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Mexico: The North American Triangle Completed | How Neoliberalism and the "Free Trade" Agenda Has Polarized Mexico
The Other Mexico
The North American Triangle Completed
A harsh program was imposed on Mexicans over the 1980s and 1990s creating a Mexico characterized by the highest unemployment in history, a dramatic increase in poverty, and gross inequalities in income and wealth, all the while making illicit drugs an important industry. President Carlos Salinas was praised by politicians, bankers and foreign investors for bringing a right wing revolution in Mexico.
The Other Mexico describes how two presidents brought the neoliberal revolution to Mexico: the free maraket, foreign investment, privatization of state enterprises, deregulation, cuts in social spending, and free trade with the United States and Canada. A key to this was the one-party state and its represive institutions.
Mexicans have a long history of resistance to domination and exploitation and this book describes how they fought back. As Carlos Salinas went into exile in the United States in early 1995, they stepped up their efforts to create an alternative, more humane society.
"A well-written study . . . one of the best that's been published about NAFTA and its impact. - Canadian Book Review Annual.
In-depth research and a supurb collection of photos. - Briarpatch Magazine.
People frequently ask me what book they should read to gain an understanding of Mexico. I confidently recommend John Warnock's volume. - Canadian Forum.
Situates Mexico within its own history, as well as both the North American and global context . . . here is fascinating reading. - Canadian Dimension Magazine.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Neoliberal Revolution
1 The Political Culture: Domination and Rebellion
2 The Economic Challenge
3 Maquila Mexico
4 Corporate Power
5 Controlling Dissent
6 The Struggle for Labour Rights
7 Demonstration Elections
8 The Meaning of NAFTA
9 The Impact of Neoliberalism
10 Agriculture and Rural Poverty
11 Trading the Environment
12 Promoting the Drug Industry
13 The Bubble Bursts
14 Alternatives to Neoliberalism
Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1995. 448 pp.
Paperback ISBN: 1-55146-245-X $23.99
Photographs by Elaine Briere
Divided Mexico: The Bankers' Alliance Holds on to Power
by John W. Warnock
September 25, 2006
For a brief time the media in Canada and the United States gave some coverage to the July 2 election in Mexico. There was a threat from the social democratic left - the possibility that Andres Manual Lopez Obrador (AMLO) might emerge as the next president. The U.S. government, concerned about the spread of the new socialism across Latin America, settled back when the Mexican establishment carried the day. Nevertheless, the election produced a major shift to the left, angered the poor and disenfranchised, and heightened social divisions and political resistance.
Mexico was ruled by a succession of generals until President Lazaro Cardenas (1934-40) restructured the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). A populist party, it included the trade unions, peasant organizations, a civic alliance, and small business organizations. The PRI governed Mexico between 1929 and 2000 as a one-party state. Through the system known as "Presidentialism," the PRI completely dominated. Elections were a farce as the PRI won them all, legislatures rarely had any representation from other parties, and the President appointed everyone, including his own successor.
In 1939 a group of right wing Catholics, business leaders and large land owners formed the National Action Party (PAN) to defend the church, protect private property rights, and to push for a government similar to Francisco Franco's in Spain. They received strong support from the Mexican Confederation of Employers (COPARMEX), whose slogan was "not class struggle but class collaboration." The PAN provided token opposition to the PRI down to the 1980s when it began to seriously contest local elections, demanding a liberal democratic electoral regime.
Mexico has always been run by powerful wealthy families, foreign capital, large landowners and the hierarchy of the Catholic church. The "bankers' alliance," as they are known is Mexico, dominated the leadership and policy of the PRI. It is commonly said that Mexico is run by 300 families. Protected until the 1980s from competition from foreign firms, powerful family groups have run the economy. In 2000 eight groups controlled around 70 percent of the stock on the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores. The most influential organization has been the Mexican Council of Businessmen (CMHN), 37 of the richest men who in 1994 contributed $750 million to the PRI's presidential campaign.
The first challenge to the bankers' alliance came in the 1988 presidential election. When Carlos Salinas de Gortari was nominated to be the PRI candidate, the moderate left wing caucus, the Democratic Current, left the PRI and organized the National Democratic Front, an electoral alliance with several small parties, the political left, and a broad range of popular and community organizations, Mexico's "rainbow coalition." They supported Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the former PRI governor of Michoacan, for President. The 1988 election was the biggest fraud in Mexican history. With 60 percent of the votes counted, and Cardenas with a good lead, the PRI-controlled Federal Electoral Commission (CFE) shut down the vote count; ten days later they proclaimed that Salinas had won by a narrow plurality. It was Mexican politics as usual. Salinas and his successor, Ernesto Zedillo, pursued the neoliberal agenda of big business and embraced NAFTA.
The PRI's control over the Mexican political system was broken in 2000. Vicente Fox, the candidate for the PAN, was elected president with 43 percent of the vote to 36 percent for the PRI's candidate and only 17 percent for Cardenas, now running for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). With the introduction of a modified system of proportional election, the PRI lost control of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and political pluralism emerged. But the bankers' alliance was not worried; Fox was a businessmen and rancher, one of their own, and the PAN was solidly on the political right.
