During the night-time hours of September 26-27, 2014, policemen attacked students at a rural teachers college in the town of Iguala, located in the state of Guerrero in southern Mexico. They then handed 43 of these students over to the enforcers of a local cartel, who promptly murdered all of them. The brutal nature of this action exposed the collusion between the police, the gangs, the mayor of Iguala, and the governor of Guerrero, revealing not only the corruption of the political regime in Mexico but also the degree to which it has fallen into utter decay.
Iguala’s local government, like so many others, had been under the control of criminals and corrupt functionaries. The mayor had married the sister of a prominent cartel member. One of the governing officials of the state of Guerrero had chosen him for this position because of his family ties. This “Guerreros Unidos” cartel, like all of the others, uses terror to impose itself on the population with the support of the local authorities. Long before this particular case, the state governor had been implicated in the kidnapping and execution of militants and students linked to peasant organizations or community self-defense groups. For the local authorities, it is a common practice to call on the gangs to repress protest.
The mayor and the governor were forced to resign as a result of this scandal. Both belonged to the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the same party that was formed 25 years ago claiming to represent a fight against the corruption and patronage devouring the country. However, the PRD had clearly become just as corrupt as its rivals.
The murders in Iguala are far from the first atrocity in Mexico. Many others had already made their way into the news, such as the thousands of young women raped and murdered in and around Ciudad Juárez, in the northern part of the country. This took place in the heart of the maquiladora industrial zone, where businesses subcontract to manufacture televisions and computers for the world market using the labor of young women workers whom they underpay and exploit at will. There was also the case of the Frenchwoman Florence Cassez, whose 2005 frame-up conviction for kidnapping suggested that the political authorities, police, gangs, and media could all coexist on very good terms. Finally, shortly before the killings in Iguala, an Amnesty International report announced that the use of torture by government agents had increased by 600% in the past ten years. The report denounced the impunity of the torturers and the lack of action on the part of the two institutions that are supposed to protect torture victims, the Attorney General and the National Human Rights Commission.
The massacre in Iguala had barely come to light, when the Mexican public learned of yet another massacre. After an armed clash between soldiers and a group they had depicted as a gang, it came out that these soldiers had executed twenty people from this group in cold blood, including a fifteen year-old girl. They had covered up this massacre since June 2014. Needless to say, its exposure after the affair in Iguala came at a bad time.
These actions, and many others, are the fruit of the corruption and the repressive character of the Mexican government, to which has been added the violence of the rapidly expanded drug cartels. Mexico, under the domination of its own bourgeoisie and of U.S. imperialism, already was drowning in unemployment, corruption, poverty, violence, and repression, but this latest violence comes as a gangrene on top of the social and political decay that the country has already undergone.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, Successor to the Gravediggers of the Revolution
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was finally kicked out of office in 2000 after 71 years of rule, but it made its way back in 2012. In this twelve year period, the seat of authority had been occupied by its rival, the National Action Party (PAN), a rightwing party created in 1939 after a split from the PRI by those tied to the Catholic Church and opposed to the reforms of president Lázaro Cárdenas.
The PRI is the heir to the party that Plutarco Elías Calles created in 1929, which would change its name twice before becoming the PRI. During the Mexican revolution, Calles was at first the ally of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata who were at the head of the peasant armies responsible for the radicalization of the revolution. Afterwards Calles chose to take the side of those who would profit from this revolution, by putting the insurgent peasants in line.
The revolution broke out in 1910 and put an end to the 35-year dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. In the later years of the 19th century, Díaz had pushed the country’s industrialization forward in order to place a cheap labor force at the disposal of foreign capitalists, above all those from the neighboring United States. “Poor Mexico – so far from God and so close to the United States,”the cynical dictator had uttered one day. He backed the construction of ports, roads, and railways destined to facilitate the imperialist pillage of the country’s resources: sugar in the center, livestock in the north, coffee in the south, as well as various minerals and oil.
