A Second Mexican Revolution? Mexico City TWO SUBURBAN-TYPE American tourists loitered outside a Puerto Vallarta sandal boutique. They made small chitchat while their wives searched inside for Mexican bargains. “You know, this will probably be Ethel’s and my last vacation in Mexico for a long time,” said one of the tubby, camera-toting men. “There’s no doubt about it, with Mexico’s economy going as it is, this place is headed for revolution.” Economic statistics look like they could add up to a second Mexican revolution. High interest rates, skidding oil prices, capital flight, and unwise government overspending have forced the peso to slide to one-sixth of its previous value relative to the dollar in just over a year. The foreign debt has surged from $26 billion dollars to a nearly unmanageable $84 billion dollars since December 1976. Inflation, which was maintained at about 30% for several years, reached 100 percent in 1982 and remains volatile. More than one million workers lost their jobs last year. Business volume, except in pawn shops, is down, and hundreds of enterprises face bankruptcy. The gross national product, which expanded by an average of 8% per year between 1977 and 1981, plummeted to zero in 1982 and may reach negative 2.5 % this year. Meanwhile, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, the Mexican government is deeply cutting its spending, particularly on social programs. Even before the current economic crisis fully bloomed last summer, the social ingredients for potential upheaval in Mexico were certainly there. Distribution of wealth is skewed even Kim Conroy, a former World Bank consultant, is a freelancer who covers Latin American affairs for ABC News and National Public Radio. Clifford Krauss covers Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean for Cox Newspapers. This is the first in a series of articles on Mexico they will be writing for the Observer. By Kim Conroy and Clifford Krauss by Latin American standards. More than half of the Mexican work force neither holds a steady job nor earns the daily minimum wage of just over $4. Extensive corruption undermines the functioning of the public and private sectors. Because of recent poor harvests and a failed land reform where many peasants received land but in such small quantities and of such poor quality as to make subsistence impossible millions have fled to the cities, packing sprawling slums to an explosive level. But a recipe for revolution also calls for a breakdown of the political system and an opposition willing and able to topple the status quo by organizing the masses. Neither the ruling Institutional formist-minded opposition parties, on both the left and the right, are ready to oblige. The official party has held power for so long more than 60 years that most Mexicans think the words PRI and government are synonymous. The PRI’s political machine is so overwhelming it includes the most powerful federations of industrial and agricultural workers unions that it would have made Richard Daley a jealous man. The official party’s and government’s political modus operandi may easily be summed up as appease -, cajole, and, only in the most dire of circumstances, repress. One of the principal forms of appeasement, of keeping the masses quiet if not content, are subsidies. For what one phone call costs in the United States, you can make 75 calls here. Corn tortillas, the staple of the Mexican diet, are four cents a pound. And rides on the buses and subways in Mexico City cost no more than one U.S. cent. Even though the subsidies on many goods and services have been diminished under the government’s recently initiated austerity program, the ones necessary to keep staple foods on the table and laborers commuting to work are still there. “Just so long as they don’t increase the price of tortillas, as long as there are tortillas which we can fill with nopales or other wild vegetables or anything,” said Antonia Recendis Cruz, a 68-yearold peasant woman who migrated from the countryside to the capital many years ago. Antonia lives in one of the squalid slums that skirt Mexicb City. Her one-room shack, constructed from discarded scraps of metal and tar paper, stands by a garbage-covered, ratinfested river bank. Antonia never completed her sentence, as if she dared not imagine what would happen if poor people like herself could no longer afford even their monotonous daily fare. As the powers-that-be pacify the common man and woman, they also coopt political opposition leaders who publicly offer change. During the last administration, the opposition parties which range from fanatical Catholic to Trotskyist accepted a reform package which made them part of the political system. Many new parties were legally recognized, all were offered campaign funds by the government, and the largest of these groups were given some seats in the rubber-stamp House of Deputies. Similarly, the PRI keeps the media in tow by giving or taking away government advertising, bribes, and even newsprint. So far the PRI has succeeded in averting serious social disruption, mostly by keeping its labor wing docile. Despite occasional labor leader chafing, official unions have accepted wage hikes well below the inflation rate. Unemployed workers, with few noteworthy exceptions, have not yet taken to the streets. In Brazil, by comparison, where the unions are independent of the government, there has been rioting and looting in protest to similar conditions and state policies. Even if violent upheaval is far from certain, there is no doubt Mexico will never be quite the same when and if it rises above the current economic and financial crisis. In foreign policy, normally progressive Mexico City has deferred largely to the wishes of Washington and has looked the other THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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