The threat from the PRD
Lopez Obrador was elected as Head of Government of Mexico City in 2000. AMLO, as he is known, was a history teacher from Tabasco, where he was an active member of the PRI. In 1988 he joined the Democratic Current, left the PRI, and backed Cardenas for president. In 1994 he ran for governor of Tabasco for the PRD and lost in an election stolen by the PRI. He is known for his strong support of the rights of indigenous peoples, his dedication to fair elections and ending corruption, and a willingness to use civil disobedience to confront injustice. As head of the government of Mexico City he led a fight against crime, greatly reduced corruption, worked to help the poor and introduced the first universal pension for seniors. When he left office in 2005 public opinion polls reported he had an approval rating of over 80 percent.
Other polls indicated that Mexicans wanted AMLO to be the next president. While he is not a radical, he supported the broad coalition of peasant organizations that asked for a renegotiation of NAFTA to exempt agriculture and food. He advocates taxing corporations and the rich and using the revenues to expand social programs in a fight against poverty and inequality. Mexicans quickly became disillusioned with Vicente Fox and the PAN, and in the mid term elections in 2003, only 40 percent bothered to vote.
The bankers' alliance took up the challenge. The wealthy political elite in the PRI began to work out a political agreement with the leadership of the PAN. In 1989 the legislature had created the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which earned the respect of the Mexican people for their commitment to a clean electoral process. But this changed in November 2003 when the two parties in the Chamber of Deputies appointed their allies to the nine-member General Council. Nominations by the other parties to the Federal Judicial Elections Tribunal (TEPJF), the highest electoral court, were also rejected. The partisan nature of these two bodies was demonstrated in the 2006 election.
In 2004 the PAN-PRI alliance stripped AMLO of his legislative immunity so that he could be sued by a landowner for expropriating a piece of land to build a road to a Mexico City hospital. This court action would have made him ineligible to run for President. After a demonstration of over one million supporters in Mexico City, President Fox abandoned the process.
Carlos Salinas, back in Mexico and deeply involved in building the PRI-PAN alliance, helped to engineer a sting operation where several businessmen made payments to two government officials in Mexico City to further their construction projects. The transfer of cash was secretly filmed and then run on television for months to demonstrate that the PRD was not free of corruption. AMLO' support in the polls fell by 15 points.
The bankers' alliance directly entered the campaign. Aided by Dick Morris, former adviser to Bill Clinton, they spent more than $19 million on television ads; third party political advertisements are illegal under Mexican law. The U.S. International Republican Institute, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, help train PAN activists. Foreign interference in an election is also a crime. PAN election spending far exceeded the legal limits. President Fox spend six months campaigning for Calderon, which is contrary to Mexican law. All these illegal activities were recognized by the Federal Judicial Elections Tribunal, which concluded that they did not have a significant effect on the outcome of the election.
Election results disputed
On July 2 around 60 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. The results announced by IFE were as follows: Felipe Calderon, candidate for the PAN, 36.38%; Lopez Obrador, 35.34% and Roberto Madrazo, the candidate of the PRI, 21.57%. The margin of victory for Calderon was only 244,000 votes. No major frauds were reported. However, many people went to the polls, found they were not on the voters' list, were sent to special voting stations, and found there were no ballots. This was especially the case in low income areas where the PRD was strongest.
Going into the election, national polls indicated that AMLO had a lead of around three percent. The two television networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, did extensive exit polls which indicated that AMLO had won, but they did not report the results. A large exit poll by the Instituto de Mercadotecnia y Opinion showed AMLO had won, again not reported by the corporate media. Academics who closely monitored the returns reported by IFE noted that through most of the election night AMLO was ahead by a steady margin of about three percent. Then, with around 70 percent of the vote counted, the reports from the polls changed dramatically, with a five and then ten to one margin going for Calderon up to the end. IFE officials claimed that this discrepancy was due to the fact that rural votes came in last. But Calderon's support was weakest in the rural areas. Shades of 1988.
Supporters of AMLO gathered by the hundreds of thousands in the zocalo of Mexico City, demanding a complete recount. They camped there for weeks. A poll by El Universal one of Mexico's major newspapers, revealed that 59 percent believe that there had been fraud. A poll in August found 48 percent watned a complete recount, while on 28 percent supported the announced results. The New York Times and the Financial Times called for a recount in order to establish the legitimacy of Calderon's apparent victory. But President Fox, Calderon and the bankers alliance said "no!" They would ride out the storm, as they did in 1988.
The PRD presented the Electoral Tribunal with 800 pages of documentation of problems with the election. They challenged results in 72,000 of the 130,000 electoral districts, noting that there were major discrepancies between the ballots delivered to polling stations, the votes counted at these stations, and often between votes counted and numbers on the official voters' list. In some areas the vote for Calderon exceeded the number on the voters' list. They protested that officials at IFE had opened many of the sealed ballot boxes after the election, which is against the law.
On August 5 the Electoral Tribunal dismissed the challenges from the PRD but ordered a recount of 11,839 voting stations in 149 districts, covering around 3.8 million voters. On August 28 they announced that they had annul ballot boxes which contained 237,000 votes, but insisted that this had no effect on the outcome of the election. They refused to release any details of the recount.