The poor peasants, treated little better than slaves, cried out for land of their own. One per cent of the population owned 97% of the country’s land, while 96% of the population owned just 1% of the land! Such a concentration of property went hand in hand with brutal repression of any form of protest. The year 1908 saw the crushing of several peasant uprisings.
The working class fared little better. In 1900, the Flores Magón brothers began publishing the anarchist newspaper Regeneración, committed to defending the interests of workers and poor peasants. Although state repression forced the Flores Magón brothers to leave Mexico in 1904, the journal continued to circulate underground. It inspired the worker militants who would go on to start organizing unions in 1904. Regeneración called for a radical land reform, the cancellation of peasant debts, and the return of communal lands (ejido) and uncultivated lands, as well as the eight-hour workday, a ban on child labor, a minimum wage, Sunday as a guaranteed day of rest, the abolition of the tiendas de raya (company stores that pushed workers to go into debt), workers’ rights, compensation for workplace accidents, and retirement pensions. This program was summed up in the slogan: “Land and Freedom!”
In 1904, workers in several Mexico City shops submitted a petition to have hours off on Sunday, setting off the bosses’ anger. In 1906, Mexican miners in the Cananea mine in Sonora went on strike demanding wages equal to those of U.S. workers, who were paid twice as much for the same labor. Magonista militants distributed leaflets in favor of the strike and a political manifesto calling for a representative government and the resignation of Porfirio Díaz. During the strike, buildings were burnt, company stores were ransacked, and clashes between striking workers and company thugs left 20 people dead and just as many wounded. Federal troops put an end to the strike, with the miners’ leaders also thrown in prison.
The next strike would hit the textile industry. The textile bosses successfully got Díaz to mediate the strike. He announced his decision in 1907: he would enact a handful of social reforms, but going on strike remained illegal. Workers in the city of Orizaba, which had the highest number of textile plants, rejected this decision. Among them were the workers of Rio Blanco, who, starving but determined, attacked the company stores. However, the government met these workers with brutal violence, resulting in 200 deaths.
Despite the repression, railroad workers prepared themselves for a strike in 1908. Díaz threatened them with legal action, and the strike was called off. Díaz took the political initiative by declaring that he would be pleased if an opposition party was created. Díaz had only intended this remark to be a diversion. But a wealthy landowner from the state of Morelos, Francisco Madero, took Diaz up on it and in 1910 Madero’s presidential campaign enjoyed considerable success. So, Díaz had Madero arrested several days before the vote and in this way won his reelection! Madero escaped, denounced the illegitimacy of the elections and called for insurrection. A group of small landowning peasants under the leadership of Pancho Villa and a group of miners led by Pascual Orozco answered the call. The peasants hoped to obtain land, and the miners hoped to win an 8-hour workday for the same pay as for 10 hours. In March of 1911, peasants from Morelos led by Emiliano Zapata joined the cause, motivated by Madero’s promise to return the expropriated communal lands.
Díaz fled Mexico and went into exile on May 21. Madero entered Mexico City on June 7. He was elected president on November 6. But Madero delayed the return of expropriated communal land. So, Zapata and his troops rose up and took the land back themselves. In his program, Zapata called on peasants to seize the land and defend it with arms in hand. Besides, he called for the expropriation of the land owned by the Catholic Church, without paying the Church any compensation. And he also called for the nationalization of the property of capitalists and landowners opposed to the revolution, without any compensation. In response, Madero sent the army against Zapata under the command of General Victoriano Huerta. But the peasant uprising only grew larger. Having renounced the land reform that he had claimed to support, Madero quickly found himself isolated. With the support of the United States, General Huerta played his trump card. He arrested Madero and had him killed on February 22, 1913.
In turn, Huerta ended up being overthrown by another big landowner and politician, Venustiano Carranza. Carranza attracted the support of the propertied classes and the United States by announcing that all landowners, Mexican or foreign, could claim compensation for losses that the revolution had caused. He would in turn, however, also have to deal with the problem of peasant insurrection.
