The PRI’s Agenda: Manipulation, Corruption and Violence
Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has controlled the state for the past 70 years, is loyal to only two concepts: corruption and impunity. Without a shift in economic policy, poverty will continue to increase. And if the PRI remains in the presidency, there will be no shift.
Speaking in Paris in mid-March, the governor of Mexico City, Rosario Rosales, said that the upcoming elections, the university conflict and the situation in Chiapas have combined to create a "very complicated" climate in her country. It is an accurate assessment of a difficult situation, and the picture becomes even more complicated if one adds the problem of poverty, which will only increase unless there is a change in the country’s economic policies.
The PRI’s corruption ruleWhen President Ernesto Zedillo declared in Davos, Switzerland, that Francisco Labastida was "his" candidate for July’s presidential elections in Mexico, the criticism was not long in coming. National Action Party (PAN) candidate Vicente Fox, for example, accused Zedillo of trying to ensure that the next President would protect his back, as has been the traditional rule in Mexico among corrupt politicians. It was soon clear that that the state apparatus had been placed at Labastida’s service, in line with the traditional confusion between the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Mexican state. In one of the most blatant examples of this confusion, the PRI’s candidate for Mexico City handed out milk earmarked for the most needy by state social programs as part of his political campaign. The Democratic Revolutionary Party responded by calling on the PRI to stop manipulating the country’s poverty to its advantage; the PRD’s presidential candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, accused the governing party of looking to attract votes by trafficking in the very poverty it had created.
Meanwhile, Vicente Fox accused the Foreign Relations Secretariat of having prepared Labastida’s journey to Chile and Subcomandante Marcos remarked on the increased aerial patrols when the PRI candidate visited Chiapas, mirroring the treatment given to Zedillo, thus demonstrating that the army already considers him its new chief. Such state-party confusion is so entrenched that when it was discovered that Nuevo León’s PRI leader had used public money for party campaigning, he defended himself by claiming that this was in keeping with his party’s normal practices.
Time for democracy?In March, the PRI celebrated 71 years of oppressing the Mexican people. The opposition Alliance for Mexico, led by the PRD, and the Alliance for Change, led by the PAN, objected to the PRI’s use of the Mexican colors in its party shield, but the judicial branch’s Electoral Tribunal once again proved its allegiance to the PRI by ruling in its favor.
Some years ago, Seymour Martin Lipset wrote in his classic book, Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics, that Mexico could not be fully classified as a democracy because the PRI had been in power for six decades and the country’s high poverty levels made it democratically unstable. According to Lipset, corruption tends to increase when a party has been in power for a long time, and he concluded that Mexico would only achieve democracy once the PRI had left office. Along the same lines, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has stated that Mexican democracy will remain illusory as long as the PRI continues to govern.
The current election campaign appeared to be making such a transcendental change seem possible. In fact, for several days the Canadian government’s web page suggested that the PRI might lose control of the presidency. Many analysts therefore predicted that the PRI would play even dirtier and try to cling to power by mounting an electoral fraud. It was also suggested that the party would deliberately increase violence as a tactic aimed at encouraging people to vote for it out of fear.
Most opinion polls show that the PRI candidate’s popularity has peaked and the PAN has closed the gap to produce a technical draw. Cárdenas, who is once again representing the PRD and was a long way behind the other two, has also begun to pick up ground. On International Women’s Day (March 8), Cárdenas condemned the injustices suffered by Mexican women and recalled the pregnant women murdered by PRI sympathizers at Acteal and the imprisoned female university students. He also reminded his audience that while Labastida was state governor of Sinaloa a female human rights worker had been murdered there with the complicity of the authorities.
Imagine Mexico without the PRI…The PRI’s campaign has not been very convincing, and its candidate keeps falling into the trap of making demagogic promises that are immediately shown to be unviable. In desperation, Labastida even tried to turn the FOBAPROA case to his own advantage, accusing some of the PAN candidate’s brothers of having benefited from that bank bailout fund. Fox riposted that it was Labastida’s relatives, the PRI and the PRI’s top campaign organizers that had really benefited from the money. The magazine Proceso added to the PRI’s woes by providing information on the Labastida family’s involvement in the financial scandal, while a PRD parliamentary representative named some of those involved, including PRI members, former Presidents, leaders of the PRI’s labor sector, businesspeople linked to the ruling party and the PRI’s main presidential campaign organizers.