However, the PRD and its allies, the Workers Party (PT) and Convergencia, had observers at all the recounts. They recorded the following from this sample:
* In 3,074 polling stations there were a total of 45,890 illegal votes, above the number of recorded votes. This was primarily in PAN areas of strength.
* In 4,368 polling stations a total of 80,392 ballots were missing.
If this sample was characteristic of the entire country, it would mean a discrepancy of over 1.5 million votes, clearly enough to change the election results.
On September 5 the Federal Judicial Elections Tribunal finally declared Calderon the winner of the election. The court noted the criticism of the procedures on election day but argued that they did not have enough information to conclude that this affected the election results.They announced that the ballots would be burned, as in 1988, thus blocking an independent recount requested by a group of academics and El Proceso news magazine.
But this is not 1988. Mass mobilizations have disrupted the political establishment. More have been scheduled. A National Democratic Convention was held in Mexico City on September 16, declaring AMLO the real president, and appointing a commission to draft a plebiscite to call a new constitutional convention.
The media focus on the presidency has obscured the fact that this election has changed Mexican politics. The PRI was routed in the vote for president, the elections for the legislature, and failed to carry a single state. The PRD is now the second largest party in the legislature. If there had been a run off vote for president, which is common in Latin America, AMLO would have likely won, for the rank and file supporters of the PRI are peasants and ordinary workers who hate the PAN. Even more than Fox, Calderon represents the rich and powerful.
Political conflict is on the rise across Mexico. Miners are striking. A national strike was held in February. Police killed two striking steelworkers in Michoacan. Security police viciously attacked street venders in the State of Mexico. Striking teachers and their supporters occupy the centre of Oaxaca City, demanding the resignation of the Governor and have created an alternate government. Police and military are again stepping up the harassment of peasants in Chiapas. The general political trend across Latin America has moved up to the Rio Grande.
John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and author of The Other Mexico: The North American Triangle Completed. He was a member of the Canadian team of observers for the 1994 and 1997 Mexican federal elections. In February 2006 he did research on the maquiladora zone industries in Matamoros, Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana.
Divided Mexico: Poverty, Inequality and NAFTA
by John W. Warnock
September 26, 2006
There was very little coverage of the Mexican election in the North American media this past July. But editorial opinion after the results were reported was uniform: Andres Manual Lopez Obrador and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) should shut up, accept their defeat and wait until the next election. Nevertheless, a few newspapers did mention that the president-elect Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN). Would have a difficult time dealing with a "deeply divided country" where around 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Wasn't the North American Free Trade Agreement supposed to fix this problem? According to the World Bank, 50 percent of the population is living in poverty and around one-fifth are living in "extreme poverty," with an income of less than one U.S. dollar per day. This World Bank standard may be relevant to some countries in Africa, but it is ridiculous to apply it to Mexico where no one can survive on one dollar a day.
In 2002 the Mexican government introduced its own definition of poverty. It distinguishes between rural and urban poverty. The three classification are as follows, converted from Mexican pesos to U.S. dollars:
(1) Food-based poverty. Income is not enough to cover basic food expenses. This includes 20 percent of the population. Individual income is $50 per month in rural areas and $67 per month in urban areas.
(2) Capabilities poverty. Income is not enough to cover basic food, health, and education. This includes 27 percent of the population. Individual income is $60 per month in rural areas and $80 per month in urban areas.
(3) Basic needs poverty. Income is not enough to cover basic food, health, education, clothing, housing and public transportation. This includes 50 percent of the population. Individual income is $95 per month in rural areas and $137 in urban areas.
Poverty levels in Mexico City
The average household in Mexico has five members. In urban areas like Mexico City, this standard family would be expected to survive of $685 per month. This is the official basic needs poverty line.
These government classifications have been criticized by independent scholars who put poverty levels considerably higher. For example, since 1978 the Centre for Multidisciplinary Analysis (CAM) of the Faculty of Economics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has been collecting statistics on what is actually required to live in Mexico City. Their basic needs basket is very limited: 35 items which includes food, toiletries, public transportation, electricity, and gas for cooking. It excludes rent, education, health, clothing, recreation and culture. While the government's urban basic needs poverty level was set at $4.57 per day per person in 2002, the actual costs of the CAM basket of goods alone was $28.82 per day.
In 2002 the minimum wage in the urban areas like Mexico City was $4.87 per day. Because of inflation and devaluation of the Mexican peso in relation to the U.S. dollar, between 1982 and 2002 the real value of the minimum wage had fallen by 82 percent. During the presidency of Vicente Fox (2000-6) it declined by 22 percent.
A study by Patricia Munoz of the Faculty of Economics at UNAM found that "the minimum wage that entered into force on January 1, 2006 is only enough to obtain 16 percent of what a worker could buy two decades ago with the same salary." The minimum wage in Mexico "has suffered the largest, most serious and drastic deterioration in all of Latin America."
