Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 173 | Diciembre 1995



Dialogue Amid Storms and Tremors

There is neither enthusiasm nor urgency in achieving by dialogue the political reform that the country demands. The immediate context conduces to realism, or paralysis. Mexico is still being shaken by a prolonged political quake.

Raúl H. Mora Lomelí

Land, air and water hit Mexico hard during October. No less important were the tremors and hurricanes of a political nature, while economic insecurity continued to reduce employment and increase the prices of the basic market basket despite, or because of, the new pacts and alliances for recovery, whose aim is to attract foreign capital and privatize the little that still remains of nationally owned property. The "new" Mexican peso ended up at 7.4 to one US dollar in the convulsive month of October, reaching 8 to 1 by early November.

Tremors, Cyclones and Monster Waves

At 9:36 am, on Monday, October 9, a 7.5 earthquake on the Richter scale shook the states of Colima, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Morelos, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz and Mexico City. The most painful thing was the death of at least 50 people in the collapse of the Costa Real Hotel in the tourist port of Manzanillo and another near total collapse of the Casa Grande Hotel in Melaque. The population of Cihuatlán and five other municipalities lost a third of all housing and construction. The earthquake left at least 10,000 affected in the state of Jalisco alone.

Seconds after the quake, the sea receded some 600 meters then, some minutes later, turned into an enormous wave that pounded the town of La Manzanilla. The personal toll was not higher only because the inhabitants, who know the waters well, had fled to the nearby hills where they remained for several hours, contemplating the floodwater that surged through the streets of their town.

In the days and weeks following, tremors occurred all over the country, including a 6.1 quake in Colima and Jalisco on October 12 and a 6.5 one in Chiapas on October 20. Terror as well as the memories of other seismic tragedies kept thousands of Mexicans on edge.

While the land was threatening the center and south of the country in the Pacific, Hurricanes Opal and Roxana, coming from the Gulf of Mexico, provoked similar disasters during the first half of the month in the southern states: Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco and Quintana Roo. Damages added up to more than 33 billion pesos. Fishermen lost 500 boats; 225,000 hectares of arable land were destroyed and 60% of roads and highways in the area were out of use. The total number of people affected was 50,000. And, just so that the northern area of the country would not feel forgotten, Hurricane Ismael did its part, if with less severity, in the state of Sinaloa.

The solidarity of other Mexicans alleviated the victims' needs to a certain degree, but less than was expected and much less than was needed. The economic crisis simply did not allow for greater support. In addition, much resentment was caused by the fact that President Zedillo did not visit the most severely affected zones. He did not see fit to delay for even several hours his conversations with President Clinton, which began on October 9.

As has happened on other occasions, only after the disasters did the corruption of the construction firms, with the complicity of the authorities, become all too obvious the hotels and thousands of housing units that had not been constructed in accordance with the law.
"This is all because of the nuclear tests in France," some people commented, while French President Jacques Chirac denied that the tests could cause us any damage and assured all that only seven test explosions remain.

The Dialogue Begins

On Tuesday, October 24, the National Political Dialogue began again between Government Secretary Emilio Chauyffet and the presidents and representatives of the country's four most important political parties: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN), the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the Workers Party (PT). The political electoral reform, the balance between the branches of state and the new federalism are the central themes of the dialogue, which seeks to overcome the PRI controlled centralism under which the country has chafed for over 65 years, subordinating all powers to the President at the time.

"Democracy cannot be imposed by a government, party or ideological current," proclaimed President Ernesto Zedillo on January 17, when the four parties signed the National Political Accord with then Government Secretary Esteban Moctezuma. But that project fell apart on February 8 when the PAN proposed waiting until the post electoral conflicts in Chiapas and Tabasco were resolved. On June 26, the PRD withdrew from the negotiating table because Zedillo did not want to receive a commission from that party. On June 18, the PAN had done the same, as it did not trust the government to fulfill its promises. This stalemate, along with other factors, led to Moctezuma's replacement by Chauyffet July 3.

After all these setbacks, the dialogue has begun again, this time, it is said, with more than 150 "consensus" proposals, and 10 fundamental points with which, this time in a unified fashion, the PAN and the PRD hope to battle for electoral reform. Nonetheless, initial declarations demonstrated the diversity of viewpoints:
"Refound institutions, not destroy them," says Chauyffet. "We affirm the primacy of the political over the economic," sustains the PAN. "All the reforms will be subject to the norms of consensus," says the PRD. "Economic stabilization complicates the democratic transition process," explains the PT. "Today, taking advantage of the agreement to assure movement towards reform of the state is a social demand," declares the PRI.

