PRI’S 17TH PLATFORM CONFERENCE ENDS IN CONFUSED SHAMBLES:

Last week, the ruling PRI met in plenary session to draw its’ party platform for the year 2000. Battle lines were quickly drawn between two “lines” of political thought: “social liberalism” and “revolutionary nationalism”. The first is a catch-phrase for the program of every Mexican president since de la Madrid: privatization of basic industries, neglect of domestic production sectors in favor of hard-currency foreign investment, and tightening of social safety net programs to meet the demands of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The second is a little harder to define. Most take it to mean a strengthening of the hand of the old hard-line oligarchy that has been smarting under the last few administrations. Otherwise known as the “dinosaurs”, this is said to represent the “right wing” of the PRI who want to return to the “good old days” when a patrón could whip the peons in public and no-one would dare to object. However, there is another aspect which needs to be more carefully explored.

The experience of the old guard since NAFTA has been a humiliating one. The Mexican peso went down the drain, and personal fortunes were hurt, but that does not address the problem on the level where the dinosaurs live: pride and independence. Two years ago, Mexico was the pride of Latin America. There had not been a serious uprising in 20 years, the middle class was enjoying a boom, Mexican oil and gas reserves made Mexico an important natural resource, and restrictive importation laws insured a healthy domestic industry. Of course there were basic structural inequities which were bound to create more demands from the poor, but the system appeared to be more or less working.

Carlos Salinas, the now discredited previous president, saw NAFTA as his lasting monument. He also saw it as his ticket to the GATT world economic organization’s presidency, which he wanted more than he would ever admit. He was already a director of the American Express Company: very civilized, very first world. To get to his goal, he had to convince US legislators to vote against Labor, which vehemently opposed NAFTA, and the greens; and to preserve the carefully nurtured image in the mind of the US voter of Mexico’s democracy and respect for human rights. In order to do this, he had to have the collusion of the Clinton administration’s cabinet, and the analysts of the big banks and the international funders — all of whom had to have known better.

In order to get you have to give, and Salinas gave everything he could. He promised that privatization (read, turning over control to the multinationals) would be completed. He promised he would lower or eliminate tariffs which protected Mexican manufacturers (thereby damaging Mexico’s domestic industry) and giving tax breaks to foreign investors. In the agricultural sector, lowered tariffs meant that Mexican farmers could no longer compete in the corn, bean, and grain markets, resulting in higher prices for consumers (domestic crops were subsidized as part of the social support system – another target of “austerity”. In exchange, he encouraged production of export crops such as tomatoes and avocados and coffee.

The resulting debacle, in which Mexico lost 16 of its’ 26 billionaires, 1 million workers and middle class entrepreneurs lost their jobs, migration of southern Mexican farmers to the cities grew at an alarming rate, rural uprisings have created enormous military presence (and expense), Mexico City’s corrupt police have been replaced by or are being controlled by, the Army, and levels of inflation and inflated interest rates have increased by at least 50%, has exposed Mexico’s dinosaurs in ways they do not like. Mexico starts to look like part of the third world after all; a banana republic in which, no matter how much they protest to the contrary, the shots are being called in Washington, New York and Geneva. “We told you it would not work”, the dinosaurs are saying. “We used to take pride in a fiercely nationalistic and independent Mexico, and now we feel humiliated” is what they are not saying.

You may remember I told you in an earlier newsletter that Zedillo really is a technocrat to the bone, and distrusts all politicians. As far as the PRI is concerned, he will be the last of his line on the throne. The convention passed a rule that all future candidates for president or governor must have held elected office, and have been a party member for at least 10 years. The dinosaurs want officials they can make deals with, and the best indication of a politician’s willingness to make deals is his record at having made deals.

Lost in all this frooforah was the “third line”. A significant minority of real honest-to-goodness reformers known as the “Democracy 2000” wing of the PRI came to the convention ready to do some serious reforming. They were demanding a real investigation into the Colosio assassination. They wanted Carlos Salinas expelled from the party. They called for the selection of presidential and gubernatorial candidates at an open party convention. All these initiatives were adopted by the delegates.

In the PRI, all such decisions must be ratified by the Central Committee. When the official platform was released the day after the meeting, the Colosio investigation was endorsed (as it always has been); the expulsion of Salinas was referred to a committee for further study; and the open election of candidates was not mentioned. That morning, under the orders of the Central Committee, for reasons of “fiscal necessity”, the offices of Democracy 2000 were sealed by party enforcers, and the organization declared disbanded.

So, you may well ask, what does all this mean? For one thing it means that the PRI is going through another of its periodic shake-outs. What Ramiro de la Rosa and his Democracy 2000 followers will do is yet to be revealed. Some think he will join Manuél Camacho Solís, the ex-mayor of Mexico City and the first peace negotiator in Chiapas, who resigned from the party last year, in some sort of new political alliance.

What Zedillo will do is clear: he will “accelerate his spokesperson’s word)” the privatization of Pemex’s second-level facilities (cement, pesticides, paint, fertilizer, etc.), and other government controlled companies. He too sees the political handwriting on the wall: and knows he has nothing to lose (except maybe his life…).

How fractured the PRI has become is one of the major guessing games of the day. Many are looking to the upcoming elections in Guerrero on October 6. That the PRI will win is a foregone conclusion (they will threaten, cajole, lie and steal to do so). But will they come out looking like a unified party or something less pleasant? And if they have to really get bloody about it, how will that affect the future of the party, the nation, and the Zedillo agenda? Stay tuned.

HUMOR CORNER:

Huelgera in the Jornada: Zedillo at the blackboard, writing “I will privatize petrochemicals” over and over. Standin over him, ambassador James Jones. The caption: Professor Jones.

EPR UPDATE:

State Judicial Police have arrested 11 alleged members of the EPR in San Agustín and San Francisco, in the district of Loxicha, Oaxaca. All the men were apparently members of the ruling PRI, and some were elected officials. This district has been known in the past for its highly organized and effective self-defense forces who have kept corruption and crime at a minimum and for an indigenous population that has challenged the authority of the State police. The excuse for the roundup was the discovery of the dead body of the municipal treasurer dressed in an EPR uniform, after an Army-EPA firefight.