Official government statistics report that 10.78 million Mexicans work for the minimum wage or less, which is around 24 percent of those who have some kind of employment. Forty one percent of workers earn the equivalent of two minimum wages or less.
Finding a job
The average family in Mexico needs a number of sources of income to survive. But the opportunities for employment are limited. Of the population of 106 million, around 44 million are considered to be actively involved in the labour market. Of these, only around 20 million are in jobs that pay a wage or a salary, and in 2004 only 45 percent of these workers were covered by the contributory social insurance system.
According to government calculations, during the years of the presidency of Vicente Fox, around 1.4 million workers entered the labour force each year. However, the economy only created on average 524,000 new jobs per year over this period. Thus 68 percent of new workers have had to survive in the "informal economy,' remain unemployed and dependent on their families, or have fled to the United States. Around 1.3 million people work in the streets.
During the period between 1961 and 1980 the average per capita real economic growth in Mexico was 3.4 percent, higher than in either the United States or Canada. The rate of inflation was very low, and the industrial sector of the economy grew. So did formal employment and wages. At the time, the World Bank and other institution described this as Mexico's "economic miracle."
But this changed with the world recession of the early 1980s and the collapse of the price of oil. The Reagan-Thatcher free market and free trade model was forced on Mexico. Between 1981 and 1990 the average real rate of economic growth fell to -0.3 percent and rose only to 1.9 percent between 1991-2000.
While other middle income countries, like Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have been steadily narrowing the gap between their wages and those of the United states, this has not been true of Mexico. For example, in 1975 manufacturing wages in Mexico were 23 percent of those in the United States; this fell to 11.5 percent in 2001.
A study by Enrique Dussel Peters of the Faculty of Economics at UNAM found that between 1988 and 2001 those industries that were most affected by the trade liberalization policies represented by NAFTA showed a downward trend in real wages but had the highest rate of productivity increases. Employers in the export industries were getting much more out of their workers while paying them less in wages and benefits.
Nevertheless, with the internationalization of production, and the open economy, the major companies are shifting work out of Mexico. For example, the average wage for electronics workers in Guadalajara in 2004 was $US1.80 per hour; in Shenzhen, one of the high wage areas in China, it was $US0.77 per hour. Workers in the maquiladora factories in the border zones in Mexico complain that the shift in production to Asia and Central America has led to a downward pressure on wages during the Fox presidency.
Persistence of inequality
Official government figures show that between 1963 and 1985 inequality steadily declined. With the onset of the "lost decade" of the economy and the shift to the policies of neoliberalism, inequality again began to worsen. Some improvement has been seen since this low point. But in 2005 the top 10 percent of households averaged an income of $US4,261 per month; the bottom 10 percent of households averaged US$166 per month.
The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean points out that Mexico, a middle income country, "competes with other Latin American countries for the first places on economic, social and gender inequality." Very powerful business organizations preside over a hierarchical class and social system. Mexico is also described as a "pigmentocracy," for those families at the top stress their "whiteness" and Spanish blood while those at the bottom of the social hierarchy are the dark skinned indigenous peoples, who are also the poorest.
The Mexican government has introduced a new anti-poverty program, Progresa-Oportunidades, which is targeted to those living in extreme poverty. With a budget of $2.8 billion, it provides financial support for school supplies, expanded health services, and a payment of around $US15 per month to women for the purchase of food. By 2005 it provided cash subsidies to around five million families, or 24 percent of the total population. The program has faltered under President Fox.
One of the most serious obstacles to combating poverty is the fact that all Mexican governments have hesitated to impose taxes on corporations, wealth and those in higher income brackets. Between 1988 and 2002 social expenditures dropped as a percentage of gross domestic product from 11 percent to two percent. Government spending in general accounts for less than 20 percent of Mexico's gross domestic production, compared to over 40 percent in the developed countries.
The most important contribution to the reduction of poverty in Mexico is the remittance of earnings from family members working in the United States. The Mexican government reports that there are nine million Mexicans living and working in the USA; this increased by 2.5 million during the presidency of Vicente Fox. They are now remitting over $20 billion annually, most important to low income families.
Felipe Calderon has proclaimed that he will make the reduction of poverty and inequality the primary aim of his new government. Mexicans do not expect much to change. The structure of the economy will not change. The general policy shift away from serving the domestic market and emphasizing exports has led to lower rates of economic growth, relatively lower wages, the creation of few jobs, and increased inequality. Across Latin American similar trends have promoted the shift to the political left. Mexico is no exception.
John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and author of The Other Mexico: The North American Triangle Completed. He was a member of the Canadian team of observers for the 1994 and 1997 Mexican federal elections. In February 2006 he did research on the maquiladora zone industries in Matamoros, Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana.
Who Benefits from the Free Trade Agreements? Mexico as a Case Study.
by John W. Warnock
Leader-Post (Regina), April 21, 2001.
Reprinted on ZMagazine, ZNet: http://www.zmag.org/eluser.htm
All our political leaders, our business organizations, and most of our university academics proclaim that the free trade agreements benefit Canada, the United States and Mexico, and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will benefit the less developed countries in Latin America. I spent the month of March touring Mexico, looking for information on the impact of the new free market free trade regime on Mexican development. In Canada this new political economy system is called globalization; in Latin America it is called neoliberalism.
