Skip to comments.Unchanging Mexico
Posted on 12/15/2003 8:35:32 AM PST by DumpsterDiver
* Politics as usual and lack of progress on Vicente Fox's watch have given rise to a third-party reformer, Mexico City's mayor
Mexico's President Vicente Fox celebrated his third anniversary in Los Pinos presidential palace on Dec. 1. He won worldwide acclaim for ousting from power the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had run the country for 71 years. During his bid for the presidency, he pledged to achieve a 7 percent growth, create more than 1 million new jobs annually, eradicate corruption, and initiative a new relationship with the United States.
His glib promises of change aside, Fox and most of Mexico's pampered political nomenklatura have ignored the needs of the 40 percent of Mexico's 101 million people who exist in unforgiving poverty. Instead, the elite enjoy a sybaritic lifestyle nurtured by fat salaries, bountiful bonuses, generous perks and luxurious travel abroad.
In addition to living the good life, they are past masters at blaming others for the woes besetting their immensely wealthy nation. Fox's center-right National Action Party (PAN) excoriates the once-hegemonic and deeply divided PRI for thwarting presidential initiatives in Congress to modernize oil, electricity, labor and tax laws.
The PAN and the PRI pummel the leftist-nationalist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) as knee-jerk naysayers when it comes to change. And the PRD, often in concert with PRI "dinosaurs" like Senator Manuel Bartlett Daz, blasts foreign corporations for seeking niches in the country's capital-starved energy sector. The only thing the parties agree on is Uncle Sam's presumed obligation to provide amnesty, visas and guest worker status to millions of Mexicans residing illegally north of the Rio Grande. Seldom mentioned is the failure of Mexico's self-serving big shots to generate opportunities for their people at home.
Why has resource-endowed Mexico failed to attain anything resembling the reforms promised by candidate Fox? How consistent are Mexico's leaders, who continually decry abuses suffered by migrants in the United States, in safeguarding the human rights of foreigners in their own backyard? And if stalwarts in the PRI, PAN and PRD continue to sabotage critically needed reform proposals, might the people turn to Mexico City's messianic mayor to "throw out the bums"?
Failure to grow
President Fox frequently blames his country's stagnant economy on the slow growth registered in America and throughout much of the world. Although a U.S. boom would be a godsend, Mexico embraces a cornucopia of riches that leaders of most countries would give their first born to have. We're talking about oil, natural gas, hydropower, gold, silver, beaches, archeological treasures, museums, art collections, a plethora of tremendously talented people, and $14.5 billion in annual remittances from Mexicans living in the United States.
If Singapore could lease Mexico for 20 years, Americans soon would be complaining about the "colossus of the South."
If Singapore, Taiwan, and other resource-starved "Asian Tigers" can grow in the face of obstacles, why not Mexico? Answer: the country's grandstanding political grandees. For example, perennial presidential candidate and the PRD's "moral leader" Cuauhtmoc Crdenas, whose family boasts enormous wealth, rails against private investment in the nation's petroleum and electricity sectors. In so doing, he ignores that every other Latin American country, including his beloved Cuba, has signed risk contracts so that foreign firms can profit from their oil and gas discoveries. Cardenas argues that such capital inflows would enable the running dogs of imperialism to snatch Mexico's birthright.
Never mind that millions of children endure hunger while Petrleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the state oil monopoly created by Cardenas' father in 1938, reeks with featherbedding, union corruption and inefficiency. If the oil sector were opened to private investment and competition, the government could redirect billions of dollars to nutrition programs, health care, education, housing and public works. Such outlays would uplift the very people whom Cardenas claims to represent.
Cardenas, Bartlett and their cohorts couldn't spike NAFTA, which tumbled protectionist barriers and irretrievably linked Mexico to the global economy in the mid-1990s. Still, they have fought liberalization at home, giving rise to a disconnect between the country's domestic and international economic activities. They have elevated Pemex to sacred cow status to the point that no politician dares to advocate its privatization. They also treat like icons the unwieldy, turgid monopolies that dominate the generation, distribution and sale of electricity.
In addition, subsidies abound in the transportation field, in the movie industry and in the state-sponsored news service called Notimex.
And then there's the judiciary.
Entrepreneurs recoil at investing in a country where the judicial system, which -- except for the Supreme Court and electoral tribunals -- teems with favoritism, cronyism and corruption.
Also repugnant is a fiscal regime that is rife with quirky exemptions, deductions, and loopholes -- with the result that Mexican tax collections amount to only 11 percent of gross domestic product. This figure is one-third less than in the United States and one-half that of Brazil, which is hardly known a paragon of tax probity.
