Mexico: The Rumbling Volcano

Behind the Election Shake-Up

Revolutionary Worker #916, July 20, 1997

The July 6 elections in Mexico resulted in a major shakeup in that country's ruling political system. PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party)--the biggest and most powerful party among Mexico's ruling classes--lost its majority in the Congress for the first time since the party's founding 70 years ago. And--again for the first time in 70 years--there is now someone other than a PRI official in the mayor's office in the Mexican capital. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, leader of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), won the election for the mayor of Mexico City.

PRI still controls the presidency, most of Mexico's 31 states, and the largest bloc in the Congress. But the two main bourgeois opposition parties--PRD and PAN (National Action Party)--now hold more than 50 percent of the seats in the lower house of the Congress. Seven of the largest and richest states now have PAN governors. And as mayor of the capital, a huge city of 20 million people, Cardenas has gained a powerful position.

Imperialist and reactionary voices--from U.S. President Clinton to foreign investors and the mainstream media--sang their praises for the July 6 elections. Their common theme was that the elections represented a victory for "democracy" in Mexico. The Wall Street Journal wrote that the elections "may well come to mark the real birth of democracy in Mexico." The president of Goodyear's Mexican subsidiary said, "The fact is that Mexico is more democratic today than yesterday. What this spells for foreign investment is that those who have been betting on Mexico have won."

And among the masses of Mexican people, there are those who hope that these elections will bring real changes. They hope for an end to the economic depression that has thrown millions out of work, and an end to the rampant corruption among top government officials.

But it's necessary to ask: What is the actual content of this "democracy"? Whose class interests were served by these elections?

Democracy for the Rich and Powerful

The PRD and PAN have some policy differences with the PRI. The liberal bourgeois PRD has called for a "review" of the NAFTA treaty, which has opened the door even wider for economic exploitation of Mexico by the U.S. But top PRD officials have made it clear they are not for any drastic changes in NAFTA or the overall relations with the U.S. In May, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas met with 200 "money managers" in New York. One capitalist executive who was in the meeting said, "He came across as calm, responsible and statesmanlike, and he didn't say anything that would cause investors to run our frightened." PAN, a right-wing party with strong ties to the Catholic Church, advocates even closer ties to the U.S. and further capitalist "privatization" of the Mexican economy.

The disputes between these parties have at times gotten very sharp--even to the point of physical attacks and assassinations. The PRD is often described as "populist," and some local PRD members have allied themselves with the Zapatista National Liberation Front (EZLN) which led the peasant uprising in Chiapas. But the differences between these three parties are disputes within the ruling classes of Mexico. The PRI, PRD and PAN represent various factions and interests among the big private and state capitalists and landlords who rule Mexico in league with the imperialists. The PRD itself was formed after Cuauhtemoc Cardenas left the PRI in 1987.

For many decades, policy decisions and differences within Mexico's ruling classes were worked out mainly inside the PRI. But the PRD and PAN have increased their strength regionally and nationally in recent years. The July 6 election results mean that those ruling class forces who were shut out of power by the PRI monopoly will have more say and influence.

In other words, there is now more democracy for the rich and powerful elite in Mexican society.

Economic Collapse and Corruption Scandals

Does the development toward "multiparty democracy" in official politics benefit the common people of Mexico? In reality, the move toward "multiparty democracy" is an attempt by Mexico's ruling classes as a whole to deal with deep problems that have rocked their system in recent years--so they can continue to exploit and oppress the Mexican people.

The PRI government had proclaimed that the signing of the NAFTA treaty in 1993 was the beginning of a "new era" for Mexico and promoted a pipe dream of approaching stability and prosperity. But the uprising by the peasants of Chiapas on New Year's Day 1994 shattered those illusions. It forced the world's attention on the widespread landlessness and poverty in Mexico's countryside and the brutal oppression of the indigenous people of Mexico. The uprising exposed the fact that NAFTA was designed to open all of Mexico--labor, land and resources--to straight-up robbery by the class of international capitalists who rule the U.S. And it revealed the potential for even greater revolutionary upheaval and struggle in an oppressed country sharing a long border with the U.S.