In the north, Pancho Villa commanded an army of tens of thousands that had triumphed over federal government troops several times. In Morelos, the armed peasants under Zapata carried out their radical land reform. At the end of 1914, as a result of their combined strength, the two armies entered Mexico City. Villa and Zapata had their pictures taken in the presidential and vice-presidential chairs. But soon they returned to their respective strongholds. Leaders of a peasant revolution, they did not see how they could exercise power from Mexico City. As one historian of the Mexican Revolution wrote: “The exercise of power demands a program. The application of a program requires a policy. A policy means a party. The peasants did not have, could not have had, any of these things.”
The Working Class in the Mexican Revolution
The working class, whose struggles had been the prologue to the revolution, could have given a base to the revolution in the cities. However, the main leaders of the Casa del Obrero Mundial (House of the International Worker), with a membership of 50,000 workers, had certain prejudices against the peasantry and did not make any attempts to ally themselves with it. Furthermore, due to their anarchist orientation, they did not understand the necessity for the working class to take power. After several hesitations, they decided to negotiate with General Álvaro Obregón, who would go on to become the architect of the bourgeoisie’s reconquest of power, first alongside of Carranza and later without him. After issuing a decree that gave the communal lands to the peasants, Carranza placed the Ericsson telephone company under the control of the electrical workers’ union which made the union leader, Luis Morones, the head of the enterprise. Morones would go on to become an important ally of Obregón and Carranza.
In promising to recognize the unions and to grant rights to workers, Obregón was able to get some 10,000 workers to enlist in his army, and they were organized in workers’ battalions. This would prove to be a decisive factor in the successful campaign against Villa and Zapata’s armies. Some militants did oppose this policy, while others remained neutral. Still others joined the peasant armies.
Thus, in 1915, a decisive alliance was formed between the state and the working class. In the absence of an independent policy, this conferred an original character on the bourgeois regime that emerged after ten years of revolutionary struggles. Obregón, more than Carranza, understood that this alliance with the workers’ movement was indispensable for his clique to win. Armed clashes continued until 1920. Without allies in the cities, the insurgent peasants remained isolated in their respective regions, which allowed General Obregón to defeat them. As the workers’ battalions demobilized in 1916, there was a wave of workers’ struggles, including several violent clashes. Obregón overcame these by closing the Casa del Obrero Mundial.
Next, Carranza and Obregón fought each other. Obregón was able to carry the day yet again, thanks to the support of Morones and the new union federation, the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM), founded in 1919. President from 1920 to 1924, he ceded some of the peasants’ demands, while he had both Villa and Zapata killed. In 1924, Plutarco Elías Calles succeeded Obregón. Obregón came into conflict with conservative circles, especially the Catholic Church, and was assassinated by a Catholic militant in 1928. The new Mexican constitution did not allow Calles to succeed himself as president. So, after he stepped down, Calles continued to pull the strings of a series of puppet presidents until Lázaro Cárdenas decisively removed him from power in 1934.
Throughout the 1920’s both Obregón and Calles benefited from the CROM’s support in exchange for some official positions in the government. Initially, the CROM bureaucrats continued to use the language of class struggle that they had inherited from their anarchist past. However, in 1927 they admitted that they were not “the enemies of capital, but its collaborators.” They thwarted the influence of anarcho-syndicalist and communist militants in many sectors of the workers’ movement, though they remained unable to halt the most combative union, that of the railroad workers. On the other hand, in the oil industry, the bosses were all-powerful and imposed their dictatorship on the workers with hired thugs, the white guards. Finally, a large part of the economy – the mining, lumber, coffee, cotton, rubber, and sugar industries – remained in the hands of foreign capitalists.
