Mexico in shaky state By Hoyt Purvis Austin News about Mexico seldom is reported in Texas. In recent months, however, Texas’ southern neighbor has received considerable attention in the state’s press. There have been numerous sensational stories about Americans held in Mexico on drug charges. Texas Monthly has run a cover story on “The Great Mexican Jailbreak,” and there have been daily headlines about a proposed prisoner exchange treaty. Additionally, the Texas press has been concerned about what the devaluation of the peso might mean for American tourists and merchants along the border. This has been the typical pattern for coverage of a complex country with longstanding cultural and economic ties to the United States. Although there has been a flurry of “crisis” articles in recent days, the story has been developing for months and was almost totally ignored until it reached the boiling point. With President Luis Echeverria’s sixyear term at an end, Mexico enters what may be its most tumultuous and uncertain period in decades. The recent plummeting of Mexico’s difficulties. Echeverria’s successor, Jose Lopez Portillo, inherits an extremely shaky economy and considerable discontent. Lopez Portillo is, however, the potential beneficiary of strong support from Mexico’s conservative middle and upper classes should he impose the strong economic restraints many expect. Lopez Portillo may move away from the highly activist style of Echeverria, but the Echeverria shadow won’t be easy to dodge. In fact, one of the biggest questions has been what will happen to Echeverria, who was prevented by the constitution from serving more than one six-year term. Some believe Echeverria has no intention of surrendering real power, even with Lopez Portillo in office. In his final months as president, Echeverria has made a major effort to solidify his support among workers and peasants. He has developed extensive personal media holdings, and is among the owners of a network of 39 newspapers. Echeverria already is looking beyond Mexico, however. He would like to succeed Kurt Waldheim as ‘secretary general of the United Nations, but Waldheim is expected to retain his position. Echeverria has established a group of Third World institutions in Mexico, including a Third World studies center, and these may serve as his base of operations. In any event, Echeverria will be in a position to exercise considerable international influence if he chooses to do so. Although Lopez Portillo was chosen to succeed Echeverria over a year ago, and was elected without opposition on July 4, he has said little about his plans. While he is generally expected to move.:-to reassure Mexican and multinational corporations of a favorable business climate, it is important to remember that Portillo is Echeverria’s hand-picked successor, even if the choice of his former finance minister caught everyone by surprise. Further, it might be worthwhile to recall Echeverria’s own history before making any assumptions about what Portillo will do. Before becoming president in 1970, Echeverria served -as interior minister and had been viewed as a conservative, loyal establishmentarian. He is particularly remembered for his role in crushing the student protest movement at the time of the 1968 Olympics, held in Mexico City. When he took office on Dec. 1, 1970, Echeverria emphasized he would steer the then-booming economy toward greater equity in the distribution of income. No one took his pledge as a radical departure. But then Echeverria began to adopt the postures of the more militant Third World countries and took up the call for a new international economic order. He became a strident voice in international forums. He attacked both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He expressed support for the late President Salvador Allende of Chile. However, Echeverria’s rhetoric was viewed by many as just thattalk backed up by relatively little action. His world travels and international pronouncements were said by critics to be an effort to cover up his inability to come to grips with domestic problems. Nonetheless, Echeverria is given credit for focusing attention on the needs of Mexico’s rural poor and for making some progress in organizing a family planning program. In his tenure, vast sums have been spent on hospitals, roads, and schools, particularly in rural regions. He also eased the repression of leftist intellectuals, many of whom had been jailed or censored by the previous administration of President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. But within the last year, as he found himself under increasing criticism, Echeverria is believed to have engineered the ouster of Julio Scherer Garcia, editor of Mexico’s leading daily newspaper, Excelsior. Scherer and a group of journalists who were ousted with him succeeded in starting a new political weekly, despite reported ‘efforts by government officials to buy them off. In the first issue of Proceso, Gaston Garcia Cantu, a Marxist professor, wrote, “We weren’t a rich or economically independent country, but we’re even less one now. We weren’t a just or democratic country, but we’re even less so now. We weren’t a representative republic but rather a system of executive lower dominating the legislature and judiciary. Today we are a society ruled, manipulated, and confused by a power that threatens to become absolute.” In the final weeks of his administration, Echeverria seemed bent upon polarizing the country. He stepped up his attacks on the rich, no doubt stimulating a further outflow of capital. He also carried through with a long-promised expropriation of land on behalf of the peasantry. The government took over 243,100 acres of rich Yaqui Valley farm land which it said was held by 72 families whose oligarchic ownership violated Mexico’s small-landholdings law. Echeverria said the expropriated land would be distributed among 8,037 poor farmers. The big landholders are fighting the action and a spokesman said, “It was an illegal act serving political purposes to exalt the image of . . . Echeverria.” Some interpreted the expropriation as an effort to provoke a serious confrontation, which, along with the economic crisis, might justify a declaration of a state of emergency by Echeverria, allowing him to remain in power. There also were rumors that the army would intervene for or against Echeverria. For all the controversy generated by Echeverria, he has relied more on symbols and rhetoric and the grand gesture than on strong policies. His reign has been somewhat reminiscent of Sukarno in Indonesia and Nkrumah in Ghana, and not without some of the megalomania that plagued those earlier Third World leaders. Of course, Echeverria faced the extremely difficult task of making the en December 10, 1976 13
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