Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 249 | Abril 2002



The Monterrey "Consensus" in a Sea of Speeches

The "Monterrey Consensus" actually generated far more disagreement than consensus. There have also been profound disagreements within Mexico’s political parties over how to stop corruption, guarantee human rights and build peace in Chiapas. Such differences of opinion have grown along with contradictions in a society thirsting for change.

Jorge Alonso

President Vicente Fox’s popularity continues to crumble. He began his term with a 70% approval rating, but this figure had fallen to 47% after 14 months in office. To improve his failing grades, Fox thought he might be able to polish up his image at the United Nations’ International Conference on Financing for Development, scheduled to take place at the end of March in Mexico’s third largest city, Monterrey. These hopes proved to be vain, however, since the event further deteriorated the standing of organizers and hosts alike.

"There are millions of us,
and the planet’s not yours"

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has been forced to admit that globalization has led to economic stagnation and that the world’s poverty levels are unacceptable. In a survey of specialists conducted by the IDB, 61% felt that democracy is not working well because of the dismal distribution of wealth. Those polled concurred that there has been rampant corruption in the privatization of state companies. The World Bank also recognizes important mistakes in its fight against poverty. But there is a huge difference between words and deeds, and a great distance between the diagnosis and the cure.

The World Social Forum held in February in Porto Alegre, Brazil, included several protests against neoliberal globalization, but the largest march against neoliberalism to date took place during the meeting of European Union heads of state in mid-March in Barcelona. The latter brought together half a million people under the slogan, "There are millions of us and the planet isn’t yours." This enormous demonstration displayed notable maturity by managing to keep violent groups at a distance. At the same time it was impossible for the heads of state at the meeting to claim that only an insignificant minority of people oppose globalization.

Monterrey was the next stop. There were actually three different shows in town that week. The first was the official event involving 51 heads of state and a million-dollar budget. The second was put on by civil society organizations that sought a dialogue with those responsible for neoliberal globalization. And the third was made up of grassroots organizations and individuals who, while not afraid of debating with those responsible, are more interested in proposing measures to subordinate market whims to the needs of humanity.

Disagreements in Monterrey

Monterrey was marked by excessive security to prevent the protests from obstructing the official event. The document supposedly presenting the summit’s results was drafted ahead of time, and not even a comma could be changed. It was under these conditions that the "Monterrey Consensus" was signed, defending the importance of foreign investment, economic deregulation and the privatization of public property in developing countries.

On the issue of aid to poor countries, the document is full of good intentions but lacks concrete mechanisms. Even the FAO agreed that the Monterrey Consensus was mutilated at birth since it lacks any real mechanisms to address poverty and marginalization. The multi-millionaire George Soros criticized the United States for using unilateral criteria to determine which countries should receive aid, but the poor countries themselves limited their demands on the industrialized ones. They did not insist on just prices for their raw materials, for example, but merely asked that emergency aid not be conditioned on structural adjustments, and not even that humane request was granted. To receive aid, they have to fulfill several conditions, including the classic adjustments and the new fight against corruption. Naturally, nothing was said about the corruption implicit in the very conditions of this aid.

The big bank approach
to poor countries

The measures imposed on the planet’s poor countries by the international financial organizations can be found in a World Bank document published in the London newspaper The Observer on October 10, 2001. The first step is to sign a classic agreement on economic restructuring and adjustment, one prepared previously and ready for signing. This restructuring includes privatizing basic services such as water, electricity and telecommunications, a measure often applauded by government officials who can look forward to juicy commissions in exchange for lowering the sale price for state companies. Whether these government officials were voted in by means of clean elections is not an issue here; all that matters is that they follow the steps. As a result, the countries’ industries are devastated via a plan that encourages wholesale corruption.

Another step is liberalizing the capital market. Money comes in for speculation and flees at the first sign of trouble. A country’s reserves can be drained in a matter of days, even hours. When this happens, the IMF goes into action, insisting that countries raise their interest rates to attract new capital from other speculators, despite the fact that high rates destroy national production and empty national coffers. The IMF also pressures governments to increase food, water and gas prices, knowing full well that these measures will provoke social unrest. The IMF then demands a firm hand and even higher prices in response to the unrest.