Six Years of Concessions to the Workers
The economic crisis of 1929 did not spare Mexico. The masses of workers and peasants once again began to move. Starting in 1932, strikes spread throughout the country, becoming particularly intense in 19341936. The crisis had weakened the CROM, and a new union organization appeared, led by Vicente Lombardo Toledano. In 1934, Lázaro Cárdenas won the presidency. Still more than the previous leaders of post-revolution Mexico, Cárdenas was conscious of the need to control the workers and peasants. He carried out his election campaign while calling on workers and peasants to organize across the country. He changed the name of his party to the Party of the Mexican Revolution, adopting as its slogan, “a democracy for the workers.”
In 1935, the leaders of the main Mexican unions decided to back Cárdenas, who supported a single union federation containing, “the whites as well as the reds.” This federation, the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), came into being in 1936. Strikes continued among the electrical workers. In 1937 strikes began in the oil industry. The Anglo-U.S. oil companies, not wanting to concede anything to their workers, ignored the orders of the Mexican courts. For the striking workers, for the union leaders, and also for a part of the government, expropriation became the order of the day. Cárdenas took this on as his campaign, pitting the Mexican state against the foreign companies. On March 18, 1938, he announced the expropriation of the foreign oil companies – within certain limits. Cárdenas stated that the expropriated companies would eventually be compensated. He also refused to place these companies under the control of the workers. The fact that Cárdenas did not bow down to the foreign companies won him the image of a champion of Mexican independence in the face of imperialism.
Moreover, Cárdenas broadened union rights and launched the most extensive land reform since the revolution. The seven previous land reforms had benefited 780,000 recipients combined, while the land reform carried out under Cárdenas benefited as many as 730,000, almost the same number. All these actions by the president reinforced the links between the working classes and the state. Resting on this support, Cárdenas advanced his nationalist policy.
On this subject, Trotsky wrote: “In the industrially backward countries, foreign capital plays a decisive role. Hence the relative weakness of the national bourgeoisie in relation to the national proletariat. This creates special conditions of state power. The government veers between foreign and domestic capital, between the weak national bourgeoisie and the relatively powerful proletariat. This gives the government a Bonapartist character of a distinctive character. It raises itself, so to speak, above classes. Actually, it can govern either by making itself the instrument of foreign capitalism and holding the proletariat in the chains of a police dictatorship, or by maneuvering with the proletariat and even going so far as to make concessions to it, thus gaining the possibility of a certain freedom from the foreign capitalists.”
This last choice was the one that Cárdenas took. His successors would take the other route. In 1946, the Party of the Mexican Revolution took on the somewhat contradictory name of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
After World War II, the PRI continued to proclaim itself the heir of the Mexican revolution. But it hardened its one party system. The PRI based itself on local political bosses or “caciques,” who were new landowners owing their possessions to the revolution, state functionaries and union leaders. Each cacique acted like the “godfathers” of a state mafia in their own realm, doling out jobs, support, and protection.
Although presidents could only hold office for a single six year term, the political regime was de facto a dictatorship aimed at controlling the population, preventing any popular resistance, in order to allow the bourgeoisie to tend to its affairs and enter into fruitful relations with its powerful neighbor to the north, the United States.
In a country where poverty has remained an endemic scourge, where still today tens of millions of Mexicans do not have enough to eat and are forced to survive on irregular and low-paid jobs, workers’ and peasants’ fights have never been lacking. When the regime’s paternalism was no longer enough, it resorted to ferocious repression in order to crush those who stood up for themselves.
The PRI against the Mobilized Working Class
In 1946, the CTM was integrated into the PRI. This stirred up opposition from several sectors within the labor movement. The railroad workers’ union was at the forefront of this opposition, influenced by militants like Valentín Campa, who had come out of the Communist Party but had broken with it. In 1947, the railroad workers union broke with the CTM and launched its own union federation, the CUT, which brought together various militants around the demands of higher wages and better working conditions. The government reacted quickly. It carried out a campaign of slander against one of the leaders of the rail workers’ union. It also portrayed an accident caused by negligent workers as an act of sabotage organized by Campa, sending him to prison for four years. Then the all-out attack on the rail workers’ union led to the collapse of the CUT. The government then attacked the oil workers, the miners, and the metalworkers. In the 1950’s, these attacks would spread to the teachers’ union and then hit the railroad workers again.
