COMMON GROUND

Mexico: A Government in Transition

Program 0115 April 10, 2001


Related Links:
www.utexas.edu/students/nave/zaps.html
www.geography.about.com/library/maps/blmexico.htm

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

STEVE BARRACA: When we ask an open-ended question, "What is the most important problem that the city of Juarez faces?" you see crime, corruption, insecurity, right at the top.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Mexico’s new leadership and the struggle for peace in Chiapas.

NEIL HARVEY : The answers to the problems in Chiapas lie in more development rather than less. And would see that the private sector has a strong role to play in that.

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I'm Kristin McHugh. Mexican President Vicente Fox, the first opposition candidate elected in more than 70 years, just marked his first 100 days in office.

PORTER: While the popular new leader promises far-reaching change, Mexicans are closely watching Fox’s agenda to see how it affects the destiny of their nation. As Common Ground Correspondent Kent Paterson reports, a broad variety of political actors and economic interests are influencing change in Mexico.

[sounds of a large crowd cheering, yelling]

KENT PATERSON: July 2, 2000, Ciudad, Juarez, Mexico. On this historic date thousands of people filled the streets of Juarez and other cities across the nation. They’re celebrating both the birthday and victory of their presidential candidate, Vicente Fox. Quesada [sic], of the opposition Alliance For Change.

[A woman speaks excitedly in Spanish.]

PATERSON: This Fox supporter sums up the political sentiments of many Mexicans. She says she voted for a better economy and an end to the backwardness of 71 years of governance by the Institutional Revolutionary Party-PRI.

[singing at a large rally]

PATERSON: But Fox’s victory was not entirely the upset its been made out to be by the US media. Although it was entrenched in power for seven decades, the PRI political machine began losing state governorships to Fox’s center-right National Action Party-PAN-in the late 1980s. And in 1997 the PRI lost control of the federal Congress for the first time. Fox’s victory, then, should be viewed as a culmination of a long-simmering voter revolt. Steve Barraca is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas, El Paso, and a specialist in Mexican politics.

STEVE BARRACA: If our surveys are accurate, and we believe they are, the key issues tend to be crime related-insecurity, crime, corruption-they’re all at the top. When we ask an open-ended question, "What is the most important problem that the city of Juarez faces?" you see crime, corruption, insecurity, right at the top. So, I think people are tired of that. They’re looking for change.

[A man speaks in Spanish]

PATERSON: Eight months later Mexicans’ expectations of their new president and for change remain high. Since taking office, Fox has declared war on corruption and drug trafficking, made peace overtures to Zapatista rebels, and floated controversial proposals to tax medicine. He also says he wants to create a common market in North America and open the US-Mexico border to Mexican workers. At the same time, Fox has reinforced Mexico’s commitment to global free-trade pacts and appointed new ministers with corporate backgrounds.

[A woman speaks in Spanish]

PATERSON: Chilo Villareal is an organizer with the Chihuahua Commission in Solidarity and Defense of Human Rights-COSSYDHAC. A Roman Catholic church backed human rights group, COSSYDHAC works on a number of issues, ranging from anti-torture campaigns to indigenous rights. Villareal assesses the Fox phenomenon as a mixed bag.

Chilo Villareal: The hope for change is that there will be more participation from civil society. In any case, the discourse has changed. There have been some changes in relation to how the former ruling party, the PRI, has behaved. We’re hoping that we will achieve things through the participation of civil society. We know that on the economic level there won’t be many changes. Because we see that the majority of Fox’s cabinet only comes from the one line-the neoliberal line. Many of them are people who work with big businessmen who have money. So there will be negative things happening on the economic level.

But we have tried to participate on other levels. As members of the All Rights For National Network, we’ve put together a minimum agenda. We’ve presented a series of proposals to all the candidates-Fox included-who heard them at the last minute. We’ve been participating in round table dialogues so our proposals are heard. But we’ve realized that if we don’t participate as an organization and as a society then nothing will change. But it’s the beginning of a process. We are not in democracy-we’re initiating a process to get a democracy.

