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Mexico: Victory For Democracy or Neoliberalism?

by Dan La BotzMexican Labor News and Analysis
July 7th, 2000

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 an expression of Mexican people's desire for an end to the rule of the PRI and the establishment of a democratic political system. Ironically, it was also 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.


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.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.

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.


The History of a Victory: The Neoliberal Context

While U.S. president 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 free market system that has come to be called neoliberalism.

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.

During that period Mexico entered the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), today the World Trade Organization (WTO), and signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)


Democratic Mexico?

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.

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 policies, 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 Fox's electoral victory , it has put every obstacle in the way of workers' voting for independent labor unions in their factories or on their farms.

Fox's election 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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