At the junction of change

By Javier Medina Ibarra, from the Heartbeat of Mexico, No. 37
29 August, 1995

The new secretary of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Santiago Onáte Laborde (who substituted for Mariá de los Angeles Moreno after her resignation on August 19) has been characterized by demagogical, old-style statements. Mr. Onáte stands out for demeaning his political opponents while presenting the PRI as a party always willing to change. The new PRI president's attitudes confirm that a mere change of personnel doesn't guaranty that substantial transformations will take place within the party. There exists a lot of skepticism with respect to Onáte Laborde because his choice as party general secretary was, clearly, dictated from President Zedillo's office in Los Pinos. The evident downfall of a political system incapable of surviving without the government being intertwined with the PRI, -- as well as the latter's insistence on sustaining a presidentialist regimen which has lost support and its raison d'etre-- further undermines Onáte's credibility.

Whatever the case may be, the new PRI president has only just debuted in his post and is already being demanded to confront a reactivated post-electoral problem in Tabasco. The Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) released a communique dated August 20, 1995, in which, according to the office's inquiries, documentary evidence discovered that current governor Roberto Madrazo far exceeded campaign spending limits of four million new pesos, as established by the State of Tabasco Electoral Act. Elections results were officially verified on November 20, 1994. The evidence, presented during a lawsuit filed by the party of the Democratic Revolution and its would-be governor, Manuel Lo'pez Obrador, demonstrated that the PRI spent 237 million new pesos, an amount equal to the city budgets of all municipalities in the state.

For many, the PGR's communique (the Attorney General is careful not to mention the governor by name) puts many high-level state functionaries --including Madrazo himself-- in a compromosing position. Santiago On'ate has noted that criminal law doesn't provide for the removal of the governor, an opinion contrary to those voiced by the PRD, the Tabasco Catholic church and even some members of the National Action Party (PAN). These sectors feel that Madrazo should resign his post to allow for follow-up on the investigation and that the elections which carried Madrazo to the state's governorship should be annuled and new elections called. The Tabasco government's response, as well as that of groups in power, was immediate. The governor filed a constitutional lawsuit which charges the Attorney General and the Chief Executive himself of violating the Constitution and the federal pact, alleging that the federal investigatio wounds the principles of state sovereignty and autonomy. The case, alleges Madrazo, falls exclusively under state jurisdiction.

The foregoing topic is still under discussion. There is no doubt that Roberto Madrazo should be impeached; or that, rather, he --or in the worst case, several of his collaborators-- should resign.

On top of the Tabasco case (or "Tabascogate", as it is called in the Mexican press), the appearance of an August 22 newspaper announcement by the PAN and PRD puts further pressure on On'ate. Surprisingly, the ad puts forth a PAN-PRD joint proposal for ten points toward electoral reform. (It must be remembered that electoral reform is only one of the aspects of the Political and State Reform proposed by the government itself.) The following points stand out: independence of electoral agencies, equal access to the communications media, campaign spending limits, reactivation of political associations (uprooted by Salinas' Federal Code for Electoral Institutes and Procedures (Cofipe), enacted as part of his eletoral reform package), legislation for the right to reply to attacks, obligatory public debates, etc.

The document signed by the PRI and PAN has been derided by PRI leadership, which considers that "some points are interesting and others very general" and that (as it now turns out) "the PAN-PRI proposal falls short because it touches upon only the electoral topic whereas Political Reform is much broader." In this way, the PRI has put down an initiative which is attempting not to exhaust the theme of political reform, but rather to untie preliminary knots at the negotiation table.

Of course, the PRI party president has reiterated that his party has "at no time withdrawn from the table." For negotiations to work, according to On'ate, depends on the PRD and PAN, since debate between the parties continues in the Federal Electoral Commission (IFE), the maximum electoral agency, and in the Congress.

In its typically cynical pat-your-own-back fashion, the PRI has exempted itself from responsibility, proclaiming itself a democratic force to friends and foes alike. For the moment, the Interior Secretary has stated that political reform is still under way.

Besides the progress in the Tabasco case and the joint PRD-PAN proposal, a recent PRD initiative further encourages the long- awaited process of democratic transition. During the PRD's Third Congress (which wound up on August 27), the party called for an "intense offensive" toward national political dialog between all political forces in the country.

To top it all off, the National Consultation for Peace and Democracy, held on August 27, enjoyed a successful outcome, despite its being underpublicized. The Consultation tallied up two million votes nation-wide. The main results were: on the first question, which queried whether agreement exists concerning the most pressing social demands (housing, employment, education, etc.) 97% came out on the "yes" side. On question number two, which asked if democratic forces should unite themselves in a broad front, 92% answered "yes". The third question, which turned on the need for profound political reform, met with a response of 95% for the affirmative. On the fourth, which literally asked "Should the EZLN become a new, independent political force, without joining other political forces?" 56.2% responded "yes", 34.9%, "no" and the remaining 8.9% "didn't know". On the fifth question, which proposed that the EZLN should united itself to already existing political forces, the trend was 43.4% for "yes" and 48.3% for "no". Finally, with respect to the sixth question on equitable participation of women, 93.3% answered "yes".

The government itself, speaking through the Interior Secretary, recognized that the Consultation is an important step towards democracy (August 28). In spite of this, several PRI sectors have opined in the press and other electronic media that Consultation results spell the end of the EZLN. These opinions falsely attempt to maintain the Chiapas conflict at the margin of the national agenda. Nevertheless, social and civic organizations, as well as millions of citizens, in particular, feel that the Consultation was an important step toward achieving peace in Chiapas and the country. Many citizens also feel that any attempt to democratize the country must first go through Chiapas; that is, the conflict in the border state is part of that national agenda. Therefore, the indigenous peoples of not only Chiapas, but all Mexico, must participate in political --or whatever type of-- reform, as established at the National Conference for Peace, held in Mexico City on August 29, 1995.

The PRI and the government's response to citizen and party initiatives remains to be seen. The ladies and gentlemen of the PRI and governmental institutions can no longer claim that civil society lacks political will.

Javier Medina Ibarra
Translated by David Crow
Fronteras Comunes