On July 6 of this year(2000), only 41% of eligible voters in Mexico, went to the polls to elect representatives for the house of deputies (comparable to our house of representatives). This miserable mid-term election turnout, expresses more than public apathy.
Opinion polls reflect a general lack of confidence in political party leadership and especially President Vicente Fox. Opponents point to Fox’s endless travels abroad to expand globalization while serious domestic problems are neglected. At least, that is the perception that led congress, who controls the president’s travel budget, to cut off his travel monies.
In the presidential election of 2000, 64% of voters cast their ballots to elect Fox, the first opposition party candidate to end the PRI party’s 70 year occupation of Los Pinos (Mexico’s version of the white house). The PRI’S control of the congress also ended with victories for the PAN and a variety of smaller parties. . The omnipotent PRI, prior to 1988, also occupied. all the nation’s state houses and most municipalities. That was the year Ernesto Ruffo of Ensenada became the first opposition party Governor in the republic’s history.
Baja Californianos started “Ruffomania“, as it was called, and the whole nation was inspired to expand the revolution of free democratic elections. Within a few short years 30% of the nation’s governors and municipalities were controlled by the PAN party. This swing to the conservative PAN (a coalition of Catholics and businessmen) was a major departure from the PRI whose historical roots were socialist inspired and very secular.
The election of Fox, impressed the white house and even the most severe critics on capital hill. Congressmen who had voted against the Clinton bail out of Mexico and other aid measures became supporters of the new president. For the first time in her history, Mexico produced a truly democratic election. An election that defeated the socialist autocratic and traditionally corrupt PRI party,
In the past, U.S, conservative congressmen argued justifiably that U.S. aid was wrong in propping up an undemocratic autocracy with a long history of human and civil rights abuses.
The other attraction for Washington was Vicente Fox, the central casting figure of a president, who spoke English fluently and who was a free market capitalist to the bone. My god, he was director of Coca Cola Mexico. He not only spoke the king’s English but he was fluent in corporate-speak. Folks, on both sides of the border, were buyed by the new cross border possibilities September 11, of course, put the brakes on the “great new partnership” aspirations..
Unlike the unabashed Catholic PAN, the PRI has always been distrustful of the church. Most Mexicanos want a strict separation of church and state. Historical precedents justify concerns over the church attempting to meddle in affairs of government.
Fox was widely criticized in the media for kissing the Pope’s ring on his visit to Mexico in 2002. The gripe was that Mexico’s head of state should not publicly display subjugation to the pope and by extension – The Vatican.
The PAN party’s cozy relationship with the church has always been a political deficit.. By making this obsequies symbolic ceremonial act of welcome, the President could not have given better political fodder to the anti clerics in and out of government..
The voters have demonstrated their disappointment in Fox by ousting 25% of the PAN’S deputies. The PRI picked up 27 seats in the chamber of deputies to bring them, just short of a majority with 224 deputies total. The leftist PRD improved their position with a total of 95 deputies in the house. Perhaps the most fatal single issue for Fox was his “fiscal reform” which imposes onerous new taxes, reporting requirements and enforcement. The PAN party’s most loyal support comes from the business sector. The new tax policy has eroded that support if not decimated it. The question now is how lame a duck is Vicente Fox?
So what does this political swing back to the left portend for U.S. – Mexico relations? Most political observers agree that Fox’s policies of seemingly cow towing to President Bush hurt his public persona. . Mexico’s voters are disappointed in Fox’s inability to gain immigration concessions from Washington. Accords to protect the stay of millions of undocumented Mexicano workers in the states and provide seasonal provisions for farm workers to cross the border on work furloughs. .
Concerns regarding Mexico’s sovereignty are justified by the frequent drug inspection points to shore up Uncle Sam’s war on drugs. Mexicano citizens often complain of sacrificing constitutional liberties (unlawful search and seizure) to help stem the flow of drugs going North.