[A woman sings in Spanish, with low crowd noises in the background]

PATERSON: Competition for political power in Mexico today is happening on many different levels. Several different political parties now govern on the state and local levels. Take for example the state of Guerrero, and its largest city, the international resort of Acapulco. While Guerrero State is governed by the old PRI, Acapulco is now run by the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution, and a reform-minded mayor, Zeferino Torreblanca.

ZEFERINO TORREBLANCA: [via a translator] I think now we’re living in an era in which there is no longer a vertical dependence. In other words, those of us in the three levels of government complement each other. In order to fulfill our responsibilities we have to pull the cart together. Previously the mayor did nothing without first consulting the governor. And the governor did nothing without first consulting the president, or the "six-year king." And the kings ordered around the viceroys-who were the governors-and the viceroys had their underlings, who were the mayors. Nowadays I think everyone respects our autonomy. We understand this collaboration.

[sound of a public rally]

PATERSON: But with the weakening of the political center and long-dominant PRI Party, other actors have grown more important in recent years-namely, the Mexican armed forces. Deployed in large numbers across southern Mexico, the Mexican military has assumed law-and-order functions, acted as a counterinsurgency force, and even been deployed in so-called civic campaigns. At the same time, the Mexican army is becoming an economic power in its own right. It manages a bank, sells commercial products, and even exports cattle to the United States. And in recent years the United States has helped strengthen the power of the armed forces.

Jorge Luis Sierra [sic]: [speaks in Spanish]

PATERSON: Jorge Luis Sierra [sic] is an assistant editorial director of the Mexico City daily, Mexico Today, and one of the country’s foremost independent analysts on military affairs.

Jorge Luis Sierra [sic]: [via a translator] It seems that the US government, its executive branch, as well as its legislative one, hasn’t taken into account that they’re providing aid to an armed forces that lacks adequate supervision in this country. In other words, what they’re doing is providing training and arms to an army that lacks what’s called accountability in the United States. This has provoked some very critical moments in Mexican military-civilian relations. And this is principally due to the altering of political relations in Mexico. The political transition has made for greater accountability in the country. The composition of the congress has changed; electoral laws have changed; and the opposition has assumed political power. In spite of the fact that there have been important changes in the executive and legislative branches of government, this change has not reached the armed forces. The modernization of the military is happening almost independently of whoever achieves power or whatever political party the sitting president hails from.

PATERSON: One of candidate Fox’s campaign promises was to take the Mexican military out of drug law enforcement. But President Fox appointed a Mexican general as head of the civilian attorney general of the republic. And in Tijuana, on the US-Mexico border, a militarized police unit, the Federal Preventive Police, were deployed on the city streets to combat the Arellano drug cartel.

Jorge Luis Sierra [sic]: [via a translator] Fox is a politician, now converted into president, who tends to make public declarations that are sometimes contradictory to previous statements that he’s made. This was a characteristic of Vicente Fox’s campaign, so it’s not so strange that the President would change his opinion. With a military man at the helm of the attorney general of the republic, the militarization of the drug war has been reinforced. The armed forces are being employed as the principal force in the fight against the drug cartels. I understand that the President has his reasons; I also understand that the use of the military has had very little success. It hasn’t produced results. The amount of drugs the military is confiscating is less than that seized by the attorney general of the republic, even though it’s been said that this institution has been infiltrated by the drug traffickers. The amount of drugs that are confiscated is minimal compared to the amount that enters the United States. Recently the Mexican Secretary of Defense and Attorney General announced that three tons of cocaine had been confiscated during the first 30 days of Fox’s government. On average, 48 tons of cocaine passed through Mexican territory to the US every month.

