Major candidates offer no solution to the social crisis
On Sunday, July 2, Mexican voters will elect a new president and a new Congress.
The election takes place under conditions of mounting class tensions, as hundreds
of thousands of teachers, miners and other workers have taken to the streets.
None of the major candidates in the presidential election genuinely addresses
the needs of the masses for decent-paying jobs, improved living standards and
The death of 65 coal miners buried alive in Coahuila state in February has
been followed by an explosion of struggles by miners and metal workers demanding
safe working conditions and decent living standards. Strikes and other actions
are continuing, despite police repression. This month saw massive protests by
teachers in Oaxaca and Chiapas. These struggles by powerful layers of the Mexican
working class make clear that class confrontations will escalate whatever the
government that emerges from Sunday’s vote.
The election will decide whether the pro-American, pro-privatization policies
of the current administration, led by President Vicente Fox of the right-wing
National Action Party (PAN), will continue under the PAN candidate, Felipe Calderon,
or be modified under a government headed by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the
ex-mayor of Mexico City and candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution
Mexican law requires that campaign activities cease three days before the vote.
Lopez Obrador closed his populist-nationalist campaign at a massive rally in
Mexico City’s historic central square, the Zocalo, before a crowd of more
than 200,000 supporters. In Guadalajara, Mexico’s third largest city,
Calderon spoke before a crowd of tens of thousands. The third major candidate,
Roberto Madrazo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled
Mexico from 1929 to 2000, closed his campaign with a rally in the port city
of Veracruz attended by tens of thousands of supporters.
For the last several weeks, opinion polls have projected a tight race between
Calderon and Lopez Obrador, with the latter enjoying a slight edge. Each is
expected to receive less than 40 percent of the vote, with most of the balance
going to Madrazo, who is running well behind. The closeness of the contest could
itself contribute to political instability, particularly if the PAN-controlled
government declares the PAN candidate the victor despite expectations of a narrow
Madrazo’s showing marks a further decline in the position of the PRI,
whose candidate lost narrowly to Fox in 2000. The PRI still controls most state
governments and is expected to retain the largest share of congressional seats,
well over one third, giving it effective veto power over the policies of the
next president, whether it be Calderon or Lopez Obrador.
Calderon, 43, the youngest of the three candidates, is the son of a PAN founder
and has been a party activist his entire adulthood. In keeping with the policies
of his party, Calderon is socially conservative, Catholic, and an advocate of
the unrestrained capitalist “free market.” He studied at Harvard
University and has pledged to continue the policies of the current government
and negotiate a treaty on immigration with the United States.
Calderon was briefly energy secretary under Fox and, while promising not to
privatize the national oil company, Pemex, he has emphasized attracting US capital
to that sector, including granting oil concessions in the Gulf of Mexico. This
week, Calderon was endorsed by the Wall Street Journal and, needless to say,
he is favored by the Bush administration.
Calderon has mounted an expensive media campaign—reportedly with the
assistance of US Republican Party advisers and Jose Maria Aznar, the former
right-wing prime minister of Spain—demonizing Lopez Obrador as a left-wing
demagogue who threatens both Mexico’s economy and democracy. He has sought
to link the PRD candidate to Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, and suggested
that a Lopez Obrador victory would result in a massive flight of capital investments
and an upsurge in emigration to the United States.
A pro-business “populist”
For his part, Lopez Obrador has represented himself as a populist who will
place ending poverty at the top of his agenda, adopting as his slogan, “For
the Good of Everyone, the Poor First.” At the same time, he has repeatedly
made clear to business and banking groups that he can be trusted to safeguard
A recent analysis in the Mexican news journal Proceso described Lopez Obrador
as two candidates. The first is a populist leftist committed to improving the
lot of the poor and promising to emulate American President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt and his New Deal policies—government transfers to the elderly
and the poor and a government-subsidized program to build 1 million low-income
homes. The other Lopez Obrador is the pro-business candidate assuring Mexico’s
business elite that it “will do very well” under his presidency.
The two sides of the candidate have an intrinsic connection, as one of Lopez
Obrador’s top advisers, Manuel Camacho Solis, told the Washington Post
in an interview published June 23. “Roosevelt didn’t solve all of
America’s problems, but he gave American society a sense that they were
on the right track,” Camacho Solis said. “If it wasn’t for
Roosevelt there would have been great social unrest in the US. We have the same
In a campaign appearance in Toluca June 20, Lopez Obrador discussed the efforts
of Mexican big business to scare voters away from him. “What are they
afraid of?” he asked. “That they’ll lose their privileges.
I would tell them, ‘Calm down, be serene, nothing’s going to happen.’
Vengeance is not my forte. I’m not going to invent crimes. We’re
not going to hunt down anyone.”
The closer the date of the election, the more that Lopez Obrador has emphasized
his pro-business side. At the closing rally in Mexico City, he made it clear
that there would be no new indebtedness, that taxes would not be raised on the
rich, and that he would respect the independence of the Central Bank. He would
accomplish his development programs through fiscal austerity and careful financial
management and through a social pact between employers, the unions and other
sectors of the population. In effect, no reforms would take place without the
approval of the nations’ bankers and international investors.
Lopez Obrador’s populist-sounding proposals, under conditions of a globalized
economy, can mean nothing other than the subordination of workers’ jobs
and living standards to the requirements of the national bourgeoisie and international
finance. The Lopez Obrador candidacy represents a left variant for the Mexican
bourgeoisie and international investors. Under the impact of growing unrest
in the working class, his candidacy reflects the need of the bourgeoisie to
‘tack left’ to more effectively maintain political control and economic
A Lopez Obrador administration would parallel that of Brazil’s Luis Inacio
“Lula” da Silva, which has guaranteed international banking and
business interests that their investments and profits will be secured. Moreover,
the independent Central Bank, serving as the direct representative of international
finance, and a Congress in which the PRD will control only a minority of seats,
insure that a Lopez Obrador government would involve no radical departures.
