Government’s Armor, People’s Awakening
The government’s financial policy has been placed in the dock as never before by the FOBAPROA audit, the students continue to defy the system, Subcomandante Marcos is strongly questioning the United Nations and the PRI could lose the presidential elections. These are novel and encouraging processes, but it is impossible to foresee their end results.
Several important and interconnected processes took place in Mexico in June and July. First, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) continued to rob society blind. The government said that the banking system would be cleaned up by resolving the case of FOBAPROA, the Bank Fund to Protect Savings, which was scandalously mismanaged then bailed out at taxpayers' expense last year in a move that outraged the country. The investigation into the mismanagement of that fund, however, had not yet been completed when the government went to the rescue of another bank, SERFIN, which had illegally issued thousands of international credit cards to PRI activists and sympathizers from 1992-1994. That bailout totaled US$85.5 billion—over twice the annual budget of the Mexican National Autonomous University (UNAM).
The robbery of the centuryIn the summer of 1999, yet another incident demonstrated that behind FOBAPROA's operations lay an attempt to cover up deals worked out between bankers and government officials with no regard for the country's best interests. In the course of the FOBAPROA audit requested by the legislature, the National Action Party (PAN) recalled accusations made last year by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) about improper donations to the PRI. Documents have now revealed how the PRI and the government used FOBAPROA to commit fraud. It has been proven that the 1994 elections were marred not only by inequity, as President Zedillo himself admitted, but also by fraud. It is estimated, for example, that the Banco Unión alone illegally contributed $30-$70 million to the PRI campaign.
But the worst part of this train of events is that, in response to these revelations, those in power have behaved like a mafia. The government threatened to throw the PAN deputy who denounced the scandal into jail. This caused eight opposition parties to come together to repudiate this threat and the illegal, immoral strategy the Treasury and Government Secretaries are using in their attempt to cover up for Zedillo and keep this unprecedented plundering under wraps.
The PRD and the PAN have both charged that the government and its ruling party received illegal contributions in the 1994 presidential campaign. There is also evidence of links between the PRI's campaign coffers and drug trafficking. The opposition parties have demanded that the party return its ill-gotten money, but the PRI has refused.
Risky, misguided policiesThe auditor's report in the FOBAPROA case took six months and $20 million to produce. It attributed the excessive costs of the bank bailout, which it described as one of the most expensive financial salvage operations in the world, to mistakes made by the government entities in charge of the process when they decided to keep nonviable institutions in operation. According to the report, the financial system broke down because of a policy of selling the banks off hastily and for political ends, a lack of official supervision of bank operations, and the 1995 financial crisis, itself the result of the government's adventuresome policies. The banks were given to groups linked to the PRI to create a financial system that would sustain its political activities. The result was abuse: huge debtors benefited while many people are now chained to debts that began small but have become unpayable with the passage of time.
The auditor, the Canadian firm Mackey, said the report did not get to the very heart of the matter because the government did not cooperate by providing the required information. The constraints went far beyond what they had initially imagined, as the government hid evidence to keep the nature of its handiwork from coming to light.
Populism in reverseBy blocking the audit, the government revealed its failure in what is most important in a democracy: accountability. But despite the obstacles, the auditor's report clearly shows that the highest authorities committed serious mistakes as they raced to inject international market rules into Mexico's economy without first dealing with two large problems—corruption and authoritarianism—that must be resolved for the market to work even according to its own logic. It was a case of populism in reverse, which only benefited a few wealthy people. The earlier nationalization of the banks had been done poorly, but their privatization was even worse. The process was laced with corruption, in that banks were sold to inexperienced individuals and without any collateral or guarantees. While never tiring of telling society that it must submit to the rules of the market economy for its own good, the government protects from the hazards of the market the greedy, inept individuals who are its accomplices.
The auditor believes that the bank crisis could have been contained, that the bailout came too late and was poorly done, and that the decision to keep failed banks operating was a very costly one. The report sharply criticizes not only the banking system but also the government's role as expropriator, privatizer, overseer and rescuer of the banks. But in the end, it could only show the tip of the iceberg that the opposition is still trying to fully measure.
