Mexico's Coca-Cola President

Revolutionary Worker #1062, July 16, 2000

On July 2, Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) finally lost its grip on the country’s presidency—after 71 years. In the election for president, the candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), Vicente Fox Quesada, won by a large margin against the PRI candidate, Francisco Labastida Ochoa. The third major candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solózarno of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), finished a distant third.

Front-page headlines in Mexico and the United States trumpeted the election result with words like "historic" and "democratic breakthrough." There is significance to the fact that, after seven decades, the openly corrupt and widely hated "dinosaurs" of the PRI will no longer be the ruling party in Mexico. But what does it mean for the masses of people that the PRI is being replaced by the PAN and Vicente Fox—a former president of Coca-Cola for Mexico?

The PRI regime has become world famous for electoral fraud and greedy officials who filled their pockets with billions of dollars stolen through corruption. For many people, the PRI is synonymous with all that is wrong with Mexico. And many thought the solution was a "clean and impartial" election to force the PRI out of power. A significant number of members and supporters of the social democratic PRD and other electoral "leftists" even joined Fox’s campaign; they argued that uniting with the rightwing PAN was necessary and justified in order to achieve what they said was the most important goal, the defeat of PRI.

That electoral defeat of PRI has now arrived. Does this mean that the real will of the people will finally be expressed through the government? Does PAN’s victory mean that millions of people will no longer have to make the dangerous crossing across the Mexico-U.S. border in order to live, that peasants will no longer be forced off the land, that the people’s just demands for free public education will be met? Will the defeat of PRI lead to the breaking of the chains that bind women and an end to the injustices and oppression suffered by indigenous people? Will the new government liberate Mexico from the suffocating grip of U.S. domination?

No, none of these things will happen.

The central theme of Vicente Fox’s campaign was "change"—he promised the people his presidency will be different from the rule of the PRI, especially in eliminating corruption. But in reality, Fox and the PAN have no basic policy differences from the current PRI regime headed by Ernesto Zedillo. This is because the PAN and the PRI both represent the ruling classes in Mexico which are closely tied to U.S. imperialism.

The Ivy League-educated "technocrats" of the PRI or the Coca-Cola president or the pseudo-leftist "alternative"—this is the "democratic choice" that has now arrived in Mexico. Yes, the blatant graft and abuses of the PRI were an outrage. But Karl Marx’s description of bourgeois elections—as a process where the masses get to decide every few years which member of the ruling class is to oppress and deceive them—is very fitting to the developments in Mexico.

The election of Fox has nothing to do with fundamental changes in the system in Mexico. Instead, it is an attempt by Mexico’s big capitalist and landowning classes to stabilize their rule, repair the badly tarnished image of the government, and prevent the further spread of social discontent and unrest.

A Response to Crisis

Up until about six years ago, Mexico’s ruling classes and their U.S. imperialist backers felt that their interests were best served by the monopoly of power exercised by the PRI. The PRI was credited with maintaining "stability" in Mexico. Its top leaders have worked to serve and protect imperialist interests, while getting filthy rich themselves in the process. They maintained a tight control on the people.

But in the last few years, the PRI and the political system it headed have increasingly become a focus of protest and anger among the people of Mexico. The PRI found it more and more difficult to push through privatization and other economic changes demanded by imperialism without risking mass upsurge. For example, the PRI government’s move to privatize the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) sparked a historic student strike which lasted nine months and set an example for determined resistance to the economic and social programs of the rulers.

In the past, differences inside Mexico’s power structure were worked out mainly within the PRI and through peaceful methods. But this system began to break down—as demonstrated dramatically in the last presidential campaign in 1994 when the PRI candidate was assassinated, and the head of the party was assassinated a few months later. Carlos Salinas, the outgoing president, fled the country after being accused of involvement in these and other crimes.

As soon as Salinas’s successor, Ernesto Zedillo, took over as president, a severe economic crisis rocked Mexico. The government was forced to let the value of the peso drop by half. This caused great hardships for poor and working people as well as for middle class people who were hit with a wave of bankruptcies. The crisis had worldwide repercussions, and the U.S. imperialists felt very threatened by it.

