

Most of are already born within middle or high-class families. Their higher incomes allow them to live in the best residential areas of the country, provided with newer and better infrastructure. They have access to superior vital services such as schooling and healthcare. Their commuting times if not reduced, are safer due to the mere fact of driving private vehicles. According to research made by the University of Amsterdam, the highest classes have, for the past 50 years, developed gated communities and walled-off condominiums that create a sense of exclusion and isolation from the lower classes. In other words, the rich are creating their own cities to isolate themselves from the poor.

A Golf club condominium separated by a wall from a Mexican favela

Due to a lack of bequest tax in Mexico, wealth is easily inherited. This, along with many other factor, has kept the same families (or most of them) on a higher stratum since pre-revolution times (1910).

After all this contrast, it is evident that society has not yet developed a feeling of unity and/or empathy. Their different ways of life (since colonial times) has yielded a lack of identification among Mexican citizens. In other words, it is hard for a high-class individual to be empathic to his lower-class counterpart simply because he does not know that life at all. Their every-day struggle is something yet unknown to the higher classes and probably will be for the rest of their lives. Mexico is indeed a dual and polarized society. But classism becomes more visible when people realize that every citizen carries the exact same value, which in Mexico happens in very few cases. For instance, at the polls, every vote is worth the same regardless of the social status.

During the past few years, the current presidential administration has granted several contracts to the private sector for the construction of a new airport in Mexico City. This x-shaped airport would have created 450 thousand jobs by its completion. Due to its isolated location, it would have also deviated air traffic from Mexico City and reduced aircraft-related noise by 95%. The NAICM (for its Spanish abbreviation) would have handled 125 million passengers annually, more than any other airport in the world. Finally, the construction of NAICM would have generated 3% of Mexico’s GDP according to Mexico City Airports’ Group (GACM).

…and I say “would have” because even though 33% of the construction has been already completed, its corresponding referendum has failed to give a positive outcome. Mexico decided that it does not need to finance a new airport now. But why would someone even say no to this beautiful piece of engineering? Well, they had their reasons…good reasons.

First of, NAICM carries a large amount of environmental damage to the area. Over 10 thousand birds would have to deviate their migration route if the zone airspace is used for aircraft flying. Also, due to the massive lake underneath its soil, the land used for its development is said to not be very construction-friendly (especially for aircraft landing). Furthermore, as reported by The Economist magazine, two-thirds of the population of Mexico have never been on a plane, so why would they agree to spend money on something they will never use? Finally and most importantly, NAICM is said to hold a huge deal of corruption (shocker), which is the strongest argument against its development.

Naturally, a country that is used to be hoodwinked by its governors, will make them pay a price once they spot an opportunity to do so. Mexican society saw their chance to halt the corruption involved, and they took it. The higher classes however (usually accustomed to have priority over the lower ones) exhibited their classist discontent not only on social media, but also during large protests in Mexico City.

“I’m not sure who took a bite off this cardboard.

Either someone from the migrant caravan,

or a Lopez Obrador(president elect) sympathizer,

since it turns out that both of them are hungry”

It seems that Mexico is far from being a united society. Long is the way before every social class can treat each other as an equal, without assuming that some people are worth more than others just because of their social or economic status. Recent history shows that Mexico requires an extraordinary event to unite its society, for instance the earthquake that hit Mexico City in 2017. Unfortunately, this same history has also proved that unity does not last for long. It seems apparent that, among Mexicans, social differences are stronger than nationalism or patriotism, two feelings that Mexicans love to brag about. Little do they know that they are far from developing them.


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