Time bombThe government's response to the Mackey report? That the irregularities reported are not worth troubling over. The opposition, however, is using the document as evidence that the number of irregularities reported is indeed a serious matter: while the government insists that these questionable operations account for only 1% of FOBAPROA, the opposition says the figure is more like 35%. It also believes that a more in-depth investigation would find a higher proportion of irregularities. The PRD argues that the treasury secretary and the president of the Bank of Mexico should be tried for the irregularities that took place in the bailout.
One thing that is clear is that the government does not want to open its books. Nonetheless, in a way never before seen, the government's financial policy—its dance of millions with many friends benefited and very few punished—has been put on the bench for the accused. The rescued banking system is now in a precarious situation, and is certainly not the engine of development. Furthermore, despite the bailout's enormous cost, the Mexican financial sector is still considered a high risk for the economy; predictions are that it will explode again soon. The Wall Street Journal has described the Mexican banks as a potential “time bomb.” While the government tries to prevent the new crisis from breaking during the upcoming electoral process, the episode has tragically revealed how economic and political power reinforce one another.
Between Labastida and MadrazoFour pre-candidates are seeking to become the PRI's presidential nominee. They will stand off against each other in primary elections to be held for the first time ever in the party, which The Washington Post has already predicted will be a simulation of democracy “with more of the same.” The official candidate, former Government Secretary Francisco Labastida, is up against an astute challenger, Tabasco's governor Roberto Madrazo. To cover their bets, PRI leaders and businesspeople have chosen to light candles at the altars of both saints.
The other two pre-candidates, former Puebla governor Manuel Bartlett and Roque Villanueva, PRI bench chief in Mexico's House of Representatives, have no real chance. Villanueva is known among other things for an obscene gesture, made after pushing through a new tax that seriously affects the whole population, to indicate his macho prowess in overcoming those who opposed the tax. Three of the four pre-candidates have been accused of drug-trafficking links.
Despite official support from top party leaders, Labastida has not been able to get his campaign rolling because of mistakes and lack of charisma, and because he has been on the defensive. The daring and corrupt Madrazo has the merit of having beaten Zedillo's challenge on four occasions: when Zedillo tried to force him out of the governor's office, when he tried to prevent him from using public resources to promote himself personally, when he tried to block his pre-candidacy, and when he tried to steal his campaign slogan. Madrazo uses the language of opposition, and has the support of prominent Mexican politicians, money from dubious sources and the sympathy of the party's grass roots. He has spoken out against the Zapatistas and the university movement. In the surveys, he remains ahead of all three other PRI pre-candidates.
Stanley's assassinationThe two television networks have put themselves at the service of the PRI campaign, since they fear their own corruption would be uncovered if the opposition comes to power. Taking advantage of the assassination of Paco Stanley, a popular comedian, they produced shows that sought to whip up public fury against the government of the Federal District, led by the PRD's Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, without mentioning the federal government's responsibility in the affair. The comedian's links with drug trafficking soon became known, however, along with the Government Secretary's role in protecting him. The episode showed at least two things: the television networks will do anything to prevent an opposition victory, and the media does not respond to anyone for its crimes.
Opposition coalition?In the House of Representatives, the opposition majority approved electoral reforms to make it easier to form coalitions, establish stronger oversight of party money and allow Mexicans living abroad to vote. The PRI majority in the Senate, however, blocked them all. Without the reforms, the PRI can continue using its impressive skill at avoiding campaign spending limits and accepting illicit funds. While making alliances and overseeing campaign funds are common practices in any democratic country, the PRI believes that these measures would undermine its ability to stay in power. And it's right: democracy is venom for a state-party regime.
Recent local elections have shown that the opposition wins when it is united, but not when it is divided. In local elections in the state of Mexico, the opposition did not form an alliance and lost, though it refused to recognize the results because of fraud by the PRI. In Nayarit an alliance was formed, and even the PRI's fraudulent maneuvers could not block the opposition victory. Both Vicente Fox, the PAN's only pre-candidate, and Cárdenas, who could win the PRD nomination, agree that an opposition coalition is needed to defeat the PRI, reconstruct the country and make the transition to democracy.