There were calls to name all of those implicated, but this would involve using the whole set of passwords distributed among the parties to open the diskette left by the Canadian auditor, and of course the PRI refused to cooperate. Scared and with plenty to hide, the party preferred to remain faithful to its two main principles: corruption and impunity. In an attempt to clean up his image, Labastida announced that he had broken with former President Salinas de Gortari, though the PRI’s list of candidates for Senate include prominent Salinas supporters.
To make matters worse for Labastida, nobody has forgotten that he was responsible for persecuting international solidarity observers in Chiapas, blocking the dialogue with the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and aggravating the conflict in the Mexican Autonomous University (UNAM). At the same time, Vicente Fox has concentrated on showing that Labastida represents "more of the same," while his own party’s messages highlight the serious problems facing the country, inviting voters to "Imagine Mexico without the PRI, and now!"
A narcostate?It has been suggested by international observers that Mexico is on the verge of becoming a "narcostate" due to the intricate links between organized crime and the state apparatus. The PAN accused the PRI of being linked to drug traffickers and when the PRI demanded evidence, it responded that the case of Mario Villanueva, the former governor of Quintana Roo, was more than enough: Villanueva is currently on the run, accused of being a drug baron. The authorities are also protecting a former PRI governor of Morales who headed a gang of kidnappers.
The level of PRI corruption within the very institution responsible for implementing justice was revealed when the chief clerk of the Attorney General’s Office committed suicide following the discovery of bank accounts in his name containing large amounts of ill-gotten money. Speaking in the United States, Fox stated that alternating power is the only way to tackle drug trafficking in Mexico.
Simulated negotiation, manipulated justiceThe opposition has demanded that the Mexican government publicly declare the agreements it secretly made with the IMF to privatize a number of state companies in return for which it will receive a large loan supposedly to be used to service the foreign debt. It is feared that part of this money could find its way into the PRI’s election coffers. The Executive has also announced a budget cut that clearly reflects its priorities, trimming US$20 million from education and over $23 million from rural programs, but only $256,000 from the armed forces. And the government is making these cuts during a boom in which the country is receiving 50% more than expected from oil sales due the increase in international prices.
The privatizations and the education budget cuts are related to the university conflict. According to former UNAM rector Pablo González Casanova, the neoliberal goal is to turn the university into a commercial concern. Since February, the student movement has concentrated its efforts on freeing the students arrested during the violent occupation of the UNAM, accused of being a danger to society. After the students were imprisoned, the university authorities, who had at first simulated a conciliatory position, ended up filing the charges. The charges against them are both excessive and untenable, and the bail that has been set is out of all proportion to the accusations: one judge even put it at $10,000. When the university authorities declared that they would help parents raise the money to post the bail it seemed like a bad joke, as students who were fighting for a free education would thus run up an enormous debt with the UNAM authorities.
Later both the charges and the bail were reduced. Opposition parliamentarians accused the government of administering justice at its own convenience and using it as a negotiating tool, thus demonstrating the political manipulation of the judicial system.
Don’t just resist, force changeThe student movement did not give in, and while most students were demanding that schools be kept open, they also forcefully called for the release of the imprisoned students, who were ultimately freed one by one. The General Strike Council retook the university rectory for several days exactly a month after the police eviction and organized a number of marches to demand the release of the prisoners, one of which attracted over 15,000 participants. Solidarity marches were organized in other Latin American and European countries. A parents’ movement for the liberation of the imprisoned students was set up in the university center and the parents also took their protest to public places such as Mexico’s House of Representatives and stock exchange. They also dramatized their protest by tying themselves to crosses and drawing their own blood. Finally, they took their accusations to the UN, calling for the release of the "political prisoners" and their return to the university without reprisals. In this new stage, which began with police violence, the university authorities have lost credibility and there is a strong feeling of resentment within the university.
