July 14, 2000


Watch Out For The Fox In The Hen House

By Saul Landau

US pundits and government figures gush over Vicente Fox's victory last Sunday as if Mexicans had elected Abraham Lincoln's reincarnation as their new president. Fox represents the right of center PAN, National Action Party. He stands for NAFTA, corporate globalization and extending the invasion of foreign capital into Mexico. PAN contains religious Catholics and a Falangist wing as well - a clone of Francisco Franco's gang in Spain. The different sectors agree only that the egregious corruption that has characterized Mexico for seven decades under the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, must go.

PRI rule institutionalized not revolution, as its name suggests, but corruption and, more important, a horrifically skewed pattern of income distribution. Mexico has twenty plus billionaires and 60 million desperately poor people! The PRI loss offers Mexicans a possibility to reclaim some of their lost rights, but not the property stolen from them by the elite. Fox has not promised to redistribute wealth.

I'm glad PRI lost, but make no mistake: Vicente Fox does not represent democracy. Rather, he stands for clean government, which is not the same as democracy. On the contrary, the multinational corporations, who savor Fox's victory, feel more secure. They have invested billions in maquilas, export factories located along mostly on the US border. Fox will guarantee them continued access to cheap labor, lax environmental monitoring and low taxes. But he will also lower their "security" costs.

Fox a former Coca Cola executive, understands corporate needs. His victory doesn't mean that Pepsi sales will plummet, but rather that multinationals will transfer their costs paid for private — read bribery, theft, anti-kidnapping and extortion protection — to the state. Under Fox, they hope, the majority of poor Mexicans will pick up the security costs.

Over ten million Mexicans have been forced to leave their land over the last three decades. Most have migrated to border cities like Juarez and Tijuana, where they, their wives and teenage children got jobs in the maquilas. Fox has not pledged to build decent housing for this new factory class; nor has he or his Party initiated the social services desperately needed by the new working class. Seventy percent of Juarez's street remain unpaved. Many houses must "steal" electricity from the power line. Occasionally, a man touches the wrong wire and gets fried.

In addition, the PAN has done precious little about the fragile social fabric that has resulted from the maquila boom. Over the past four years, in Juarez, hundreds of young maquila workers have been kidnapped, raped and mutilated. Indeed, in 1998 the PAN governor belittled this wave of murder and lost the women's vote - and the Governorship.

Nor is Fox and his PAN likely to create conditions propitious for labor organizing. In states where PAN governors have ruled over the last decade, like Chihuahua and Baja California, capitalism has barely stayed on the windy side of the law. In the Han Young strike in Tijuana, according to David Bacon, Baja's PAN government defied Federal court orders, which upheld the union's right to strike. Just last week, PAN authorities brought in police and strikebreakers to beat strikers in full view of state and federal labor officials.

In Chiapas, outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo maintained a 60,000 man occupation army. Fox has promised to grant limited autonomy to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, who represent hundreds of thousands of indigenous peasants. By keeping his word, Fox will gain world prestige and relieve a tense situation in Mexico.

But, keep close watch on our southern neighbor. PRI functionaries will not go gently into the proverbial night and Fox is no Lincoln, so treat skeptically the praise over Mexico's "democratic triumph" emanating from establishment sources.

Saul Landau is the Hugh O. LaBounty Chair of Interdisciplinary Applied Knowledge at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He can be contacted at www.csupomona.edu/~slandau.

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