The resulting police state type enforcement has been effective. Too effective. Ironically it has caused an increase in the supply of drugs that stay within Mexico, resulting in cheaper prices, . Accessibility at affordable prices causes more of Mexico’s youth to become addicts is the popular view..
Mexicanos are also disturbed by the war in Iraq. Journalists, in this country, refer to the war as The Big Lie. That the imminent threat posed by Hussein was fabricated by President Bush to wrongly justify a pre emptive strike and the subsequent invasion. Fox clearly got the public message on this issue: At the U.N., Mexico did not vote in favor of the U.S.military action in Iraq.
Mexicano media have understandably taken the side of truckers who claim inequities when they cross the border. The truckers charge that discrimination and harassment is practiced by U.S. highway police who excessively stop their transit for mechanical inspections. Add to this the Mexicano tuna industries position that the U.S. ban on Mexican tuna for “dolphin killing” fishing practices, is unfair and untrue.
The Mexicano tuna industry asserts that the sole objective of this ban is not to save dolphins but to monopolize the North American tuna market. Exploiting an unfair political, and emotional concern over a species revered by U.S. citizens.
With regard to Mexico-U.S. trade in general, Mexicano’s feel NAFTA unjustly rewards U.S. commercial interests at the expense of Mexico. This perceived in balance is going to be a larger and more difficult problem to resolve in the years ahead. The NAFTA calendar proceeds in opening more opportunities for U.S. and Canadian exporters to Mexico.
In 2008, U.S. corn can be sold duty free in Mexico. The Mexicano agricultural system is not able to compete with the more efficient and better financed corporate form of agriculture practiced in the states. In all likelihood, U.S. corn will be cheaper than Mexicano corn.
This unfair competitive edge could create havoc in Mexico’s economy. One in five Mexicano workers rely on agriculture. In the U.S. less than one in 100 workers are dedicated to agricultural related commerce.
With all these issues what is the future relationship going to look like? Are we going to cancel NAFTA? Not likely. Will Mexico turn it’s back on globalization and return to state run transportation, communication, navigation, banking and major manufacturing? Not without another revolution and no political party or politician would take that proposition seriously. Nor would any proposal to expropriate foreign investment as happened in 1937.
No, no one expects a radical shift in Mexico’s socio political, economic plan. Mexico is a conservative nation in general. A nation that is committed to non aggression and expanding democracy and opportunity to all Mexicanos.
The U.S. and Mexico have too much mutual self interest and integration of economies to reverse the momentum of cooperation and free trade. We can help Mexico while helping ourselves to compete more aggressively in the world with a true NAFTA partnership that does more than exploit Mexico’s cheap labor force.
The U.S. can serve all the Americas’ interests by helping grow Mexico’s technology, Mexico’s infrastructure, Mexico’s marketing and Mexican human resources.. This will keep Mexicanos at home where they want to be and provide them with a better living wage. All of this can and should be done in the spirit of equality. Respecting Mexico’s sovereignty and listening to this nation’s wisdom about living at peace with your neighbor and creating harmony in the world politic.
Generally, gringos know very little about Mexicano history, politics or culture. Mexicanos know a lot about us. They have an objective advantage of following our deeds in the daily press. Mexicano media cover U.S. current events as thoroughly as our own media but with the objectivity that comes with being a knowledgable observer. U.S. media coverage of Mexico is sparse at best. The news reports typically focus on Mexican drug lords, immigration or the loss of U.S. citizen beach properties.
A good relationship with Mexico is important for the U.S. but gringos generally have a solicitous attitude about the country and her people. If we seriously listened to our Southern neighbor we could benefit from some very good coaching. How to better understand respect and react to nations and cultures that are very different from our own. As good neighbors, whose success largely depends on our success, Mexicanos want us to succeed. Let’s help Mexico help us. Like Jimmy Reed’s plaintive blues line says: “Big Boss Man, don’t you hear me when I call? Well you ain’t so big – You just tall, that’s all”