A survey released on July 30 by Indemerc-Louis Harris shows that over half of Mexicans favor an opposition coalition to bring about a change in the regime. Among pre-candidates, Fox leads in voter preferences while Cárdenas has been losing ground.
Primaries or polls?The first obstacle to an opposition coalition has been defining a method to designate the single opposition candidate. The PRD maintains that the candidate should be elected in primaries in which all citizens who so desire can participate, like the ones to be held by the PRI. The PAN proposes using surveys. The PRD says that polls can be manipulated, while the PAN has expressed its concern that elections can as well, as was the case in the PRD's internal elections in March.
After going around on this several times, eight opposition parties, including the PAN, the PRD, the Labor Party and the Green Party, plus four of the six recently established parties—Camacho Solís' Central Democratic Party, Dante Delgado's Democratic Convergence, the Nationalist Society Party and the Social Alliance Party—agreed to a third way: a combination of polls and primaries.
A sample will be taken of 400-500 citizens in each of the country's 300 districts to make up a total sample of 120-150,000, which will give very high sample reliability. Observers will certify the vote and the coalition will form its own citizens' organization to carry out the elections and ensure their cleanliness. In addition to candidate preferences, the survey will reveal the specific weight of each of the coalition parties in the 300 districts.
The new student movementThe student movement has gone through many phases since it was created in March, when the University Council—largely controlled by university authorities subordinated to the state—approved obligatory tuition fees for UNAM students. In April the students' strike spread through all of UNAM's schools and colleges.
The movement has broken free of traditional patterns in both its make-up and its manner of acting. It has sustained itself without any leaders, though some students stand out more than others. Decision-making has been carried out through a structure of 40 assemblies, one for each UNAM school and college. Issues are discussed and agreements reached in each assembly, and each one counts in the whole.
The students have drawn up a petition with the following demands:
* repeal the tuition regulations that sparked the protest;
* repeal the 1997 reforms related to a single admissions test given by a private institution separate from the UNAM (the students argue that this violates university autonomy and annuls the evaluations the university itself makes to pass students from level to level),
* revoke the time limit for completing studies (since some people have to work to pay for their studies, they need more time than is now allowed to complete each level),
* end the repression and sanctions against students, workers and faculty,
* dismantle the police apparatus created by the university president to spy on, control and repress the students,
* reprogram the school year, and
* hold direct, public discussions to resolve the conflict and examine the situation at the university.
In all of their demands, the students have made clear that they are fed up with authoritarianism and the antidemocratic nature of UNAM authorities.
Expensive campaignBy the end of July, the conflict had been going on for over three months. To understand why it has dragged on so long, one has to know those involved. The authorities thought they could break the rebellious students with a costly media campaign against them, and in two months spent over $1 million trying. Most of the media joined in the attack, as did the Catholic Church hierarchy; even President Zedillo, violating the principle of university autonomy, made threatening statements. The leader of the business council COPARMEX called for closing down the UNAM, while some rightwing intellectuals proposed that two universities be created, one offering excellence to an elite, another for the poor. The university president himself, accompanied by his staff and students who oppose the strike, organized public events but they were never as large as the events the striking students held.
In one of the activities organized to attack the students, drivers on the Peripheral Highway around Mexico City were asked to turn on their car lights to demand that the students give up the installations they have occupied. The Economists' Association suggested that university authorities and students who oppose the strike retake the buildings. The PRI tried to pressure the Federal District government to join in the repression, to kill two birds with one stone: crush the movement and escalate the campaign to disparage Cárdenas. Two lawyers linked to the regime went so far as to file a suit against the students with the Attorney General's office, using pseudo- legal subtleties to argue that student leaders should be condemned to 11 years of prison without bail.
Siqueiros' muralAnother incident was exploited to the full against the movement. The university administration building houses a mural painted by the revolutionary artist Siqueiros. In the mural, the artist included some dates of symbolic importance in Mexican history and left a string of question marks at the end. Someone covered over the question marks and wrote in “1999,” alluding to the importance of the student movement. Authorities denounced this as a serious attack on the nation's cultural patrimony.
