It is a deficit of social trust, characterized by weak levels of confidence in public institutions — police, courts, politicians — but also the erosion of interpersonal trust among neighbors and co-workers.
Mexico’s trust gap is considered especially threatening as the country struggles to keep the corrupting powers of billionaire drug cartels from further undermining democracy and the rule of law. If Mexicans don’t trust police and political leaders, and they’re too wary of fellow Mexicans to join citizen campaigns and social movements, scholars say, there may be no one left to turn to.
“The existence of social trust makes a modern, middle-class-based society possible,” said Luis Rubio, a prominent Mexican political scientist and co-author of a new report titled “Mexico: A Middle Class Society — Poor No More, Developed Not Yet.”
“Its absence may not change the economic or consumption-driven elements, but it does leave them somewhat orphaned,” he said.
Here in Cuernavaca, 50 miles south of Mexico City, the trust deficit is evident in the lives of Alfredo and Lilia Hoyos, two physicians who reside on a street of middle-class homes hidden behind high walls and thickets of razor wire.
As members of an international hospitality association, they have traveled the world staying in the homes of strangers, often arriving at a foreign doorstep to a warm welcome and their own set of keys to the house.
In turn, they have readily hosted global visitors — mostly Americans and Europeans — with little thought of risk to their children or themselves.
“We’ve made friends all over the world this way,” Alfredo Hoyos said.
And yet, when asked whether he would be so trusting if the travelers were other Mexicans, Hoyos fell silent and shook his head. “No,” he said ruefully. “Probably not. Especially not now.”
It was a tough but candid acknowledgment of the fear that has crept into their lives in the past two years as crime in Cuernavaca and in their once-tranquil neighborhood has soared. On their block, there have been at least four break-ins or attempted burglaries since March. The phone rings with extortion threats, some amateurish, others scarier. A colleague and close friend of Alfredo Hoyos was kidnapped from his office months ago, never to be heard from again.
Wary of turning to the police, who are often in league with criminals, Hoyos got an idea recently from an intrepid American couple who rode into town on their bikes from Oregon. Why not gather their neighbors together and form a neighborhood watch committee?