Like medieval bleeding

The predictable unrest leads to still more capital flight and bankrupts governments. This misfortune, however, is an excellent opportunity for transnational corporations, which can then buy up national assets at bargain prices. When a country falls into such misfortune, it is squeezed pitilessly. Nonetheless, international financial organizations always recommend saving the bankers, the only state intervention that the market currently commanded by financial capital allows. While there are obviously many losers in such scenarios, the US Treasury, which holds 51% of the shares in the World Bank, makes sure it is never one of them.

The last step is what the IMF and World Bank call their "poverty reduction strategy," which means free trade according to World Trade Organization and World Bank rules. All of this is handled with an absolutist ideology. The recipes are like medieval bleedings: the sicker you get, the more you’re bled. Although the international financial organizations have recognized their failure in the fight against poverty, they administer the same poison as medicine. A report prepared by a nongovernmental organization called Social Watch concluded that the Monterrey Summit had been a failure with respect to development financing.

The foreign debt
no longer a priority?

Despite the importance of the migration issue for Mexico, Fox did not raise it with the United States in a bilateral meeting. Worse yet, he declared that there were no longer rich and poor countries and that foreign debt was no longer a priority. The reality is that the foreign debt continues to be one of the main factors in Latin America’s poverty. From 1992 to 1999, our countries were forced to pay US$1.2 billion to service it. In 1998, the 41 most heavily indebted and poorest countries in the world transferred US$1.68 billion more to the North than they received in aid that same year. The debt’s weight has made independent development impossible in most countries of the South. All of this is widely recognized and efforts to address these injustices at the grassroots level continue. For example, the Mexican debtors’ organization El Barzón recently organized a meeting to coordinate among Latin American debtors. But none of this appears in the Monterrey Consensus.

The Mexico-Cuba disagreement

In his speech at the summit, Fidel Castro criticized the current world order as the worst system of plunder and exploitation that has ever existed. Charging those who rule the world with imposing the Consensus on poor countries, he also condemned the "aid" being discussed as conditioned, interventionist and, as a consequence, humiliating. He added that the powerful were only trying to agree on how to divide up the world and had no interest in creating a more just world.

The Mexico government caused a serious diplomatic incident through its treatment of its Cuban counterpart. Following his speech, Castro suddenly decided to return to Cuba, amid Cuba’s insistence that it could prove that the United States had exerted pressure on Mexico to prevent Castro from attending. Mexican opposition legislators demanded an explanation from the Fox government, declaring that it had conducted Mexican foreign policy in an undignified way by putting it at the service of US interests. The ruling National Action Party (PAN) representatives, implicitly acknowledging the accusation, replied that it is important to safeguard the country’s relationship with the United States, leading representatives of the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) to retort that Mexicans do not want their country to become an associated state.

Disagreements and denunciations

Monterrey also produced disagreements among the nongovernmental organizations that put together a pre-summit forum with UN support. The organization was chaotic, and several NGOs led by El Barzón withdrew from the event. Many independent organizations also scorned the forum, criticizing its limited scope.

Meanwhile, the Social Pastoral of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference drafted its own Monterrey Declaration, condemning the free market economy for being a blind machine that institutionalizes inequality and exclusion. The bishops criticized the fact that salaries and social spending are kept low in poor countries to maintain stable macroeconomic indicators and ensure returns on investments, and noted that the market economy is destroying the planet’s natural resources. They also pointed out one of the incongruities in the demands of neoliberal capitalism, that the reduction of the state’s role in the economy is only required in poor countries and not in developed ones. The bishops called for the subordination of financial policies to ethical principles.

Dignity: the first act in
an alternative economy

The "Another World is Possible" assembly held several marches and forums during the Monterrey Summit. Although the turnout was not large, the movement again demonstrated its creative, playful and peaceful nature. The renowned intellectual Pablo González Casanova emphasized that dignity is the first act in an alternative economy. He also stressed that it would be preferable for rich countries to discuss how to stop robbing the wealth of poor countries instead of talking so much about how to divvy it up among them.