There is no euphoria or, it would seem, hurry to achieve the necessary political reforms. The immediate context invites realism. Or stagnation. Four concrete events a university conflict, a letter, a resignation and what Chiapas continues to mean buttress a wait and see attitude towards those who believe the dialogue will yield quick success.

Conflict in the UNAM

The rejection by the authorities of the National Autonomous University of Mexico of 152,000 applicants due to lack of space touched off a long student hunger strike, followed by a general fear that the strike would explode into violence and bring police intervention. The political parties and society followed the events with major premonitions since the anniversary of the October 2, 1968 student massacre at Tlatelolco was on everyone's minds.

Some thought that President Zedillo would involve himself in the conflict, since university authorities had presented a formal charge with the Attorney General's office after the students occupied university installations. On September 22, some of the rejected students had taken over the dean's office, where an "unknown person" delivered a box of documents proving influence peddling to get students admitted to the university who had failed, or never even taken, the admission exam.

University service and teaching personnel divided, with some turning against the students because, with the dean's office taken, they could not receive their monthly paychecks, even though many were paid in other areas. Others charged that they were forced to sign an ad published in the capital's daily newspapers criticizing the rejected students.
The UNAM rector, without accepting the requested and offered mediation of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, former PRD candidate for President, finally convinced the students to abandon his offices after promising to try and get them into schools or universities that are part of UNAM on half or full scholarships. It seems that assuring enrollment in the university depends not on money, but on the technological bid for "the best" that the neoliberal program requires.

A "Private" and Revealing Letter

On October 3, the newspaper Reforma published a letter that Ernesto Zedillo had written to PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio on March 19, 1994, four days before Colosio was assassinated. At that time, Zedillo had been coordinating Colosio's campaign for some four months. In the letter, supposedly a private and personal document, Zedillo evaluates the first nationwide tour that Colosio had undertaken as presidential candidate.

Assuming that the January 1994 EZLN uprising and the naming of Manuel Camacho as peace commissioner on January 10 limited "the broad degree of freedom we had in December (1993)," Zedillo warns Colosio that "a very tenacious effort is underway to discredit the value of your abilities and your loyalty." He recommends a clear political alliance with Carlos Salinas to insure that the then President would be able to finish his mandate with dignity. Zedillo also warns Colosio about Camacho, whom many viewed as the appropriate PRI candidate for President. He advises considering Camacho an open opponent, who should not be allowed to gain more points within the PRI and should be forced into a candidacy with a different party. As for the PRD, "a force moving into disorder," Zedillo suggests that it be neutralized. Finally, he proposes correcting the PRI campaign team's insufficient human resources as well as its lack of coordination, which at that point was actually accentuating the distance between Salinas and Colosio and thus encouraging Camacho's hopes.

Who Killed Colosio?

On October 4, President Zedillo, in a letter to the director of Reforma, expressed profound disagreement with the publication of his letter to Colosio, which he considered strictly private. According to Zedillo, journalistic ethics were violated by the letter's publication. Zedillo also reproached the conjectures that emerged in the wake of the letter's publication about the intellectual authors behind Colosio's assassination and insinuated that the letter had been deceitfully removed from Colosio's files.

Alfonso Durazo, who served as Colosio's private secretary for some six years, was the person who most openly saw Zedillo's controversial letter as "proof of the rupture between the President [Salinas] and the candidate, a basis for the hypothesis that the intellectual authorship [of the assassination] lies with Salinas and Córdoba." Durazo clarified that he had delivered the letter, not to Reforma, but to the Attorney General's office, along with five boxes of other documents.

PRI representatives and other members of the Legislative Commission following the Colosio case requested that the nation's Attorney General ask former President Salinas and José Córdoba Montoya to testify to the commission.
Córdoba was the "Richelieu" of the Salinas government and his name is the one that all studying the Zedillo letter understand to be behind the reference to the "very tenacious effort" to discredit Colosio. Without naming names, the Attorney General's office has declared that both it and the commission investigating the assassination are convinced that Colosio was killed, not by a lone gunman, but in a concerted action. This declaration suggests that they are already on the trial of the crime's mastermind.

The letter made public and highlighted the political context in which the assassination took place. Its publication is now part of the context in which the national dialogue is starting up again: a mutual lack of confidence and confusion, especially within the PRI.

Camacho Resigns

"The existence of this political class is perhaps one of the revolution's greatest legacies, in that it prevents our system from transforming itself into a technocratic, bureaucratic and militaristic regime." Thus spoke Manuel Camacho Solís in 1977, lauding the PRI for the quality of its cadre. He did not publicly acknowledge that the country was already scarred by the vices that, on October 12 of this year, served as Camacho's excuse for breaking with the party he had served for 30 years. "There is no will to either change the system or carry out an authentic reform within the PRI," argued Camacho in his letter of resignation.

