Mexican Election Democracy or Neoliberalism
Source Dave Anderson
Date 00/07/09/23:46


By Dan La Botz

Vicente Fox Quesada, the former Coca Cola executive, rancher and
businessman from the conservative National Action Party (PAN) won
Mexico's presidential election on July 2 ending 71 years of rule by
the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Fox's victory was
simultaneously and contradictorily an expression of Mexican
people's desire for an end to the rule of the PRI and the
establishment of a democratic political system, and a final triumph
for the neoliberal counter-revolution that in the last 20 years has
destroyed Mexico's nationalist political-economic system and
replaced it with a system dominated by foreign multi-national
corporations and integrated into the U.S. economy.

Mexican citizens with the help of non-governmental organizations
such as the Civic Alliance (Alianza Civica) have at long last
created a multi-party political democracy, but the PRI-government
has insured that the only possible winner (besides the PRI) was the
National Action Party (PAN), and that the new system would exist to
oversee the consolidation of the neoliberal economic system. The
PRI did this by denying Cuauhtemoc Cardenas his 1988 presidential
victory, murdering 500 PRD supporters, militarizing large sections
of the country. The victory of Fox and democracy was based on the
earlier victory of the PRI and authoritarianism.

The election represented a stinging defeat for the PRI, which won
only a little more than a third of the vote. In an election with a
record high 65 percent voter participation, Fox of the PAN won 42.7
percent of the vote, while Labastida of the PRI won 35.8 percent,
and Cardenas of the Party of the Democratic Revolution won 16.5
percent.. Altogether almost two-thirds of Mexicans voted for change
and most of those voted for Fox. Fox's almost seven-point lead over
Labastida represents a virtual landslide for the conservative
candidate. Millions of Mexicans cheered Fox's victory and look
forward to a new more enlightened and prosperous Mexico. His
supporters hope that his victory will sweep away the PRI's
authoritarian and corrupt regime, and usher in an era of democracy.

But the winner's program and policies represent no fundamental
change in the corporate and neoliberal policies pursued by the PRI
for the last two decades, but rather a consolidation and deepening
of the neoliberal project. The former governor of Guanajuato
supports the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the
maquiladora program and hopes like his PRI predecessors to attract
more corporate investment into Mexico. His conservative,
pro-business National Action Party (PAN) holds out little hope for
progressive social change for the vast majority of Mexico's people.

Fox and the PAN

The National Action Party (PAN), founded in 1930s, emerged out of
the most conservative currents of the Mexican Revolution as a party
founded and led by bankers and Roman Catholic priests, with a
reactionary ideology largely based on opposition to what it
perceived as a socialist government led by the Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI), and Confederation of Mexican Workers
(CTM). While the PRI and later the PRD often accused the PAN of
being a fascist party, in fact, that was never the case. Mexico's
real fascists were the Sinarquistas, a goose-stepping sect that
reached its peak in the 1930s. But the PAN was a deeply
conservative Catholic party nurtured in the northern states that
were more influenced by the United States.

During the 1960s to the 1980s the PAN moved away from the church
and evolved into a typical modern conservative party allied with
business organizations such as the Mexican employers' association
COPARMEX. During the 1970s and 1980s the PAN began to create a
militant mass following by mobilizing its members to defend its
election victories at the polls, and won power in several cities
and a few states in northern Mexico. Still some PAN leaders often
took up Roman Catholic causes such as opposition to birth control
and abortion, and were given to hysterical prudish outbursts, for
example, against Maidenform bra billboard advertisements. This
conservative and religious ideology proved to be an obstacle to
winning votes in central and southern Mexico where the PRI and PRD

As candidate for the presidency, Fox moved away from the PAN's far
right and religious traditions and adopted more centrist rhetoric.
With the help of former Communist intellectual Jorge Castaneda, Fox
elaborated a discourse of compassionate conservatism not so
different from that of Republicans in the U.S. Fox even went so far
as to say that he favored independent labor unions, though there is
no evidence for this in his record as employer or governor.
Nevertheless, Fox's centrist and compassionate rhetoric proved to
have a powerful appeal for millions of Mexicans who wanted to be
able to vote against the PRI but feared voting for the old
conservative PAN.