Under conditions in which the “free market” liberalism of the PAN
administration under President Vicente Fox has been associated with increasing
unemployment, accelerating emigration, deteriorating living standards, particularly
in the southern half of the country, increasing social polarization, and the
violent repression of miners and school teachers, the more farsighted layers
of the Mexican and international bourgeoisie see considerable value in a candidate
like Lopez Obrador.
Faced with the certain defeat of its own candidate, Madrazo, who represents
only one of its many factions, the former ruling party, the PRI, is badly split
between a right wing that backs Calderon and a “left” that is for
Lopez Obrador. PRI Senator Manuel Bartlett is openly encouraging supporters
to vote for Lopez Obrador, and the CROC, the principal Mexican labor federation
with longstanding ties to the PRI, has endorsed him as well.
The social crisis in Mexico
Mexico is at an economic and social impasse. Real wages for unskilled workers
have declined since the collapse of Mexico’s economy in the 1980s, but
at about $1.45 an hour are far higher than China’s 59 cents an hour. As
a result, many textile and electronics companies are moving production from
Mexico to China, a trend that could be stanched only through a massive devaluation
of the peso. The promise of the North American Free Trade Agreement that the
wage gap between US and Mexican workers would narrow as industrial capital moved
to Mexico not only has not materialized, but in the case of unskilled and semi-skilled
workers, the gap has actually widened.
At the same time, the Mexican economy has undergone a dramatic transformation
since the 1980s, from one based on exports of oil minerals and consumer items
into an industrial economy producing intermediate goods for US industry and
consumer durables such as cars and electronics. Crucial to this transformation
has been the role of maquiladora factories—subcontractors to US industries,
which account for half of Mexico’s exports to the United States.
Mexico sends nearly 90 percent of its exports to the United States, and buys
from the United States nearly 75 percent of its imports. It is also a recipient
of billions of dollars in direct investment. Accompanying the increasing industrialization
has been the rise of a new layer of workers fueled by internal migrations from
the agricultural south and from Central America to the industrialized centers
and to the factories along the border with the United States.
Ford Motor Co.’s recent announcement that it would increase its production
of automobiles in Mexico while closing plants in the United States conforms
to the strategy being followed in auto and other industries where transportation
and inventory costs make Mexico the most profitable alternative. The increase
in direct investment in Mexico is a reflection of growing confidence by international
firms in Mexico’s financial stability, due, in part, to the existence
of a Central Bank that is not under voters’ direct control.
The Central Bank Law of 1994 established the Mexican Central Bank along the
lines of the US Federal Reserve Board. Its officials are appointed by the president,
but once appointed cannot be easily removed. Appointments are designed not to
coincide with presidential terms, and are staggered in order to further dilute
popular influence over monetary decisions. This “independence” of
the Central Bank puts extraordinary power in the hands of unelected officials.
Current rules mandate that the Central Bank be primarily responsible for the
value of the Mexican peso—i.e., protecting the dollar value of profits—and
for maintaining low rates of inflation. These measures were designed to insure
that the Central Bank be independent of the popular will and insulated from
majority rule. Thus, the country’s Central Bank is made subordinate to
the dictates of the International Monetary Fund and the American Federal Reserve
The so-called independence of the Central Bank deprives elected governments
of the monetary tools to lower unemployment. In this sense, as well, a Lopez
Obrador administration would resemble that of Brazil’s Lula, who, upon
his election, ceded monetary control to Henrique Meirelles, a candidate vetted
by the International Monetary Fund.
In regards to immigration, the Fox administration has done little to address
the issue during its six-year rule, driving tens of thousands north, to the
border maquiladoras and to the United States.
The remittances of Mexican immigrants in the United States—approximately
$18 billion a year—is the second most important source of foreign exchange
flowing into Mexico. This fact is recognized by both major candidates. Calderon
proposes to negotiate with the US government a treaty that would protect the
rights of Mexican immigrants in the US, something the Fox was unable to do.
Lopez Obrador’s proposal is equally vague: to order Mexican consulates
to act as representatives and defenders of immigrants.
The vague pronouncements and petty proposals of both candidates on this issue
underscore their cowardice in the face of an increasingly chauvinist and anti-immigrant
policy in Washington. An aggressive defense of immigrants would quickly bring
Mexico into conflict with the United States.
Of the two candidates, Lopez Obrador has struck a more nationalistic posture,
regularly winning ovations at campaign rallies with pledges to “renegotiate”
sections of the North American Free Trade Agreement so as to eliminate tariffs
on imports of American corn and beans in 2008. “We are going to protect
our domestic producers,” he claims.
Even though the Bush administration and the US ultra-right are hostile to Lopez
Obrador, viewing him as another in a series of “left” leaders who
have come to power throughout Latin America in the course of the last five years,
he would represent no real threat to the interests of American corporations.
The New York Times, in a recent editorial, observed, “Mr. López
Obrador’s record as mayor does not suggest he has a wild-eyed revolutionary
lurking in his soul. It is true that the city’s debt rose by a third during
his tenure, but he also improved tax collection dramatically, by about 44 percent.
He slashed more than 500 jobs from the bureaucracy, eliminated perquisites for
officials and cut salaries. In the end, he balanced the budget, raising both
spending and revenue by about 60 percent.”
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