Three Mexican Governors Discuss the Future of Their Country

Three Mexican Governors Discuss the Future of Their Country

From left: Geoffrey Garrett, Manuel Andrade, Lazaro Cardenas, and Juan Carlos Romero.

Overflow crowd hear governors from three parties speak on the new pluralism and Mexico's place in a globalized world.

Some 150 people crowded a Royce Hall meeting room October 26 to hear the governors of three of Mexico's states, from three rival political parties, discuss the present and future of their nation. About sixty more waited outside in the hallways during most of the long meeting hoping for a chance to get into the standing-room-only hall.

The panelists were

The meeting was sponsored by the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations. It was moderated by Geoffrey Garrett, vice provost and dean of the UCLA International Institute who is also director of the Burkle Center. It opened with introductions by Jose Luis Romero-Hicks, an advisor to Mexican President Vicente Fox. The governors spoke in Spanish to the heavily Spanish-speaking audience, with simultaneous translation over headphones provided for those who needed it.

A central point of the discussions was the dramatic and still ongoing transition in Mexico from the 71 years of one-party rule under the PRI to the emergence of a true multiparty system. In the recent past every state governor came from the PRI. Today in the 31 states and the Federal District the PRI retains a little more than half, with 18 governors, while the PAN has 9 and the PRD has 5. And of course, the PAN's Vicente Fox won the presidency in 2000, the first non-PRI candidate to hold that office since 1910.

Geoffrey Garrett in his introduction referred to the states of Mexico as "the laboratories of the change in Mexico" and "places that are very rich in experimentation."

Each of the three governors, who say they are friends and work together despite their political differences, made an opening statement. Juan Carlos Romero of Guanajuato in central Mexico said that a pressing need is to "strengthen agreements and legality in many institutions." He pointed to improvements in free speech in his state and the new right to put referendums on the ballot.

Manuel Andrade, PRI governor of Tabasco on the tropical Gulf of Mexico coast in the east of the country -- which he said "really does produce the peppers for hot sauce" --defended the record of his party, but acknowledged faults that had led to the popular reaction against it:

"We are living an important transition in Mexico. There was a change, an important one, after a party, my own party, over 70 years governed this country. It did good things, it formed institutions. It created an important progress and it built a lot of the changes that the country had. And undoubtedly, so many years in power made the PRI a little bit arrogant. It stopped listening to the people. We thought we were going to be there for a lifetime in the federal government and it made us stop acknowledging the mistakes."

He said that all the political parties are focused too much on the immediate future and the next election and that "We have to be thinking about the capacity to plan from here to twenty or fifteen years, what we are going to do with our country."

Tabasco is the second producer of oil in the country and the main producer of natural gas, but has been geographically isolated from the rest of the country until comparatively recently. "For the first time in 1965 we had a road that would connect us with the rest of the country. We are not talking about three centuries ago but forty years ago."

Lazaro Cardenas is named for his grandfather, Mexico's great reforming President Lazaro Cardenas, who held the presidency from 1934 to 1940. President Cardenas won fame for nationalizing the country's oil resources. The current Lazaro Cardenas's father, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, founded the PRD and was its presidential candidate in three elections. Where the PAN generally criticizes the PRI from the right, the PRD does so from the left. Still, Cardenas told the audience, the three governors "are friends and we agree on a lot of the issues."

He said the transition to a more democratic, multiparty system is still not complete. "Our democracy, even on the electoral process, is very recent. I hope that it gets more consolidated and I believe that in order to consolidate it we need to look at the reasons why the PRI system was declining, because of the authoritarian system. But the final crisis had to do with the lack of response to the population on issues that had to do with everyday life, the economy, the quality of life."

Cardenas cautioned that democracy and free speech alone will not solve Mexico's problems. "In addition to elections we need to show efficiency. . . . Right now we have a big responsibility to show that plurality and diversity, the presence of different political parties in the government and in the congress, does not equate to the country not going forward."

Does the New Political Diversity Lead to Gridlock?

Moderator Geoffrey Garrett asked Juan Carlos Romero of Guanajuato if the new divisions in the legislature in Mexico are blocking President Fox from implementing his reform mandate.

The governor of Guanajuato, which is Fox's home state, responded, "There is no party in Mexico that concentrates more than 40% of the voters and this forces us to come to agreements. And we have to remembers that President Fox won with only 43.5% of the votes."

Romero added that the changes in political allegiance that have been unrolling since the national defeat of the PRI in 2000 are still tumultuous. "Last year we had intermediate elections in Guanajuato in which of the 46 municipalities, 26 changed political parties, close to 60%." In contrast, he said, in some parts of the country the change from long-term PRI dominance has not yet begun. "There are an enormous number of people who have not lived the alternative yet."

Romero did not think any party would emerge with a clear majority in the near future. "Since 1997 no political party has had a majority in the House of Representatives. Since 2000 no political party has had a majority in the Senate. So we have to learn to recognize diversity for its possibilities and not as a tolerated evil." Romero's PAN, the PRI, and the PRD currently command 90% of the vote. He added that there are three smaller parties that divide the remaining 10%.