Rosario Ibarra, leader of a group called Eureka, which works on the issue of political disappearances, described the rulers attending the Monterrey Summit as "cynical" for wanting to make people believe they are helping those that they are in fact plundering. Pronouncements were made against the globalization of capital to exploit and rob peoples, as well as against the invisible censorship in the UN-sponsored forum. Writer Barbara Jacobs said that people all over the world keep their principles a secret to continue receiving crumbs from the United States. The United Nations plan to fight poverty was sharply criticized as nothing more than a way to legitimize the interests of the powerful.

Another world is possible

The declaration that came out of "Another world is possible" emphasized that organizations representing indigenous peoples, peasant farmers, human rights advocates, environmentalists, youth, women, children, labor and other grassroots sectors from many countries of the world had met in Monterrey to ensure that the voices of those excluded by neoliberal globalization were heard. It also warned that indigenous peoples are in greater danger than ever.

There was condemnation of the FTAA, the Puebla-Panama Plan and the blockade against Cuba; a range of proposals was made to eliminate the foreign debt and to tax speculative capital transactions; and demands were made for democratization of the UN.

The most important aspect of the meeting was that it continued the spirit of the World Social Forum, seeking convergences capable of generating viable alternatives to neoliberal barbarity, in order to create a just, human and livable world for all.

Inter-party divisions in Mexico

On the home front, meanwhile, Mexico’s three largest political parties—the PAN, PRD and Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)—were enmeshed in internal elections to choose their new national leadership in the first quarter of 2002. The events revealed serious battles and divisions within these parties, along with their distance from the majority of the population.

A survey published in the newspaper Reforma before those elections revealed that a large part of the population is not attracted to any of the parties, with some 30% saying they did not know which party to vote for. According to the survey, the PRI is supported by 28% of the voters, the PAN by 25% and the PRD by 16%. The newspaper Milenio published an analysis of the survey by María de las Heras, an election survey specialist, in which she combined the variables of trends identified before the elections related to people’s party identification, intention to vote and perception of the parties’ electoral strength. Based on this, she drew up a scenario that gave the PRI 43% of the possible votes, the PAN 41% and the PRD 16%. Such evidence of the PRI’s potential electoral recovery is not a good sign, given the party’s incorrigible vices.

There were various other interpretations of the survey results. One focused on President Fox’s declining popularity, which has influenced the PAN’s shrinking share of the vote; another pointed out that the former state party can still use its hard-core vote; and yet another that divisions within the center-left Party of the Aztec Sun—the PRD—had blocked its progress.

PAN: Tensions with Fox

The PAN again employed its traditional method of election by means of selected delegates, who numbered only 279. Of the two tendencies that faced off, the one headed by former Guanajuaato governor Medina Plascencia wanted to provide President Fox stronger support. The other sought reelection for National Party leader Luis Felipe Bravo Mena. This second tendency includes old-style PAN members whose numerous disagreements with Fox demonstrate that they still fail to understand how a party in government should act.

In the end Bravo was reelected, proving that the traditional PAN families continue to rule the party. Observers noted that the difficulties of having a President "without a party" would continue, since the PAN’s relationship with Fox has not only been problematic but also inefficient. Moreover, certain local PAN governments have been involved in scandals, like the one of Atizapán in the state of Mexico, where the mayor has been accused of corruption, ties to drug trafficking and even responsibility in the murder of a PAN council member. But at least the PAN managed to hold its internal elections without accusations of improprieties or serious ruptures.

PRI: the one with
the most tricks wins

In the elections for PRI leadership, one of the lists was headed up by former Tabasco governor Roberto Madrazo, an associate of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari who benefited from the Banco Unión’s fraudulent maneuvers and manipulated extremely fraudulent elections to hand-pick the two people who succeeded him in office. He faced off against legislative representative Beatriz Paredes, who headed a list of somewhat less discredited leaders.

Both teams included renowned pros at electoral fraud and used all mechanisms imaginable, demonstrating once again the full extent of the illegal measures the PRI is accustomed to employing. Amid all the vehement accusations the two teams slung at each other in this internal battle, Paredes’ team went so far as to charge that rather than mere fraud the other side was involved in "organized crime."
Local PRI leaders, fearing that the divisions would degenerate into serious ruptures and lead to a loss of votes and resources, ultimately compelled the two sides to make some deals. This also revealed that, just as the Federal apparatus used to be put at the PRI’s service in elections, the same thing still happens in the states it governs. The only difference is that there is no longer a single head but rather a kind of feudal power structure within the old state party.

