This, of course, would represent one aspect of the resentment served to Salinas. The other aspect would be the significant impact of the economic crisis and the continued devaluation of the Peso. These things reflected on the ineptitude of a party seldom challenged as it should have been.
To most, the failures effecting the whole of the nation had marked the need for a hastening of democratic reform, which would in turn reflect quite negatively on the candidacy of the PRI candidate. In an article dated to 1988, it was characterized thusly, with report stating that “the Institutional Revolutionary Party on Sunday designated Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the budget and planning secretary in the present government, to be its presidential nominee. Getting the nomination is tantamount to being named president. The PRI, as the party is universally called here after its Spanish initials, has ruled Mexico for six decades. As Mexicos largest party and the one that funds its campaign with government money, the PRI can elect almost anyone to any post by a big margin.” This statement is offered without connotation, but offering a clear indication of a cause to reject the legitimacy of Mexican elections. Indeed, that one party is funded by public money even as it retains a dominance over industries and a hamfisted appropriation of the economy is cause for the explicit hostility faced by the electoral proposition of Salinas.
As we enter into a consideration of the election and the administration of Salinas, as well as the legacy of his initiatives, we are informed both by a history of authoritarian corruption and by a clear demand for change which could not be evaded. Mexicos history would be filled with moments of progressive interest, even under the rule of the PRI. “In time, however, one-party rule led to corruption-with some recent Mexican politicians becoming notorious for swollen Swiss bank accounts. The formation of new parties is a reaction to that corruption.” Thus, the 1988 election would represent the first real challenge to the PRIs electoral dominance, even producing the widespread belief that the PRI had in fact been defeated and had steadfastly resisted this defeat through fraud. Therefore, just as Salinas would enter office amidst a crescendo of public outrage, so too would he find himself backed into a corner and therefore driven toward the promises of reform. Here below, we will consider the conditions of the 1988 election, the repercussions of its outcome and the longstanding characteristics of the Mexican economy and political which reflect the legacy of this transitional period as well as those which persist to represent the legacy of the PRI as whole.
Part 2: The Dismantling of the PRI and Corporatism (1988-Present)
In 1988, Mexico was at a crossroads. The depth of its economic crisis, the dictatorial stronghold of its leadership and the widely accepted system of political patronage and corruption had all reached a point of crescendo. Mexicans had now long persisted in a phase of economic crisis. “The crisis produced a sharp drop in living standards for Mexicans who could not protect their incomes by investing in dollars abroad. Inflation averaged 88.4% per year during the 1982-88 period, reaching a peak of 159.2% in 1987, the year the presidential campaign began.” Within this negative context, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had long held sway over Mexican political affairs, applying a neo-liberal and counter-democratic form of oligarchic leadership which resulted in ineffective governance, a breakdown of civil services, a steadily declining economy and a graduating imbalance of proper resource distribution. The PRI was, for the first time in its history, experiencing the serious threat of democratic reform throughout the nation, with formerly suppressed opposition groups and armed guerilla movements finding empathy through the resentment of a neglected peoples. This environment fostered a closer diplomatic relationship with the liberalizing trade modes of the United States. Negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would unite the leadership of the U.S., Mexico and Canada in a global trade triangle, had begun under the auspices of bringing shared wealth to all nations thereto signed. This was paralleled by the drafting of extensive reforms in terms of human rights, concerning an acknowledged dearth of constitutional protections with regard to expressive freedom, freedom to organize politically and security from corruption in the judicial setting. Ironically, all of these occasions would transpire in the midst of one of Mexicos most bitterly contested moments of electoral and governmental authority.
Under the specter of grotesque and highly visible election fraud, Carlos Salinas de Gortari assumed the presidency under the PRI banner for a final time. His would be an administration so deeply embattled — held responsible in many ways for the mounting hostility at the only political party with power in Mexican affairs for 70 years — that it would be forced to see to a transformation of Mexico. The protest against his entrance into office was as much directed at a clear sense amongst suffering Mexicans as to the failures of the current government as to a sense of political disenfranchisement. The outcome would be an administration mired in the controversy of its entitlement to office, stricken with devastating economic obstacle and inclined by the flux of the rest of the global community toward the realization of reform. In Salinas, the collision of events would produce something of a lame duck incumbency for the ruling party, finally signaling even in its assumption of office that its identity and power would soon be irretrievably shifted. Without connotation, and to speak nothing yet of the negative impact on the people of Mexico which it may be argued has been the outcome of NAFTA, the Salinas tenure may be characterized as a transitional one, marking the end of the PRI as the uncontested party in Mexican governmental affairs and marking the orientation which it would assume both domestically and internationally in the years to come. In concurrence with the 1994 adoption of NAFTA, those skeptical of its evenhandedness included many of those who had formed parties in political opposition to Salinas.
Today, fifteen years from the orientation of Mexico toward the reforms of free trade, domestic democratic governance and foreign corporate investment, the circumstances in Mexico are dire for its numerous impoverished citizens. The ultimate removal of the PRI from executive office, with the 1996 adoption of democratic reform and the subsequent 2000 victory of National Action Party Candidate Vincente Fox opened up a new era for Mexico. Instead of bringing with it the political reform, human rights advocacy and economic fortitude promised both by globalization and by new leadership, Mexico has entered into an age of severe inner-turmoil. As its most indigent regions, invariably those populated by the disenfranchised Indian people, have suffered the brunt of this turmoil, Oaxaca is a state which microcosmically illustrates the crimes which are afflicted upon Mexico by a combination of political incompetence, misdirected corporate investment and a stubborn continuity of thuggish PRI tactics in suppressing political progress.
In the Camin text, we are offered a historically minded lamentation on the failures of Mexico, even with the disruption of the PRI, to true change. Accordingly, he offers the perspective that “the deformed daughter of the liberal projects, that society had been dreamed of fifty years before as republican, democratic, egalitarian, rational, industrious, open to innovation and progress. Fifty years later, it was oligarchic, dominated by caciques (political bosses), and authoritarian, slow, increasingly disjointed, introverted, jolted by innovation and productive changes, though still tied down by its colonial traditions.” This was a perspective that festered for many voters leading into the 1988 elections, where liberal opposition leader Cardenas, grandson of one of the idealistic founders of the PRI group, led the popular charge against Salinas and the PRI.
Polls throughout the election showed Cardenas with a meaningful lead against the incumbent party. Meanwhile, Mexico prepared for the first time to utilize a computer balloting system. This facts would conspicuously collide as it became visibly likely that the PRIs authority would soon be deeply challenged. Accordingly, we find that “the social consequences of the economic crisis, the PRIs handling of it, and the inability of most groups to influence policy essentially prepared voters to abandon traditional poses of either PRI loyalty or loyal apathy. When Cardenas looked like the most likely candidate to punish the PRI, he won much of this available protest vote.” However, his challenge would suffer the same fate as had all prior to it, with allegations of deep and conspicuous electoral fraud abounding. Just as Cardenas appeared poised for victory, the new computer ballots in operation failed, with a system crash becoming the essential metaphor for the failed government of the PRI. Nonetheless, Salinas would persist to assume the office, mired in the anger of a Mexican.