In fact, Fox's victory can only be explained by the votes of
millions of Mexicans from the PRI and the PRD who voted against
Mexico's one-party state, as much as--or perhaps even more
than--they voted for Fox. Thus Fox simultaneously captured the
anti-PRI-vote and the conservative, pro-business vote. In that
sense this election does represent a kind of caricature of a
"bourgeois revolution," a capitalist led program for democratic
reform of the bureaucratic and authoritarian state. Except that Fox
and the PAN have no deep commitment to democracy.

The History of a Victory: The Neoliberal Context

While U.S. president William Clinton hailed Fox's victory as a
"triumph of democracy," it might better be characterized as the
culmination of a radical reorganization of Mexico's economic life.
It is, moreover, the final step in a political process that has
been based on fraud, militarization and murder on a massive scale.

The story began with the economic crisis of August 1980 that left
Mexico insolvent and forced it so go hat in hand to the bankers in
New York. After that first in a series of economic crises, the U.S.
government, international financial institutions such as the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and foreign
private banks used their economic clout to force Mexico to accept
a series of changes in its nationalist economic and political model
and to adopt the system that has come to be called neoliberalism
(i.e., economic conservativism).

President Miguel de la Madrid (1982-1988) began the process of
economic transformation, and it accelerated under Presidents Carlos
Salinas (1988-1994) and culminated under Ernesto Zedillo
(1994-2000). During those years Mexico entered the General
Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), today the World Trade
Organization (WTO), signed the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA) which took effect in 1994). Mexico sold off its telephone
company, railroads, and other industries to private investors,
frequently foreigners and often U.S. corporations.

Two massive, multi-billion dollar "Mexico bailouts," one in the
1980s and the other in the 1990s, came with conditions and
structural readjustment programs that forced Mexico to privatize
its state companies, permit foreign investment and ownership, and
open its markets to foreign commodities. The reorganization of the
Mexican economy was accompanied by union busting and strike
breaking on a massive scale, beginning with Salinas's attack on the
miners' and petroleum workers' unions. (See Dan La Botz, MASK OF

The History of a Victory: Political Realignment and Reorganization

But economic change was not enough for the U.S. and the IMF, which
also wanted a more business-oriented political system. Over a
period of 20 years, Mexico gradually changed its one-party
political system into the simulacrum of a modern multi-party
democracy. The process of political change actually began during
the 1970s when the PRI-government, which had always tolerated a
right-wing opposition in the form of the National Action Party
(PAN), decided it would also legalize a left-wing opposition, at
that time led by the legalized Communist Party, which became the
Unified Socialist Party of Mexico - PSUM. The PRI dominated
politics in that decade with about 70 percent of the vote while the
PAN won about 20 percent and the left around 10 percent.

During the 1980s Ronald Reagan's government attempted to promote a
conservative two-party model in Mexico that would be made up of the
PRI and the PAN. The Republicans gave both money and men to aid the
PAN in northern Mexico. But those plans for the bi-party model were
shattered in 1987 when Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and Porfirio Munoz Ledo
led the Democratic Current out of the neoliberal PRI and created
what would later become the Party of the Democratic Revolution
(PRD). The PSUM and the left nationalist Mexican Workers Party
(PMT) also joined the PRD, thus strengthening the nationalist
populist opposition represented by the PRD, while at the same time
eliminating the more traditional socialist or communist left from
the political spectrum. Since 1989, socialism has never been a
political alternative in Mexico. In any case by 1989 there had come
into existence the system of three major parties that Mexicans have
today: PRI, PAN, and PRD.

The History of a Victory: Fraud, Murder and Militarization

The PRD now became the leader of the democratic opposition in
Mexico, a mass party with support from both poor peasants in rural
areas and from the middle class and professionals in the city-a
winning combination. In 1988 the PRD's founder and leader
Cuauhtemoc Cardenas almost certainly did win the presidential
election, but president de la Madrid falsified the returns and
relying on the implicit threat of armed violence installed Carlos
Salinas as president. And the PRI and the PAN later voted to burn
the ballots. The PRI's theft of the 1988 election, and Cardenas's
refusal to launch the social upheaval-and perhaps even civil
war-that it would have taken to claim his victory, led to the
eclipse of him and his party. Salinas's fraudulent 1988 election
thus laid the political basis for the victory of Fox.