All of these events served to make the atmosphere more tense and ripe for repression. At the end of June only 20% of citizens surveyed said they would support the use of force against the students, but by the end of July that number had grown to 46%. As in the case of Chiapas, authorities say they want dialogue but are putting up all sorts of obstacles to wear people down. And it works.
Nonetheless, 650,935 citizens participated in a consultation on the issues that the students conducted in Mexico City. An overwhelming 90% agreed that higher education should be free, 83% felt that the government should increase the university budget, 71% disapproved of the fact that a private, independent institute controls admissions, and 81% expressed their support for the movement's demands.
Learning democracyThe consultation was one example of the students' efforts not to close themselves up in their assemblies, but to try to connect with other grassroots sectors. They have organized several marches, and even a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe. They have visited neighborhoods to explain their reasons, and held meetings of all kinds with many different sectors.
There have been difficulties and disagreements, but the students have been learning to negotiate, discuss, and be democratic and tolerant of internal dissent. Of course, one can also find yelling, pressure, insults and extremist positions in their meetings, just as one can, for example, in the House of Representatives.
Despite the internal tensions, the movement has not been broken, as its enemies predicted. The students have continually stressed that they seek not to destroy the university but to democratize it. They propose, among other things, that the community elect the university president and directors and that plebiscites be held to decide on issues that get bogged down in the University Council.
The students are not alone. The workers' union from UNAM and other universities supports them, along with the electrical workers' union, groups of workers from various factories, small farmers and tenant farmers from nearby rural areas, teachers, transport workers, street children and the debtor's organization. They have woven strong new social networks, and even with their predominate postmodern forms—no single line of discourse, no clearly consolidated organizations—they now know what class struggle means at the end of the 20th century: those benefited by the system against those excluded by it. Their slogans include, “There's no money for education, just for corruption”; “The future is denied us; there's nothing for us.”
Marcos: Support unconditionalOne source of support for the student movement that the state tried to use against it came from Subcomandante Marcos. At one point, his support was one reason alleged for the repression. Marcos has stressed that the national project is being played against the neoliberal one in the conflict with the UNAM. This, he says, explains why the government is trying to get the students to fight among themselves, just as it tries to get indigenous people to fight among themselves.
In one statement to the national and international press, Marcos alluded to those who had turned on their lights on the Peripheral Highway against the striking students. He said that the Zapatistas don't have cars or drive on Mexico City's highways, but that they had lit candles in the forest to show their support for the student movement.
He also linked what the Zapatista communities are suffering with the university students in another way. He said that even if the government continues to throw the police and soldiers at the indigenous communities, to occupy towns and arbitrarily detain indigenous people it accuses of being Zapatistas, they would continue to support the students because, quite simply, they can see what is right.
Marcos charged that the radical changes in higher education proposed by the World Bank respond to the demands of the neoliberal market: the World Bank sees education as a private good, a service in the market, and thus wants to turn public universities into self-financing businesses. The coincidence between the World Bank's proposals and the privatizing zeal of Zedillo's government is clear. Marcos is cheered that this strategy has found firm resistance in a significant part of the student body. He discussed how the media has joined the government to accuse the striking students of going too far, of being “ultra,” even though they are not the ones who have attacked or incarcerated any student, or tried to impose tuition regulations behind the community's back. Finally, Marcos declared that the Zapatistas will support the strike's General Council whether it decides to continue the strike or end it.
Proposed solutionConcerned by the enormous damage done to the university and the country by prolonging the conflict, eight emeritus professors proposed a solution to the strike at the end of July. They did so after talking with the faculty of various departments, researchers, academics, university authorities, students who belong to the movement and those who don't.
Their proposal contains the essence of the student movement's demands: free education, democratization and participation. Its defenders have pointed out that, although the authorities are to blame for prolonging the strike, a long strike weakens the movement.
