"Where is Mexico Headed?"
Camacho Solís (left) walks through
Sproul Plaza with Professor Harley Shaiken,
the Chair of the Center for Latin American Studies,
on their way to the talk.
on this event by Eugenio Urquiza Fernández
a Game for Angels
the aftermath of the contested presidential election, Mexico
faces a crisis of legitimacy that will test the capacity
of its institutions. So argued Manuel Camacho Solís
in his Berkeley talk. Speaking just a few weeks after the
Electoral Tribunal formally declared Felipe Calderón
of the National Action Party (PAN) president-elect, Camacho
Solís — who served as the primary political
strategist for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)
candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador — repeatedly
emphasized the need to move forward to solve the crisis rather
than to rehash who was at fault.
that Mexico is so closely divided — the election was
decided by .5 percent of the electorate with both the PAN
and the PRD receiving roughly 35 percent of the vote — the
ruling party must take into account the concerns of the people
represented by López Obrador. Camacho Solís
presented two alternate futures for Mexico. In the first,
the institutions of government fail to cope with the conflict,
resulting in a descent into “confrontation, instability,
institutional paralysis, lack of economic growth, anarchy…” In
the second, more hopeful, scenario the political crisis prompts
real reform. This reform, according to Camacho Solís,
would need to occur in four areas: democracy, economic growth,
social justice and honesty in government.
Solís presented several concrete ideas as to how Mexican
democracy should be reformed. To start with, he argued that
the process by which people are appointed to the Electoral
Tribunal must be changed if that body is to have legitimacy.
Under the current system, two parties are able to join forces
to create a majority and successfully nominate members of
the Tribunal without the participation of the third party.
In this case, the PAN and the Institutional Revolution Party
(PRI) were able to push through their nominees, and the PRD
had no representatives on the Tribunal. Camacho Solís
insisted that in a close election a Tribunal created without
the input of the country’s second largest party cannot
hope to be seen as legitimate.
funding is another issue that must be addressed. This year’s
election was awash in money of dubious provenance which,
according to Camacho Solís, mostly benefited the PAN.
More money was spent per capita than in the United States,
and this in a country with an economy only 5 percent the
size of that of the U.S. Camacho Solís suggested that
using public funds for the elections in imitation of the
European model was a way to avoid the corruption that big
concentration was repeatedly criticized by Camacho Solís
as incompatible with true democracy. In Mexico, two companies
monopolize television, and both depend on the government
for lucrative contracts, giving the incumbent a huge advantage.
Solís asserted that his candidate was not seen on
TV and couldn’t get air time to respond to attacks
against him. He excoriated the current system saying, “Soviet-type
television in a country that presumes to be democratic does
not help to legitimize politics.”
move from a strictly presidential to a semi-parliamentary
system of government was also suggested by the speaker. In
a three-party country as evenly divided as Mexico, it is
almost a given that the president’s party will be unable
to form a majority in congress. The president is then “obliged
by the structure of the institutions to use illegal means
to maintain control of the country.” Among the “illegal
means” decried by Camacho Solís are the use
of budget funds to control the media and the giving of concessions
to various groups to get crucial support on important votes.
A semi-parliamentary system would mitigate these evils by
facilitating the creation of coalitions which would be able
to form a majority in congress.
Mexico is to extricate itself from its current crisis, economic
development is key. The economy has stagnated for the last
25 years, and even now, when international economic conditions
are in Mexico’s favor, jobs remain scarce. If Mexico
isn’t soaring when oil is at three times its average
historic price, interest rates are low and remittances totaling
$20 billion are pouring in, what can be done? Camacho Solís
contended that growth could be achieved by increasing competition,
reducing monopolies and improving the quality of government.
He also pointed to the lack of available credit as a problem
hindering development and stressed that the government should
invest in education, science and technology in order to take
part in the knowledge economy.
Obrador rose to prominence because he articulated the needs
of the poor and the marginalized. Camacho Solís urged
the PAN not to let their narrow electoral victory blind them
to the needs of the people that the PRD candidate represented.
He advocated a system based on the Chilean model where sound
macroeconomic policies are balanced with social investment
in areas such as health and education. While acknowledging
that Mexico cannot afford a social welfare system like that
of the EU, he insisted that there must be a “floor” or
minimum level of welfare that is ensured by “some kind
of scheme of social justice.” He did not elaborate
on what that scheme would entail.
Camacho Solís addresses the overflow crowd in
the Maude Fife Room, speaking about politics and the
future in Mexico in the aftermath of the disputed July
corruption impedes the development of democracy in Mexico.
There are no restrictions on conflict of interest or influence
peddling, and members of congress openly work for private
interests instead of the public good, he maintained. Government
needs to “recover a sense of austerity and honorability
and ethics” before it will be viewed as legitimate
by its citizens.
acknowledging that the current crisis is the worst he has
experienced in many years in government, Camacho Solís
maintained that reform in these four key areas would be enough
to convince the public that the institutions of government
can still function. The campaign and the post-electoral crisis
have had a polarizing effect on Mexico. However, Camacho
Solís pointed to an MIT study which found that voters
were less influenced by their membership in a particular
social class than by the political history of their state
as evidence that the country is not as divided as political
speechmakers would have it. These divisions could become
deeply entrenched, he warned, if the crisis is not solved,
or if the government uses repression to contain dissent.
the question and answer session, Camacho Solís underlined
his support for a peaceful resolution to the crisis wherein
reform would be enacted through the institutions of government.
The PRD is currently divided between those who believe that
institutional reform is possible and those who believe the
system is too corrupt to be reformed. If the PAN does not
respond to calls for reform or if it stoops to repression,
then moderates like himself will be discredited, and those
who favor more radical means will gain the upper hand, he
Solís was also asked pointed questions about his years
as a PRI operative and his role in the widely disputed 1988
presidential election. In response, he portrayed himself
as a man who has pushed for the opening of Mexican politics
from the inside, working within the existing system to create
institutions, like the Electoral Tribunal, that allowed for
ever-increasing levels of democracy. When asked point-blank
how progressives could trust former Priistas or “chameleon
politicians,” Camacho Solís responded, “Politics
is not a game for angels; it is a game for human beings… If
you want only pure symbols, you will be completely ineffective.”
can only hope that the human beings involved in Mexico’s
current political crisis will find a way out of the labyrinth
they have created.
Camacho Solís is the primary strategist for former
presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López
Obrador as well as a former presidential candidate himself.
He has been the mayor of Mexico City , a congressman and
president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
He spoke at CLAS on October 18th.
Spencer is the Outreach and Publications Coordinator at
Camacho Solís speaks with some of those in attendance
after his talk.