For the next dozen years, determined to eliminate the
left-of-center opposition, the PRI government used all its
repressive measures against the PRD. Since its founding 11 years
ago, almost 500 PRD members have been murdered by PRI hooligans or
by the PRI-government military or police. Those murders-virtually
all of which have gone unpunished-represented an important part of
the process that made possible the election victory by the
conservative Fox. Yet despite the repression, the PRD survived,
though it never again attained its majority status.

During the 1990s the three-party system fleshed out as the PAN came
to govern various state in the north of Mexico, while Cuauhtemoc
Cardenas of the PRD won the mayoralty of Mexico City. But all three
parties moved toward the center under the pressure of international
developments. Events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the
collapse of Communism, and the emergence of U.S. as the world's one
super-power, combined with the pressures of the IMF, to compress
Mexico's political parties, and in particular to move the PRD
toward the center. Carlos Salinas's negotiation of the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the early 1990s made
Mexico part of the U.S. economic system in a way it had never been
before. While Cardenas of the PRD initially spoke out against NAFTA
and neoliberalism, by the 1990s he had tempered his positions,
accepting NAFTA and proposing that Mexico City become a center of
world finance. In any case, the PRI-government had made it clear by
the theft of the 1988 election and the murder of 500 PRD members
that it would never accept a PRD election victory or government.

Salinas's radical reorganization of the Mexican economy along the
lines demanded by the U.S. and the IMF led to an explosive reaction
from below. On January 1, 1994, the first day of the implementation
of NAFTA, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) led the
Chiapas Rebellion, an armed uprising by 2,000 Mayan Indian peasants
in Mexico's southernmost state. After its rebellion was stopped and
isolated by the military, the EZLN attempted to create a new left
in Mexico, a radical populist movement based on the indigenous
people, peasants, and the poor. For a while in late 1994 it seemed
as if the Zapatistas, the Civic Alliance (Alianza Civica - AC), and
the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) might join together to
create a more democratic Mexico. (See Dan La Botz, DEMOCRACY IN
MEXICO.) But despite National Democratic Conventions, consultas and
the creation of a Zapatista Front of National Liberation (FZLN) as
its political arm, the Zapatistas never became either a mass
national movement or a genuine party, and therefore offered no
political alternative. While the EZLN remained a great critical and
moral force in Mexican society, it has been unable to translate
that force into political power.

The government's response to the EZLN uprising and to other social
movements was the increasing militarization of Mexico. During the
1990s the Mexican government sent troops into Tabasco to stop the
social movement there led by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the local
leader of the PRD. The PRI-government sent the army into Chiapas to
fight and later to isolate the EZLN. The state also sent troops
into Guerrero, Oaxaca, Hidalgo and other states to fight the
People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) and other guerrillas
organizations. And military units were sent into northern states
such as Baja California and Chihuahua supposedly to stop
drug-traffickers. Paramilitary organizations, the police, and the
military massacred civilians, for example at Aguas Blancas and
Acteal. The militarization of Mexico has thus provided an essential
element in creating the conditions that led to the victory of Fox.

Democratic Mexico?

Will Fox's victory lead to a democratic Mexico or is that even the

Certainly many millions of Mexicans voted for democracy in this
election as best they could in the historic circumstances shaped by
71 years of PRI dominance and 20 years of neoliberalism. For
example, in Mexico City tens of thousands of voters apparently
split their tickets, voting for Fox for president, but also voting
for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD for mayor of Mexico
City. Similarly in other states many voters voted for Fox for
president and for PRI or PRD candidates for other offices. After
decades of voting a straight ticket for the Institutional
Revolutionary Party, this represents a new kind of electoral
sophistication. But of course this is choice within very narrow
parameters as established by the PRI, the IMF, and the U.S. by a
decade of turning the economic screws.