The Clinton administration arranged a multi-billion dollar bailout to "rescue" Mexico—or more accurately, to save U.S. imperialist interests in, and connected to, Mexico. But as a condition of the bailout, the U.S. government—along with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—demanded that Zedillo promise to carry out harsh austerity measures and privatize the railroads, the petrochemical and electrical industries, and public university education.

As these steps led to more turmoil and opposition throughout Mexico, it became clear that key sections of Mexico’s big capitalist and landowning classes and their U.S. imperialist godfathers wanted a major facelift of the Mexican government. In previous elections, PRI used its monopoly on power to buy votes and shut out the opposition from access to the media—or to simply steal elections outright. But Zedillo himself pushed through electoral reforms, including setting up an "independent" elections agency that organized the July 2 vote. And Fox waged a U.S.-style media campaign with the help of Dick Morris, former top aide to U.S. President Clinton.

As July 2 approached, the bourgeois media, capitalist investors, and others warned that the worst result—from their viewpoint—would be a close win by the PRI candidate Labastida. They feared that such a PRI victory would be widely seen as another outrageous fraud and could spark wider unrest throughout Mexico. An international team of "election monitors"—including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter—was sent to make sure that this time, the PRI would not steal the election through open fraud.

As Vicente Fox claimed victory, Wall Street investors and analysts predicted an "upbeat" future for the Mexican economy. The head of Coparmex, the association of business executives in Mexico, said that the smooth electoral transition was a signal that Mexico is "a serious country and not a banana republic." Zedillo was praised by The New York Times and other bourgeois voices for acting in a "statesmanlike manner."

The bourgeois spokesmen claim that the people had "spoken" by electing Fox. But, in reality, Fox’s election victory was scripted and directed by Mexico’s power structure and their Yankee imperialist godfathers. As Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the RCP,USA has pointed out, "Elections, and the ‘democratic process’ as a whole, are a sham–-and more than a sham–-a cover for and indeed a vehicle through which domination over the exploited and oppressed is carried out by the exploiting, oppressing, ruling class. To state it in a single sentence, elections: are controlled by the bourgeoisie; are not the means through which basic decisions are made in any case; and are really for the primary purpose of legitimizing the system and the policies and actions of the ruling class, giving to them the mantle of a ‘popular mandate’ and of channeling, confining, and controlling the political activity of the masses of people."

Who is Fox?

Vicente Fox’s party, the PAN, was organized in 1939 by rightwing forces in the Mexican power structure; they sympathized, for example, with Spain’s fascist Generalissimo Franco. PAN continues to have very close ties to the Catholic Church. And in recent years, it became the largest bourgeois opposition party, winning control of several northern and central states. Fox himself was governor of the state of Guanajuato, north of Mexico City, before he began campaigning for president.

As governor of Guanajuato, Fox solved none of the basic problems of the people. He boasted that his state had lowest unemployment rate in the country. But in fact, almost half of the workforce in Guanajuato—one and a half million people—are forced to immigrate to the U.S. for jobs. One of Fox’s "reform" proposals is to set up a program to train Mexican workers for gardening jobs in the U.S.

Fox promises greater rights for women. But he opposes all abortion, including for women who become pregnant after being raped. He has condemned women for wearing mini-skirts. He views homosexuality as a "degenerate act that goes against human nature." The media made much of his "machismo"—the cowboy boots he always wears, the way he made fun of his PRI opponent as a "sissy."

Fox has made clear he supports the overall economic policies of the PRI regime—in particular, the opening up of Mexico to further imperialist penetration through NAFTA and the "maquiladorization" of the northern border region. In fact, Fox says he wants to take NAFTA even further and integrate Mexico even more closely with the imperialist economies of the U.S. and Canada. He has talked of selling off PEMEX, the national oil industry, to private investors.

Fox pledged to work closely with outgoing president Zedillo, including to draw up the next government budget. The Los Angeles Times wrote that U.S. investors found it "comforting" that Fox plans to hire some of the same U.S.-trained economic technocrats who were part of the Zedillo regime. One of Fox’s top economic aides is a former official for the World Bank.

NAFTA, Maquiladorization, and Impoverishment of the People

What does it mean for the people that Fox intends to continue the basic policies of the Zedillo government?

