September 25, 2007

In the aftermath of the earthquakes that have devasted parts of Mexico City since September 19, two conclu- sions can be drawn briefly as we go to press. First, the hardest hit are and will continue to be the urban poor; 5,500 dead, 300,000 homeless, 200,000 to 300,000 jobs lost and thousands still living in the streets. One week after the first quake, 5,000 persons from 15 neighborhood groups in the most damaged areas marched on the Presidential Palace of Los Pinos to protest the forced displace- ment of their communities. Their Ten- ants Coordinating Council denounced "acts of pillage by government offi- cials and members of the official party," and demanded that interna- tional aid be used primarily to rebuild their homes, instead of reconstructing government buildings and moving the homeless elsewhere, as has been an- nounced. Popular organizations, Left parties and many trade unions have banded together in Mexico to support these demands and act as a watchdog over the government's reconstruction efforts. Second, as can be seen from the following interviews with three of Mexico's most respected Left opposi- tion leaders, the earthquakes hit a country already ravaged by economic crisis, social disintegration and politi- cal uncertainty. The estimated $5.5 billion in earthquake damages are but 41% of what Mexico must pay in in- terest each year on its foreign debt. The pressures are now even greater upon the central government to satisfy the basic needs and political demands of its population, while at the same time continuing to satisfy foreign in- vestors and bankers. Many Mexicans, Peter Baird is a former NACLA staff member and co-author of Beyond the Border: Mexico and the U.S. Today. He is now a printer and free-lance writer in Sacramento, California. including the Left leaders interviewed in mid-August in Mexico City, be- lieve these demands are on a collision course. Abstentionism Triumphed In early September, Mexico swore in its newly elected governors and Congressional Deputies, concluding some of the most turbulent and widely publicized elections in modern Mexi- can history. The U.S. press paid unprecedented attention to these off-year elections. It appeared the conservative National Action Party (PAN) would break the 56-year monopoly of the ruling In- stitutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) by winning the governorships of two northern states and numerous Con- gressional seats. The PAN had dramatized its cause with violent con- frontations in border cities, deftly using the U.S. media to denounce widespread PRI corruption. They called for less government interven- tion in the economy, a reversal of ag- rarian reforms, withdrawal from the Contadora peace process and for a U.S.-style two-party system--with it- self as the "New Majority." The three independent Left parties in the elections,* meanwhile, were dismissed in U.S. press reports as ineffective and irrevocably divided. The underlying issues the Left raised--economic dependency, acute impoverishment and the historical U.S. role in stifling Mexican democ- racy-were likewise ignored. When the voting was over, the PRI candidates were declared winners in all seven gubernatorial races, with the PRI and its loyal opposition** getting 75% of the votes, and thus 324 of 400 *Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT); Unified Socialist Party of Mexico (PSUM); Mexican Workers Party (PMT). **Popular Socialist Party (PPS); Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolution (PARM); Socialist Workers Party (PST). In the United States, one of the many expressions of across-the-border solidar- ity is the Emergency Fund for Mexican Reconstruction. The fund is channeling donations directly to victims through the umbrella Tenants Coordinating Council of Mexico City. A check or money order can be sent to Emergency Fund for Mex- ican Reconstruction, 1131 North Clark, El Paso, TX 79905 to legitimize its policies of continued austerity for the poor, foreign debt re- payment at whatever cost and open arms to foreign capital. Despite its costly campaign and dirty tricks, the PRI did not attain its goal-a fact which is bound to cause even more consternation in Washington. With the majority of the adult population unconvinced that needed change can be achieved by the ballot, millions of workers, cam- pesinos and the increasingly strapped middle class will continue to search for ways to survive and oppose a sys- tem that is failing them. Valentin Campa and Heberto Cas- tillo are newly elected Deputies, while the third leader interviewed, Ra61l Al- varez Garin, represents the non-par- 4 REPORT ON THE AMERICAS seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The PAN and equally conservative Mexi- can Democratic Party received 19% of the votes cast, for a total of 50 seats. And the three independent Left par- ties, with 6.3%, won 24 seats under the reformed election laws granting representation to minority parties. In the end the opposition parties claimed fraud, but organized no massive pro- tests or demonstrations. Editorials in the United States scolded President Miguel de la Madrid, with The Wall Street Journal calling the elections a "Mexican debacle." On the surface the PRI appears to have won again. The PAN was beaten back, at least for a time. The Left was unable to capitalize on the deepening economic crisis and public discontent. But looking closer, the real "winner" in these elections was abstensionism. Over half