Carlos Slim Helú, one of the top ten richest men in the world met with Donald Trump last Saturday. Although we do not know the details of the meeting, we know that the meeting was cordial. Donald Trump described the meeting as “a lovely dinner with a wonderful man,” per a quote in the Washington Post. Political pundits are explaining the meeting as a softening of Trump’s political rhetoric against Mexico and, or, as an attempt by Slim to protect NAFTA. Although there is some truth in those examples, there is another factor that has been ignored – the Mexican psyche.
I have shared with you before that the Mexican psyche is one of smoke-and-mirrors. As Mexicans, we say one thing but the truth is hidden in the shadows. The smoke-and-mirrors explanation is not mine as I have borrowed it from Octavio Paz. There is another factor in the Mexican psyche that is often overlooked as well, our inherent defeatism attitude. As Mexicans, we assume everything will go wrong. Along with that, we have a psyche of relying too much on our past to decide how to react to the present and the future. I’ve shared before that unlike the United States, we Mexicans are anchored by our past and as such it is difficult for us to look forward in anticipation.
One of the “past” anchors is the hierarchy of patrones and peones, or leaders (bosses) and laborers. Leaders, or bosses, isn’t really a true translation as there isn’t an appropriate English word for “patrón” in the traditional sense. Mexico was dominated by a political class, many times erroneously labeled as a nobility class, for many years. The hierarchy grew from the Spanish invasion of Mexico, then the Aztec Empire and become fully engrained in the Mexican psyche. The Mexican Revolution was an attempt to bring equality to the hierarchy but it only resulted in shifting it from a legal framework that enforced the hierarchy of land owners versus the workers (peones) to one of a culturally supported separation between those with power and money against those with neither. From there, each economic level enforced its own patrones versus peones within their financial strata.
Mexico is a land where money equals power as anyone with money can exert power over the others. The drug cartels are an example of this.
Within each stratum there exists the bosses and then the rest.
In the highest economic levels in Mexico, Carlos Slim is the patrón with underlings tripping over themselves to garner his attention everywhere he goes.
However, even Carlos Slim, the seventh richest man in the world and Mexico’s richest man, is a peón when it comes to the US government. The fact is that Mexico is heavily dependent on the United States for its economy. Without the US market, Mexico’s economy would collapse. Likewise, Slim’s finances would collapse if the US market place were to suddenly and dramatically change.
Knowing this then it becomes very clear why Carlos Slim accepted an invitation from Donald Trump to meet.
Carlos Slim showed up as the peón, hat in his hand, not as an equal, but hoping to convince Donald Trump to dial back his threats of ending NAFTA, building the wall and deporting Mexicans from the country.
I understand why Carlos Slim agreed to meet with Trump. I understand that battles must be fought in skirmishes sometimes losing ground as long as the goal is to achieve a victory in the end.
However, the meeting still infuriates me because the meeting was nothing more than a Mexican peón meeting with his boss in the hopes of extracting a little nugget from the master.
As long as we, Mexicans, continue to accept defeatism as part of our psyche we will never be able to shed our need to act like peones in a world ruled by patrones.