PATERSON: In his first months in office President Fox has prioritized international relations, the fight against drug trafficking, and the conflict in Chiapas. But one issue that received little attention in either his campaign or his first 100 days as president, was the environment. A recent report from Mexico’s environmental ministry, Semarnat, warns that the country faces an environmental crisis of major proportions. The Costa Grande of Guerrero State here, is a microcosm of the rest of Mexico. Rivers, lagoons, and bays are polluted from pesticides, municipal sewage discharges, and industrial wastes. The slopes of the majestic Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range are being stripped bare from deforestation. Residents complain of dried-up streams and diminishing rainfall.

Silvestre Pacheco: [speaks in Spanish]

PATERSON: Silvestre Pacheco is a former city councilman, journalist, and member of the Costa Libre [sic] Collective. He’s currently active with the Movement for the Defense and Preservation of Zihuatanejo Bay. Pacheco says Mexico’s political parties are missing the boat when it comes to a sustainable future.

Silvestre Pacheco: [via a translator] The political parties can have a great big influence in their policies about citizen participation. They can move the population forward in resolving their problems. They could do it, but the political parties are organizations incapable of having the people participate. They are actually lagging behind our movement. You saw it in the meeting we had today in the city council chambers. Even a change of political party in the government is no guarantee that the problems are going to be dealt with and resolved. The only guarantee is that the people organize and participate.

PATERSON: Whether on the environment or many other issues, Mexico’s new rulers will have to address a deep-seated problem that affects all others. Elected as Acapulco mayor in 1999, Zeferino Torreblanca confronts what President Fox now claims he will root out-corruption in government.

ZEFERINO TORREBLANCA: [via a translator] The problem of corruption in this country and in the world is not an easy one. It’s a routine practice to the extent that in this country we see corruption as a form of government. But in order to reduce corruption it not only requires the unilateral action of the government, but also the collaboration of citizens. Here people have the custom of building houses without permits because they suppose that eventually they will be able to fix the problem with money. Someone who violates a traffic law finds that it’s much easier to pay the street cop than to try to pay the fine or correct the problem. This culture of corruption in which we are accustomed to living in this country makes matters more difficult. But I think that one of the fundamental advances in Acapulco is that nobody can point to the head of the municipal government and say he is corrupt. Personal enrichment through public office was practically routine in Mexico. But I think we’ve been cutting down on corruption, because the amount of income we’ve taken in has increased almost 40 percent over that of the previous administration.

PATERSON: For Common Ground, I’m Kent Paterson reporting.

MCHUGH: The prospects for peace in Chiapas, next on Common Ground.

Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: In 1994 the Zapatista rebellion in southern Mexico’s Chiapas State drew worldwide attention to the issues of indigenous rights and globalization.

MCHUGH: Seven years later the Zapatistas are again in the spotlight with their recent marches to Mexico City. But as Common Ground Correspondent Kent Paterson reports, the struggle for peace in southern Mexico promises to be a long, drawn-out process involving a complex set of actors and issues.

[sounds of a large crowd cheering, yelling]

KENT PATERSON: Marcher parade down a Mexico City street, shouting slogans in support of Chiapas’s Zapatista Army of National Liberation-EZLN. This demonstration was held to support the Zapatista’s own march on Mexico City and build support for the EZLN’s three demands for renewal of the dialogue between the insurgents and the Mexican government, which has been suspended for almost five years The indigenous leaders want the Mexican government to withdraw from three army bases, free all pro-Zapatista prisoners, and implement the 1996 San Andres Accords that guarantee indigenous rights and autonomy.

[A man speaks in Spanish.]

PATERSON: Emerging more than seven years ago, the Zapatista movement quickly became an international one. A broad-based international solidarity movement is active in many countries. Identifying with the Mexican indigenous movements, critique of global free trade, and authoritarian political rule, this trade unionist traveled from the northeastern United States to witness the pro-Zapatista march.

AMERICAN TRADE UNIONIST: We just had a plant closing in, outside of Boston, actually-not a closing, but a layoff, where the job, the work was taken to Mexico. These were good jobs in a manufacturing company where the workers made about $14 an hour. And they were told that the workers in Mexico were gonna make $4 a day. And there was just no way, of course, that any worker in the States can compete with those kind of wages. It does feel like we’re on a race to the bottom.

