Mexico 1997, a Year of Living Dangerously

Splits in the PRI and the official unions, growth of the opposition PRD and the May Day Inter-Union Confederation, emergence of new guerrilla groups, economic crisis. An analysis of the situation facing Mexico in 1997.

Three years ago the official propaganda in Mexico insisted that the country was going to enter the "First World" through the signing of NAFTA. But the suddenly, the peasant revolt erupted in Chiapas and then the economy collapse forcing the IMF and the World Bank to take unprecedented emergency measures to bail out the Mexican economy in order to prevent the crisis from spreading to other countries. This evens have changed the whole outlook of all sections in society.

First of all the ruling PRI party is split from top to bottom and a day does not go by without a senator, an MP or a official union leader, leaving the party or making public statements against the leadership. The most recent examples were the PRI member of Senate Layda Sansores who resigned from the party and was immediately offered the PRD candidate position for the Campeche state elections which the PRD is likely to win (without even joining the party!). The former governor of the Veracruz State and former Organisation Secretary of the PRI Dante Delgado is forming a new party called Popular Party. According to La Jornada (17/11/97) this "could reach a significance comparable to that of the PRI split in September and October 1987" which led to the formation of the PRD.

The same goes for the official unions. The Congress of Labour (CT) is openly split with the formation of the so-called "Foro" group of unions which organises mainly public sector unions in a soft opposition. They are clearly preparing the ground for what will happen after the current general secretary of the CTM (Mexican Confederation of Labour), one of the main union centres of the CT, Fidel Velazquez dies (he is nearly 100 years old!). One of the main "charro" (bureaucratic) leaders, the CROC general secretary has threatened to abandon the PRI with "his" 3 million members.

There is also a backlash against Zedillo and his openly pro bourgeois and pro imperialist policies on the part of the "dinosaurs", the party's old guard, which is trying to save its own political future by going back to the old "revolutionary nationalism" rhetoric. They are also opposed to give any more positions to PAN politicians (there are not enough seats for everybody) and this might have been one of the main reasons for the recent Madrazo's dismissal in the PGR (country's main prosecution body). The "dinosaurs" forced the recent PRI congress to oppose the privatisation of oil, and subsequently its scope was limited. Fernando Solana, an influent PRI senate member, recently complained about privatisation which is "provoking the extinction of the Nation State; and makes underdeveloped economies ... to become heavens for the big transnational companies". (La Jornada, 1/12/96). PRI MPs went so far recently as to oppose the 1997 budget proposals because "gives the rich all advantages, help and protection from the welfare state, while giving the poor only 'market' discipline" (La Jornada, 2/12/96).

These splits reflect the fact that the ruling class cannot rule in the same way as in the past but does not know how to do it. The reason why the "dinosaurs" oppose the current economic policies is because their own wages and privileges depend on the network of corruption and nepotism around publicly owned companies.

The madness of the IMF and World Bank policies of 'opening up' the markets and 'deregulation of the economies' in underdeveloped countries is preparing the way for a backlash in the whole of Latin America. This situation is recognised by The Economist (30/11/96) when it asks: "So is the region on the brink of a populist or authoritarian upheaval? Probably not. (...) The voices of discontent have been unable to articulate more persuasive ways forward. Yet they cannot be ignored. Discontent springs from huge social needs" and adds: "A populist reversal of Latin America's course is far from imminent, but the malaise is real".

The PRD in the meantime is doing better than expected in the elections and has gone up from having the control of 12 councils to 56 in the last few months. They have won two of the country's three main cities with elected councils, including the proletarian Nezahualcoyotl with a population of nearly 2 million people just in the outskirts of Mexico city. There is a clear orientation towards the PRD amongst the working class, even some sections of the activists who were previously a bit ahead of the class and sectarian to the party are changing their attitude. A proof of that is the fact that the national leadership has organised a weekly "trade union workshop" in Mexico City where lively debates are taking place about the way forward for the labour movement and the role of trade unionists in the party. There are two main wings in the leadership of the PRD. The one led by Muñoz Ledo represents the right wingers who are proposing an alliance "of all democratic forces" (i.e. including the PAN) in order to win the elections in Mexico city and State in 1997. The "left" wing represented by Lopez Obrador opposes this on the grounds that the PRD is a "progressive" party but defends giving 50% of the positions in the slates to non-party figures (i.e. rats leaving the sinking PRI ship).

There is a clear ferment amongst the activists and although the main activity seems to be the internal fight for positions, wherever there is some semblance of political debate this attracts new people. One of the founding elements of the PRD was the former CP, so "Marxism" (at least in words) is an accepted part of the Party's traditions amongst the rank and file which opens many doors for the genuine ideas of Marxism.

