<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> RVer Concerns about Political Stability in Mexico
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.




By David Eidell, 07/2009

This article is not intended to be a treatise of Mexico’s government or society but rather a discussion of some of the things that I have come to accept as fact after almost a half-century of travel, working and living in the country[1].

Mexico has always been a challenge to govern. Unlike the homogenous population in the United States, Mexican society is clearly divided into broad bands of economic and ethnic groups. There are the super-wealthy with fortunes measured in billion of dollars all the way down to poor non-spanish-speaking indigenous farmers who live hand-to-mouth (without electricity or running water) and depend on government assistance for purchasing seed and fertilizer. America’s indigenous population is small percentage-wise and rather disorganized politically; Mexico’s indigenous number in the tens of millions, relatively few live on reservations; and many are very active politically. When you read about squabbles in Mexico they are usually associated with indigenous and the poor who have differences over land or water rights. It is interesting to note that Mexico’s most revered president is Benito Juarez, a zapoteco indigena from the state of Oaxaca.

Perhaps the most important point one can learn and retain about Mexicans and their political environment, is that all Mexicans fear and detest the very idea of anarchy. This point applies to all socio-economic classes and ethnic groups. It took more than seventy-years for the PRI political party to be voted out of power---much blame can be assessed on outright fraud, voter bribery and other political shenanigans, but a large measure of the power of the PRI was the reluctance of the Mexican voters to risk a different political system. Our constitution was adopted in 1776; Mexico has had several constitutions including the one of 1857 and another in 1917. It was no small feat in the elections of 2000 and with much fanfare the PRI presidential candidate lost the election and the PAN political party took office.


Assemblage in Mexico is almost never a sign of a crowd ready to riot---in the United States, thousands of teachers protesting low pay for example can not block a major roadway without inciting riot police to use tear gas and fire hoses. In Mexico group protests allow venting of pent-up frustrations with the protesters hoping they will catch the eye of the Mexican government. While traveling through the country it is common to see a group peacefully marching carrying signs and banners. Many times local police assist the marchers by providing squad cars at the head of the line with lights flashing and sirens wailing.


The 2006 problems in the city of Oaxaca turned violent for exactly the same reason that protests in the United States can turn violent (Do you remember the riotous protest at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968?): Criminal types and rowdies took over the otherwise peaceful Oaxacan protest being conducted principally by teachers. The criminals hijacked and torched city buses and burned several buildings. The government finally got tired of the destructive impasse and an influx of several hundred federal police quenched the violence.

The infamous student protest of 1968 in Mexico City at the UNAM university has been widely characterized by left-of-center journalists and press as a “Peaceful student protest that led to a massacre in the main Mexico City square”: What is left largely unsaid is the fact that radical students hijacked buses, with which they torched and blocked streets and avenues within the university—they invaded classrooms disrupting teachers and ordering the students to vacate, scrawled Marxist slogans (“The Karl Marx Library” for instance) on walls and doors and ignored calls for discussion by university administrators. In short, the protesters managed to create an “In Your Face” confrontation with authorities: Don’t ever mock the honor or masculinity of Mexican males---especially macho types with badges and guns. This rule is learned early by Mexican children and to argue that the protesters were unaware of committing such a social gaffe would border on the ludicrous. The university was re-taken by police and a resultant demonstration that turned violent in Mexico’s main plaza resulted in the death of a large number of protesters including innocent demonstrators[2].


The assassination in Tijuana in the summer of 1994 of Luis Donaldo Colosio the leading candidate for the upcoming presidential election, was the work of a mentally unstable individual who was and is much like John Hinckley the young man who attempted to assassinate president Reagan. Neither act was then or is now a sign of political instability but the press in the United States had a field day dashing bucketfuls of hype and innuendo on the event[3]. During the same time period the president of the PRI political party was assassinated which served to fuel ignorant speculation in the US press about the possibility of a “Military Takeover”. The killing was alleged to have been one of revenge engineered by the brother of then president Carlos Salinas de Gotari for something other than politics. To display something of a parallel, after Ronald Reagan was shot, General Alexander Haig committed a widely reported gaffe in which he asked “Does this mean that I’m in charge?” The faux paus was immediately ridiculed by the American press but some foreign news organizations had a real field day with the suggestion that the American military was “ready to assume power”.


The famous Zapatista rebellion of January 1, 1994, underscored the plight of dirt poor and under represented indigenous people in the southern state of Chiapas. Yet leftists and liberal press around the world heralded the event as some kind of “Revolutionary Happening[4]” and the uprising became the darling of that genre of media and society. The charismatic masked and pipe smoking “spokesman” of the Zapatistas turned out to be a remnant of a failed university of Veracruz Marxist protest movement. Communications from the rebels demanded the resignation of the Mexican government and implementation of a “People’s Government” (Indeed the Acronym EZLN stands for Zapatista Army of National Liberation). Of course that posture induced classic fear of anarchy (and outrage of being challenged militarily) from the government of Mexico. Despite the apparent effort of the Zapatista leadership to cause a massacre which would have created indignation and a world wide human rights outcry, pressure from within and without the country caused the federal government to greatly temper its military response to the uprising and today the EZLN or Zapatistas have gained legitimacy by becoming a viable political party (something they ridiculed in the beginning). Most indigenous in Chiapas are not Zapatista and are members of opposition political parties. But the net result of the Zapatista uprising was and is infusion of additional federal cash and public works into the state’s infrastructure. The government and general public learned a bitter lesson, and seemingly remain more sensitized to the needs of the economically and politically disenfranchised members of Mexican society. Time will tell if the influx of assistance and sensitivity is going to continue[5]

A few months ago I reported an attack by tossed hand grenades by a member of a drug gang on a crowd gathered in a public square to celebrate Mexico’s Independence. This turned out to be as I said it would “The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back”. Public outrage has caused the narcos to become extremely defensive with preventing an image being formed of them harming the general public. It is interesting to note that newspapers in the state of Michoacan carried stories (7/19/09) that had top members of the infamous “La Familia” drug gang accusing Mexican authorities of “Abuse Of Authority” for allegedly harassing gang members and their families.


