Letter From Mexico City

The following is a letter from a Mexican comrade. For another writing project, I wrote him to ask about the specifics of the “neo-liberal” phase of capitalism in Mexico since the 1970s, and the role in it of Carlos Salinas, as Mexican president from 1988 to 1994, and subsequently. Despite the letter format, footnotes are added to explain references that may not be clear to readers outside Mexico.

Carlos Salinas (de Gortari) is an evil genius of the generation of Menem–Fujimori–Salinas[1]; I think he was more subtle. Recently, speaking to the press, he said, with his usual cynicism: “I'm going to have to see a plastic surgeon to get this smile off my face,” referring to the PRI[2] triumph at the polls in July.

To this day, he continues to dominate the destiny of Mexico, now that the PRI has "returned" with Salinas. The presidential election was controlled by drug money, through the wholesale purchase of votes among the most wretched and degraded parts of the population, in exchange for food in supermarkets and building materials, by threats, and by the corporate control of the unions, of businesses, of government offices, of the army and the police, and/or just by outright theft of ballot boxes, and the absolute domination of TV and of the companies engaged in false electoral “polls.” The "left" (which we cannot even call “social democratic”, because that would be too radical) has re-negotiated for control of the country in tradeoffs for positions in the PRI government and in areas of influence (such as Mexico City, governed by the PRD,[3] with Marcelo Ebrard, a former comrade of Salinas)… leaving the "hopes" of "the people" in AMLO (popular tag of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD), a leader who seems to be a religious symbol…

Salinas has been the leading "revolutionary" of Mexican neo-liberalism. During the period of his predecessor, Miguel de la Madrid (1983–88), Salinas and his group were the ideologues and engineers of the country as it emerged from the ruins of the debt crisis of the 80s and during the “neo-liberal” PRI periods (de la Madrid / Salinas / Zedillo) and the two PAN[4] presidencies (Fox / Calderon).[5] It was a bi-partisan government ordered by Washington, during which there were three electoral frauds against the nationalist / populist / “anti neo-liberal” presidential candidates: in 1988 against Cardenas[6]; in 2006 against AMLO; in 2012 once again against AMLO. This is why the official left calls the neo-liberal governments the “PRIAN” (PRI+PAN) regime. Nonetheless, the various dispersed groups of the radical left include the party of the official left (PRD) inside the same system responsible for neo-liberalism: PRI-PAN-PRD. On the latter party, we should add that, although opportunism and cretinism have led the PRD to betray its political leader (AMLO), which gave the party national relevance, both the PRD and AMLO represented the same reformist and nationalist left which has been superseded by history and by world events. This left, whose leaders mainly come from the PRI as well as from the old Stalinist and socialist parties, has spent a good part of its energies wiping out any notion of class struggle and world capitalist crisis in its doctrine and its political platform (to the extent that they have one). They continue being the same dogmatists they always were, except that now they knock themselves out trying to touch the moon from a treetop: they make no mention of the crisis which is rocking the developed capitalist world, but on the other hand fall all over themselves not to get involved with strikes.

The elections of 1994 and 2000 did not require massive fraud (only minor fraud, which perhaps should not be called fraud, but perhaps traditional controls); the population was convinced by the campaign of "fear" and, in 2000, by the euphoria of the end of PRI and of "democratic change" with the arrival of the PAN government. The 2012 election was a combination of the above-mentioned corporate fraud of Mafia controls carried out at the top. Nonetheless, to be faithful to reality, we have to recognize that large sections of the population voted for the PRI, influenced by a kind of nostalgia for the PRI governments (the state party regime that governed the country for 75 years); these sectors of the population share the false hope that, with the return of the PRI, “social peace” will return, with the argument that the PRI will know how to negotiate with the drug cartels. On this point we have to underscore the seamless ideological triumph of capitalism, since individualism, cynicism and opportunism have become the dominant personal and political praxis.

