Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 192 | Julio 1997



End of Century, End of a Regime

The Mexican crisis is not only financial: it is a total and terminal crisis. The old regime is in its final throes and becomes ever more repressive. Consensus has been forgotten, and social legitimacy has been lost. Such is the climate on the eve of the elections expected on July 6th.

Jesús Acosta

The political system forged after the Mexican revolution by those who assumed power is coming to an end. This system, which we can call the Institutional Revolution, is going through a terminal crisis; the drive belt of its social legitimacy is worn out. Those who have held power over the eight decades since the revolution have lost the ability to sustain their domination. The 1917 Constitution, rich in guarantees for individual, labor, agrarian and other rights, served the system as a stabilizing pact which, together with the political structuring based on the Party of Institutional Revolution (PRI), managed to corporativize and co-opt any demand by social sectors.

The postulation of the right to land and labor rights in the 1917 Constitution, the corporativism and revolutionary ideology, and an economy oriented toward the domestic market constituted the foundation that made effective social control possible for such a long period, peppered only by occasional "rebellions." Always successfully put down with repression, these uprisings included doctors and railroad workers in the 1950s and 60s, students in 1968, and rural and urban guerrilla movements in the 1970s.

All the Rules Have Been Broken

Mexico's debt crisis and the deterioration of the population's economic conditions, together with the growth of a society ever more conscious of the revolutionary myth, more secure in its independence, more pluralist in its composition, among other factors, have evolved into a crisis of the system as a whole. The old system is now incapable of containing the new social actors, and is much less capable of reproducing itself, since the "unwritten rules" that regulated it internally have also been broken.

Economic crisis and political and social crises are all bogged down in a moment of transition. The old regime refuses to die, but now, without the old political- social underpinnings that held it up, it is turning to the last recourse of coercion and force. The state, dominated by the PRI, is no longer capable of reproducing consensus and lacks the economic resources of past decades. The social pact has been lost and what remains is war. Domination by other means.

Chiapas: The Greatest Challenge

The most full-blown refutation of this decaying regime has been the armed Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas. The state of Chiapas is a showcase of the "revolution that never came," of the social and political postponements that occurred in many other regions as well. It is a symbol of PRI domination, exercised within a complex framework that links state power with the dominion of local strongmen, of the indigenous hope for land that was always put off and finally canceled, of the mechanisms of power succession permeated with fraud and manipulation of the electorate, of the systematic violence against indigenous and peasant organizations and communities. Chiapas is both reality and emblem of a political system of imposition and social control, which has never hesitated to turn to the use of force and repression when it felt itself at risk.

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) is, in essence, a violent response to the violence that the system has always exercised. In 1997, Chiapas is confrontation. Today it is a war of weapons, but it is also a war that, by other means, was institutionalized and "legitimized" in the rest of the country in the form of a system that "emanated from a Revolution" and of a state charged with "the pending tasks" of that revolution.

The Zapatista refutation was directed at the very foundations of the system, thus hastening its crisis. Paradoxically, as has been frequently remarked on, the most powerful weapon of the armed indigenous war in Chiapas has been fired in the political arena. Political power, ably built by the Zapatistas, particularly in their communications strategy, inhibited the temptation of the armed forces to openly attack. The central government, which keeps them stationed in the hollows area, is gambling on wearing down the Zapatistas over the long haul.

The Presidency and the military chiefs, wure of their military superiority—with a strong encirclement, elite corps trained for lightning actions, relentless physical and psychological pursuit of the Zapatista indigenous communities, etc.—decided to "dialogue" with the EZLN, pushing it into a process that only aimed to tire, wear down and prolong the conflict. The Secretariat of Governance, which has lost all power to participate in the resolution of the conflict, was not part of this decision. The February 1995 offensive and the political and executive annulling of the official delegation in San Andrés are evidence of the Secretariat of Governance's weakness.

"National Security"

The federal government's pendulum strategy (seek negotiations/military offensive, then dialogue/repress the communities, then sign accords/break the agreements) has led the conflict to a dead end. It is not easy to discern the way out that the authorities claim to be offering.

The dynamic in Chiapas has given the government a point of departure for developing a concept and practice of "National Security." But its practical effects are revealing it to be exclusively for the regime's political security. National Security understood in this way means never, for example, arguing against official economic policy, which is reducing sovereignty, affecting the dominion of natural resources and generating a dynamic of war in various zones of the country due to the poverty growing out of the policy itself. The objective of this security, on the contrary, subscribes to the thesis of "internal enemies." On these grounds, it would prohibit any spontaneous or organized outbursts of discontent and social protest, to say nothing of armed violence.

A Terminal Crisis

The increasingly clear manifestations of the current concept of National Security are:
• Militarization of marginalized zones such as Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero and others.
• The militarization of Public Security in the whole national territory.
• The veto and control of possibilities for national and international human rights scrutiny. Just some of the recent examples of this attitude include the expulsion of international delegates, the promotion of legal constraints on the OAS Interamerican Human Rights Commission, the blocking of economic resources for civic electoral observation tasks, and threats against and harassment of human rights defenders.
• The "crescendo" of scientific torture in the country.
• We are seeing in Mexico the beginning of an era in which the margins of state coercion and repression are expanding as consensus evaporates and social legitimacy is lost, particularly in the rural areas.

War was unleashed in 1910, was continued "institutionally" for decades, and is now returning with the temptation to resolve the new stage of confrontation with weapons. The pressures that have intensified in Mexico in recent months do not just represent an abuse of power. They are the exercise of power in relation to society that is not based on service or promotion, but domination and imposition.

Chiapas is also a signal of the possibilities of democracy and of an inclusionary society. But the crisis of the political system in the framework of the old PRI regime's terminal crisis, though opening possibilities for a democratic transition, also makes the fight within the nucleus of power more intense. This is enormously risky for the system of guarantees and the rule of law that still govern us. The future is uncertain.

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