Camacho was breaking with a party that, step by step, had been putting him ever closer to the presidential track. In 1987, then President Miguel de la Madrid named Camacho Secretary of Human Development and Ecology. At the time of the Salinas campaign, he became the PRI General Secretary. Salinas appointed him head of the Department of the Federal District. Faithful to his patron, Camacho defended Salinas in 1989, when he was accused of having abandoned the principles of the revolution with his economic programs and proposals for reforms to the Constitution. As Regent in the nation's capital, Camacho intervened in a number of serious conflicts, thus assuring himself more support from Salinas. When Colosio was unexpectedly named as the PRI's presidential candidate, Camacho, wounded but faithful, kept party discipline and accepted the post of Secretary of Foreign Relations. It seemed that his career had come to an end, but in fact it picked up steam when, on January 10, 1994, he was named Commissioner for Peace and Reconciliation in Chiapas.
On June 16, 1994, after Colosio's assassination and the failure of the first round of peace talks with the EZLN, Camacho resigned his post as commissioner, angry at the question that Zedillo had thrown out in the middle of his electoral campaign: "Why did the negotiations fail?"
Manuel Camacho's confrontation with President Zedillo become total with the publication of Zedilllo's letter in Reforma. On October 13, he simply announced, "I am out of the PRI."
Camacho' resignation revived the sensation that the party in power for so many decades has become internally disjointed. Since 1987, the following politicians have broken with it: Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, Rodolfo Guevara, Demetrio Sodi, and Federico Reyes Heroles, Jr., among others.

The Ongoing Importance of Chiapas

On October 22, negotiations in Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Andrés Larráinsar, Chiapas, over indigenous rights and culture came to an end. This was the first theme, other than the forms and conditions of the months long dialogue, in which a legitimate EZLN claim has been taken up. Dialogue participants on both sides demonstrated a certain amount of satisfaction.

Aside from the tremor felt in Chiapas during the same days, three events made the talks difficult and fragile.
First were the October 15 elections in Chiapas for deputies and mayors. Shortly before, members of the EZLN and CONAI, which is headed by Bishop Samuel Ruiz, had warned that conditions did not exist for an election without confrontations, even perhaps armed ones, in a number of municipalities. The EZLN recommended abstention.

The PRI was declared the official winner in 83 municipalities, even in areas where a PRD triumph had seemed certain. Two days after the vote, Subcomandante Marcos, who had long been silent, reiterated what he had first said in 1994: the Zapatistas have no faith in any political party and, if there is to be another route, it will come from civil society. Going further, Marcos evaluated the role of the country's three key parties. He said that the PRI's defeat in Tuxtla Gutiérrez demonstrated its incapacity for internal reform. He distanced himself from the PRD despite the many times he had met with its leader, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas stressing that the indigenous peoples of Chiapas did not take up arms to bring the PRD to power, but to defend their own rights. And, surprisingly, he declared that the PAN, winner of eight mayor's offices in the state of Chiapas, is the only opposition force that "can offer an alternative to power, not to the country." These declarations touched off real controversy among different party leaders and the citizenry as a whole. The media, which has given so much sympathetic coverage to the process underway in Chiapas, with admiration for Marcos, sought to distance themselves: How could the PAN, which Marcos dubbed "the fascist right" as recently as August, have now become the "alternative to power?"

"Germán" The Spark

Even more serious than these words was the news, made public on October 23, that Fernando Yáñez Muñoz, declared in February to be top EZLN leader "Comandante Germán," had been taken prisoner. He was accused of bearing arms reserved exclusively for use by members of the army. Suspicion that the agents who had detained him had planted an AK 47 in his car touched off a massive protest. If in fact he is "Germán," Yáñez should not be detained, given the amnesty law that took effect on March 11. The EZLN declared an immediate "red alert" about a possible army attack, since army soldiers are again increasing their presence in Chiapas.

Members of the Mediation and Chambers Commissions urged the Secretary of Government to correct the arrest order against Yáñez, since it put at risk all the efforts undertaken towards peace with justice and respect for indigenous rights. President Zedillo, in New York for the 50th anniversary of the UN at the time of the arrest, was close mouthed about the issue upon his return to the country. The Attorney General's office was accused of violating the law and civil security. After only five days of detention, Fernando Yáñez was released with no clarification about precisely who had ordered or allowed his arrest.

The detention of Yáñez and the circumstances in which it took place can be interpreted as a deliberately provoked spark, which could explode into a firestorm of generalized destabilization. Would this provocation favor those on Zedillo's side or those who oppose him? The only thing clear is that it is one more example of the storms raging inside the party, and against all the rest of Mexico.


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