[chanting at a large rally]

PATERSON: While enjoying international backing, the Zapatistas are now at a political crossroads within Mexico. Although Mexico’s economy continues on the same course, the political map is very different than in 1994. The one-party state the Zapatistas rose up against has fractured, with a center-right government headed by President Vicente Fox now in power in Mexico City, and center-left government led by Governor Pablo Salazar, now in the seat of Chiapas’s own state government.

NEIL HARVEY: We often focus on the leaders, on Marcos, on Fox, on the negotiations at the highest levels, on what Zapatismo means internationally to people who resist neoliberalism and globalization and things like that. And all of that, of course. is important.

PATERSON: Neil Harvey is Associate Professor of Government at New Mexico State University and author of the book, The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy. Harvey says that the Zapatista Movement has transformed the political landscape of Chiapas State and beyond.

HARVEY: But I think what’s happened, also at the local level Zapatismo has had quite a significant impact in politicizing many people in the communities of Chiapas and indigenous communities. Who have formed new organizations, they’ve formed new alliances, they’ve organized around issues which were traditionally marginal such as environmental protection; also around women’s rights and women’s participation in the political process; about tolerance for different religious ideas.

PATERSON: As a long-time visitor to Chiapas, Harvey is cautiously optimistic that a peace agreement can be reached between the Zapatistas and Fox administration.

HARVEY: The answers to the problems in Chiapas lie in more development rather than less. And would see that the private sector has a strong role to play in that. I think his interest is in achieving a peaceful solution so that then they can press ahead with economic developments of a fairly traditional type. And I think, though, that a peace agreement is possible if the debate goes beyond that and includes issues of social justice and distribution, not just simply economic growth. And also respect for indigenous rights. And indigenous rights go beyond the right also to be a small businessman and participate in the globalized economy.

PATERSON: But Harvey warns that local interests, represented in part by anti-Zapatista paramilitary groups, remain a serious roadblock.

HARVEY: Recently one of the big paramilitary organizations in Chiapas, known as pas y justicia, ironically named "Peace and Justice," have threatened members of indigenous communities who’ve been working with the new state governments in Chiapas to identify the perpetrators of attacks in previous years against sympathizers of the Zapatistas. And so that issue is still a very alive issue in Chiapas. By no means has Chiapas suddenly become pacified, or will it become pacified, through the signing of a peace accord in Mexico City. And there’s a lot of work to be done at the local level. A lot of need to learn the lessons of the past and to rebuild those communities in ways which allow for the various differences to coexist.

JUAN BAuTISTA [sic]: [speaking in Spanish]

PATERSON: While the resumption of peace negotiations is possible for the Chiapas conflict, the Mexican army maintains a presence in many other regions of southern Mexico, where opposition activity, including armed groups, is present. Juan Bautista is leader of the campesino organization Petitlan in Coyuca De Catatlan in Guerrero State, a group dedicated to halting logging in the mountains. For more than three years, Batista’s lived away from his home, evading Mexican army patrols. Several members of his group have been murdered or disappeared since 1998. And others, including the internationally recognized environmental activist Rudolfo Monteil and Teodora Cabrera [sic], have been jailed. Bautista says his group is not connected to guerrilla activity, and he wants the army withdrawn from the Guerrero Mountains.

[A woman speaks in Spanish]

PATERSON: Several hours down the highway from Petatlan, shoppers and merchants crowd the downtown of Coyuca de Benitez. Since the mid-1990s, several different guerrilla organizations, including the Popular Revolutionary Army and Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People, have emerged in Coyuca de Benitez in Guerrero. A spokesman for another group, the People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, recently told Mexican media that events in Chiapas could influence his own group’s stance on negotiations.