The PAN seems to be sure they are going to win next year's election races and they did quite well in recent council and state elections, especially in the more right wing leaning North of the country. But at the same time, wherever they win there is a popular reaction against its conservative policies, like in Guadalajara (the second biggest city) where they tried to ban female council workers from wearing mini-skirts and swearing in public places is forbidden (!).

At the same time a big section of the middle classes are going through a process of proletarianisation as a result of the economic crisis. Shop keepers and small farmers ruined by the crisis who cannot pay their debts to the banks have organised a movement called El Barzon (the Yoke). The use both legal procedures and direct action (occupations of banks, ...) and are starting to link with similar movements in other Latin American countries.

In the meantime although there is not a mass movement of the class at the moment, the potential is there for it to happen at any moment. The official unions leaders signed (under "protest") a 17% increase of the minimum wage, well below the 25% official inflation rate. The day they signed, the main "tabloid" La Prensa (which usually puts forward a pro government line) had a massive front page headline saying "Union leaders let workers down". Immediately after the signing of this Agreement for the Economic Growth (ACE), the 17th of such social contracts signed since 1987, there was an increase of between 30 and 150% of the prices of public transport in Mexico City. If a demo had been called it would have been massive. People was openly saying that in the queues to buy tickets. As La Jornada reported: "Anger, disagreement and frustration were the main reactions yesterday amongst capital city citizens when the increase in public transport fares came into effect" (1/12/96).

Most of the struggles right now seem to be isolated and use desperate methods (hunger strikes, long marches from the states to the capital, blood extraction). But some of them are quite heroic (Tabasco refuse collectors, Veracruz dockers, ...) and have won official PRD support. There is still great fear of unemployment amongst those who have a job (it looks like half of the population is on street stalls trying to sell something to the other half). An important development in the trade union field has been the formation of the Intersindical 1o de Mayo (May First Inter-union Coordinating Committee). This new organisation, created around the SUTAUR-100 busworkers union, is attracting more and more democratic currents in the official unions and small independent unions, becoming a rallying point for trade union opposition. The idea of a general strike (raised only by the Marxists a few years ago) is starting to gain ground even there. A glimpse of the potential for a united mobilisation of the working class was the May Day demonstration in 1995 which attracted a million workers called by the Intersindical. For the first time in decades the official unions did not call their traditional May Day March to 'thank the president for his measures in favour of workers'.

Regarding the guerrilla movements, the EZLN is focusing mainly in peace talks in order to achieve some kind of autonomy for indigenous peoples as their main aim. Despite this is an important demand, it is not the main reason which forced the peasants in Chiapas to uprise. The main problems in relation to the land and repression by the 'White Guards' (death squads organised by the landowners) have not been solved, and cannot be solved on the negotiation table. In the meantime, the EPR (Revolutionary People's Army) is seen as a more 'radical' group which has clearly stated it has the aim of taking power. In any case new guerrilla groups emerge almost every week due to the desperation of the peasants. A significant thing is that one of the new groups, the People's Insurgent Popular Army (ERIP) is composed of bankrupted shop keepers and small farmers in a northern state. The guerrilla movement has had an important effect not only amongst students and middle class people in the cities but also amongst labour movement activists. The main thing to understand is that unless there is a revolutionary movement of the working class in the cities, using the traditional methods of the labour movement (general strike, organisation of delegate's committees and insurrection) there is no way forward for the demands of the peasants.

Repression is still high. More than 200 PRD members have been assassinated in the last few years. The Army is taking control of the police forces and some states live in a virtual non-declared state of siege, with a high presence of the Army in the streets, check points, ... In several states the usual tactic is to try and link anyone who is fighting with the guerrilla groups as an excuse for search and arrest warrants. The leaders of the National Teachers Union (STNE) in the state of Oaxaca have all been issued arrest warrants recently. In the same state PRD councillors and mayors have been arrested accused of EPR membership. On December 8, the Army entered two rural towns in Guerrero with lists of the main PRD local leaders arresting them under the accusation of being EPR members. And these are just a few isolated examples which could be repeated up and down the country. But repression is no longer having the same effect as in the past.

1997 will definitely be a crucial year for Mexican society. Official economic prognosis forecast an economic recovery. There are already some figures showing a certain growth of the economy. But these figures have to be taken against the background of the massive drop in 1995, after that is not difficult to get better results. On the other hand this 'recovery' is not resulting into more money in the working families pockets or more employment. The employers' organisations themselves do not expect a recovery of private consumption until 1997. In any case even a weak economic recovery could give the labour movement the confidence to launch an offensive to recover the lost ground in wages and living standards. In the current situation such a movement would easily adopt political demands. All factors are there for big battles between the classes. These will provide us with marvellous opportunities to build a mass Marxist tendency within the PRD and the unions, linking up the struggle of the workers in the cities and the peasants in then country side, to achieve the common task of overthrowing capitalism.