When PRI secretary general Elba Esther Gordillo recently tried to rally her party's 222 members in the 500-member Chamber of Deputies behind a modest extension of the sales tax to food, medicine, books and private-school tuition, her colleagues ousted her as legislative coordinator.
Fox continues to implore Washington to revamp its immigration policy, frequently citing the scores of Mexicans who die each year trying to find jobs in the United States. Only a latter-day Simon Legree could turn a blind eye to this tragedy, and any American law-enforcement official who harms immigrants should be prosecuted. What Mexican authorities neglect to mention, however, is the reprehensible treatment of Central Americans who cross into southern Mexico.
For instance, members of the Mara Salvatruchas, a notorious gang often compared to the Crips and the Bloods of Los Angeles, tout themselves as "migrant hunters." They lie in wait for illegal migrants who hide in freight cars on trains that run from Tapachula through Oaxaca to Veracruz, attacking, robbing and sometimes killing the newcomers.
Owners of large farms known as fincas prefer Guatemalans over Mexicans to help them raise mangos, bananas, coffee and dozens of other crops in the fertile, steamy ambiance of southern Chiapas. These growers, who insist that Mexicans will not perform the hard work of planting, cultivating and picking, take advantage of a government-to-government program that involves 39,000 workers in 2003. This enables them to hire 10, 20 or more "temporary migrant workers" to harvest coffee or mangos for 30 days at $3.18 (35 pesos) per day.
Ranchers seldom cover the workers' social security, year-end bonuses, and other benefits. Besides, they get away with paying at or below the $3.66 (40.3 pesos) official minimum wage. Even worse, finca owners often deduct from the paltry wages the cost of two rudimentary daily meals and rustic housing furnished to workers. Bribes, intimidation and political pressure ensure that Labor Ministry and social security inspectors steer clear of these farms.
For their part, unscrupulous officials exact bribes or mordidas from the Central Americans. The payments may be a few dollars to allow a single person to cross the border or thousands of dollars to permit the passage of drugs, weapons, stolen automobiles, prostitutes, exotic animals or archeological artifacts. Individuals and professional smugglers often endure shakedowns from both Mexican and Guatemalan authorities before encountering private-sector bandits.
No wonder that Gabriela Rodrguez, the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner's special rapporteur on migrants' rights, said: "Mexico is one of the countries where illegal immigrants are highly vulnerable to human rights violations and become victims of degrading sexual exploitation and slavery-like practices, and are denied access to education and health care."
Wouldn't Mexico achieve greater credibility for its bilateral immigration agenda with the United States if it put its own house in order?
Kick out the bums
Just as Arnold Schwarzenegger clobbered the California establishment, Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lpez Obrador (AMLO) may do the same in the 2006 presidential brawl. Although a member of the PRD, he -- like Arnold -- presents himself as a man above parties.
Upon becoming mayor three years ago, Lopez Obrador seized upon Mexicans' disdain for politicians who quickly forget campaign promises as they gorge themselves on perks, patronage and payola. He has projected the image of honesty: He resides in a postage-stamp-sized apartment, dresses modestly, rides in a mid-sized Japanese car and walks alone through the streets of crime-ridden neighborhoods.
He also made good on a pledge that "the people should get back some of the hard-earned money they pay in taxes." To this end, the city government began doling out $60 monthly to senior citizens and the disabled, conferring scholarships on impoverished children, giving tax breaks to female heads of households and welcoming students to the University of Mexico City, which bases admissions on a lottery rather than examinations.
Meanwhile, he has provided thousands of housing units to the poor, dispensed credits to small businesses, and handed over keys to taxi owners who bought new vehicles with low-interest loans. In the process, he has piled up a mountain of debt, sold public properties and slashed the salaries of bureaucrats to help offset the cost of his expensive schemes.
To serve his constituents "even better," Lopez Obrador encourages citizens to phone in their opinions on various issues, including his own performance. Late last year, 95.3 percent of callers urged the incumbent to complete his six-year term. Demagogic or not, these "consultations" enrich the mayor's secret data bank of supporters.
Lopez Obrador also has reached out to luminaries. He has convinced Cardinal Archbishop Norberto Rivera, billionaire Carlos Slim, and Fox to assist in revitalizing the capital's decaying 700-year-old historic center. The monies are being used to rehabilitate the cathedral and other churches, restore crumbling buildings and streets, and beautify parks. A terrific PR man, the mayor has christened his bailiwick "la Ciudad de la Esperanza" (the City of Hope).