In June 1958, the railroad workers went over the heads of their union leadership and launched a strike for higher wages. They got support from oil workers, teachers, and students, who demonstrated with them. The main leader of this movement was Demetrio Vallejo. He convinced the electricians’ union and the teachers’ union to support the strike. The strike spread to 100,000 workers and shut down the entire public transportation system. The army and the police clashed with strikers, but the railroad workers did not back down. Within the union, rank-and-file workers denounced the ruling bureaucrats. This conflict was becoming political and Vallejo issued an appeal to the president at the time, Adolfo López Mateos. As a result, wages were raised by about 17%. However, this was a short-term victory, as the government and the leadership of the CTM immediately began plotting their revenge.
In March 1959, the railroad workers union threatened a new strike to force the bosses to apply the wage increase in the sectors where they had dragged their feet. The new union leadership elected by the rank-and-file believed that they could again count on the president to enforce these measures. But the army attacked the strikers, killing several of them. The bosses fired 10,000 railroad workers and stripped 15,000 more of their seniority. The union leaders were tried, convicted and sent to prison. Vallejo spent 12 years in prison.
The regime was no less hard on those who wanted to see the land reform actually applied and extended. This was the ambition of one old fighter of the Mexican Revolution, Rubén Jaramillo, who had joined Zapata’s army at the age of 16. Cárdenas’ presidency had launched a land reform, but after 1940, it had come to a halt. Jaramillo understood that his peasants’ movement needed the support of the working class. In the 1940’s, during World War II, the Mexican Communist Party had called for a “holy alliance” with the government, and so Jaramillo moved closer to the Trotskyists, who were the only ones who favored the class struggle and opposed imperialism. In 1948, he ran for governor of Morelos and received solid support from peasants and workers. Because he denounced the usual fraud that the PRI committed in this election, he was forced to take refuge in the mountains along with his companions, all while continuing to carry out agitation towards the peasants. He was finally pardoned in 1953, and he became the undisputed defender of the rights of poor peasants. During the 1958 presidential campaign, López Mateos arranged to be photographed by his side and even offered him a government position that Jaramillo turned down.
Jaramillo continued his struggle, most notably in leading thousands of peasants to occupy the big estates. He also denounced the actions of the management of a sugar refinery. This turned a number of the rich and powerful into his mortal enemies. In 1962, the federal police assassinated him in his home along with his pregnant wife and three sons. Only his daughter was able to escape.
So it was no surprise that the students who demonstrated against the regime just before the 1968 Olympic Games were massacred in turn. The forces of repression encircled one of their meetings in Mexico City’s Plaza des las Tres Culturas and opened fire, killing hundreds.
The One Party Regime in Agony
Mexico’s one-party system showed signs of cracking when the economic crisis of 1982 hit the country. The fall in oil prices plunged the economy into a major recession. In response, the leaders of the PRI began to reconsider the state’s role in the economy. As elsewhere around the world, this change in policy led to the dismantling of state-owned enterprises and public services, as well as the breakup of communal lands in the countryside, thus breaking with the heritage of Lázaro Cárdenas’ six year presidency. The bourgeoisie sought to guarantee its profits. As times became more difficult, the capitalists were repeatedly driven to cut the share going to the working class, peasants and poor.
Widespread discontent was expressed during the presidential election of 1988. The electorate voted against the official PRI. Instead, they voted for a “democratic current” that had appeared within the PRI and had chosen as its candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the son of Lázaro. This current claimed to be in favor of reestablishing the social rights that the PRI had dismantled. However, the leaders of the PRI blocked their path. In the middle of counting the ballots, they announced that the electoral system’s computers had crashed, making it impossible to continue tallying the votes. This assured the victory of the PRI’s candidate, Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
In 1989, Cárdenas’ current became the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The party attracted the majority of the militants of the Mexican left, from the Communist Party to the extreme left, Maoist and Trotskyist, including the majority of members belonging to the PRT (Revolutionary Workers’ Party), an organization linked to the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, as well as various local militant groups. All of them were convinced that their hour would arrive in 1994.
The ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on January 1st, 1994, strengthened the commercial bonds between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, but it ended up being mostly profitable for the first two of these countries. Nevertheless, the leaders of the PRI presented it as a fantastic deal for the Mexican people. Although NAFTA made a fortune for certain Mexican capitalists who were prepared to super-exploit their workers to satisfy the demand for consumer goods destined for the United States and Europe, it mostly enriched the big multinational companies and aggravated the exploitation of Mexican workers. At the same time that U.S. politicians established this common trade zone, they reinforced the border and blocked the path of Mexican immigrants. The enactment of NAFTA was met with the first demonstration organized by militants and sympathizers of the EZLN, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, based in the state of Chiapas. This action was intended to serve as a reminder that it is possible to resist imperialism and the attacks against the working class and poor, and it did receive a certain sympathy from the population in that regard, but it remained symbolic.
The Mirage of the Democratic Transition
The PRD did not achieve the same level of success in the 1994 elections, as it did in 1988. The PRI succeeded itself yet again, and Ernesto Zedillo replaced Salinas. The party had chosen and elected Zedillo by default, since two of its other main leaders had been assassinated, both its secretary general, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, and its officially chosen presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio. Greatly discredited after this scandal, the PRI’s leaders began to speak of a “democratic transition” scheduled to take place in 2000.
It was important to the PRI that this transition not benefit the PRD in any way, especially since the PRD had governed the federal district that includes Mexico City since 1997 and had enacted some social programs that the population appreciated. Therefore, the PRI turned to the PAN, an old right-wing split from the PRI, that guaranteed it would maintain the established order. This is how Vicente Fox, the head of the PAN and president of Coca Cola Mexico, ended up becoming president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006. Another leader of the PAN, Felipe Calderón, succeeded him from 2006 to 2012.
According to the official story, the PRI fall from power in 2000 marked the rise of democracy, a new era for Mexico. What a sham. The ruling clans of the PRI and the PAN had negotiated an arrangement that nothing significant would change other than an alternation of the party in power.
The 2006 presidential election was once again subject to massive fraud, blocking the PRD’s candidate from victory. After four days of suspense, Felipe Calderón was proclaimed the winner. The PRD’s candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (called AMLO by his supporters), contested the election results without success. The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the official body that was supposed to prevent fraud but participated in it, validated the election. This fraud provoked a deep discontent on the part of the population, who took to the streets of Mexico City. Numerous massive demonstrations of support for AMLO rippled across the city. In the impoverished city of Oaxaca, discontent with the PRI and the PAN took an insurrectional turn. This movement started with a teachers’ strike, but spread to the rest of the population and into neighboring towns in response to the state’s repression. It took months before the region was finally brought under control.
During the PAN’s second term of six years in power the situation of the working class was further aggravated. The ranks of the unemployed grew with each successive privatization. The global crisis of 2008 struck Mexico as well. But the most striking fact of the twelve years of the PAN’s rule was the growth of the power of the drug cartels and the accompanying explosion of violence.
The Expansion of the Drug Cartels
The history of the Mexican drug cartels is closely tied to the country’s proximity to the United States. If U.S. policy was not at the origin of the cartels, it stimulated their growth. In 1914, the United States outlawed the non-medical use of opium and coca leaves. Poppies had already been legally grown in Mexico, but not coca, which was cultivated in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Poppies grew in the northwestern Mexican states, notably in Sinaloa. The town of Badiraguato even became known as the Mexican Sicily. Mexico in turn banned the production and sale of marijuana and opium in the 1920’s.