Opposition to this proposal can be found, however, among both professors and students. First of all, some feel it is a trap set by the university authorities. They insist on defending in full the points in the students' petition, rejecting the proposal because it does not take all the points into account, and only partially addresses some points it does include. They argue that accepting the proposal would be unconditional surrender.
Frictions, not divisionsThe fact that the authorities have shown no flexibility or willingness to hold an authentic dialogue has meant that extreme positions are beginning to prevail among the students. As the professors' proposal went into discussion, thus opening the door to a possible solution to the conflict, it emerged increasingly clearly that the student movement has managed to check the efforts to bring neoliberalism into the university. The students have expressed their firm opposition to subordinating higher education to the market forces, and shown that the public university is the patrimony of Mexicans and not of the multinationals.
The threat of repression persists. Zedillo's government treats the various sectors of society differently. While it bails out and offers impunity to thieves who have illegally enriched themselves as bankers or highway builders, it tries to crush those who protest or make demands. The entire 1999 UNAM budget represents just 1% of the money spent on the bank bailout.
The regime believes it can break the student movement, wear down the students or divide the schools. This has been an unusual movement, however, with enormous tensions but no divisions. What makes it intolerable for the powers that be is that it questions the system as a whole. This is its great achievement, a victory already won. Even if the movement is broken by repression, there is no doubt but that other multiform expressions of youthful nonconformity will spring up.
War continues in ChiapasMeanwhile, the Zedillo regime is continuing to escalate its war against the Zapatistas. Dialogue has not been resumed and the Army is still making incursions into Zapatista indigenous communities. The harassment, reprisals and persecution persist as the Army, the authorities and paramilitary forces continue to fabricate crimes supposedly committed by Zapatista sympathizers. The military infrastructure is being consolidated in Chiapas: landing strips, barracks, new roads. And although the legislative Commission for Harmony and Pacification (COCOPA) has repeatedly insisted that the government halt its police-military incursions, the government continues to vent its fury against the pacifists.
The paramilitary groups operate with impunity. They have sown terror in the indigenous communities, assassinating and ambushing, detaining and torturing, burning down villages, stealing cattle… And it has been proven that these groups operate in coordination with the state security forces and have been trained and supported by the Army.
Denunciations rain downAmnesty International's 1998 report gives evidence of human rights violations by the Army and by paramilitary forces linked to the Mexican government. It cites a total of 21,159 indigenous people displaced from their villages by mid-1999.
An internationalist group named Peace without Borders, with members from Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, Nicaragua, France, Spain, Argentina and other countries, published a statement in June 1999 demanding an end to the war in Chiapas. And at the end of that month, a delegation of Swiss observers denounced the serious escalation of the conflict in Chiapas and the repression against the indigenous people.
At the beginning of July, a number of human rights organizations launched an initiative called SOS for Chiapas in response to the increase in violence against the indigenous communities. These charges will be brought before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Then on July 8, human rights promoters in the US Senate included a section condemning the militarization of Chiapas in a document on financial support for the Mexican government.
The initiatives and denunciations are raining down, but the government seems convinced that the use of force is the only solution. Zedillo has chosen massive troop deployment and military incursions into the communities, in which the Army, the security forces, the federal judicial police, municipal police, paramilitary groups and PRI activists go in together. These actions violate the law of dialogue and reconciliation in Chiapas, and aim to stretch the Zapatista's capacity to resist to the breaking point.
Marcos criticizes the UNIn July, Asma Jahangir, the UN's special envoy dealing with extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary executions, visited Mexico. Marcos sent her a letter in the name of the women, men, children and elderly of the Zapatistas, stating that political opportunity is not as important as political ethics, and for that reason he had decided not to use the opportunity to denounce the Mexican government for its genocidal policy against the indigenous people, but rather to talk about the UN.
Marcos said he did not consider it ethical to turn to an international organization that had lost all credibility and legitimacy and signed its own death certificate with NATO's bombing of Kosovo by trying to sell the idea that this was a “humanitarian war with collateral damage and mistakes made in good faith.” He said the UN's complicity in that war was clear and that, if UN silence offered tacit support for the crime and destruction in Kosovo, the organization has taken a more active role in the war being waged by the Mexican government against the indigenous people. He recalled that, at the request of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the government militarily occupied the community of Amparo Aguatinta in May 1998, striking children and imprisoning men and women, because the community had declared itself an “autonomous municipality.” In the list of affronts he also noted that, on July 19, 1999, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan awarded the United Nations Vienna Civil Society Award to the Azteca Foundation, which has been strongly questioned by many honest people in Mexico.
Marcos explained that the Zapatistas distrust the UN not out of chauvinism but rather because of actions like these, and have always been happy to receive international observers—unlike PRI pre-candidate Labastida, who has expelled international observers from the country. He reaffirmed that the Zapatistas defend the concept of national sovereignty and will continue to welcome those who truly support peace. The Zapatistas have recognized the important work for peace of Amnesty International, America's Watch, Global Exchange, the Mexico Social Network, the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico-USA, Pastors for Peace, the Humanitarian Law Project, Doctors of the World, Bread for the World, Doctors without Borders, and many other organizations. Marcos insisted that these groups have more moral authority and far more legitimacy than the United Nations.
Paramilitary groups: Collective hysteria?The UN is not the only international agency collaborating with the government's counterinsurgency campaign, Marcos noted; the Red Cross is doing so as well. Its representatives in San Cristóbal have declared that displaced people left their homes because they were lazy and preferred to be supported by the Red Cross. With statements like these, they have tried to suggest that the paramilitary groups are just an invention, the product of the collective hysteria of thousands of displaced indigenous people.
Marcos went on to explain how, in an effort to improve the Army's battered public image, the government has given the green light to paramilitary groups organized by active-duty military personnel, in more than a few cases made up of military personnel, and trained, supplied, protected and directed by the military. These groups take various forms, but there is one constant: the presence of PRI activists. The groups are being used to try to make the conflict look like an inter-ethnic war.
He described some of the strategies that the government uses in its efforts to force the Zapatista communities into submission. For example, when a group of Zapatista families on one farm demanded that the supply of drinking water be reestablished—it had been cut off by the PRI—the government responded by mobilizing the security forces. PRI activists attacked the people with blows and bullets, seriously wounding two Zapatistas. Instead of apprehending the aggressors, however, the police detained Zapatistas saying that, by demanding water, they had disturbed the peace. Marcos commented that this case and many others like it do not appear either in the newspapers or on television, and he warned people to pay special attention to NGOs working for human rights, since they are among the army's main targets.
Marcos did say, however, that the Zapatistas had information confirming that the UN special envoy was an honest person. For that reason, he could do no less than express to her the problems he had with an organization that endorses wars and supports and awards those who kill and humiliate the excluded of the world. In the end, he did not miss the opportunity to give the UN official a detailed account of the Zapatistas who have been summarily executed since 1994. He said that the torturers and murderers have not been imprisoned and that the government has recently resumed armed attacks against the Zapatista forces. While the Army declared it was sending 7,000 unarmed soldiers to Chiapas to plant trees, they came armed and ready to attack. Marcos' conclusion: the Acteal massacre and Zedillo's whole policy must be considered as genocide.
The Zapatistas, Marcos warned, are aware that a number of international financial powers would like to appropriate the rich oil and uranium deposits lying under Zapatista land for their own benefit. These powers hope for divisions among the Zapatistas, since they would rather negotiate with small groups.
Impunity is a realityWhen the UN's special envoy came to Chiapas, many indigenous people told her how the government's failure to fulfill the San Andrés accords had led to stepped-up militarization of communities, violence, torture, evictions, disappearances and unjust incarceration of many people. The envoy replied that she had heard the testimonies of relatives and survivors of the Acteal massacre and their clamor for justice, and would take all of this information into account. She also asked them to forgive. The indigenous people took the floor again in indignation to emphasize that what they wanted was justice and in Mexico there is none, as many murderers run free.