the registered voters-17.5 million Mexicansd-ecided to stay home in protest, or simply ignored the electoral arena. De la Madrid's Ad- ministration needed a strong turnout REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 4"A system that is failing them" liamentary Left. All have spent years in prison for acting on their convic- tions. They talk here about what can be learned from the elections, the rise of the Right, the debt and economic crisis, the problems and promise of the Left and the future of Mexico- U.S. relations. VALENTIN CAMPA Nearly 17 years after the massacre of some 300 students in the Plaza de Tlatelolco by government troops--Oc- tober 2, 1968-1 spoke with 81-year- old Valentin Campa in his apartment a few hundred yards from the infam- ous site. Campa was born amid the tumultuous Mexican Revolution, has been a communist militant (PCM) since 1927 when he participated in the international campaign to free Sacco and Vanzetti. He spent 13 years in prison for leading labor strikes and was the Left's write-in candidate for president in 1976. Now he is begin- ning his second term in the Chamber of Deputies representing the Unified Socialist Party of Mexico (PSUM). One of the beloved patriarchs of the Left and labor movement, he is, as Bertolt Brecht wrote, "one who has struggled all of his life." Q: How do these latest elections fit into the long stretch of history you have lived? A: These elections were carried out amid the deep and cyclical crisis we are suffering in Mexico. The spending binge of the grand bourgeoisie has left us with a foreign debt of $96 billion, interest payments alone at $12 billion a year and austerity policies that have reduced our standard of living 40% in three years. This has our country in turmoil. We are realistic and know that this grand bourgeoisie in power has con- trol of the entire electoral process and the media, and has manipulated the results. Years ago they stole elections, using vulgar repression. Now they use computers to help them juggle the fig- ures. But this is not the only reason the PSUM's votes were low.* Most important among the other factors is the control that the government has over most leaders of the organized labor movement. We call them *PSUM representation dropped from 17 to 12 Deputies. charro** leaders. During these elec- tions the charros threatened to kick workers out of their unions and make them lose their jobs if they voted against PRI candidates. Many did not vote at all. We also had many internal prob- lems in the campaign, but despite all this we came in third, which gives us political significance and the will to win over more voters in the next elec- tion. Q: The PSUM has been criticized for being too caught up in elections. What is your electoral strategy? A: The Communist Party, which had been illegal for decades, was the prin- cipal force behind the electoral reform of the government. Then it joined with other Left forces to form the Unified Socialist Party of Mexico (PSUM). We have always maintained that for us the electoral struggle is merely one more front of the mass struggle. We are completely aware of the corruption of the electoral process, but we see the same thing in the trade union sector and don't stop our work there because of it. As long as there aren't sufficient social forces to sup- port a revolutionary leap forward- through civil war or through mass struggle-our task is to build our forces, combining electoral work with work in the labor and popular sectors. Q: Can you explain why the PAN is so strong, especially in the north? A: Because the big private capitalists in the north are all founders and sup- porters of the PAN. Their game is to support the PAN when they want to pressure the government on a business measure like denationalizing the banks, but then they turn around and back the PRI when they get what they want. As for the common people who vote for the PAN in great numbers in the north, they want to oppose the PRI and think PAN is God's party,* and **The term, charro, or cowboy, stems from an early labor leader who was a cowhand. The word is now used in derision to describe corrupt union bosses. *The PAN is strongly identified with the Roman Catholic Church. SEP'rEMBER/OCTOBER 1985 5 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1985 5the only one that can defeat the PRI. So they vote PAN even though they may agree with us, and this is hard to change. Q: The ruling party protested loudly against a secret meeting between U.S. Ambassador to Mexico John Gavin and PAN officials, as well as meetings with the U.S. Republican Party. Was there U.S. interference in the elec- tions? A: The PRI turned the Gavin meeting into a big scandal to buttress its ac- cusation that PAN had outside back- ing. Of course the U.S. government influenced the elections, but re- member that during this time a U.S. drug agent was killed. The U.S. gov- ernment nearly closed the borders be- cause Mexico wasn't prosecuting the guilty parties. Relations between the two countries were extremely low. Undoubtedly the United States used PAN to pressure the PRI into action, and apparently it was effective be- cause at least some of the drug traffic- kers and corrupt officials were picked up. Q: Have you ever been in the United States? A: I have been prohibited from enter- ing the United States since World War II by the U.S. authorities, even though I have relatives there. But when I was a presidential candidate in 1976, a group of universities in