The Chiapas rebellion sent shockwaves throughout the international capitalist system, and frightened Wall Street investors began pulling billions of dollars out of Mexico. The Mexican peso crashed, losing more than half its value in a few months. Prices on basic necessities like electricity, gasoline and tortillas soared. A year after the peso crash, three-fourths of Mexican families could not afford the "basic basket" of goods and services needed to bring a family above the official poverty level. The economic collapse hit hardest at the urban poor, workers and rural peasants. But many middle class people have also lost their jobs, savings and businesses.

Since the Chiapas rebellion, land seizures by peasants and clashes with the authorities have continued in several rural regions. Last year, a new anti-government guerrilla group--the Revolutionary People's Army (EPR)--began carrying out armed actions in a number of central and southern states.

At the same time, a series of drug and corruption scandals erupted, involving top figures in the Mexican ruling class and government. Raul Salinas, the older brother of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas, is in jail on murder and drug charges. Carlos Salinas himself is hiding out in Ireland, as more and more dirt comes out about corruption under his PRI regime. The scandals have continued under the current Zedillo government. Earlier this year, the army general heading up the "drug war" under Zedillo was arrested for taking bribes from a major drug cartel.

U.S. Nightmares About Mexico

The economic collapse, corruption exposures and the continuing upheaval in the countryside have led to a widespread questioning of the legitimacy and credibility of the PRI government. This situation has caused much concern in the U.S. ruling class about Mexico, which is an economic and strategic cornerstone of their empire. The prospect of social explosions and revolutionary storms in Mexico is one of the worst nightmares for the U.S. imperialists, and they pay much attention to keeping Mexico stable.

This is why the U.S. rulers applauded the results of the July 6 elections. They think that the elections will lead to an easing of the infighting within the Mexican ruling classes by loosening PRI's hold on the government and giving the two bourgeois opposition parties some more power. They hope that the facade of "democracy" at the top will serve to rope in many among the masses who are dissatisfied and angry at the current government. And they feel that all this will enable them to keep on making capitalist profits in Mexico. An official at a Wall Street investment firm said after the election, "If you own in Mexico now, you can have more confidence than you had a week ago, and you have a much greater prospect of making money over the next 18 months."

This is money made off the blood and sweat of the masses of Mexican people--the landless peasants who slave at large plantations and workers who must survive on a daily minimum wage of three dollars. The investments coming in from the north of the border are not aimed at helping the majority of Mexicans or developing Mexico's national economy. Instead, these investments cause further distortion of Mexico's imperialist-dominated economy, and intensify the polarization between the rich and poor. Outside of Africa, Mexico has the seventh largest income gap between rich and poor in the world.

The "multiparty democracy" within Mexico's ruling class is aimed at facilitating this imperialist plunder. Such "democracy" is not in the interests of the great majority of the Mexican people. The real way forward for the people of Mexico is what Mao Tsetung called the New Democratic Revolution--aimed at overthrowing the rule of the U.S. imperialists, big capitalists and semifeudal landowners.


Early this year, a group of streetsweepers from the state of Tabasco carried out a hunger strike in Mexico City to bring attention to their dire situation. The protesters from Tabasco said they were ready to go to such extremes because they had no land to work on and they could no longer fish because the state oil monopoly had polluted the waters. One protester said, "We're already dying of hunger in Tabasco." This was one of thousands of protests in the capital in recent years, by people from all over Mexico.

In the weeks leading up to the July 6 election, the Popocatepetl volcano near Mexico City rumbled ominously. For the rulers of Mexico and their imperialist masters in the U.S., the social rumblings among Mexico's oppressed people are even more dangerous and fearsome.

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