First, it should be remembered that these agreements have very little to do with trade. Even before they were signed we had almost complete free trade. The new agreements are primarily about private investment rights.
How does one judge whether a political economy regime is a success? Mainstream economists usually cite figures on economic growth. In Mexico the period 1945 to 1974 was the period of state-led Keynesian political economy. During that period real annual growth averaged 6.4% and inflation 3.1%. Manufacturing grew at an annual rate of 7.6%, and many jobs were created. This period was called "the economic miracle." Between 1973 and 1983 real economic growth averaged 4.8%, and inflation rose to 16.5%.
In the period of neoliberalism, from 1982 to the present, the real rate of growth has averaged 2.8%.The average annual inflation has been 45.7%. These basic figures alone explain why there is such skepticism of neoliberal policies in Mexico.
Mexico has always been characterized by inequality, but this has risen under the neoliberal regime. The World Bank reported in March that the bottom 10% of the population earned only 1.5% of total income whereas the top 10% earned 42.8%. The distribution of wealth, which would be very hard to measure, is believed to be much worse
The poverty line set by the Mexican government is two daily minimum wages for a family of five. Today this is 80 pesos or around $13 Canadian. The World Bank argues that since the inauguration of NAFTA (1994-2000) the number of working people living below the poverty line has risen to 36 million persons or 62% of the economically active population. Over this period the real minimum wage has fallen by 40.7%.
In the latter part of March the Mexican government sponsored a national symposium on poverty. Julio Bolvitnik, an economist from El Colegio de Mexico, argued that 71 million people or 73% of the population live in poverty and 45 million in extreme poverty. James Foster, an economist from Vanderbilt University who works for the World Bank, argued that economic growth does not solve poverty and that rising poverty and inequality were a "time bomb" in Mexico.
Labour's position in the economy has steadily declined during the period of neoliberalism. Mexican government figures (INEGI) report that between 1993 and 2000 the gap in wages in manufacturing between Mexico and the United States rose from $9.6 to $12.1 per hour. The Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that since 1995 real wages in Mexico have declined by 10%. But over this period labour productivity increased by 45%. This is due almost exclusively to the fact that many workers have increased their hours of work from eight to twelve hours per day. The number of Mexicans working more than 48 hours per week rose from 2.3 million in 1988 to 9.3 million in 2000.
A study by economists at the National University in Mexico City shows that over the last three years labour's share of the Gross Domestic Product has declined from 34.16% to 30.66%. In 2000 13.3 million workers earned less than the minimum wage (40 pesos per day, or $6.55 Canadian), which is roughly one-third of all workers. UNICEF reports that there are five million children under 14 working in Mexico. The Constitution prohibits children under 14 from working.
In 1980 the average automotive worker in Mexico earned about one-third of the wage of an American automotive worker. By the year 2000 this average worker earned only one-twelfth of his American counterpart.
The Bank for International Development, Latin America reported in March that employment in the formal sector of the economy (jobs which pay a wage or a salary) are in decline in Mexico and throughout Latin America. The percentage of people working self-employed in the informal economy, with very long hours, usually seven days a week, low income, and no social security benefits, is rising steadily. In Mexico this was 40% of the economically active population in 1990 and is now over 50%.
Mexico has no unemployment insurance and no social assistance. Medicare does not exist. Only those who work for the government or a private company which is registered with the national system (IMSS) have any pension, about one-third of the economically active population. The ability to provide social programs has been limited by the structural adjustment programs imposed on Mexico by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and supported by the Mexican political and economic elite. Today total government expenditures are only 19% of Gross Domestic Product. That compares to an average of 40% in the industrialized countries of the OECD.
Neoliberalism and NAFTA have been good for the rich in Mexico and the large corporations. The banks, privately owned and robbed by the Mexican rich, have been bailed out of bankruptcy twice by taxpayers. The illicit drug industry flourishes and is now more important than the oil industry, and free trade and cross-border trucking have made marketing much easier.
Mexicans know that their country is falling behind the United States and Canada in every area. Aside from incomes, spending is very low on education, health, agriculture and rural development, and research. It is not surprising to find that most people, including academics, do not believe that so-called "free trade' has been good for their country.
John W. Warnock is a Regina sociologist and political economist and author of The Other Mexico: The North American Triangle Completed.
Chiapas, the Mexican Government and Premier Roy Romanow
by John W. Warnock
Prairie Dog Magazine
February 15, 1998
On December 22, 1997 twenty-five members of the paramilitary group Red Mask entered the town of Acteal in the Mexican state of Chiapas and opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles on unarmed Tzotzil Indians. Nine men, 21 women, 14 children and one baby were killed and 20 others were wounded. The paramilitary group, linked to the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), had been armed and supported by the Chiapas State Security Forces.
Over the past two years hundreds of Mexican Indians suspected of being sympathizers of the Zapatista cause have been killed in similar attacks by the paramilitary groups, the state security forces, and the federal military. There are 50,000 troops and hundreds of federal police in the state. Crops have been destroyed, houses have been looted and burned, and thousands have fled into the mountains.