When the United States needed morphine for its soldiers during World War II, President Roosevelt supported the cultivation of poppies in Mexico. In the 1960’s, the consumption of drugs by young people in the U.S. first stimulated the production of marijuana and then of poppies. Drug trafficking expanded rapidly. The heads of the Mexican cartels soon imposed themselves as middlemen in the shipment of Colombian cocaine to the United States.
In the 1980’s, the CIA used these links to finance their mercenaries, the Contras, against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Some Contras received their training on ranches owned by the Sinaloa Cartel. The Mexican cartels soon emerged as the third largest producer of opium in the world, behind Afghanistan and Burma. The Mexican cartels control the Mexican market and the trafficking of cocaine to the United States, the largest worldwide consumer. The profit that this trafficking generates flows through international financial circuits.
In 1985, the assassination of an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration strained relations with the cartels. The Mexican government dissolved its own federal antidrug agency, that had been under the direct authority of the Mexican president. The Federal Judicial Police inherited the agency’s mission, but it soon became clear that its chief favored the Gulf Cartel. In 1995, a general oversaw the arrest of a drug lord in charge of the Sinaloa Cartel. The following year, president Zedillo appointed that general to be the national drug czar. But in 1997, this same general was sent to prison for complicity with the Juárez Cartel. In 1999, presidents Clinton and Zedillo met to coordinate the “war on drugs” at the ranch of Mexican banker Roberto Hernández Ramírez, who was later suspected of involvement in cocaine trafficking.
Such was the situation when the PAN came to power in 2000. President Fox appointed a Mexican general to the post of Attorney General, who went on to place other army officers in high-ranking positions. From then on, the Ministry of Defense would play a central role in Mexican anti-drug operations. In 2005, “Operation Safe Mexico” led to the arrest of several drug lords and thousands of their associates, but the same volume of drugs continued to enter the United States.
During his presidency from 2006 to 2012, Felipe Calderón also met with President George W. Bush to discuss the drug trade. He trumpeted that he would carry out an allout war on the cartels. But under this policy, thousands of soldiers and police only attacked cartels that competed with the Sinaloa Cartel, which seemed to enjoy the favor of both Mexican politicians and the United States. The Sinaloa Cartel took charge of trafficking the drugs that the dismantled cartels could no longer control. Forbes Magazine even ranked its kingpin, “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzmán, on its list of the world’s richest people.
The government’s operations against multiple cartels increased the level of violence. The arrests and killings of drug lords set off fights over succession and bloody vendettas. In addition, the movement of troops meant to combat the cartels went along with numerous acts of violence, often extremely brutal, against the population.
Certain political figures linked to the targeted cartels ended up losing their positions. These included a former state governor, the head of the anti-drug agency, several top officials in the Ministry of Public Security, Cancún’s chief of police and many of its policemen, about a dozen mayors, a judge, and various state officials. Indirectly, these arrests revealed the extent to which the cartels’ profits flowed through the entire state apparatus.
In 2010, the death of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent prompted a Congressional investigation into the traffic in arms and explosives from the United States into Mexico. The investigation revealed that arms trafficking flows along the same routes that carry drugs from Mexico into the United States, with the complicity of U.S. government agents and instructions from their superiors to shut their eyes to it all. This affair and others revealed that the U.S. government had in fact taken the side of the Sinaloa Cartel. A Mexican journalist, Anabel Hernández, came to similar conclusions – the PAN’s policy of a “war on drugs” had primarily reinforced the Sinaloa Cartel, which controls the majority of drug gateways at the United States border.
The result is that the violence has climbed to an unprecedented level. The mass graves of the 43 students in Guerrero are far from the first of their kind. This extreme violence feeds into the settling of scores at all levels of society, including against those who oppose the regime. The assassinations of investigative journalists, trade union militants, feminist activists, incorruptible mayors, and individuals opposed to this violence have become common. This plagues the entire society, and the civilian population pays a high price for it. Since 2006, there have been at least 80,000 people killed, 25,000 missing, and 1.6 million displaced.