Governor Romero pointed to the positive side of the multi-party situation:

"This is the first time that we have a real congress, that we have governors, the first time in a long time that we have an independent judicial system. . . . And it is the first time ever in Mexico that we have free media. However, and let me say this respectfully, we have gone from lack of freedom to sometimes the excess of the media. Not everything is perfect, not everything is bad. Those who say that everything is wrong are lying, because that is not the case."

What Way Forward for the Mexican Economy?

Geoffrey Garrett asked Governors Andrade and Cardenas to talk about their economic strategy, noting that "economic growth in Mexico has been flat over a two-decade period."

Manuel Andrade responded, "We are going through a process in which everything is being questioned and revised. . . . Certain parts of Mexico are highly developed and financially very strong. Right now you know that the states in northern Mexico, they are trying to create a type of organization similar to the European Union in order to associate with the U.S. states at the border to be able to have a relationship as a development area that will allow us to have agreements with other countries."

In the post-September 11 world, he said, Mexico's comparative safety and stability would be an important asset. Before September 11, he said, Latin American governments were brought down under pressure from international financial institutions for refusing to accept economic guidelines the developed countries wanted to impose on them. He gave the example of several governmental changes in Argentina. "But after September 11 what is making a country valuable is safety. The state or the country that guarantees safety is the country that is going to have a future."

Lazaro Cardenas commented that emigration has created profound economic ties between the United States, especially California, and his state of Michoacan. "2.5 million from Michoacan are emigrants," he said. "4 million remain in Michoacan. In the case of California we think it is probably 1.5 million people from Michoacan. The remittances sent to Michoacan last year from the United States were almost $1.7 billion, $1.685 billion in remittances that we have a record for. We estimate that it is much more that arrives. . . . So there is an element there that makes the relationship with the United States and California a fundamental essential relationship."

The Left Can't Reject Globalization

Lazaro Cardenas said that a successful economic strategy for Mexico by the political left cannot simply reject globalization but must adapt to it. "Globalization is not something that we can be in favor of or against. It is a reality of life that has to do with the economy, with technology, with the media, and with the flow of people. That is where the left, in my view, has to make its own principles prevail. How are we going to participate in the globalization process?"

He criticized Mexico's initial response to globalization. "We thought the closeness plus the cheaper labor in Mexico compared to the United States was going to be enough. But I believe that the correct proposal is investment in technology, investment in higher education, investment in infrastructure in the interior of the country."

Governor Cardenas gave an example of a bad adaptation to globalization. "In my own state of Michoacan there is a fertilizer plant, the largest in Latin America. The supplies for that plant are produced by the nation. The country produces sulphuric rock, it produces ammonia, natural gas, but strangely enough, because of the lack of an industrial policy that looks at integrating all the links in the productive chain, ammonia is sold to the national industry at a very high price, above what would be reasonable, at a price determined by the market in Tampa, Florida. And in Tampa ammonia is not produced. And so, unspeakably, it is sold there at high prices so when it is disbursed back to the national economy it stops being competitive." The result, he said, is that the main Mexican ammonia plant is closing down because its prices are too high for its potential domestic customers.

"Mexico," Cardenas said, "has to have an industrial policy that is not against the reality of globalization. This has nothing to do with protectionist policies."

Asked if he thought American investment in Mexico was a good thing, Lazaro Cardenas replied, "A country needs to take a chance to become more productive and it needs the capital from elsewhere, it doesn't matter where. If it contributes to job creation, contributes to creating productive chains or to the country's advancement, this is all welcome."

The more conservative Andrade won a big round of applause when he added, "We like U.S. investment, but not that they pick us as a sweatshop only."

Trade Blocs and a Union of the Americas

Asked about prospects for a union of the Americas similar to the European Union, Juan Carlos Romero responded:

"The Mexican economy may be the most open economy in the world. It has over 30 free trade agreements and the political intention is a more open economy even than the U.S. economy. There are more protectionist policies in the U.S. than in Mexico."

He criticized the existing NAFTA and other free trade agreements because they "are about goods and services, but not about people." The number one issue in bilateral talks, he said, "is the immigration issue." In the next agreement, Romero concluded, "we should forget about goods and talk about people instead."

A Dinner for the Governors

Later that evening the Burkle Center hosted a dinner for the three governors at the Beverly Hills Hotel. There California State Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, chair of the Assembly's Latino Legislative Caucus, presented framed certificates to each of the governors. In addition to many figures from Mexico and the Mexican-American community, the mayors of several predominantly Latino cities in the Los Angeles area attended, including the mayors of the City of Commerce, Bell Gardens, and Highland Park. Burkle Center Director Geoffrey Garrett chaired the event, noting that UCLA and particularly its International Institute, has many links with Mexican universities, and that there are currently 130 students in Latin American Studies and other degree programs at UCLA closely related to Mexico. He thanked the many people who have contributed to this work, particularly Professor James Wilkie who for many years has headed the International Institute's Program on Mexico. Los Angeles Mexican Consul General Ruben Beltran also spoke.

Published: Tuesday, October 26, 2004