In the end, they let the one who played the most tricks win. Thus, Roberto Madrazo became president of the PRI, although he has been widely discredited and poses a real threat to Mexico’s fragile democracy. Soon after the elections, repudiated former President Salinas de Gortari calmly returned to Mexico.

In 1999, the PRI boasted of having pulled ten million Mexican voters to its internal elections. On this occasion, marked by widespread fraud, the official figures were less than a third of that number. The PRI announced it would launch "Operation Cicatrize" and while some visible party members resigned, there were no major splits. The party later managed to smooth the lingering resentments, although some commented that the fraud amounted to "the PRI’s suicide." Events continue demonstrating that this is the party’s real nature.

PRD: a lack of transparency

PRD leaders announced that there would be no repeat of the calamity of their last internal elections a few years ago, which seriously damaged the party’s credibility, and assured that "the PRI’s dirty dealings" would not be seen in their party. Several slates ran in the elections. One, backed by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, was headed up by Rosario Robles, the woman who replaced him as mayor of Mexico City. Another, led by Senator Jesús Ortega, was an alliance of several internal tendencies.

The elections were held amid charges that the statutes were not being respected. Robles won the PRD presidency with over 60% of the vote in the quick count and over 50% in the final count. Ortega questioned the quick count, and while he conceded defeat, he claimed that the final figures indicated the general secretary post should go to his slate. Robles in turn questioned these final figures.

There was great speculation in the PRD about the total number of people on its electoral role, with the figure of three to four million being tossed about. In the end, according to unreliable figures, the total was 872,275 voters. Due to irregularities, it was decided that the elections would be held again in eight states. Thus the PRD again failed to conduct its internal election cleanly and transparently.

Distanced from people

After these three elections, there was some speculation over the possibility of PRI and PRD dissidents forming another party. But speculation aside, the parties are clearly doing little to win people’s confidence. While the PDR and PRI have consistently demonstrated their propensity toward electoral chicanery, the PAN seems permanently dominated by a traditional group.

It is also clear that the party system is very weak. Experts have concluded that the Mexican Congress is 40 years behind the times and will only catch up when its representatives understand that their loyalty belongs to people, not a party.

A legal labyrinth
that protects corruption

The Office of Attorney General has three former PRI employees who provided evidence of illegal transfers from PEMEX, the partially state-owned oil company, and its union to the campaign of PRI presidential candidate Francisco Labastida. The three testified that the PRI kept alternate accounts.

The investigation into these diversions of some US$175 million understandably made PRI leaders very nervous. They represent just one strand in the huge tangle of corruption in the party, just one example of how the PRI has used state resources to its advantage. Since the investigation could go very far indeed if it starts to unravel the mess, the party chose to defend those responsible.

Two visibly implicated senators have taken shelter behind their parliamentary immunity. The long-established PRI-affiliated oil workers’ union even awarded one of them a medal. Independent dissident oil workers, meanwhile, formed an opposition coalition against the union leaders, demanding that the top leader be removed from office for his responsibility in the diversion of funds. These workers immediately began to suffer reprisals. Given the sums involved, the talk is that former President Zedillo himself may be implicated.

The Mexican Bishops’ Conference lauded the government’s decision to thoroughly investigate this diversion of funds from PEMEX to Labastida’s campaign, at the same time calling on it to "safeguard institutions." While a crime of this nature could warrant stripping the PRI of its legal standing as a party, the public is skeptical that justice will be done. The laws, a legacy of the old regime, form a labyrinth that protects corruption.

Human rights: a few steps forward

In February, President Fox pardoned two environmentalists who had been in prison in Michoacán since mid-2000. He also ordered a reduction of the sentence for General Gallardo, imprisoned for several years on trumped-up charges after proposing that an ombudsperson’s office be established in the army. The order freed the general since he had already served more than the new sentence. Human rights organizations announced that they will continue to follow up on these cases until the innocence of the environmentalists and General Gallardo has been recognized. In both cases, the presidency imposed its authority over subordinate government offices but did so in a weak way, without questioning the procedures used to bring about an unjust prosecution. Justice was only half done in the release of these three people, since their innocence must still be recognized and the corrupt judicial processes rectified.

