from Latin America's Moment and Latin America Studies Program

A (Partial) Defense of the So-Called "siesta Congress" in Mexico

January 20, 2012

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A recent Economist article paints Mexico’s legislature as inefficient and unproductive, calling it the “siesta Congress.” Below is an excerpt from the piece:

"Mexico’s lawmakers sit for only 195 days a year, the second-fewest among Latin America’s bigger countries. (Their $11,200-a-month pay, however, is the highest after Brazil’s.) When they do stir themselves to vote, it is more often to block rivals’ bills than to pass reforms. Gridlock in the palace of San Lázaro partly explains why Felipe Calderón’s presidency, which ends in December, now looks like a six-year damp squib."

To a certain degree, this is true. Many issues have been stalled or stymied by Mexico’s Congress -- electoral reform, police reform, and fiscal reforms to name a few. But the legislative gridlock may not be as bad as the Economist would have us believe. Since 2000 more bills have passed through the divided congress than during the years of one-party (PRI) rule. The Congress has approved the annual budget every year over the last decade (far better than the U.S. Congress’s track record), and it ratified 176 of the 195 treaties submitted for review from 2000-2005. Over the last ten years the Congress has passed a fundamental health care reform (Seguro Popular), a fundamental judicial reform (that will transform the court system and introduce oral trials), a sweeping privatization of Mexico’s public pension system, and numerous smaller changes to its energy, electoral, and tax regimes.

Slow, gradual, and often piecemeal reform -- one can label this inefficient and unproductive. Or they can call it democratic.

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