The Mexican Human Rights Academy accused the country’s two television networks of adopting a judgmental attitude rather than offering objective information during the university conflict. Pablo González Casanova declared that television had become a "court of the inquisition" where reporters fed questions to those opposed to the movement so they could condemn the students’ actions. Such trial by television corresponds to a political and judicial regime that converts social problems into social danger.
In this context, a social movement emerged around a grassroots teacher training college in the state of Hidalgo. The Mexican government, determined to "resolve" the student conflicts through force rather than dialogue, sent a police detachment to take the rural college, but the local population rose up and took a number of police officers prisoner. They then exchanged them for the student teachers imprisoned by the police.
The World Bank is intent on privatizing education around the world, but as the student protest demonstrates, there has been increasing resistance to this policy in Mexico and other countries. New experiences have led to the increasing realization that at this particular time of change, social movements have great possibilities of not only resisting but also forcing change, with the help of international solidarity.
Chiapas: The conflict continuesThe United States has been monitoring twelve rebel groups in Mexico and has declared that although none of them has the capacity to take power, they could destabilize the electoral process. While defending neoliberalism to the hilt in Davos, Switzerland, President Zedillo revealed his political priorities by declaring that the Zapatistas only sat down to talk in 1995 when he threatened them with repression. Back in Mexico, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas specified that the lack of dialogue in Chiapas was due to Zedillo’s failure to honor his commitments and that it would be very serious if the government is thinking of employing violence to resolve the Chiapas conflict.
Days later in Spain, Zedillo stated that dialogue with the EZLN was a "very minor" affair. One PAN parliamentarian from the peace dialogue commission called Zedillo’s remarks incongruous and opposition deputies on the commission requested that Zedillo be asked to define his real position on the Chiapas conflict. It is obvious that the President is not interested in dialogue and that his government is unwilling to sit down and negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict, preferring instead to continue with a low-intensity war. One PAN representative called Zedillo’s declarations irresponsible, stating that the Chiapas uprising revealed how discouraged not only the indigenous people in that particular state are but also the entire Mexican population.
A "minor incident" in ChiapasA report submitted to the UN by Bishop Samuel Ruiz and the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center interprets Zedillo’s declarations in Switzerland as confirming the government’s unwillingness to talk. In Chiapas, indigenous rights amount to what has been agreed minus what has not been honored.
While Mexico’s government delegation was in Geneva, the head of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, which is based there, asked it to respect the San Andrés accords and spoke out in support of the work by NGOs in defense of indigenous rights. Many NGOs themselves sensed that Zedillo’s comments in Switzerland had worsened the political atmosphere in Mexico. They view the President’s disdain for the work of social organizations independent of the government as a serious matter, since the government had shown that it intends to ignore, silence and even persecute civil organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights.
Nobel prize winning writer José Saramago also involved himself in this discussion through the international press. He argued that a President who views dialogue with the Zapatistas to be a "minor" incident while at the same time stationing over 40,000 soldiers in Chiapas to carry out intimidating and even repressive activities represents an unfortunate "historical" incident for Mexico.
Zedillo’s disdain for the "minor incident" of dialogue has cost Mexico too many deaths and too much suffering. By failing to respect human rights, Zedillo has demonstrated over the months just how far removed from democracy he really is. Saramago asked exactly what Zedillo sought to achieve through his declarations and suggested that he was preparing the ground to move thousands of soldiers and paramilitary troops to the front line. Zedillo has feigned generosity to the Zapatista movement, but, as Saramago pointed out, the Acteal massacre revealed just how far this self-proclaimed generosity actually goes. Saramago called the EZLN the most honorable organization in Mexico today, and said that one of President Zedillo’s most serious errors was to have ignored the possibility of representing all Mexicans, including its indigenous populations.
A cultural revolutionChiapas is an ethical problem, but the PRI politicians have been characterized by their lack of ethics and conscience. In his book Marcos, el señor de los espejos [Marcos, the Man of the Mirrors], Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán stresses the importance of the fact that the Zapatista revolution is cultural and thus offers alternatives to what is currently presented as the only option. Vázquez Montalbán sustains that the Zapatista movement is a symbol of world discontent, defining this conflict as globalization’s first and predicting that the discontent will continue to spread, as evidenced by the landless people in Brazil, the unemployed in Europe and the indigenous people in Ecuador. He stressed that while foreigners were not responsible for the Zapatista revolution, they do have the right to appraise and understand it.
Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, when presenting his book Patas Arriba (Upside Down), declared that the military siege of Chiapas was the largest in the world and that the government’s aim was to block the affirmation of the right to identity. He emphasized the enormous contribution that the Zapatistas have made to the democratization of Mexico, as the pressure they have exerted has led to important changes, adding that the movement had attracted world solidarity.
A violent solutionFebruary marked the fourth anniversary of the Mexican government’s failure to honor the San Andrés accords signed with the Zapatistas. Senator Carlos Payán defined the state’s relationship with indigenous peoples as authoritarian, with the government ignoring everything it has signed and waging a dirty war against the indigenous insurgents. The EZLN stressed that it has a long memory and that the air force buzzing persists in Zapatista communities because the government is afraid of the indigenous population.
The Zapatista movement criticized the fact that judges are criminals, victims end up in jail, the government is a liar, the truth is persecuted and students are imprisoned while big fish are allowed to go free. During his campaign, Labastida offered Subcomandante Marcos the chance to become a member of the police force. Parliamentary representatives on the Commission for Concertation and Pacification expressed concern over such declarations, which show that the PRI candidate has no understanding of the conflict at all, while PRD and PAN representatives argued that his declarations show that he favors a violent solution to the conflict. One PRD representative warned that there is a real danger that Zedillo will opt for a military operation in Chiapas to "clean up the house" for his successor if the PRI retains the presidency.
Farewell, Samuel RuizBishop Samuel Ruiz of the San Cristóbal diocese in Chiapas, who was loved by the indigenous population and attacked by the government, has finally had to resign as he has reached the canonical age of retirement. However, Mexican bishops linked to the political and economic authorities and to the Papal Curia—particularly former Nuncio in Mexico Jerónimo Prigione, who had close links to drug traffickers and PRI governors—did the government a favor by helping ensure that Ruiz’s assistant, Bishop Raúl Vera, left with him. The powers that be did not want Ruiz to be replaced by another bishop committed to the indigenous cause. Bishop Vera, who would have been just such a committed replacement, denounced the increased presence of paramilitary troops in Chiapas both as he was leaving the diocese of San Cristóbal and on his arrival in the diocese of Saltillo at the other end of the country.
Samuel Ruiz was a key player in the Intermediation Commission’s Peace Dialogue Commission. Now, on leaving Chiapas, he has published a systematic account of the peace process and of the National Intermediation Commission’s historical archives. He has stressed that the principles, agenda, format, rules and procedures of the San Andrés negotiating table provide a model of dialogue and negotiation for both sides in the conflict and for getting other actors involved in the peace process. He insists that the crisis affecting the dialogue has nothing to do with the model, which is merely a social and political instrument for resolving conflicts. Ruiz leaves Chiapas convinced that for a peace process to be carried out democratically the different actors must have access to the all of the resources and experiences generated over these past difficult years.
Pope John Paul II has begged God’s forgiveness for the Church’s sins during its 2,000 years of existence. This is a laudable act, but forgiveness requires that the Catholic hierarchy profoundly examine its conscience and have the firm intention to reform. It would be a positive step if it were to atone for its present sins: for the support it offered to the dictator Pinochet and for its complicity with powerful economic and political groups that exploit, oppress and violate human rights in our countries. The Pope’s visit to Central America in 1983 should be minutely examined when asking for forgiveness, and the Catholic Church in Mexico should now beg forgiveness for having removed from the indigenous population of Chiapas two priests committed to the cause of the poor.
The voice of womenOn March 8, International Women’s day, a group of Zapatista women took over a government radio station and broadcast for several hours. They said they were speaking for the poorest and most forgotten sectors, those that are triply exploited and eternally excluded. They are demanding changes in the traditional practices that oppress them and warned that the more they are imprisoned, the stronger they become. They also declared that they have not given in to the dirty war waged by President Zedillo and Governor Albores and denounced the prostitution that the army has introduced into Chiapas. Finally, they pronounced their opposition to the military occupation of their communities and to the militarization and paramilitarization of their lands and demanded freedom for the jailed students in Mexico City. The same day Marcos released a public letter explaining why Zapatista women insist on emphasizing that they are female insurgents and analyzed the problems women Zapatistas in leadership posts face getting men to obey them.