On a more positive note, the attorney general’s office and the army have made important progress in the fight against drug trafficking. The most notable accomplishment was breaking up the band controlled by the Arellano Félix brothers, who have been wanted for years for crimes in both Mexico and the United States. It was a hard blow to the Tijuana cartel. The second in command of the Gulf cartel was also arrested.

Digna Ochoa: a pending case

In a story that appeared to be planted, Reforma reported evidence of suicide in the case of human rights defender Digna Ochoa. A second newspaper then immediately wrote that another line of investigation was the possibility of personal motives behind her killing. In both cases, the goal was clearly to deflect the investigation away from the army. One of the military officers possibly implicated in the crime has still not been located.

Ochoa’s relatives protested the report of possible suicide, a theory also criticized by members of the Senate’s Human Rights Commission and rejected outright by the Miguel Agustín Pro Human Rights Center. Amnesty International demanded that independent experts verify the evidence and noted that the threats against Ochoa before her murder had not been investigated. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú described the suggestion that Ochoa had committed suicide as contemptible and pointed out that it is not unusual in Latin America for authorities to try to pass off political crimes as suicides.

Researcher Luis Javier Garrido concluded that Fox’s government has decided not to touch the army, to maintain the network of shared interests between the two. People who were with Ochoa in her final days were adamant that the suicide idea contradicted her character, spirit and religious convictions. Bárbara Zamora, the lawyer who worked with Ochoa and has taken up her cases, reported that she has received similar threats and made very clear that she has no intention of committing suicide.

Representatives of the International League for Human Rights and the World Organization against Torture in Geneva declared that human rights defenders in Mexico face a very difficult situation. They are generally repressed in a more subtle way than in other countries, giving a general appearance of openness, but in reality the hopes awakened by the new government have come to nothing as old practices continue. As long as deaths like Ochoa’s are not cleared up, the deep-rooted practice of impunity will continue.

No signs in Chiapas

The World Social Forum in Porto Alegre expressed solidarity with the Zapatista National Liberation Army and demanded that the Mexican government make the three signs the Zapatistas requested as a condition for returning to the negotiation table. The government has made no progress toward meeting their conditions in months.

With respect to freeing Zapatista prisoners in Chiapas, Tabasco and Querétaro, over two dozen are still in prison despite talks held by the legislative Peace and Harmony Commission (COCOPA). The prisoners have accused the government of racism. Furthermore, the land that had been occupied by the military posts withdrawn in 2001 has not yet been returned to the communities. Meanwhile, militarization, paramilitarization and aggression against Zapatistas are increasing in Chiapas.

The International Civil Commission for the Observation of Human Rights, made up of 104 observers from 14 countries, visited Chiapas at the end of February and verified that the constitutional reforms on indigenous issues approved by Congress in April 2001 have struck a hard blow to the possibility of talks. The commission’s presence in Mexico belied the Ministry of Foreign Relations’ claim that the Chiapas issue no longer interests the rest of the world. The commission witnessed paramilitary activities and a vehicle in which a group of the observers was traveling was even attacked.

In its final report, the commission noted that poverty is growing in Chiapas and the communities believe that government anti-poverty programs are being carried out in a discriminatory way. The issue of people displaced by war has not been resolved, as there are insufficient guarantees to ensure a safe return to their communities.
And while there is now less pressure from federal troops in some regions, military patrols continue in other areas, along with helicopter surveillance that sows fear in the indigenous communities. The commission also noted that checkpoints are still common in areas where the military has not withdrawn.

Global Exchange noted that 259 military operations and numerous acts of impunity occurred in Chiapas between April 2001 and March 2002. It also charged the government with attacking organizations and individuals dedicated to the defense of human rights.

Peace for the success of
the Puebla-Panama Plan?