Fox's presidential victory leaves him facing a parliament divided
between the three major parties with the PAN, the PRI and the PRD
each controlling about a third of the vote. With the PAN and the
PRI sharing fundamentally the same neoliberal political-economic
program, it should not be difficult for Fox to form alliances in
congress to support his conservative program. What may be much
harder will be to change the conservative governmental bureaucracy
with its corruption, and the military with increasing involvement
in the drug trade and its growing involvement in overseeing the
troubled states of the south. In a very real sense the bureaucracy,
the police, and the military are the permanent government of Mexico
and Fox and the PAN have too few political cadres to undertake a
wholesale replacement. Moreover many PANistas and PRDistas share
the same bureaucratic and corrupt mentality as the PRIistas
themselves. If Fox represents political democracy, it will be a
long, slow and perhaps ultimately futile process to bring about
institutional change from above.

While both Mexican and U.S. pundits hail Fox's victory as the
triumph of democracy in Mexico, it is only the narrowest electoral
and political democracy. Mexican citizens and workers still do not
enjoy many of the most basic political, civil and labor rights.
Military, the police, and paramilitary organizations still suppress
citizens exercising their civil rights, and the government and
employers routinely suppress labor unions and workers. During the
past three months for example, the Mexican government has invoked
the "requisa" to seize a private airline and break a strike by
flight attendants, while police have beaten and arrested strikers
at maquiladora plants in order to suppress independent labor
unions. In Baja California, Chihuahua, and Fox's own state of
Guanajuato, workers have never been permitted to organize
independent labor unions of their own choosing. While the PRI-state
made possible the electoral victory of Fox, it has put every
obstacle in the way of workers' voting for independent labor unions
in their factories or on their farms.

What Does Fox's Victory Mean for Unions and Workers

What does Fox's victory mean for unions and workers? The Congress
of Labor (CT) and the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), the
"official" labor organizations of the PRI-government of course
supported Labastida, though labor demonstrations were notoriously
dreary affairs and the unions could no longer dragoon all of their
members into supporting the PRI. Leonardo Rodriguez Alcaine, head
of the Sole Union of Electrical Workers of the Mexican Republic
(SUTERM), of the CT and the CTM even threatened to call a general
strike if Fox was elected, though no one believed he would and he
has subsequently retracted the statement. Fox's victory will mean
an end to state-party support for the "official" labor movement,
and perhaps even an end to the very idea of an "official" labor

Fox may or may not punish the CT, CTM and other PRI-sponsored
unions for their support for Labastida, but in any case, he will
likely pursue an anti-union course. The PAN has historically been
hostile to the CT and CTM, and to labor unions in general. While
there are a few maverick PAN politicians who support genuine
independent labor unions, such as Javier Paz, most PANists would
like to see the dismantling of the old state-party-controlled
unions and their replacement by conservative collaborationist
unions that would work in "partnership" with the employres. The
hardcore PAN business groups in the North would like to see the CTM
replaced by company unions or the elimination of labor unions

Still, Fox's election will disrupt the old state-party lines of
control over the labor unions and may create an opportunity for
independent unions to organize, though they will have to do so with
their own power relying on the rank and file workers. Fox cannot be
expected to lift a finger to help them, as he has never done so in
the past. In his own state of Guanajuato the workers of Congeladora
del Rio, S.A. (CRISA) have fought a long battle for an independent
union, the governor Fox did nothing to help them.

Much of the vote for Fox was in reality a vote against the
PRI-government and 71 years of what the Peruvian author Vargas
Llosa called "the perfect dictatorship." But the election of Fox
has not brought about democracy, nor even a clear shift in the
direction of democracy. What it has done is consolidate the
twenty-year process of dismantling the nationalist political
economy that arose from the Mexican Revolution, and replacing it
with the corporate-dominated neoliberal regime. The fight for
democracy remains to be won by Mexico's citizens, by its workers,
farmers and the poor, and genuine democracy will only be won by an
upheaval from below that rejects not only the PRI, but the whole
political system it created, including the PAN and Fox.

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