Mexico’s Election Brings New Season of Discontent BY NICK DAUSTER IAM NOT AFRAID to tell the truth,” Roberto Blanco Moheno recently wrote in a Mexican political magazine. “[Presidents] Luis Echeverria, Jose Lopez Portillo, and Miguel de la Madrid have been provoking, with their errors, their insanity, their clumsiness, and their dishonesty, a revolution.” The substance of these words is less interesting than their source. Blanco Moheno has been a faithful servant and apologist for the ruling Institutional Party government’s handling of the 1968 student crisis which ended in the massacre at Tlatelolco and he is one of the very few Mexican journalists to have served in Congress under Lopez Portillo. Blanco Moheno’s denunciation is yet another sign that PRI’s 60-year domination of Mexican politics is weakening. Since its foundation in 1929, the party has never lost the presidency or a governorship and it has dominated the national and all 31 state legislatures. Allegations of electoral fraud and abuse of power have been made since its beginning, but it is also clear that the PRI has enjoyed the tacit, if reserved, support of the electorate. The question now is whether more than a decade of vicious inflation has eroded that consensus. In 1976, 12.5 pesos bought a dollar; this year the exchange rate has plunged as low as 2,700, before rebounding to 2,200. Consumer prices have, of course, followed suit: a liter of milk has soared from less than ten pesos to 560; a kilo of eggs has risen from 20 pesos to 1,700. The national debt has not been reduced despite years of austerity budgets. The country is exasperated with inflation, and there is great suspicion that businesses and speculators are taking advantage of it to enhance their profits. With shock one reads in the press that President de la Madrid is ineficaz weak. Mexican presidents are generally accused of abusing power, not of lacking it. Yet PRI is expected to win the election this July. As bad as Mexico’s domestic crisis has become, the dominant Institutional Party of the Revolution continues to control public works and jobs, claim responsibility for , agrarian reform, the nationalization of the oil Nick Dauster is a freelance writer living in Austin. industry, and what was, until the seventies, sustained economic growth for the middle and more importantly the upper classes. Perhaps PRI’s greatest strength is its resilience. The party is composed of three sectors, representing labor, agriculture, and “popular organizations,” principally small businesses. Nominees for political office other than the presidency are generally selected by the party from a list of names submitted by these groups. Another of PRI’s real strengths, reflected in its name, has been its ability to employ revolutionary satisfying the demand for growth from large “With their errors, their insanity, their clumsiness they are provoking a revolution.” economic interest groups. The ability to unite those two forces, and the control of patronage, has deprived the opposition of any significant base beyond pockets of activism; opposition parties even accept subsidies which are also controlled by PRI from the government in order to finance their campaigns. This year, the National Action Party refused the subsidies. PAN is best known in Texas for a series of border demonstrations in 1985, protesting alleged electoral fraud; the clear goal was to focus American media attention on the next round of gubernatorial elections in hope of affecting their outcome. Demonstrations and violence even the burning of municipal buildings are time-honored traditions of political protest in the interior of Mexico. PAN’s innovation was to bring them to the American border. The American media descended on the next round of elections and found some blatant fraud, but PRI does not part with governorships easily. While it is generally accepted by the press and the academic community that fraud exists, it is not clear that PAN is strong enough to convert its victories in industrial cities to statewide success. PAN has an agenda similar to that of the American Republican party privatization and the shrinking of government, a return to traditional values and the virtue of capitalism. If the Republicans are a party of business struggling with an influx of grassroots religion, PAN is the party of conservative Catholicism transformed by businessmen disillusioned with PRI. In fact, PAN does not fare very well today in what is one of the most religious areas of the country, the western states of Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato, and Zacatecas, where rural Catholic rebels waged a furious guerrilla war against the government from 1926 through 1929. PAN’s success is almost entirely urban. Even when it has managed to win races outside the northern states, its limited success is in the urban manufacturing centers, not the rural areas or the small conservative cities. The new PAN, the party of the northern businessmen, looks to America for both inspiration and ideology; its message is no longer that of Catholic values but of the dynamism of the free market. THE BATTLE between PRI and PAN is in many ways a recent version of a conflict older than the modern Mexican state. Northern Mexico is geographically, culturally, and ethnically distinct from Central Mexico, which has traditionally fought to extend its power northward. The tension between the two areas predates the Aztecs. The best-known episode in this long struggle was the Mexican Revolution. To Americans, the image of the Revolution is inescapably wedded to the images of the plundering Villa and the outraged peasant Zapata. But the men who made the Revolution were all northerners from privileged families: Francisco Madero, of Coahuila’s wealthiest family; Venustiano Carranza, a former governor of Coahuila fallen from favor; and Alvaro Obregon and Plutarco Elias Calles, both sons of hacienda owners. The leadership of the Revolution came from northerners interested in greater economic liberty and who saw in the 12 MARCH 25, 1988
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