Mexochism: Mexico Is Likely to Disappoint, Again

By Arias-King, Fredo | World Affairs, September-October 2013 | Go to article overview

Mexochism: Mexico Is Likely to Disappoint, Again


Arias-King, Fredo, World Affairs


One Mexican street graffito during the 2012 national election campaign that returned the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power read, "Kick out the fools, return the thieves." This line perhaps best captured the popular sentiment that the PRI, though perhaps cynical, undemocratic, and even criminal, at least had a coherent and predictable identity. Having the PRI government establishment intact with a different party sitting in the presidency simply had not worked for the country.

With the return of the PRI to the presidency in 2012, two broad views emerged as to what awaited this troubled country. The pessimists feared that the twelve-year experiment with a vibrant yet messy democracy under two administrations of the longtime opposition National Action Party (PAN) would be replaced by the "managed democracy"--more managerial than democratic--that was the hallmark of the PRI's seventy-one-year reign before Vicente Fox led PAN's successful campaign to defeat it in 2000. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times captured the optimists' view when he predicted last year that the return of the PRI would create a Mexican renaissance marked by economic growth and increased geopolitical heft. Proponents of this view believe Mexico's photogenic new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, will finally enact big reforms and that the country's global competitiveness would increase as costs continue to rise in China. Both views may be right. But historically, Mexico's political and economic life cycle has always tended to begin with optimism and end in disappointment.

Certainly this was the lesson of Fox's alleged breakthrough in 2000, which in fact was greatly aided by more than a decade of PRI infighting. The first significant division happened in 1988, when the party's left wing, under Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, split to form the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which then caused a national crisis by charging that the PRI had stolen the 1988 election for its candidate, Carlos Salinas. Six years later, as Salinas's term was ending, a bloody little war further weakened the party. Salinas claimed that his own party's "nomenklatura" was derailing his reform program, a dispute that Salinas believes led to at least three casualties in his camp: Luis Donaldo Colosio, his handpicked successor, was assassinated at a campaign rally in Tijuana; Jose F. Ruiz Massieu, his former brother-in-law and party chairman, was murdered in 1994; and his brother Raul was imprisoned shortly after Salinas left power. Salinas openly accused Luis Echeverria, who before assuming the presidency in 1970 served as chief of the Interior Secretariat, of being involved, along with the political police he once headed, in these events, and of leading a conspiracy against reform. These divisions inside the PRI paved the way for Fox's victory. Another schism formed inside the party six years later, when the powerful national teachers' union abandoned the PRI to support PAN's teetering campaign, contributing significantly to the narrow win of Fox's successor, Felipe Calderon.

Yet despite expectations that they would break with Mexico's corrupt past and preside over an era of economic reform, both presidents Fox and Calderon failed to boost development or trim the country's nearly fifty percent poverty rate. Worse still, according to the IMF, Mexico was the bottom performer in Latin America in per capita growth during the PAN years, whereas Peru saw Asia-like growth, Brazil lifted some twenty-five million from poverty, and Colombia reasserted the state's primacy by significantly diminishing the power of the cartels and other extra-constitutional groups.

Neither of the PAN administrations was able to make Mexico keep pace with these hemispheric developments, as the country plunged into a prolonged period of drug trade-induced violence that has left upwards of one hundred thousand dead or disappeared. Organized crime surged in its power and cruelty and occupied more of the country's civic space as Calderon declared war on Mexico's cartels days after assuming office. …

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