France-Libertés Foundation president Danielle Mitterrand sent an open letter to President Fox in early March urging him to define his position on the conflict in Chiapas. Pointing out that the Zapatista indigenous people’s silence meant that they no longer believed the President’s declarations of peace, she addressed Fox again, appealing to "the humanity that exists in every human being." She reminded him that when they had met in the presidential palace a year before, Fox had pledged to make real changes in government, especially with respect to Chiapas, and to honor the San Andrés accords. Mitterrand asked Fox if he only aspired to peace to ensure the right conditions for the success of the Puebla-Panama Plan according to the designs of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the big multinationals, or if peace would be based on dialogue and built with indigenous peoples’ participation.

In this respect, authorities from the autonomous Zapatista municipality of Ricardo Flores Magón denounced attempts to dislodge and relocate 49 communities in the Lacandona forest. There are 50 army posts and nearly 30,000 soldiers within the disputed area. They also denounced business interests in the region. US Mexico scholar James Cockcroft has warned that the Pueblo-Panama Plan may be the United State’s final mortal blow to the indigenous people of Chiapas, since it is designed to allow transnational companies to take control of the region’s valuable natural resources. He also believes that only resistance movements can defeat the plan.

Zapatista communities are still besieged by paramilitaries, who have threatened to kill Zapatista supporters. Indigenous women in the community of Morelia complained of aggression from a new paramilitary group made up of PRI members, while Mexico’s Commission to Defend and Promote Human Rights has criticized the government of Chiapas for tolerating the actions of such groups.

The indigenous law: Another try

The new Indigenous Law has not only dampened the spirits of indigenous peoples but also increased their discontent. In February, 168 legislators representing all of the opposition parties decided to reintroduce COCOPA’s original bill, a clear sign that at least a hundred representatives now regret the position they took last year when they refused to recognize indigenous peoples’ legal equality and identity.

The PRD called on the Senate to halt its consultations aimed at drafting the enabling legislation and to discuss this new effort to approve a law that respects the San Andrés Accords. It asked the Senate at least to wait until the Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutional appeals filed by indigenous communities over the last ten months.

Luis H. Alvarez, the peace commissioner in Chiapas, described the decision to reintroduce the COCOPA initiative as a "healthy" one. And Xóchitl Gálvez, head of the government’s Office for Indigenous Affairs, rejoiced that the issue was being reopened, since it would provide another opportunity to settle Mexico’s historical debt with this sector of its population. But PAN and many PRI representatives do not want to reopen the debate.

Indigenous people awaiting
the Supreme Court decision

Members of indigenous organizations described the new initiative as a positive development, but warned that the correlation of forces in Congress is not favorable to indigenous interests. They hope for more from the Supreme Court than from Congress. Even so, indigenous peoples have their doubts about the Supreme Court as well, given that it is made up of conservative lawyers nominated by Zedillo in 1994 who are very much a part of the system.

The Central Pacific branch of the National Indigenous Congress sent a formal request to the Supreme Court asking it to declare the Congress-approved reforms on indigenous issues unconstitutional. The court has received nearly 700 other constitutional appeals of various kinds on the issue, which is unprecedented in the country’s judicial history and has increased the Supreme Court’s workload some 900%.

If the members of the court abide by the law, they should declare the reforms unconstitutional because the legislature did not follow the proper steps to approve them, and because the reforms violate ILO Convention 169 on indigenous rights, which Mexico has ratified. Mexican unions filed a complaint with the ILO over the government’s failure to respect Convention 169, which the ILO accepted on March 19.

The National Indigenous Congress has decided to step up its work in anticipation of the Court’s verdict, especially if this verdict follows the letter of the law. Ten months after the lamentable reforms were approved, the spirit of the San Andrés Accords has yet to be honored; systematic aggression and militarization against the indigenous communities has increased; the living conditions of the indigenous peoples have not improved; and above all, the possibility of dialogue remains closed.

Many shadows and little light

Taken as a whole, these disagreements all bear witness to the deep roots of a corrupt and perverted power, particularly in the apparatus designed to achieve globalization on neoliberal terms. But there are also signs of valuable grassroots tendencies that are eagerly and painstakingly striving to defend themselves from the terrible evils this policy has produced, and are determined to seek new kinds of policies and new ways of doing politics.

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