By Marcos Martínez
An organized social movement that exerts pressure over the government is the way to end corruption and establish a new national project in Mexico, said three-time Mexican leftist presidential candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas.
During a conference titled “Mexico Today: Paths to a Democratic Future”, organized by the UC Berkeley’s Center for Latin American Studies, Cárdenas said that crises and corruption are not eternal, and could be defeated if the Mexican society organizes and mobilizes. “Corruption and impunity are present more and more in government and in business,” said Cárdenas at the Booth Auditorium on UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall.
“There has to be political decision on the very top of the state and the political will to implement all those measures necessary to really eradicate corruption. That’s the only way I see. There’s no formula to make corruption disappear.”
Cárdenas said he aims to fight against these problems through his new group called “Por México Hoy” (For Mexico Today), which was officially inaugurated on October 3 in Mexico City, and has received the support of political leaders and civic organizations.
The group aims to build an organized social movement, modify the Mexican Constitution, and establish an alternative to the neoliberal hands-off economic model implemented by Mexican governments since 1982.
Cárdenas said that if his group succeeds in its goals, the current situation in Mexico could be reversed. He blamed the neoliberal economic policies for Mexico’s stagnant growth.
In the last decades, Cárdenas said, poverty and violence have increased dramatically.“Large and important economic sectors have (been) drastically reduced or disappeared. Internal markets have been left to foreign producers, and violence has expanded all over the country, ” said Cárdenas.
Cárdenas also pointed out that the economy has barely grown over the last half century. The Mexican Finance Ministry estimates that the economy will grow a mere 2 to 2.8 percent in 2015. Cárdenas said his country needed to emulate governments in countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, and Bolivia, where administrations grew their economies by increasing government spending and cutting income taxes rather than taking a laissez-faire approach.
Cárdenas first ran for the Mexican presidency in the 1988 election as a candidate for a leftist movement called “National Democratic Front” after being expelled from the ruling Partido Reviolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party) for promoting democratic elections through a group called Democratic Current, which later became the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Democratic Revolutionary Party). Even though Cárdenas’ father, Gen. Lázaro Cárdenas, who was Mexico’s president from 1934 to1940, had been one of the PRI’s founders, Cárdenas was opposed to the traditional practice of the party’s presidential candidate being appointed by the incumbent officeholder.
The 1988 election result was controversial because the government claimed the electoral system had crashed when it was counting the votes. The government declared PRI’s presidential candidate, Carlos Salinas de Gortari as the winner, but Cárdenas accused the government of electoral fraud.
To this day, Cárdenas and his supporters believe that the presidency was stolen from them.
“(The fraud) could not be reversed, not by legal resources nor by strong and wide popular mobilization, but it made people conscious that by participating and voting, things could be changed”, said Cárdenas during the conference at UC Berkeley. Cárdenas ran for president again in the 1994 and 2000 elections for the PRD, which he founded after the 1988 electoral controversy. He lost in both races.
In between, however, Cárdenas became the first elected mayor of Mexico City in 1997. Before this election, regents who were appointed by the president ruled the country’s capital. Cárdenas considers that election a milestone for Mexico’s democracy and its electoral system. He governed for two years. “The government respected the vote, opposition won the Mexico City (government), both the Mayor and the local assembly, and for the first time the official party, the PRI, lost absolute majority on the federal chamber of representatives”, he said.
In Cárdenas’ third run for the presidency in 2000, he placed third with roughly 17 percent of the votes. The election, however, was a triumph for democracy — the ruling PRI lost for the first time in 70 years to the Partido Acción Nacional’s (National Action Party) candidate Vicente Fox.
Cárdenas resigned from the PRD a year ago alleging profound differences with the party’s national leadership. His decision came amidst scandals of corruption in PRD’s state and municipal governments.
Despite the progress the country has made, Cárdenas said there’s still more work to be done as long as elections continue to be tainted with fraud and bribery claims.
Cárdenas said that his new group would only succeed if it has popular support. He plans to travel throughout Mexico to convince citizens to mobilize. “If you want to really eradicate corruption you have to start from the top, but you need social support, so we are trying, in the first place, to build this social support,” he said, adding that his group was proposing constitutional changes to empower citizens, so they have better access to jobs, healthcare, and housing.
“The improvement of living standards and equality in opportunities are at the root of any real and effective solution. I firmly believe (a) democratic Mexico — politically, socially, and economically — is possible”, Cárdenas said.
Cárdenas said people can contribute to his new group with ideas through the organization’s website (www.pormexicohoy.org).
Marcos Martínez is a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism