Carlos Salinas de Gortari and the turning Point for Mexico and the PRI
Mexico is a nation long embattled by poverty, political corruption and exploitation by powers foreign and domestic. This disposition is best captured by a consideration of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held the office of the presidency from 1930 until 2000. The dominant political party would be notorious for acts of political and electoral repression as well as for the ultimate mismanagement of the Mexican economy, leading to its fundamental meltdown and its inflation ailment in the 1980s.
1988 would mark a turning point for Mexico, with the PRI candidate Carlos Salinas de Gortari taking office under the heavy shroud of election fraud. Consistent with the hostility which the party had come to increasingly face from the Mexican people, Salinas would become a target for the anger of the Mexican people. Ironically, he would also become a reformer, bringing about many of the changes in Mexican policy and practice that would ultimately lead to his party’s first electoral defeat. While it cannot be said that this was his intent, we can see in Salinas the contradiction that also seemed to afflict Mexico for so long. Within, progress and corruption commingled problematically, producing the discussion here on Mexico’s electoral and economic history leading into the election, the massive fraud occurring during the election and the legacy of the resultant Salinas administration.
Part 1: The Decline of the PRI (1968-1987)
Just as with the President Salinas discussed here, the PRI’s history is one of internal contradiction. Historically claiming to represent the interests of the Mexican revolution, and thus, the sentiments of popular ascension, the PRI has nonetheless employed its unentitled self-identification as a socialist state in order to nationalize state industries, dominate media outlets and exact an overwhelming control over the political process. Though across its unchallenged history during Mexico’s first century of independence the PRI would engage Mexico in some periods of positive gain, it would ultimately be the force that, across the 20 years leading up to the administration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, would subject the people, the economy and the government to serious misfortune.
Given its history as an oligarchic force in the political and economic processes, the PRI has long resisted with aggressive force the entitlement of its political opponents. However, for nearly three decades beginning in 1940, Mexico would enjoy rapid growth and theretofore unseen prosperity. For the Mexican people, the swell of available jobs, the increasing value of the peso and the positive influx of foreign investment all would help to retain the authority of the PRI. Indeed, never was it very far from the minds and hearts of the Mexican people that the continuous rule of the PRI should be seen as indicative of the unaccountability of the electoral process. Namely, that the PRI was the only party to enjoy majority rule suggested that elections were little more than a show of democracy atop a totalitarian rulership.
That is why, with the economic collapse that would follow this period, the public would increasingly set its attention on the inherently counter-democratic nature of the PRI’s authority. An incident on Oct. 2, 1968 would mark the beginning of a period of increasing tumult in Mexico which would persist until the reformations at the center of this discussion. (McDonnell, 1) the Tlateloco Massacre would pit progressive college students against the government and its dominance over economic industries, at which it was now increasingly proving to be a poor hand. Inequality and an evident disinterest by the government in advancing the cause of the poor would collide with sentiments of suspicion as to the government’s even more problematic disinterest in the democratic process. Thus, when Mexico City was selected to host the Olympic Games that year, students at the National Polytechnic Institute used this as an opportunity to protest inequality and political injustice in Mexico. Just as the student sought to bring international attention to the behaviors of the PRI, so would they succeed, instigating the military engage lethal force on unarmed student protesters, killing hundreds and subsequently suppressing the numbers and the cause of the violence through mainstream media outlets. This would not only touch off a subsequent two decades of fomenting crisis in the relationship between the PRI and the public, but it would also have a direct connection to the policies and perspective of Salinas, who is by no accident the controversial figure at the center of this discussion. Indeed, often identified as a neo-liberal economist, his association to these protests is in a way more than just theoretical. “The national university that produced most of the 1968 protesters was the intellectual enclave for Mexico’s elite, and the youth of then-prosperous middle classes. Mexico’s top officials-including President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, several of his Cabinet and possible ruling party nominees to succeed him-are not only alumni of the school. They are also alums of the ‘Generation of 1968,’ and their attitudes were shaped by that drizzly October evening.” This should not, of course, dissuade from a central reality to this discussion which would be Salinas identification with the ruling party in a time when Mexicans would demand change and democracy.
This is a premise which will be revisited with greater depth in the critical discussion hereafter on the inherent contradiction in this unique administration.
In the lead up to this administration would be two decades of deepening strife, stimulated in no small degree by the rearing of massive foreign debt and a national dominance over Mexican industries. Pairing this with a continued impression of exclusion of political, ethnic and economic groups, the PRI would find the 1970s to be a difficult era. The nationalization and overleveraging of the oil industry, pooled upon by a short-sighted dependency on foreign borrowing, would land the PRI in a very serious economic predicament. False impression and the manufacturing of the image of prosperity, two calling cards of a totalitarian government, would help to demonstrate the manner in which the PRI would succeed in maintaining its authority. Such is to say that where its inequities and failures to represent the public had fallen short, its control over media outlets and its proclivity toward deception had allowed it to retain the impression of proper governmental stewardship.
During this time, false optimism would belie a brewing disaster in the Mexican economy. In 1978, positive reports would about, with the Washington Post, for example, consenting to the impression that “in the short span of less than two years, the Mexican economy has shifted from crisis to recovery, with bankers banging on the door for the privilege of lending big money to the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world.” With the discovery and exploitation of several new oil fields during this time, Mexico would experience a recovery allowed by these eager lenders of the world. When a 1982 disruption in the value of the oil market, paired with the PRI’s reckless over-production and over-reliance on its oil resources reached the core of the Mexican economy, the peso turned sharply downward in value. According to 1982 article published by the Miami-Herald., “Mexico’s inflation rate tripled in 1982, reaching 98.8 per cent, just shy of the 100 per cent that President Miguel de la Madrid had predicted in his inauguration speech Dec. 1, the Federal Bank reported. The annual rate was more than three times the rate of 1981, when prices rose 29.9 per cent. The government has said the 1982 inflation rate was one reason Mexico was forced to devalue its currency three times last year.” This was the beginning of a long and miserable period under the leadership of Madrid, who would steward Mexico to its high point of inflation in 1987, where it peaked at 159%. This would produce a dire economic condition in Mexico and, with it, a powerful hostility directed at the PRI just as a successor would be handpicked by the outgoing president. The selection of Carlos Salinas de Gortari would in and of itself produce a great deal of consternation both within and without the party, not owing in specific to his specific character and more reflecting crisis in the economy and in the splintering PRI. His nomination would be unpopular and would be met with the prominent displays of opposition, in the form of party splintering and the consequent formulation of the first meaningful political organizations to take effective electoral formulation.
In 1988, the PRI was reported to be “showing strains over the selection of Salinas. Labor leader Fidel Velazquez quietly walked off the stage as Salinas began his open-air acceptance speech Sunday. A leftist faction within the PRI calling itself the Democratic Current all but rejected the choice because it was made in the old-style way, by the outgoing president, Miguel de la Madrid, and in secret. Such dissidence puts to the test the PRI’s near-legendary ability to pull together at election time.” Indeed, having never lost an electoral venture to this juncture, the party suddenly found itself in deep peril of being ousted in a context where a combination, or sometimes a variation, of popularity and electoral fraud had assured it victory. This, of course, would represent one aspect of the resentment served to Salinas. The other aspect would be the significant impact of the economic crisis and the continued devaluation of the Peso. These things reflected on the ineptitude of a party seldom challenged as it should have been.
To most, the failures effecting the whole of the nation had marked the need for a hastening of democratic reform, which would in turn reflect quite negatively on the candidacy of the PRI candidate. In an article dated to 1988, it was characterized thusly, with report stating that “the Institutional Revolutionary Party on Sunday designated Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the budget and planning secretary in the present government, to be its presidential nominee. Getting the nomination is tantamount to being named president. The PRI, as the party is universally called here after its Spanish initials, has ruled Mexico for six decades. As Mexico’s largest party and the one that funds its campaign with government money, the PRI can elect almost anyone to any post by a big margin.” This statement is offered without connotation, but offering a clear indication of a cause to reject the legitimacy of Mexican elections. Indeed, that one party is funded by public money even as it retains a dominance over industries and a hamfisted appropriation of the economy is cause for the explicit hostility faced by the electoral proposition of Salinas.
As we enter into a consideration of the election and the administration of Salinas, as well as the legacy of his initiatives, we are informed both by a history of authoritarian corruption and by a clear demand for change which could not be evaded. Mexico’s history would be filled with moments of progressive interest, even under the rule of the PRI. “In time, however, one-party rule led to corruption-with some recent Mexican politicians becoming notorious for swollen Swiss bank accounts. The formation of new parties is a reaction to that corruption.” Thus, the 1988 election would represent the first real challenge to the PRI’s electoral dominance, even producing the widespread belief that the PRI had in fact been defeated and had steadfastly resisted this defeat through fraud. Therefore, just as Salinas would enter office amidst a crescendo of public outrage, so too would he find himself backed into a corner and therefore driven toward the promises of reform. Here below, we will consider the conditions of the 1988 election, the repercussions of its outcome and the longstanding characteristics of the Mexican economy and political which reflect the legacy of this transitional period as well as those which persist to represent the legacy of the PRI as whole.
Part 2: The Dismantling of the PRI and Corporatism (1988-Present)
In 1988, Mexico was at a crossroads. The depth of its economic crisis, the dictatorial stronghold of its leadership and the widely accepted system of political patronage and corruption had all reached a point of crescendo. Mexicans had now long persisted in a phase of economic crisis. “The crisis produced a sharp drop in living standards for Mexicans who could not protect their incomes by investing in dollars abroad. Inflation averaged 88.4% per year during the 1982-88 period, reaching a peak of 159.2% in 1987, the year the presidential campaign began.” Within this negative context, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had long held sway over Mexican political affairs, applying a neo-liberal and counter-democratic form of oligarchic leadership which resulted in ineffective governance, a breakdown of civil services, a steadily declining economy and a graduating imbalance of proper resource distribution. The PRI was, for the first time in its history, experiencing the serious threat of democratic reform throughout the nation, with formerly suppressed opposition groups and armed guerilla movements finding empathy through the resentment of a neglected peoples. This environment fostered a closer diplomatic relationship with the liberalizing trade modes of the United States. Negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would unite the leadership of the U.S., Mexico and Canada in a global trade triangle, had begun under the auspices of bringing shared wealth to all nations thereto signed. This was paralleled by the drafting of extensive reforms in terms of human rights, concerning an acknowledged dearth of constitutional protections with regard to expressive freedom, freedom to organize politically and security from corruption in the judicial setting. Ironically, all of these occasions would transpire in the midst of one of Mexico’s most bitterly contested moments of electoral and governmental authority. Under the specter of grotesque and highly visible election fraud, Carlos Salinas de Gortari assumed the presidency under the PRI banner for a final time. His would be an administration so deeply embattled — held responsible in many ways for the mounting hostility at the only political party with power in Mexican affairs for 70 years — that it would be forced to see to a transformation of Mexico. The protest against his entrance into office was as much directed at a clear sense amongst suffering Mexicans as to the failures of the current government as to a sense of political disenfranchisement. The outcome would be an administration mired in the controversy of its entitlement to office, stricken with devastating economic obstacle and inclined by the flux of the rest of the global community toward the realization of reform. In Salinas, the collision of events would produce something of a lame duck incumbency for the ruling party, finally signaling even in its assumption of office that its identity and power would soon be irretrievably shifted. Without connotation, and to speak nothing yet of the negative impact on the people of Mexico which it may be argued has been the outcome of NAFTA, the Salinas tenure may be characterized as a transitional one, marking the end of the PRI as the uncontested party in Mexican governmental affairs and marking the orientation which it would assume both domestically and internationally in the years to come. In concurrence with the 1994 adoption of NAFTA, those skeptical of its evenhandedness included many of those who had formed parties in political opposition to Salinas.
Today, fifteen years from the orientation of Mexico toward the reforms of free trade, domestic democratic governance and foreign corporate investment, the circumstances in Mexico are dire for its numerous impoverished citizens. The ultimate removal of the PRI from executive office, with the 1996 adoption of democratic reform and the subsequent 2000 victory of National Action Party Candidate Vincente Fox opened up a new era for Mexico. Instead of bringing with it the political reform, human rights advocacy and economic fortitude promised both by globalization and by new leadership, Mexico has entered into an age of severe inner-turmoil. As its most indigent regions, invariably those populated by the disenfranchised Indian people, have suffered the brunt of this turmoil, Oaxaca is a state which microcosmically illustrates the crimes which are afflicted upon Mexico by a combination of political incompetence, misdirected corporate investment and a stubborn continuity of thuggish PRI tactics in suppressing political progress.
In the Camin text, we are offered a historically minded lamentation on the failures of Mexico, even with the disruption of the PRI, to true change. Accordingly, he offers the perspective that “the deformed daughter of the liberal projects, that society had been dreamed of fifty years before as republican, democratic, egalitarian, rational, industrious, open to innovation and progress. Fifty years later, it was oligarchic, dominated by caciques (political bosses), and authoritarian, slow, increasingly disjointed, introverted, jolted by innovation and productive changes, though still tied down by its colonial traditions.” This was a perspective that festered for many voters leading into the 1988 elections, where liberal opposition leader Cardenas, grandson of one of the idealistic founders of the PRI group, led the popular charge against Salinas and the PRI.
Polls throughout the election showed Cardenas with a meaningful lead against the incumbent party. Meanwhile, Mexico prepared for the first time to utilize a computer balloting system. This facts would conspicuously collide as it became visibly likely that the PRI’s authority would soon be deeply challenged. Accordingly, we find that “the social consequences of the economic crisis, the PRI’s handling of it, and the inability of most groups to influence policy essentially prepared voters to abandon traditional poses of either PRI loyalty or loyal apathy. When Cardenas looked like the most likely candidate to punish the PRI, he won much of this available protest vote.” However, his challenge would suffer the same fate as had all prior to it, with allegations of deep and conspicuous electoral fraud abounding. Just as Cardenas appeared poised for victory, the new computer ballots in operation failed, with a system crash becoming the essential metaphor for the failed government of the PRI. Nonetheless, Salinas would persist to assume the office, mired in the anger of a Mexican people who felt they had been deceived. (Miller, 1)
It was within this context that Salinas would begin to make his name as a reformer. The initiatives of his administration, though still stamped by the intent to retain an empowerment of the PRI, suggested a recognition, however modest, of the need for reform. Thus, there was a characterization by some of the effort to privatize many formerly nationalized utilities and industries as a sign of progress, as would the opening of Mexico’s doors to free trade be taken by some as a demonstration of the need for reform. Indeed, the promise of democracy has been an inherent premise for the process of globalization. These are indications of the contradiction in Salinas, who would at once be a symbol of the PRI’s stubborn persistence and of its inevitable end.
Such is to say that the core irony of the Salinas administration would be its simultaneous magnification of the deep and damning trespasses against democracy in Mexico and its instigation of a necessary transition for Mexico. The perspective taken by the administration during this final sexenio of the PRI’s long-uncontested rule over Mexican governance, would be that on a global scale, “developments in the 1990s could prove crucial to the Mexican economy and the bilateral realationship between the United States and Mexico. Mexican society is in the process of a marked transformation.” This was an important endorsement of the process of globalization, with particular respect to the role that free trade would soon play both for better and for worse in Mexican economy and culture.
In fact, many Mexicans began to experience a significant acceleration in long-standing socioeconomic tensions with the early onset of NAFTA. The economically poor and agriculturally rich states which had been relatively stable in comparison to the sharp declination of so many regions during the fallout of the ‘December Mistake’ that would come to refer to the height of inflation on the transition point to the Salinas administration, would be a primary point of interest for foreign corporate investment, which was encouraged as a means to Mexican political growth under the auspices of free trade. Seizing on the logging industry and the farming industry, dominant in parts of Mexico with a diverse ecology, private organizations initiated an entrenchment on local lands that would touch off hostility between central governmental leadership and the impoverished communities who, if not displaced, would even more often fall under the employ of foreign corporations for unfair wages and under exploitative conditions.
As an example, the region of Oaxaca, highly populated by indigenous Mixteca residents and stricken by widespread poverty, channeled this independent streak into a central role in the emergence of the chief revolutionary party in the nation. “In 1996 we saw the emergence of the EPR and later on of the ERPI, the main basis of which is in Oaxaca.” The Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) would become a primary umbrella under which a variable set of groups have sought to resist the capitalist inequities of the current government and the resurgent PRI. For those who have long suffered in such agriculturally central regions, the PRI and NAFTA would actually share a sensible set of motives.
The PRI, in particular, still holds great sway in the local affairs of some states, profiting greatly from the exploitation attendant to globalization. Many local governors still represent this party, the influence of which remains inset in the Mexican political landscape. Due to the upsurge in resistance that had naturally accompanied its transitional phase, its tactics have grown increasingly aggressive, which has in turn only further radicalized resistance groups. Over the course of fifteen years, the persistence of the PRI and the inequality perceived in the free trade initiatives have become associated calls for activism. The ongoing conflict between locally oriented groups and state police forces represents a serious civil crisis in Mexico.
Such tactics are indicative of the unaccountability for adherence to the law of justice that is afforded Mexico’s federal government. Executive response to the conditions which afflict the Mexican political system as a whole has been incompetent at best and criminally complicit at worst. Though President Fox submitted a bill for criminal justice oversight in 2004, its applications regarding either torture or unwarranted detention have yet to be passed into any form of legislation. This has had a genuine effect on the perception of reform in Mexico, where the inception of democracy marks a tangible change over the course of fifteen years, but where electoral violence is likewise a new reality.
During its elections in 2004, Mexico was devastated by political assassination, with paramilitary supporters of the PRI targeting leading resistance leaders and community-elected officials. Law-enforcement helmed violence at the polls has in some places become an anticipated element of the current democratic process. This speaks to the overwhelming popular support for community leadership in contrast to either the former vestiges of the PRI or the failing commissions of the National Action Party, itself understandably viewed by many as a mere reenactment of the crumbled PRI. A March 4th, 2006 incident in which locally appointed PRI officials and paramilitary police officers burst into a meeting of an Oaxaca-region local council group and opened fire is illustrative of the reactionary approach which has been fostered by the PRI. Critically wounding and arresting key members of the opposition, the PRI demonstrated its impunity to democratic reform by taking violent action against legal political action. This is a striking reality in Mexico today.
This must be considered in light of the fact that the PRI has already suffered defeat from electoral office, which is an incident allowed by Salinas commitment to NAFTA. For its mixed economic consequences, it would raise the international visibility of Mexico’s longstanding electoral failures, causing a greater demand for accountability and legitimacy. Nonetheless, this oversight would not be significant to remove the influence of the PRI outside of the federal governance, as in private industries and local governments. According to a review of the work by Craske (1994), the author “sets out to examine the reforms occurring in Mexico’s ruling party, the Partido Revolucinario Institucional (PRI) during the Salinas administration (1988-1994) and their impact at the local level.” It becomes immediately clear that part of the dissection of the PRI under the auspices of the Salinas reforms would be its removal of centralization from an organization which would nonetheless persist to retain a stubborn and fearmongering authority over so many regional pockets where weak local political organization would allow such. By inviting free trade to occupy many contexts where state control had previously dominated, such as in the industrial and agricultural realms, the PRI would change the equation its dominance. Under Salinas, the Mexican government would adopt the strategy of corporatism, reorganizing the party according to its interests.
By privatizing many formerly government run programs and utilities, the Salinas administration would appear to be pushing the nation toward a new tier of economic freedom. The control of the government over many utilities and industries had been seen as one of the primary calling cards of its unfair dominance in private affairs of Mexican citizens. However, as the Salinas government began its political and economic ramp-up for NAFTA, its privatization of such utilities would prove merely a way to transfer power from an irresistible political party to an irresistible economic system. The common ground between the PRI and NAFTA would thus be in their share denial of the public its due participation in affairs. A prominent example which is emerging in the news today as evidence of the long-standing consequences to the corporatization of such utilities in the shadow of NAFTA is the leading provider of cable and phone services in Mexico. Here, where rates are among the highest in the world despite the limited resources of the paying public, we can see that the actions taken by Salinas were transitional but not necessarily progressive. Namely, “the government of then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari did very little to reform or modernize Telmex when it was privatized in 1990 during the Mexican government’s preparations for entry into NAFTA. The Salinas administration simply issued regulations that protected Telmex long-distance service monopoly until August 1996.”
In this incarnation, the vesting of interest in private industries would shift rather than remove the unfair dominance characterizing Mexico’s economy. There are, therefore, quite a few contexts in which the outcome of NAFTA has hardly been to free the people from said inequality. In consideration of “the results of the reorganization as it was implemented at the local level,” we might consider the example of Guadlajara, which “illustrates the difficulties arising from implementation of plans designed and instituted from Mexico City.” This is to argue that, in fact, the reforms under Salinas would be a restructuring of the face of Mexico according to the narrow view espoused by corporate foreign investment, which promised economic growth in exchange for a sharing of control with the PRI. In the condition which had so severely weakened it upon its entrance into the 1988 election, it may be argued that this type of splintering was its only hope for any type of power, even if shared. Certainly, all evidence dictates that the people themselves had grown fully despondent with the PRI on the federal level and would, in this context, be wholly unlikely to serve in the generation of any sort of support.
This is particularly true with evidence abounding from the Salinas administration that all efforts had been taken to purchase a share in the corporate power that would soon eclipse the political cachet of the PRI. Thus, documented evidence reports of “a legendary 1993 dinner at which Salinas purportedly asked each guest to contribute $25 million to his PRI party’s war chest in return for favorable treatment during the coming wave of privatizations. ‘Although no evidence has emerged, many Mexicans suspect that Mr. Salinas secretly profited from the sale of Telmex.'” This would, of course, represent only one example of the manner in which Salinas would begin insert the old power structure into this new one. Thus, if we may make the argument that the PRI has been essentially dismantled, at least with comparison to its formerly incontestable self, we must do so with a check on our optimism, instead recognizing that this dismantling has come less in the face of popular resistance and more in acquiescence to global changes.
But even as reform has seemed self-apparent, the government’s attention has been turned only with military aggression toward the ethnic, political and social groups whose aim has been to bring community direction to the leadership of the region. Amongst the public, and especially in the indigenously populated pockets of Mexico, this community approach to governmental elections appeals broadly to the public. Particularly in the shadow of two and a half decades of recession, depression, unemployment and — even through the era of reformation — widespread poverty, corruption, political disenfranchisement and political violence, local leadership has indicated to some the potential for autonomy from the vagaries of ineffective or even tyrannical government. In the midst of this, such progressive political identity has competed with the real and lasting impact of the privatization which was in the time of Salinas administration, seen as neoliberal progressivism.
In no small way accelerated by the dissemination of communication technologies such as the internet and mobile cellular devices, globalization primarily concerns the breakdown of barriers to free trade between sovereign states and the elimination of restrictions to the multinationalization of corporations. Its advocates argue that this is contributory to a system which is collectively beneficial to all parties involved. Indeed, numbers in the first decade seem to bear this notion out. “Among rich or developed countries the share of international trade in total output (exports plus imports of goods relative to GDP) rose from 32.3 to 37.9% between 1990 and 2001. For developing countries (low and middle income countries) it rose from 33.8 to 48.9% in the same period.” And for the United States, it is contended, there is an economic comparative advantage which precipitates that two economies of antithetical scales — such as in the relationship between the U.S. And Mexico, for example — will offer balance to one another under the parameters of free trade.
This is an assertion typically assigned as a response to the fear that the diminishing of restrictions on corporate internationalization combined with the lower wages permissible in smaller market economies would have the inevitable effect of encouraging exploitation.
When in 1993, the North American Free Trade Agreement passed through U.S. Congress, it altered relations between the United States and Mexico, encouraging such a principle. And indeed, “trade between the United States and Mexico has significantly increased since 1994.” However, the notion that such increased trade would be diametrically beneficial is proving to have been flawed logic. The promise of globalization in the early 1990’s is, in present day, being supplanted by a pessimism both within the United States and Mexico. Where increased trade had represented opportunity for mutual expansion in the past, today such Mexican partners the United States have pursued a multi-stratified free-trade policy which tends to exploit one partner before moving on to the next. For Mexicans, this has meant both exploitation and abandonment, raising a fear of vulnerability of the dominance of the PRI once again.
The twenty years which have seen a genuine progress since Salinas had taken office in some aspects of the Mexican economy, have nonetheless left much of the nation in a condition which now, in addition to being desperate, is shrouded in false machinations of success. In spite of the impression which is offered by the urban renewal programs in the cities and widespread foreign investments in the rural parts, there are many regards in which the people of Mexico may now reflect on the Salinas seixeno as the transition not into a new phase for Mexico but into a disguised persistence of the trespasses of its history under the thumb of the PRI.
This period’s widespread misfortune served as impetus for the acceleration of a revolutionary movement throughout Mexico. This period would help to underscore the cause for such defiance in Mexico, with the resorts taken by the PRI increasingly representative of its hostility toward democratic reform.
A leader of this movement, Alejandro Cruz, director of the Indigenous Human Rights Organization of Oaxaca (OIDHO), “has supported the Zapatista struggle since 1994. He has been imprisoned three times in fifteen years of human rights work” the cause for his imprisonment — political action and the fight for socialist self-determinism — is indicative of the cause which today has detained more than two dozen political figures and has sent the issuance of arrest warrant for countless others.
A probe by the Human Rights Watch, undertaken in 1997, indicated that the PRI sponsored paramilitary violations of personal liberty were extensive and motivated by a systematic, ethnically motivated and economically implicated struggle for power. In a specific case detailed in the HRW report, “there was a riot in the local State prison in which seven were killed and another score wounded by gunfire from a prison gang said to have been supplied with weapons by the warden.” By 2006, this very same tactical approach to resistance would occupy the streets, public meeting spaces and voting polls controlled by local, indigenously sympathetic governmental bodies.
In another incident which has raised international attention as to the violations currently assailing the progressive people of Mexico, “on March 8, International Women’s Day, this organization held two marches that were violently repressed by the police. In the state capital, a peaceful march of women demanding the release of political prisoners and the cessation of political repression tried to enter the public square. The march was stopped by over 200 riot police.” The group’s attempt to exercise its right to free speech earned it tear gas, beating and widespread arrest. This brutal suppression of the right to demonstration is indicative of the larger human-rights conflict that braces the country. Founded on an ideological power-struggle, a conflict which is humanitarian in nature has been exacerbated by economic woes and exclusionary political practices. The sporadically empowered PRI, and the ‘reformist’ President Vincente Fox, overseeing a ‘revitalization’ of Mexico, are faced with resistance at the hands of those most affected by the continued privatization of Mexican property, unchecked government corruption and exploitive capitalist involvement of foreign powers such as the United States. The issue of violent conflict between lingering members of the PRI and those which seek empowerment outside of its rule, highlights the tensions underlying this conflict, giving Mexico over to an intensely waged battle for control. Over the course of recent years, governmental crackdown has led to widespread and violent police action against resistance groups and unarmed local politicos alike.
A burgeoning movement, championed by disenfranchised Mexicans has taken on the moniker, the Other Campaign. The title seems to imply the exclusion from political, social and economic self-determination that has largely been the lot of the socialist, indigenous inhabitant or otherwise contrary political figure in the region, and membership in its rank may often be the basis for hostile state action and even legal convictions. “The charges range from belonging to the armed Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) to acts of murder and kidnapping. Yet the evidence — when there is any — is reduced to a signed confession, extracted under torture.” The condition of human rights acknowledgments are dismissed thusly, on a systemic level.
In Mexico, 40% of all individuals held in prison are there on an informal basis, with no legal charges ever filed. Indeed, Mexico is due for many social changes, such as an improvement in the relationship between state and church, a reformation of demonstrably unequal gender policies, a reinvigoration of the indigenous population’s capacity for agricultural self-sufficiency and a spread of the wealth which has been so exclusively enjoyed by a select population of corrupt political leaders, private organizations and foreign investment groups. In a sense, all of these are premises which would be hinted at during the Salinas tenure. However, retrospect proves much of this to be directly connect to political ambition. The outcome is today the illusion of political freedom in country where fear and violence have only become the latest accessories to a system previously ruled by thinly veiled deception and visible iron-thumbed power. Thus, even as Mexico attempts to revise its history through recent progressive forays, it is true that its struggles with democracy continue today, suggesting that the legacy of the PRI is still very much a political force in Mexico.
As to our reflection on Salinas, it is fair only to say without connotation, that Mexico is in many ways a profoundly different country than it was even two decades ago. The transition from national to private industries, the opening of the democratic process to the international community and the inception of NAFTA, all creditable to the administration, would help to point Mexico in its current direction.
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