Amalia García Medina
"Reflections on Mexico's Transition"

October 18, 2000

Annelise Wunderlich

For Amalia Garcia Medina, the twentieth-century ended on July 2, 2000. Garcia, the president of Mexico's Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), echoes millions of Mexicans who believe that the election of Vicente Fox last summer marked the end of one political era and the start of a more authentic democracy in the next.

Amalia García Medina

But the ousted Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is far from dead, Garcia warned the crowd who came to hear her speak at McCone Hall at UC Berkley on October 18. If the PRD and Fox's National Action Party (PAN) fail to work together to plan Mexico's political future, she said, it would be business as usual for the party that controlled the government for 71 years.

"The PRI is in a terrible crisis," she said. "But if we don't come to an agreement soon the old regime will do a great deal of damage to the country."

Garcia sees Vicente Fox, the charismatic president-elect, as the key player in Mexico's transition to a new form of government. When the Mexican people flocked to the voting booths last summer, they were voting not only for Fox, Garcia said, but for change itself. But despite promises of sweeping institutional reforms, Fox has yet to prove himself as a leader capable of making those changes happen.

According to Garcia, the odds are stacked against him. Fox must confront Mexico's long history of electoral fraud and corruption at every level of the country's bureaucratic infrastructure. She said that because most of the federal budget is already tied up in ongoing expenditures, Fox will have to find other economic resources to fund his proposals.

This will also be the first time a president does not have an absolute majority in either the House or the Senate. Federal representatives are split evenly between the three major parties, Garcia said, which means that Fox will have to negotiate with all in order to get any of his initiatives approved.

His job will be further complicated by the lasting presence of PRI, which Garcia said has engaged in questionable campaign strategies to win power in several states. She was particularly concerned about the hotly contested gubernatorial elections in oil-rich Tabasco state, where PRI candidate Manuel Andrade recently edged out the PRD's candidate Cesar Oveda by a narrow margin.

As CLAS Director Harley Shaiken remarked at the beginning of the talk, Garcia made a "great personal sacrifice" to speak at Berkeley just a few hours before she had to fly back to Tabasco for a recount of votes from the October 15 elections. She and her party believe that the current Tabasco governor, Roberto Madrazo (of the PRI), may have used his influence to cheat Ovedo out of a victory that rightly belonged to the PRD. The elections hold large national implications in a country where electoral fraud has been common and the political stakes are high.

"The governor [Roberto Madrazo] is one of the most important figures in the PRI and he belongs to that part of his party that wants the past to return," Garcia said. "They will not give up until they have done everything possible to get back into congress in two years."

So far, Vicente Fox has remained silent about the election results. Garcia attributed this to his desire to consolidate his power in a state where his party, PAN, is weak. But he will have to aggressively push for institutional reform despite his party's interests, Garcia warned.

"Along with change, he [Fox] needs to prove his ability to govern," she said. "He wants to look for common ground politically." She predicted a increase in political tension during this time of transition, when the PRI is riddled with internal conflict and risks falling apart when Ernesto Zedillo leaves office in December.

According to Garcia, the PRD is uniquely positioned to mediate those tensions and to pressure Fox to overhaul the status quo-despite a poor showing in the presidential elections.

"The party was formed to fight for democracy and to challenge the PRI," she said. "We have to ask ourselves: what are our objectives now?"

In the last half of her talk, Garcia spelled out some of PRD's main priorities. The largest source of instability in Mexico, she said, is the inequality that has spawned armed resistance movements in the poorest states of the country, such as Chiapas and Guerrero.

"The new government and all political forces have the challenge of making sure that change centers not only around Vicente Fox and the parties, but also around rebuilding the country," she said, indicating that conflict will continue as long as the majority of the population lives in conditions of extreme poverty.

She also proposed forming a truth commission to investigate corruption and crimes against humanity that have so far gone unpunished--such as the killings of indigenous farmers in Acteal, Chiapas in 1997 and the student massacre in Mexico City in 1968. When a woman in the audience questioned the wisdom of uncovering the past during this time of tension and change, Garcia replied that while she recognized the need to focus on the future, some form of punishment for past wrongdoings is necessary.

"In the clearest cases, we should show that we will never again allow such gross violations of human rights." She added that Mexico "shouldn't ignore the obvious links" between the government and the drug trade in the country.

The work that lies ahead for her and her party will not be easy, Garcia admitted, but she remains optimistic. She said that for the past four months she has met with representatives of all the parties to build the foundation for the future.

"It was a torture for me because everyone smoked cigars except for me," she said with a smile. "But we have almost reached complete agreement."

Garcia, who is the first woman to ever head a major political party in Mexico, said that she won't feel at peace until the day arrives when an indigenous girl from Chiapas may be guaranteed a decent life.

"Only then can we say that things have really changed in Mexico."

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