the Southwest invited me to speak and I was able to go. I found a great progressive move- ment there, both inside and outside the university that I knew nothing about. When I came back home I told people to not underestimate the pro- gressive forces within the United States, especially among the Hispanic population. [Good] relations between the Mexican and the North American peoples are a necessity. We haven't learned how to build this relationship yet, but we should all work at doing so. RAUL ALVAREZ GARIN Ratil Alvarez Garin, like many ac- tivists in today's trade union, univer- sity and popular political movements, CamDa: a life-lona struaale is from the "generation of '68." Dur- ing the massive Mexican student movement, he represented the Polytechnical University on the Na- tional Strike Committee which led the protests, and was imprisoned along with many others for two years until their exile to Chile. Returning to Mexico in 1971 after a presidential amnesty, he helped found Punto Critico--a collectively produced news journal of the Left that has been par- ticipating in and writing about the mass movement since that time. Punto Critico Revolutionary Organization (ORPC) is the clearest voice within the non-parliamentary Left and has a different evaluation of elections and the mass movement. Q: Can you explain why ORPC and others have not opted to participate in the government's electoral reform, run candidates etc.? A: One of the most debated topics within and among Mexico's revolu- tionary organizations has been the il- legitimacy of the government and the intent of its "political reforms." At the same time that the past regime of President Jose Lopez Portillo opened a door to minority political parties, it *See "Mexico's Juchitan-A Popular Challenge to the PRI," Report on the Americas, November/ December 1982. REPORT ON THE AMERICAS unleashed a wave of repression against the independent social move- ments. Campesinos who led land oc- cupations were assassinated. Police broke up strikes; dissident trade un- ionists were jailed. Hundreds of ac- tivists "disappeared." It is a divide and conquer strategy and has been ef- fective. So the Left's debate was whether the benefits of having representation in the House of Deputies (the Senate is still off limits) outweighed the drawbacks of giving legitimacy to the regime. By participating in its so- called democratic elections we would be reinforcing its ideological control and its public image as a pluralistic democratic government. In addition to the history of electoral fraud and generalized mistrust of elected politi- cians, there is the problem that the Chamber of Deputies is not a real source of power or even debate for op- position parties. All legislative propo- sals come from the executive branch and are rubber-stamped by the PRI majority, while those of the Left par- ties have been tabled. In weighing all these factors, we felt it was more important at this time to denounce the demagogic character of the PRI and support elections only when they are linked to the mass movement and advance its indepen- dent organization, such as the COCEI campaign in Juchitan, Oaxaca.* Q: Punto Critico has emphasized that the PRI is losing a degree of its social control and that the status quo can not continue. Can you explain? A: For a number of years the govern- ment has been on the defensive from the demands of independently or- ganized workers and campesinos. Just as the government was the promoter of labor and peasant organizing in the 1930s, today it is the "disorganizer," the destroyer of all organizations that challenge it. But in doing so the ruling party is weakening the labor and cam- pesino confederations it has relied upon to maintain itself in power for six decades. o 6 e 6The U.S. government is very con- scious of the terrible weakness of the Mexican government, despite its ap- parent strength. It is a strength based on rigidity, so it's a system that can fall apart quickly-like Iran, to which it has been compared. Once you begin to lose control-as happened in 1968-- there is little room for political man- euvering, and violence becomes the only option. Q: Punto Critico has also written that "the crisis of the Left permits us to re- define and reorganize ourselves." Are you optimistic or pessimistic about this possibility? A: Very optimistic. The modern Mex- ican Left has had only 17 years of ex- perience, since most organizations ex- cept the Mexican Communist Party date from the 1968 student move- ment. Since that time we share a herit- age of common experiences, regard- less of the differences we have had: the student movement itself; the armed guerrilla movement in the early 1970s; the upsurge of independent labor unions and peasant land occupa- tions throughout the 1970s; and now the experiences of electoral politics amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The Left has been in the middle of these popular movements that have in- volved hundreds of thousands of our people. We come together out of necessity, but the people are also de- manding greater clarity and unity from the organized Left. HEBERTO CASTILLO Heberto Castillo is one of thefoun- ders and now the head of the Mexican Workers Party (PMT), a small but ex- tremely vocal opposition to the PRI regime. The PMT, which withdrew from PSUM shortly after formation, earned representation in the House of Delegates for the first time, entering with six mandates. The 57-year- old silver-haired gentleman I spoke with looked more like a successful industrial engineer and professor-which he was-than an ex-political prisoner, acerbic govern- ment critic and now opposition Depu- ty. His words are a compelling combi- Castillo: "acerbic government critic" nation of scientist and politician, futurist and teacher. Q: How do you evaluate the electoral performance of the PMT and the other parties? A: This is the first time we have par- ticipated in elections, but in general we found that the PMT has a base of support-especially in urban areas-- and our victory will give us greater space to work throughout the country. But until there is an electoral reform that puts control of the elections in the hands of the contending parties, there will be no way to defeat the PRI. Dirty tricks aside, it is evident that there is a large conservative bloc of middle-class and some poor voters who support the PAN. For us this means that if the Mexican Left wants to win popular support it must change its methods. I think the PMT is moving in the right direction be- cause its language is totally different from the other Left parties. We base our thinking on our own heroes like [Emiliano] Zapata and [Benito] Julrez. We proclaim absolute inde- pendence from the socialist parties of the world, analyzing and criticizing their internal problems, such as lack of democracy. We are very concerned about this middle class and those who are fooled into thinking that the PAN alternative is good for them. We consider this "the Ronald Reagan alternative," that would have Mexico become an appendage of the United States. There are many people who agree with this; it's part of a process of "denationali- zation." This is negative not just be- cause of sentimental patriotism, but because if there were greater cultural, economic and political domination by the United States, the same thing would happen to us as happened to the indigenous peoples after Cortez' con- quest. These valuable cultures were smashed. We need to make people un- derstand that the Mexicans who have lived and worked in the United States for 150 years are still second-class citizens. Q: What are your plans as a new Dep- uty? A: I'm going in as a Deputy knowing nothing can be accomplished within this Congress, but will use it as a more prominent podium from which to de- nounce over radio and TV what goes on there-to tell people outside that these are a bunch of clowns and check-cashers. To destroy as much as possible the image of respectability that this house of perversion may have. And if they run me out of Con- gress, so much the better. Q: As the leading critic of the govern- ment's oil policies, how do you ana- lyze the current situation of Me- xico's oil exports and the foreign debt? A: Eight years ago we predicted that our debt would grow if we relied too much on oil exports for revenues, be- cause this would produce inflation and subsequent devaluations, would im- mobilize the campesinos by denying them needed farm credits, and in turn cause food shortages. Now we say that Mexico is caught in a trap, be- cause the enormous investment has been made and we can't say "dyna- mite the oil wells." This would be re- ally throwing money away. So what are we proposing? Our oil should be used as our means to exchange goods and services with the rest of the Third World. This is the only way we will be able to break free of the terms of unequal trade imposed on us by the developed world. Oil is unquestionably tied to the debt, so for the last two years we have been calling for the suspension of the foreign debt. (Of course, since Fidel Castro said it this year it counts more now.) But should Mexico go to the United States alone and say, "Mister Reagan, we won't pay"? No, there are many nations in the Third World like us and we owe $750 billion to- gether. So Mexico should discuss this problem with these nations and see what would happen if we went to the developed nations together and said, "We're broke. Send us your financial wizards and tell us how we can pay you." For Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia and Nigeria they might say, "No problem. Let us siphon off your oil re- serves and we'll cover your debts." But these are only a few countries. The rest would have to give up a chunk of their land. So let's stick to- gether and negotiate together, and whatever we come up with is bound to be better than what we've got now. Q: What do you see in Mexico's fu- ture? A: I think the developed world con- tinues to ignore the fact that there won't be sufficient oil for the rest of the century. Fifteen to twenty years from now there will only be enough oil for the rich nations, and all the poor ones will be without energy sources. Mexico would be paralyzed and a lot of our population would have to go to the United States to find food and jobs-a peaceful invasion. So that is why we recently proposed in Havana that the Third World also dis- cuss the problem of energy with the developed world. In the final analysis, why do we leftists carry on our struggles through- out the world? Someone may say, "My goal is a better distribution of wealth, more equality." Yes, that is true, but why? I think it is an uncon- scious and little understood motiva- tion we have to struggle for the survi- val of the human species. [ .... ] Let's not forget that the dinosaurs were larger than we are and they dis- appeared.

Tags: Mexico, earthquakes, Elections, left leaders, PAN

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