The Mexican economy is deeply dependent on injections of capital in the form of World Bank and IMF loans. These imperialist institutions then dictate to the Mexican government the measures it must take to continue receiving loans. It was very important for the imperialists that the "democratic transition" come off in a peaceful and orderly fashion. The World Bank granted $24 billion to Mexico for this purpose. And the IMF recently announced that Mexico will be awarded a one and a half trillion dollar loan. The condition for this huge loan is that the Mexican government must continue to privatize or sell off key state-controlled industries. The third installment of the IMF loan will be given to the new president of Mexico—as long as he is continuing to carry out these privatization measures.

In the U.S. media, the Mexican economy is described as being "healthy" and fully recovered from the peso devaluation crisis. Zedillo recently bragged that Mexico is on the verge of becoming an industrial, exporting world power. But while a small section of society has benefited (Mexico has one of the highest concentrations of billionaires in the world), the division between the haves and have-nots have become even sharper in recent years.

The main "growth industry" in Mexico are the maquiladora factories owned by foreign investors. This "maquiladorization" does not contribute to the development of the national economy. The capitalists import parts into Mexico for assembly in the maquiladoras to take advantage of the low wages paid to Mexican workers. The finished products are then exported. Ninety percent of Mexican exports go to the U.S. market.

The maquiladora owners do not pay taxes, but the government provides them with the infrastructure they need: highways, electricity, and water. The maquiladoras are praised for providing jobs, but the wages paid in many maquiladoras are among the lowest in the world: 41 cents per hour. Korean capitalists have moved a lot of production to Mexico because the wages there are so much lower than in Korea. U.S. corporations can save about $10 to $12 per hour on the cheap labor in Mexico compared to what they would have to pay for similar work in the U.S. This "cost savings" for the capitalists comes at the cost of people’s lives and health. Many maquiladora workers are disabled by the age of 22 because of the fast-paced and repetitive work on the assembly lines.

Personnel companies have sprouted up all over the poor southern states to recruit workers for the maquiladoras in the north. While there are signs of enormous wealth in the northern cities—sprawling shopping centers and superhighways that seemingly appear overnight—the maquiladora workers who produce the high-tech products live in cardboard shacks with no running water or sewage facilities. This is the "vibrant urban development" so praised by the imperialists.

In the rural areas, peasants are being systematically ruined by the effects of NAFTA. Ninety percent of the children in rural communities suffer from malnutrition, and 17 million peasants live in "extreme poverty" (surviving on less than $1 a day). The Mexican rulers and the imperialists say that agriculture in Mexico is "modernizing" and "responding to the demands of the global market." But only huge agricultural consortiums are able to obtain the capital needed to produce for the international market. With NAFTA and other agreements, the Mexican government has allowed imported corn and beans to flood the country—while tons of corn and beans grown by Mexican farmers sit rotting in warehouses. Loans for small farmers to pay for seeds or fertilizer or to overcome natural disasters are nonexistent. All this is driving even greater numbers of small peasant farmers off the land.

Another area of rapid "growth" since NAFTA is military spending and the armed forces. Since the January 1994 peasant uprising led by the EZLN, huge areas of southern states with large indigenous populations—especially Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero—have come under virtual military occupation. Mexico now has twice as many military and police personnel compared to 1994. Mexico is second only to Colombia in the number of military personnel trained in the U.S.—much of this training takes place at the notorious School of the Americas. There are reports that the CIA has trained a secret group responsible for investigating and combating armed rebel groups in Mexico. And the FBI also carries out training of the federal and state police in Mexico.

After the Election

As Vicente Fox made one of his first speeches after the election, a crowd of thousands chanted, "Don’t let us down! Don’t let us down!" Many Mexican people were sucked into the electoral circus this time, as they searched for solutions to the urgent problems facing the country.

Mexico’s rulers and their imperialist backers may manage to bring about temporary "stability" for themselves through the "democratic transition." But the move by the oppressors to the post-PRI era also shows how deeply worried they are about the situation in Mexico. And, even as the "democratic breakthrough" is hyped to the skies, there are already voices of concern about the near future. A top economist for Chase Securities in New York warned, "A lot of Mexicans feel their economic circumstances have gotten worse and they expect results very quickly. Fox has to be careful about how he handles expectations."

The Coca-Cola president—and the powerful forces behind him—may find themselves confronting even greater anger of the people of Mexico.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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