Journalist Jess Silva-Herzog Mrquez, one of AMLO's harshest critics, has deplored what he calls the mayor's messianic and authoritarian antics that, he avers, display a readiness to toss "laws that he [AMLO] considers unjust in the trash can." Indeed, Mexico City is afflicted by traffic mayhem, widespread corruption, ubiquitous black marketeering and proliferation of gun-toting thugs.
Above all, the capital's alarming crime rate could stymie Lopez Obrador's march to the presidency. Lopez Obrador collected $4.3 million from Slim and other tycoons to hire former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's consulting firm to advise the city on crime busting. However, Giuliani's 146 proposals -- emphasizing zero tolerance for minor offenses -- bore little relevance for a country where rules and loyalties generally apply within extended families but only on a hit-and-miss basis in society at large.
AMLO is counting on his uncanny ability to get free coverage -- not his party's rickety structure -- to persuade voters nationwide that he can extend to them the social ventures and public works accomplished in the City of Hope. For instance, 365 days a year, he holds 6 a.m. press conferences -- known as ma×aneros sic] after early-morning love making by peasants too tuckered out at night -- that enable him to dominate the morning news cycle and enhance his name recognition and popularity throughout the country.
Should Lopez Obrador parlay his carefully calibrated populism into a presidential triumph, it would mean that three different parties will have run Mexico since 2000. And given the weakness of his PRD, Lopez Obrador would surely confront a hostile Congress ready to thwart his program. If unable to cut deals the old-fashioned way, he would use administrative decrees to the utmost, while mobilizing his loyalists to pressure lawmakers directly.
Such a confrontational strategy might smash the legislative logjam that Fox has faced and earmark more spending to help the nation's poor. The price of such populism could be a mushrooming of demonstrations, capital flight, and a further weakening of political institutions vital to advancing the country's democratization. Rather than indulging themselves in rhetorical spitting contests in Congress, Mexico's high muck-a-mucks should start delivering on some of their promises to the masses, lest they soon find themselves on the outside looking in.
The Fox administration and Mexico
President Vincente Fox - Born July 2, 1942, Mexico City. President of Coca-Cola-Mexico and served as congressman and governor of Guanajuato state before defeating the PRI and PRD nominees to win the presidency in mid-2000.
Greatest achievements as president - Greater honesty and transparency in government; respect for democratic elections; a crackdown on narco-traffickers; and cooperation with U.S. on combating terrorism and other cross-border crime.
Major weaknesses - A so-called "Montessori cabinet" that prefers self-expression to team work; an aversion to schmoozing with opposition politicians to build congressional coalitions; an inability to select one or two goals and mobilize his resources to achieve them; and gratuitous disputes with the United States over immigration and Iraq.
Population: 104.9 million (est. mid-2003).
Economy: world's 10th largest. Two-thirds of trade with U.S.
GDP: $900 billion (2002); 40 percent live in poverty.
Presidential term: Six years; next election in mid-2006; Mexico's constitution prevents the reelection of presidents.
Grayson, who teaches government at the College of William & Mary, has just written "Mexico's Political Outlook 2003-2006," published by the Center for Strategic & International Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you want to place any bets as to how soon reform in Mexico takes place?
Hell, they should all get along with Jorge then. Maybe they can come up to Crawford for Christmas and sing carols and Kumbaya with the RepublicRATs.
True, but one unchanging thing is that they haven't stopped sponging off of this country.
I have long wondered why a country so rich in natural resources is so poor and corrupt.
I have been doing some very interesting reading recently about the outside influences at work in Mexico during the late 19-teens, and how they tried to use Mexico to weaken and distract the U.S. (Do a google search for "zimmerman telegram").
Anyone who is perplexed/frustrated/interested in U.S. as it relates to Mexico should go back and research this era during the Mexican revolution. My reading has just about convinced me that (because history repeats itself) Mexico is again being used as a pawn to achieve the objective of "Old Europe" or even China and their American-hating/resenting ways. If America's enemies can flood our country with Mexican illegals (who shop at Walmart--good for the Chinese), then our resources will be tied up and the votes will go to people like Bill Clinton, and the U.S. will be headed for hell on a bobsled. I first got this inkling when Vicente Fox was one of the holdout countries at the U.N. in terms of supporting our action in Iraq.
Thanks. I'll check that out and do some more reading.
You might be interested in reading this article, Los Amigos de Bush.
Which doesn't mean that his administration isn't interested in "normalizing", "regularizing", forming another "guest worker" program, not deporting, etc.
It's around comment 330 or so on the news conference thread.
I'll go look for that and read it.
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