Thus, the 30 years between 1982 and 2012 constitute one single period, achieved through the PRI-PAN alliance, by both selective and mass disappearances of people, electoral fraud, a generational change in the arrival of youth with no future and who have adapted to a degraded situation, by changes in the curricula of schools, eliminating historical consciousness (even in its bourgeois, constitutional, liberal, nationalist, etc., forms), by the effects of the fall of the USSR and the demise of socialism as a political reference, and by the buying of the opposition and finally by corporate control of the entire state apparatus to make a functional and profitable "neo-liberalism" (hence my reluctance to use the term). For example, the reduction of the economic variable “wages” was achieved in less time than it took with the Pinochet regime, through an active (or, better said, repressive) participation of the state, in coordination with the unions, all in order to make Mexico an international maquiladora[7] center.

The trade liberalization policy, aimed at attracting foreign investment, as well as privatization, were introduced by de la Madrid in 1982 in order to pay off foreign debt after the fall of oil prices crashed the country into insolvency; the IMF and World Bank imposed their unhinged privatization program and Mexico's entry into the GATT.[8] Nevertheless, Mexico was, for a moment, in one of the strongest positions in its history on the world stage: it was the debtor that could destroy the global financial system if it declared a moratorium on payments. But the miserable Mexican bourgeoisie, under the thumb of the United States, chose instead to boycott other debtor countries and OPEC. The Mexican bourgeoisie chose to take the crumbs of the masters with its servile attitude, and it was apparently Salinas who pulled this off: the debt arrangements (the so-called Brady bonds[9]) and the “NAFTA”[10] label, which took Mexico out of Latin America and into "North America" and the First World.

It was a business plan but one resulting in no investment. The plan aimed at attracting investment, and domestic industry was shattered; the countryside expelled millions of peasants who went to work in US agriculture, creating a safety valve by leaving the country with fewer people unemployed, and by sending back dollars to their villages. This phenomenon achieved a magnitude that exceeded the amount of foreign direct investment and which was only slightly less than the income from oil exports. In other words, the agricultural proletariat subsidized the failed neo-liberal experiment of the white and mestizo Mexican bourgeoisie, which has always hated its people, both as proletarians and by their race. The country was polarized in every way, by social class, by region and by city.

Investment created export poles and growing economic sectors, while entire other sectors, effectively the majority, collapsed. The Salinas myth was sustained by the massive entry of fly-by-night capital which created a fictitious expansion and won over the middle classes, sections of the labor aristocracy and even all those people who, contrary to the principles of historical materialism, give more credence to what they are told by tradition, by the Church and by TV than they do to the obvious reality of their own screaming hunger pangs.

Salinas called it a Chinese model, namely economic reform without political reform, or at least a gradual political reform which would make possible a smooth transition to the alternation of parties in power, as it was worked out with the PAN, in order to avoid a Soviet suicide of the Gorbachev type. In fact, many of Salinas's cadres had been Maoists in their youth, another irony of history. But NAFTA was also the result of a gigantic geopolitical movement set in motion by the collapse of the Soviet bloc, which greatly frightened Salinas and his team, because they saw Russia, China and the countries of Eastern Europe as new competitors.

Salinas wagered on radicalizing and then anchoring his neo-liberalism by proposing, or better still, begging the United States to give him NAFTA. This came down to the Mexican bourgeoisie begging the United States to expand its own domination of the continent. The American bourgeoisie compared NAFTA with the Louisiana Purchase.[11] (Al Gore dixit).

Picking up the thread of this chaotic letter, it was on a night of insomnia and anxiety in Davos (Switzerland) where, every year, the political leaders of the bourgeoisie meet, that Salinas, at midnight, awakened his advisors to make up a plan by the next day and to pressure the US representatives to obtain NAFTA. The recent events around the fall of the Iron Curtain became a spur to Mexican politics. Mexico was claiming in this way to buy life insurance, throwing itself at the master's feet. This was amplified by the ties between the Bush and Salinas families, a point on which the Mexican Larouchites are certainly right, since they have always denounced the pact between Bush and Salinas as a pact of the mafia drug cartel.