The envoy was also given a special report produced by the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, which emphasizes that, over a year after the Acteal massacre, the survivors and other people displaced from Chenaló are still being threatened by the paramilitary groups that the authorities deny exist. Furthermore, not all perpetrators of the crime and none of its planners have been detained. The report notes that the authorities have shown a willingness to offer some material aid but not to change their conduct in the administration of justice, or to provide guarantees of security and respect for citizens' basic rights. The indigenous people do not want gifts, however; they want justice and respect for their dignity.
Before leaving the country, the envoy questioned the army's presence in Chiapas. She said that without political and legal changes impunity would continue, and that Mexico is at a critical moment, facing various challenges in its democratization process. She recommended that international observers participate in the 2000 elections. She especially stressed that Mexico knows the sad experience of individual and mass executions, and named some of the most notorious cases: Aguas Blancas, Acteal, El Bosque, El Charco. She said she was concerned not only by these tragedies but also by a selective impunity that is a political reality in Mexico. She said it hurt her to see how marginalized people continue to be caught up in the armed conflict in Chiapas, and spoke out in favor of demilitarization.
Chiapas will be a central issue in the presidential campaigns. The government has chosen not to resolve the conflict but just to administrate it, leaving the resolution up to its successor.
Zedillo's economic armorObfuscation on all fronts. The havoc that neoliberal policies have wrought on the Mexican population has become increasingly damaging, yet Zedillo criticizes those who, even within his party, have suggested that today's poverty is the result of these policies. He blames earlier politicians and continues his dogmatic, swashbuckling crusade to defend the neoliberal model.
In order to save investors from any scares during the change in government, the President came up with a plan for what he calls economic armor and negotiated $23.7 billion in financial support for the country with international organizations. Commentators immediately warned that something was wrong with the model if it needed this kind of armor, and The Financial Times called the armor an exaggerated measure. But the government has its reasons for incurring this new, enormous debt: it wants fresh money to keep the PRI in power.
The conditions required in exchange for this support have to do mainly with privatizations. A World Bank document that has not been widely circulated calls on the Mexican government to privatize the electrical sector and accelerate the introduction of private capital into areas such as the ports, railways, airports and communications. It also calls on the government to break up the oil industry and continues to demand the privatization of higher education.
Country of seven billionairesTechnocrats never suggest that the armor Mexico needs is social. Global inequality is troubling enough: the richest 20% of the world's population consumes 86% of its goods and services today compared to 70% in 1970. But in Mexico, this inequality has reached especially appalling levels: the fortunes of only seven Mexicans equal 5% of the national GDP, totaling some $20.4 billion. These fortunes were created quite recently, under the shelter of Salinas Gortari's government. Official World Bank and IMF figures show that the percentage of Mexicans living in poverty has increased to over half the rural population, while four out of five indigenous people live in extreme poverty. According to official figures, two out of three indigenous people in Chiapas are unemployed. Among those who have work, half receive no salaries, and those who do are not paid the minimum wage.
A United Nations report on development places Mexico 50th on the list of the world's countries, below Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Mexico's economy is not growing, but is increasingly concentrating more resources in fewer hands.
Despite these clear setbacks, the government has not altered its rhetoric of privatization. Zedillo said the companies were being sold to meet the population's social needs, but the nearly half of the country's population that now lives in poverty may well ask if the enormous resources put into FOBAPROA met some of their needs, or if the highway bailout alleviated their poverty, or if the reduction in the education budget has helped them. They won't get an answer.
The armor of impunityPoverty is growing alongside the government's social debt. Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics Amartya Sen has called for an end to the nonsense about the market and proposes the need to stress the social aspect: education, jobs, a priority on social development. But the Mexican government turns a deaf ear to such advice. It is stubbornly continuing its attempts to privatize higher education and transfer the care of the country's cultural patrimony over to private companies. It has chosen the path of authoritarian imposition, which it tries to cover up in both Chiapas and the UNAM with the appearance of a dialogue that has nothing to do with the true meaning of that word.
The government is donning armor insulated with thick layers of impunity, gambling that it can wear down all popular resistance. For how long? The answer lies in the irrepressible dignity of the excluded.
Jorge Alonso is a researcher with CIESAS Western and envío correspondent in Mexico.