Stung by domestic and international criticism, President Ernesto Zedillo fired his Attorney General and forced his PRI-ally, the governor of Chiapas, to resign.
On January 4, 1998 the prestigious Mexican weekly news magazine, Proceso, printed extracts from a leaked National Defence Secretariat document, "Campaign Plan Chiapas 94", which detailed the federal government's plan for low intensity warfare against the Zapatistas. It included secretly mobilizing, arming and training paramilitary organizations.
On January 8, the new Attorney General, Jorge Madrazo Cuellar, met 70 top diplomats in Mexico City to confess that "there is a lack of credibility toward the official position" of the Zedillo administration on the war in Chiapas.
On January 12 Team Canada was in Mexico City and heard President Zedillo on the massacre. The Globe and Mail reports that Premier Roy Romanow commented after the presentation that he was "impressed with the fullness of [Mr. Zedillo's] explanation . . . which was that there is no intention to use violence and indeed there is an intention to assist in the provision of social and medical needs of the people." The Premier's office in Regina was unable to elaborate on this statement.
Official observers at the 1994 Mexican federal election. Morelia, Michoacan. In 1997, in rural Tlaxcala.
Mexico City Elects First Mayor
by John W. Warnock
Prairie Dog Magazine
August 5, 1997
On July 6 the residents of Mexico City had their first chance to elect a mayor. Previously the federal district was administered by a governor, appointed by the President, who served in the federal cabinet.
The first mayor will be Cuauhtemoc Cardenas from the social democratic Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Cardenas is one of the best known Mexican political leaders. His father, General Lazaro Cardenas, was president between 1934 and 1940, carried out the only major land reform in Latin America, and put together the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which has ruled Mexico with an iron hand since then. General Cardenas took on the foreign-owned resource corporations, and the day he nationalized the oil companies is still celebrated as a national holiday.
Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was the governor of the state of Michoacan. Like his father, he was in the left wing of the PRI. In the 1980s he was the central figures in the "democratic current", a faction within the PRI which wanted to see the party and government democratized. In 1988 Carlos Salinas was named the candidate of the PRI for the presidential election. Salinas was the candidate of big business and represented the politics of the free market and free trade.
Cardenas and the democratic current withdrew from the PRI. He put together an alliance of small parties and popular groups and ran against Salinas. The 1988 presidential election is considered to be the most fraudulent in Mexican history. The vote tally was rigged by government officials. Public opinion polls consistently show that 90 percent of Mexicans believe that Salinas and the PRI stole the election and that Cardenas actually won.
The Creation of the PRD
In 1989 Cardenas was the main figure in the creation of the PRD. It was an alliance of smaller parties and popular groups. But over the years the popular groups withdrew their support of the PRD, claiming that Cardenas and the former PRI faction were operating as a typical social democratic party, dominated by one man at the top, who in his public statements often changed party policy.
Cardenas ran for the president in 1994, but finished third with only 13 percent of the votes. He was strongly criticized by Subcommander Marcos of the Zapatistas for running an authoritarian party, where the leader made all the major decision. In 1996 he stepped down as head of the PRD and was replaced by Manuel Lopez Obrador, a militant party activist who had led many popular demonstrations. When the opportunity came to run for Mayor of Mexico City, Cardenas decided to seek the nomination of the PRD. In the 1988 presidential election he had carried 34 of the 40 electoral districts in the city. Could he re-establish his popularity?
PRD Strategy in Mexico City Election
The first test was the nomination process. President Ernesto Zedillo did not appoint the candidate for the PRI, the usual practice, but allowed the party's Political Council in Mexico City, 200 top party bureaucrats, to name their candidate. The National Action Party (PAN), the centre-right party with close ties to the Roman Catholic Church, nominated its candidate at a large district convention. Their candidate was the former president of the party who had strong support from the party leadership.
In contrast, the PRD set up 400 voting stations throughout the city, and 90,000 PRD members chose their candidate. Cardenas won with 70 percent of the vote. The nomination process clearly set them apart from the traditional parties. The Mexican people desperately want a clean, democratic government.
In mid-March Cardenas held a press conference to release his campaign platform and strategy. With him at the press conference were eight prominent women. Cardenas announced that if he were elected, at least 50 percent of his cabinet and top administrators would be women. This was a dramatic announcement for Mexico. The ruling PRI has only a small handful of women in its top political structure. The PAN has virtually no women in any leadership positions. When the PRD was first formed, the constitution required that at least 20 percent of all positions in the party were to be filled by women, and it often had a hard time meeting the quota.
Cardenas then went on to outline a far reaching platform on women's issues, including sexual and reproductive rights, promising that he would implement them if elected. The platform called for the establishment of public child care services, public kitchens in low income neighbourhoods, popular laundries in the shanty towns, free lunch programs in the schools, and free text books in the secondary schools. He proposed dividing the federal district into sub-municipalities, with democratically elected local authorities, the promotion of citizen and group participation in all decision making, and radical decentralization of administrative.
Alliance with the Popular Groups
Cardenas and the leadership of the PRD realized that they would not increase their electoral support unless they re-built their links with the popular groups. The party leadership made a dramatic change: they announced that 50% of all PRD candidates in the July national elections would be chosen by the popular groups. The groups themselves would choose the canadidates, they did not have to be members of the PRD, but that they would run as PRD candidates.
The PRD did surprisingly well in the national elections for the Chamber of Deputies, winning 26 percent of the vote and finishing with the second most seats. For the first time in 70 years, the PRI will not have a majority in the lower house of the national legislature.
In the federal district, the PRD won 47 percent of the vote and 38 of the 40 positions in the Assembly. Cardenas, the social democratic governor, will have to deal with an Assembly in which many of the seats of his own party are held by members from the Assembly of the Barrios and the United Left.
One of the first tasks of the new Mayor will be to implement his promise to eliminate corruption in the city administration and in the police force. Corruption exists in the public service because salaries are so low. Cardenas will have few new sources of revenues.
The police in city are notoriously corrupt, from the policeman on the beat demanding his bribe to those who are engaged in kidnapping and extortion. President Zedillo tried to clean up the police by militarization, putting the armed forces in the street and forcing the local police to take military training. In early 1997 this new policy resulted in a large demonstration by the police which ended in a violent confrontation.
The other major promise Cardenas made was to begin cleaning up polluting industries. This will not be easy, as they have benefitted from close links to the ruling PRI. Most of the horrendous air pollution in Mexico City is caused by automobiles owned by the 20 percent of the population in the higher income brackets. To date they have effectively avoided all previous attempts at pollution control.
Throughout Latin America all the social democratic parties have embraced the neoliberal policies of the free market and free trade. They have either been thrown out of office or have formed alliances with big business and the traditional right wing parties. Cardenas is trying to demonstrate that their still exists another road for social democracy, a move towards democratization.
John W. Warnock is a Regina political activist and author of The Other Mexico. He was in Mexico as part of a Canadian delegation observing the July election.
Popular Mobilization for Change in Mexico
by John W. Warnock
Prairie Dog Magazine
July 18, 1996
On New Year's Day 1994 a rag-tag group of men and women entered seven small cities in Chiapas, Mexico and occupied the town halls. They wore rubber boots, had home-made military uniforms and carried a wide variety of weapons from carved wooden "rifles" to uzi machine guns. They called themselves the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). While they covered their faces with ski masks and bandannas, everyone knew that they were the local Indigenous peoples.
The message they broadcast from the radio station they occupied declared war on the "illegal dictatorship" of President Carlos Salinas, who had seized office through the greatest electoral fraud in Mexican history. They demanded democracy, the end to the one-party state, justice, an the end to human rights abuses, and recognition of the rights of Indigenous peoples.
The "Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle," which went across Mexico, singled out the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for special attack. The rebellion was timed to begin on the day the treaty came into effect.
The Indigenous peoples of Mexico had been hard hit by the free trade, free market policies of the Mexican government. The Coffee Marketing Board had been eliminated. Programs to aid small farmers had been drastically cut. The income of the small coffee producers, largely Indigenous peoples living on communal lands, had fallen by 70 percent.
Mexico has no unemployment insurance or social assistance programs. Food subsidies for those below the poverty line had been eliminated, except for free tortillas for those in destitution. Spending for health clinics and education had been drastically curtailed.
The vast majority of rural Indigenous people in Mexico grow corn and beans, both for personal consumption and the market. Their production had been supported by the National Basic Food Company, a combination national marketing board and agribusiness conglomerate. It was being abolished by President Salinas. Furthermore, under the terms of NAFTA, all price supports for corn and beans were to be phased out over fifteen years. Given the reality of high unemployment and underemployment, the Indigenous people faced increased poverty and destitution.
Mexico has about 12 million Indigenous peoples who speak 62 different languages. In the rural areas they live on communal lands called ejidos, where most exist as subsistence farmers. The Indigenous population is concentrated in thirteen states, with the highest percentages found in the southern states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Yucatan and Guerrero.
Many have moved to the cities in search of jobs and can be found living in the poorest shanty towns. Over 500 years of colonialism and racism has marginalized the Indigenous population. In the urban areas they work primarily in the informal economy, without regular jobs that pay a wage or a salary.
The Indigenous population has the highest poverty rate, the highest illiteracy rate, the poorest housing conditions, and suffers from the highest level of infant mortality and malnutrition.
The government has sought to control the Indigenous population through a policy of co-optation and repression. Leaders of local indigenous communities are bought off by bribes, government grants, and various programs provided by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has ruled Mexico without interruption for 67 years. Much of their control is exercised through the National Indigenous Institute, which is dominated by the PRI.
Indigenous peasants have formed many organizations over the years. However, the Mexican government has been very adept in buying off local leaders. The other path has been to co-opt Indigenous leaders into the organizations which are officially tied to the PRI, such as the National Peasant Confederation. Those who choose to remain independent of government control are denied any government funds or perks. Those who openly criticize and oppose the government have experienced military and police repression, torture, beatings, rapes, murders and disappearances.