The new leftIn a letter to Marcos about the new left, Pablo González Casanova noted that the new groups emphasize internalized domination and exploitation in their analysis, and even consider imperialism to be an internalized phenomenon. According to González Casanova, these groups can detect the current manifestations of class struggle, which is no easy task as the struggle is very subtly hidden in the complex articulation of multinational and transnational corporations. These groups also define democracy as participation and representation, ideological pluralism and the connecting of individual and social rights.
One year after the Zapatista consultation, those responsible for organizing it across the country say they are on the lookout to prevent military and paramilitary action against the Zapatistas in the run up to the elections and the final months of Zedillo’s rule.
UN recommendationsThe UN relateur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir, released a report in Geneva denouncing the persistent violence and impunity in Mexico and stating that the inefficient Mexican judicial system had brought about an increase in human rights violations. The report mentioned the Acteal massacre among the most alarming cases, prompting an angry response from the Mexican government.
Several nongovernmental organizations had earlier prepared an alternative report on the of economic, social and cultural rights situation in Mexico showing that an increasing number of Mexican men and women live in seriously deteriorated conditions largely as a result of the structural adjustment policies implemented over the last 17 years. Among their recommendations, the organizations propose reducing military spending and effectively increasing social spending. The UN committee took this document into account and its recommendations to the government expressed the UN’s concern over the living conditions of indigenous populations, with their limited access to health, education, work and housing.
The committee also stated that it was alarmed by the strong presence of military and paramilitary forces in the indigenous communities of Chiapas and other states, and pointed out that corruption has a negative effect on economic, social and cultural rights. Finally, it called on the Mexican state to deal with the structural causes of poverty and fight corruption. The PRI is incapable of acting on this recommendation, however, because the party is intrinsically corrupt.
A poverty-producing systemIn Davos, Zedillo went all out to defend globalization, saying he knew of no study showing that the increase in world trade negatively affects Mexico. In Mexico he was dubbed a "globalophile" and economic analysts recommended a long list of articles and books to him, many of them produced by academic centers Zedillo venerates. The President’s declarations make it obvious that he gave up reading and studying long ago. Not even with his touched-up official figures could the President explain why 40 million Mexicans are living in poverty—even official figures admit that 28% of Mexico’s population lives in extreme poverty, the highest proportion in 15 years—or how salaries have depreciated by over 20% during his administration alone.
Zedillo’s justifications contrasted sharply with the words of US President Bill Clinton, who stated that the billion poor people on the planet surviving on under a dollar a day are also part of the world in which we live. Likewise, business magnate George Soros lamented the world’s deterioration and the increasing complicity between politicians and businesspeople. Finally, even the World Bank, meeting in the Mexican beach resort of Cancún, accepted that the poorest 20% of the Mexican population receives only 3.5% of the country’s income, while the richest 20% receives 55%. It lamented the fact that Latin America is the continent with the most unequal income distribution and blamed this on bad government, corruption and a failure to apply imaginative plans. All of the above clearly contrasts with Zedillo’s malicious triumphalism.
Meanwhile, French writer Viviane Forrester has pointed out that globalization has been kidnapped by ultra-liberalism, which has imposed its own fallacies; Saramago has stated that Mexico’s poverty is not limited to Chiapas, but affects the whole country; and González Casanova has denounced the fact that what is now offered as charity was previously regarded as a right.
The education, health and food program called Progresa, which targets the most marginalized fragments of society, those whom the government also manipulates electorally, receives just 4.2% of what the government made available in the FOBAPROA bank bailout fund. All of the anti-poverty programs put together, in fact, account for under 6% of the resources used to rescue the inefficient and corrupt bankers in the FOBAPROA scandal. These figures clearly reflect the government’s priorities. Unless there is
a change of direction in the country’s economic policy, poverty will continue to increase, no matter how much money is pumped into poverty reduction programs. But there will be no change of direction as long as the PRI controls the Mexican presidency, so corruption and poverty will keep rising uncontrollably.