[Hilda Navarette speaks in Spanish]

PATERSON: Hilda Navarette Is a longtime organizer with the local human rights group, The Voice of the Voiceless. Navarete says she’s hopeful that peace initiatives in Chiapas can work there and elsewhere. In Guerrero a possible amnesty law for members of armed groups is being discussed. In neighboring Oaxaca State, the state Congress last year approved such a measure. Ile de Navarete:

HILDA NAVARETTE: [via a translator] I view the amnesty law for armed groups in Guerrero and Oaxaca as a very good thing. As long as it benefits people who have been unjustly accused, because there have been people who have been unjustly accused of belonging to armed groups. The law will be marvelous if it brings about a process of reconciliation in our states. I’ll speak from a very personal experience, as a resident of Guerrero. Back in the 1970s in Guerrero, Governor Reuben Figueroa [sic] decreed an amnesty for all suspected guerrillas of the time. Likewise, all the social leaders were welcomed and offered jobs. History has shown that it was all for the purpose of corralling and killing them. All the social leaders were left dead by the side of the road. Figueroa [sic] gave this state a bloodbath. He left it in peace. According to the governor there were ex-guerrillas who were perhaps being executed by their own people. What’s certain is that they were identified and located. He who could be co-opted, was co-opted. He who couldn’t be co-opted, was killed. This is not the way to go. There has to be a very broad and profound process of reconciliation in order for there to be conditions for peace in our country. If not, we will be reliving what was done in Guerrero during the 1970s. Which, in the final analysis, did not bring about real peace. It brought the peace of the dead.

[sound of pouring coffee beans]

PATERSON: Meanwhile, the economic crisis in southern Mexico deepens. Growers like the ones on this coffee farm in Guerrero continue to face declining prices for their products and increasing prices for their inputs like gasoline. Add to that the increased prices for gas heat, telephone service, and other basic goods announced during the first months of the Fox administration. With the collapsed rural economy, emigration to the United States is on the rise. In response, President Fox is hatching an ambitious multibillion dollar economic development program for the South, hoping to further integrate Mexico’s poorest region into the global economy. This new scheme, dubbed "Plan Puebla Panama," envisions clothes factories and natural resources as the new commodities of choice. However, the plan has come under fire from both the Zapatistas and Mexico’s National Indigenous Congress as amounting to a theft of the nation’s resources and labor. Professor Neil Harvey:

HARVEY: I think the model that Fox would like to see developed from Puebla, which is in central Mexico, south all the way down to Panama, would be one in which you could spread the maquilla industries and those areas of industry which are no longer seen as profitable in northern Mexico would now move further south in a kind of gradual progression from the northeast of the United States down to the southern parts of the United States, then into northern Mexico, now into central and southern Mexico, of low-paying work and that kind of industry, of labor intensive industry and agribusiness. So I think they’re very serious about this project and that’s why I mentioned before, I think for Fox what’s in the way of advancing with that project would be the lack of stability in Chiapas. And the way to achieve stability would be to achieve some kind of peace accord with the Zapatistas. To be able to then proceed with this economic model. And but there, that’s going to be the difficult part, because I think the Zapatistas are demanding other things besides maquilladoras.

[chanting at a large rally]

PATERSON: Whether peace comes to Chiapas this year or not, conflicts between the Mexican government and Zapatistas are likely to intensify over such matters as Plan Puebla Panama. As Mexico enters a new political era, the various actors are taking up strategic positions. On one side of the fence is the free trade projects started under the old PRI ruling party, but now pushed by President Vicente Fox’s government. And on the other side is the growing indigenous movement symbolized by the Zapatistas. For Common Ground, I’m Kent Paterson reporting.

MCHUGH: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free. Cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0115; that's Program Number 0115. To order by credit card you can call us at 319-264-1500. That's 319-264-1500.

PORTER: Transcripts are also available on our web site, commongroundradio.org. Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is commonground@stanleyfdn.org. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I'm Kristin McHugh. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by The Stanley Foundation.

© 2000 by The Stanley Foundation

Related Links:
www.utexas.edu/students/nave/zaps.html
www.geography.about.com/library/maps/blmexico.htm

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