Throughout Mexico, opposing the ruling PRI is a dangerous business. For example, during the administrations of Presidents Carlos Salinas and Ernesto Zedillo (1988-1996), 407 members of the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have been assassinated. The majority of those killed were Indigenous peoples. The PRD is a moderate centre-left party, similar to the NDP in Canada. The national human rights network, All Rights for All, insists that human rights abuses have increased under President Zedillo.
The new resistance
The political direction of the Mexican Indigenous peoples is changing. The new leadership has chosen to take a more militant road. It has also placed a high priority on forming alliances with other organizations opposing government policies.
President Carlos Salinas sent in the army to crush the Zapatista rebellion in January 1994. The campaign failed because of mass mobilization across Mexico and the intervention of human rights organizations outside Mexico. The anti-NAFTA alliance formed with organizations in Canada and the United States played a crucial role.
The Zapatistas then sponsored the formation of the National Democratic Convention, a broad based national organization to mobilize civil society against neoliberalism (commonly known as "globalization" in Canada).
In early February 1995, President Ernesto Zedillo launched a second major military offensive against the Zapatistas, and again protests, demonstrations and pressure from abroad forced the government to back down. In the past, Mexican presidents have used the military to crush and destroy all peasant rebellions.
There is a new militancy among the Indigenous peoples of Mexico. On January 27, 1996 ten thousand Indigenous farmers in the state of Tabasco blockaded 60 operations of PEMEX, the state-owned oil corporation, demanding compensation for loss of land and damage to farmland from pollution and acid rain. Attacked by the police and the military, they regrouped, time and again, and resumed the blockades.
The PRI government in the state of Morelos announced it was backing an international investment group which was to build a golf course on historic communal lands at the village of Tepoztlan. Knowing that this project would deplete the local water supply, Indigenous farmers, the vast majority of residents, petitioned the local council, but they were ignored. They then organized their own civic election, took over the local government, and held open town meetings every night. On April 12, state police forces attacked, killing one, wounding 25 and arresting others. The investors pulled out.
Demands for Indigenous Rights
The new Indigenous organizations are supporting women's issues, long overlooked by the traditional male-dominated organizations. Women are in the armed wing of the Zapatistas and play an important leadership role.
On International Women's Day this year 5,000 Indigenous women, with bandannas covering their faces, marched through San Cristobal denouncing racism and demanding the removal of the army from their villages, the end to private armies of the large landowners, and the end to rape and abuse by the police and the military.
During the initial Zapatista uprising, Indigenous peasants occupied land which had been illegally taken away from them by large farmers with their private armies. In Chiapas alone over 150,000 hectares were occupied. In late March of this year, the military and the police forcibly removed peasants from eight ranches in Chiapas. In the assault, eight peasants were killed, dozens were wounded and over 100 were imprisoned. But the occupations continue.
On March 13, 50 members of the Peasant Organization of the Southern Sierra occupied the German, Norwegian and Italian consulates in Acapulco to protest inaction by the Mexican government over the assassination of 17 Indigenous peasants by the police the previous June.
In April 1996 two alleged members of the EZLN were convicted of terrorism, based on false written testimony by an absent witness. The two had served as messengers between the EZLN and the federal government during peace negotiations. Thousands of Indigenous peoples marched into San Cristobal to protest the sentence, chanting "What are we? Zapatistas!" Pressure is building on the Zedillo administration to suspend the unjust jail sentences.
On April 10 thousands of Indigenous peoples and their allies marched and demonstrated throughout Chiapas on the 77th anniversary of the murder of Emiliano Zapata, the peasant leader of the Mexican revolution. They put up eight blockades on the highways and blocked the entrances to the local Congress and Government Palace. They demanded the return of their historic lands, legal titles to their land, and the freeing of Indigenous prisoners.
Over 600 delegates attended the new Indigenous Forum, which is beginning the process of creating a National Indigenous Network, independent of the government and the ruling party. A national Indigenous Congress will be held in October 1996.
In April 1996 delegates from Indigenous populations met in Chilapa, Guerrero at the National Indigenous Plural Assembly for Autonomy. They are proposing the creation of autonomous regional areas, a system of co-jurisdiction with the federal state, to create greater self-determination.
The new political movement of Indigenous peoples in Mexico is strongly committed to independence from the government, democratization, and alliance with other political groups. As the leaders of the Zapatistas emphasize, the politics of exclusion and separation is a failed policy and has only helped the corporations and the government isolate and defeat the majority.
John W. Warnock is author of The Other Mexico: The North American Triangle Completed. He has been travelling through Mexico doing research for a number of years.
For Humanity and Against Neoliberalism
The Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) and its political allies have called for an American continental meeting "For Humanity and Against Neoliberalism." It will be held in Chiapas between July 27 and August 4.
The purpose of the conference will be to construct an alternative economic, social, political and cultural project that will allow people and countries to recover their sovereignty from the transnational corporations and their allies in government. Similar meetings will be held in Berlin, Tokyo and Sydney.
The Zapatistas declared that "the government is only interested in the indexes of the stock market, whereas we must struggle for dignity and against misery and terror. We must deal with the reality of neoliberalism - unemployment, the decline in wages, loss of health, education and our well being in general."