Thus time has, on one hand, shown up the “dynamic” Salinista leaders for what they are, and on the other hand it showed that Mexico had in fact not purchased a life insurance policy. NAFTA was a pact with a declining hegemon; world capitalist competition intensified virulently (in a short time, China displaced Mexico as a US trading partner and Chinese workers turned out to be even cheaper than Mexican workers!); the fly-by-night capital fled in 1994 not because of the Zapatista rebellion, nor because of the assassination of Colosio,[12] the presidential candidate, but simply because the Federal Reserve Bank raised interest rates; in this way, in one year, Salinista splendor went up in smoke; there was a settling of accounts, but the “Salinista-neo-liberal” model was in place.

In addition, there was a strengthening of the economic sector which offered the country growth and a political solution via a low-intensity civil war: the narco-traffic and the “war on drugs,” a way of carrying out genocide on the unemployed youth who were unable to find a way out by emigrating to the United States and so found it in the narco-traffic; it was also a way of spreading fear in the population and murdering any political opposition behind the smokescreen of generalized violence and the lucrative traffic in weaponry which American companies provide in shops all along the border, for the convenience of the mafias and the Mexican para-military groups.

A beautiful story, isn't it? It's so beautiful that I'm crying writing these lines (and this is no literary metaphor), buried as I feel in the worst kind of impotence and personal and political frustration. I've told you this many times, but now I'm saying it, speaking not for myself but for all those young people in the 132 movement,[13] the Mexican “indignants” who never went into the streets until this year, and for whom I feel the greatest respect and admiration; I don't care, for now, that they are neither communists nor anything close. I'm telling you about a rage drowned in impotence, a pain and fear which is not just mine, but that of many Mexicans. I can't go on with this letter and I really feel very bad: what the future holds for Mexico is an inferno.

A hug!

  1. [1] Carlos Menem was the president of Argentina championing neo-liberalism in the 1990s; Alberto Fujimoro was president of Peru in the same period doing the same thing, while crushing the Shining Path guerrillas.
  2. [2] Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the party which ruled Mexico as a virtual one-party state from 1930 to 2000.
  3. [3] Partido Revolucionario Democratico, the official “left” opposition, headed by former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (“AMLO”), against which serious vote fraud was carried out in both 2006 and 2012.
  4. [4] Partido de Accion Nacional, a perennial also-ran for decades as a right opposition to the PRI, finally had its moment with the neo-liberal era and ruled for 12 years, from 2000 to 2012.
  5. [5] Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, the two PAN presidents from 2000 to 2012.
  6. [6] Cuauhtémoc Cardenas, PRD candidate for president in 1988 and the son of Lazaro Cardenas, the famous left-populist president from 1934 to 1940, who built Mexico's corporatist system. The 1988 election was widely believed to have been stolen from Cardenas by the PRI.
  7. [7] The maquiladoras are factories built right along the US border, with special tax status, a precarious fly-by-night existence, and horrendous working conditions enforced by thugs, for easy access to the US market.
  8. [8] General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, established after World War II to bring down tariff barriers to international trade; it was renamed the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the 1990s.
  9. [9] “Brady bonds” were created by the US official Nicholas Brady to convert uncollectible Latin American debt into long-term bonds, to calm creditors during the post-1982 Latin American credit crisis.
  10. [10] The North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico, pushed through the US Congress in 1993 by Bill Clinton.
  11. [11] Cf. on this the book of John Fernandez-Saxe, La compra-venta de Mejico (The Sell-Off of Mexico). Fernandez-Saxe is a spokesman for oil nationalism, and of course, a bourgeois.
  12. [12] Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta, the PRI presidential candidate in 1994 who was assassinated during the electoral campaign and replaced by Eduardo Zedillo. Colosio had made a widely-publicized speech criticizing the policies of his PRI predecessor, Carlos Salinas, and Salinas was widely believed to be behind the assassination, though he was never convicted.
  13. [13] The “YoSoy132” (“I am 132”) movement, made up mainly of students, erupted in Mexico during the May electoral campaign, calling for a democratization of the mass media and denouncing the mediatized imposition of Enrique Peña Nieto as the winner of the election.


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