National vs. Party Interests in Mexico NAFTA Partnership and the Zapatista Rebellion Require That Mexico Attend to Political, Economic Reform

By Andrew Reding. Andrew Reding directs the North American Project of the World Policy Institute Social Research. | The Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 1994 | Go to article overview

National vs. Party Interests in Mexico NAFTA Partnership and the Zapatista Rebellion Require That Mexico Attend to Political, Economic Reform


Andrew Reding. Andrew Reding directs the North American Project of the World Policy Institute Social Research., The Christian Science Monitor


IN a Monitor article last June, I characterized Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's choice of a successor in the following terms: If the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ended up being approved with only moderate complications, President Salinas would choose social development minister Luis Donaldo Colosio; were it subjected to rejection or delay, he would have to select Manuel Camacho Solis, who was at the time mayor of Mexico City. My reasoning was that Salinas would seek to preserve Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) hegemony as best he could.

Under more favorable circumstances, that would mean choosing Mr. Colosio, who has concentrated on rebuilding the PRI and reestablishing its network of patronage. Mr. Camacho, on the other hand, has built his reputation on dialogue with the opposition. Since such dialogue inevitably undermines the prerogatives of one-party rule, Camacho would only be turned to as a last measure to forestall the possibility of an even more serious threat to the political order.

On a close vote, Congress approved NAFTA, and Salinas wasted no time in announcing his choice of Colosio. In keeping with custom, Colosio began assuming the manner of a president-elect. Yet on New Year's Eve, as Mexicans toasted the incoming year and the government celebrated implementation of NAFTA, the party came to an abrupt end when a rag-tag army of Mayans marched into San Cristobal. The insurrection shattered the Salinas administration's image of Mexico as a modern society.

It also highlighted serious failings in Colosio's Solidarity program. Though a disproportionate share of federal funds had been lavished on Chiapas, the government had neglected to address the area's most fundamental social problems: racism, dispossession, marginalization, and repression.

By naming Camacho to head a government commission to negotiate with the Zapatista rebels, Salinas is in effect acknowledging his earlier misjudgment. Mexico's problems are worse than he imagined. Almost overnight, poverty and repression have become major issues, bolstering the presidential candidacy of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Soloranzo. With Mexico now in a close partnership with the United States, its government must also carefully mind its image abroad. That means avoiding the appearance of being undemocratic and repressive.

After failing to eradicate the guerrillas quickly, Salinas had little choice but to pursue dialogue. That choice has further implications: If the government is to engage in negotiations with a small band of armed insurrectionists, it cannot well avoid serious dialogue with the country's democratic opposition, including Mr. Cardenas and his Democratic Revolutionary Party.

It is widely believed that Cardenas won the 1988 presidential election only to have his victory stolen by fraud. …

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