What has impressed me is how similar Mexico’s political party’s are to those in the United Sates --- the issues of course are different, but the manner in which they hype their platforms versus how much they tone down or centralize their actual governing (when they win office) is a mirror image of our own politics (what I’m trying to say is that candidates boast, cajole, exaggerate, and blast lengthy gales of hot wind when campaigning but assume a more moderated tone when they take office). Yes there are differences: The PRD presidential candidate of the 2006 election threw a hissy fit when he lost by the narrowest of margins and threatened to establish a “parallel government”. That outburst of course was ridiculous; what actually took place was that many followers in the PRD party were dismayed and embarrassed by (Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador) his poor sportsmanship, and may cost the PRD heavily in the next presidential election in 2012. The PRI party was voted out of office for the first time in seventy years in the 2000 election. The ousted PRI leadership now claims that the ruling PAN party platform leans too heavily toward the wealthy (and Catholic Church), while the PRD party platform is claimed to be radicalized too far to the left. My own take is that having three viable parties makes a feisty competitive atmosphere and unlike when the PRI ruled for decades the ruling political party of today’s Mexico has to achieve at least some of its campaign hype or face the wrath of voters. Marked fractionation between the PAN and PRD interestingly enough may offer the centrist PRI a real chance in 2012 at regaining the presidency.

The 2006 federal election clearly shows that the public and the northern and southern states are evenly divided between the PAN and PRD. The schism is a serious one and needs to be addressed by whichever party assumes leadership in the future. It is exactly this point that the disenfranchised PRI party hopes to exploit---however, regardless of winners or losers upcoming presidential campaigns promise to be feisty and hotly contested. Because Mexican presidents are now held accountable at the ballot box this bodes well for the Mexican population in general[6].


It’s no secret that Mexico’s presidential security detail includes former Hispanic USA Secret Service agents who train their Mexican counterparts. Drug Enforcement Agency personnel advise and train Mexico’s elite narcotics enforcement agents. I suspect our NRO (satellite imagery) agency and NSA (National Security Agency) provide relevant information to Mexican agencies that battle the Narcos. The recent RENAPO requirement to register all new cellular telephones in Mexico is no doubt an attempt to hamper communications within the gangs. As confidence is gained in the USA with Mexico’s genuine commitment to battle drugs, more and more sophisticated equipment and training shall certainly be provided to the military. One of the most effective tools that are now being implemented at some roadside checkpoints is the use of DEA trained drug-sniffing dogs and their handlers[7].


I reiterate that the above is solely an expression of my own personal impressions and opinions about Political Stability In Mexico. If you are curious about how Mexico can effectively deal with drug violence I would encourage you to read US history tomes regarding elimination of American gangsters in the years following the roaring twenties. Mexico remains safe for visitors who do not involve themselves with guns or drugs and who exercise a mere modicum of travel-savvy prudence. Finally: Regard every news account that may appear in American newspapers or Television with a great deal of skepticism. Mexico has been the “Whipping Boy” of yellow journalism for what seems like forever. Today’s Mexico is stable, and is a valuable friend and trading partner of the United States.


[1] It helps if you would consider my comments to be similar to those of a Mexican residing in the United States for several decades describing impressions of our political system in just a few pages.
[2] One should keep in mind the sometimes violent protests (The “People’s Park” in the University of California at Berkeley for example) of that troubled era in US universities---The Kent State university tragedy occurred for much the same reason.
[3] Even the Mexican peso came under pressure
[4] To underscore the lack of cultural awareness displayed by worldwide sympathizers “Sub Commandante Marcos” subsequently complained to the press that almost all of the international donations received by the EZLN turned out to be immense quantities of inappropriate used clothing and (in his words) “Worthless Articles” that amounted to be “No more than tons of just plain junk”.
[5] There is little question as to the degree of awareness raised in Mexico and all over the world by the EZLN uprising of the plight of Mexico’s indigenous poor---however the strategy and conduct of the Zapatista leadership was and is open to criticism. The event could be considered somewhat of a parallel to America’s tragic “Wounded Knee” incident.
[6] The net effect of having so many (legal and illegal) Mexicans residing in the United States, has been profound; they observe the effects of a (more) honest government, law enforcement and judicial system and in turn communicate impressions and opinions to their Mexican relatives who then become restive and place great pressure on their government and judicial system to institute reform.
[7] The days of “The Fast Bribe” if busted with drugs are long over. Attempts to bribe result in additional charges being filed. It is commonplace for official fines to be levied that spiral upwards into tens of thousands of dollars which allow the accused to spend merely a month or so in state prison and not a year or more. Possession of a mere pinch of marijuana can invoke truly draconian penalties!