Saturday, June 28, 2003

The 'Weak' in (National) Review AND Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Two for one, how 'bout that! The National Review Online has a rare piece on Latin America written by Guest Commentator Mike Krause. As a specialist myself on Mexican Politics, I must say that I found the article to be perplexing, if not misleading. As far as I can tell, Krause seemed to be railing on the PRI, lamenting the ex-ruling party's possible comeback, and hoping for some good electoral fortune for current Mexican President Vicente Fox's conservative National Action Party (PAN).

First, let me start with Krause's characterization of the current day PRI. He paints the PRI as a party of the "grassroots," allied with the Greens (enviros), and still true to its "socialist roots." By this description, one would get the impression that the PRI is a lefty (perhaps center-lefty) party. Actually, the party is much more complex and cannot be described in such simplistic terms. It is true that the PRI has had its socialist moments, but it has also been very corporatist and conservative, too. Defining the party by ideology - any ideology - is a wrong-headed way to think of the PRI. A better way is to think of the party's operational characteristic as opportunist and cooptive - communists and capitalists have all been able to find a home in the party. In point of fact, since the 1980s, the dominant wing of the PRI has been more properly economically neoliberal and socially conservative (at least by Mexican standards) than perhaps even the current PANista Fox Administration. After all, it was the PRI of de la Madrid, Salinas, and Zedillo that led Mexico to embrace neoliberal economic reform. And one should not forget that the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) was created and led by the more socialist-leaning members of the PRI, who - one might say - were "purged" from the PRI by the ascendant conservative, neoliberal, technocratic wing of the party. So, if ideology were relevant in characterizing the PRI of today, it would in my opinion be more a party of the center right rather than one of the center left.

Second, Krause relates his drive through the countryside of Mexico as being dominated by the PRI propaganda machine. Krause should recognize that the PRI is not the currently ruling party, and so its "campaign investments" in the countryside cannot properly be considered the result of graft or corruption emanating from some misuse of state funds. This was certainly true in the past, when the PRI controlled the Presidency and the state treasury, but doesn't make much sense under a PAN presidency. If it is true that the Fox administration is doling out federal money to the PRI-dominant countryside states (and state budgets are almost exclusively dependent on federal executive largesse), then it would be folly to assume that Fox would allow such state resources to be used for the political gain of his electoral opponents. Thus, one must assume either that the near exclusive PRI-presence that Krause notes in the countryside is because the PRI is concentrating its own legitimate campaign resources in these areas or that it is because Fox is a fool. I don't think the latter, so I must then go with the former. For Krause to thus conflate past PRI misuse of state funds to its current campaign strategy is somewhat dishonest. Besides which, if Krause believes that Mexico's is experiencing a vibrant nascent democracy, even a PRI victory at the national level in the next presidential election is not likely to witness a return to the blatant misappropriation of state funds for party use that characterized past PRI behavior.

Third, I don't know what Mexico Krause has been to recently, but in the Mexico that I've visited recently, Fox is nowhere near riding a wave of popularity as Krause suggests. There is more disillusionment among Mexicans about Fox and his inability to deliver what he has promised than at any point in his presidency to date. Fox's honeymoon with the Mexican people ended a good while ago. And my money is that this will be reflected in the recent upcoming elections.

Finally, If PAN does make any gains in this election, it will likely be in spite of Fox rather than because of him. Fox may fashion himself a PANista, but let's not forget that it is his own party that has raised some of the most vocal opposition to many of his policy initiatives.

I happen to think that the answer to Octavio Paz's question will never truly be answered until the PRI can come back to power through a free and fair election, and can demonstrate that it is truly committed to playing by the new rules of the game.

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