In May 2012, Mexican president Calderón was forced to admit that corruption had allowed organized crime to penetrate state institutions. The cartels were said to control 80% of the country’s local governments. They have unlimited financial resources, easily surpassing even the budget of the Secretariat of National Defense. This cancer had at first been confined to only two federal states, but now it extends to many more, including the Federal District of Mexico City.
Calderón became so discredited and unpopular because of his fake war on drugs, the PAN went through a huge crisis and was unable to come up with its own candidate to succeed Calderón. Vicente Fox finally agreed to form a partnership with the PRI’s presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto.
Neither PRI, Nor PAN, Nor PRD
The 2009 mid-term elections were marked by a victory of the PRI. It regained its majority in the parliament, while the PAN lost about half of its deputies. But the working population rejected both the PRI and the PAN. This rejection was expressed by the rise in the rate of abstention and the number of blank ballots.
This was accompanied by the decline of the PRD, which was torn by internal divisions. The ruling current within the PRD was more interested in making deals with Calderón’s administration than expressing the concerns of the working class and the poor. As a consequence, it lost many local elections. Already in opposition to the PRD’s leadership, López Obrador called on a vote for only those PRD candidates who belonged to his current. This accentuated the PRD’s decline and the discouragement of its voting base. In 2011, López Obrador broke with the PRD and started a new party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), a throwback to the early days of the PRD.
And so, in the 25 years of its existence the PRD was not able to supplant the PRI and the PAN. Its initial leader, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, had led many to believe that this reformist nationalist would usher in a period of reforms comparable to that of his father. But this did not last long. Today, the PRD is hardly distinguishable from the PRI and the PAN. And Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and López Obrador have both distanced themselves from it.
With the PAN so discredited, the PRI had little trouble harnessing voters’ outrage. It demagogically denounced the ongoing privatization of the state healthcare system, even though the PRI would have done the same thing if it had been in office. The PAN’s obvious widespread corruption overshadowed the PRI’s 71 years of corruption, while the PAN’s electoral fraud in 2006 caused the memory of the PRI’s stolen election in 1988 to fade. A vote for the PRI became the “useful vote,” once again preserving the old corrupt state apparatus. So the presidential election of July 1st, 2012 returned the PRI to power, this time with Enrique Peña Nieto as president. As in 1988 and 2006, this election was marked by corruption, fraud, and outraged voters protesting in the streets of Mexico City.
The day after the election, multiple demonstrations broke out against vote buying and the complicity of the IFE, the elections monitoring organization that once again rubber stamped highly questionable election results. When he was governor, Peña Nieto had violently repressed a student movement. So students led the mobilization first against his candidacy and then against electoral fraud. The demonstrations did not stop Peña Nieto’s investiture, but they tarnished the PRI’s return to power.
In order to prop up such a worm-eaten political system, the PRI replaced the old one-party system with a pact between the three major parties, supposedly representing the right (PAN), the center (PRI), and the left (PRD) under the authority of the president in order to satisfy the needs of the capitalists, both Mexican and foreign. The first order of business was the privatization of Mexico’s state-owned oil industry, PEMEX. This complicity between all three parties explains why the rate of abstention in the elections reached as high as 70% in certain regions. Many working class voters no longer expect anything from these parties.
If Mexican society has moved farther and farther to the right over the past quarter century, it is first of all because the party in power has fulfilled all the demands of the capitalists, Mexican or foreign. And they have not stopped attacking the workers’ movement. The repeated privatizations have multiplied the number of unemployed. And every government has attacked the workers who refuse to go along, such as when Felipe Calderón mobilized the forces of law and order against the workers in the electricians’ union in 2009.
In the absence of an organized workers’ opposition defending its own class interests, capitalism has followed its course in an increasingly brutal and threatening manner that endangers the entire society. As a result, 7 million young Mexicans between the ages of 18 and 30 have no work or studies, while 30 million Mexicans – one quarter of the population – work in the “informal economy.”
It is therefore a necessity to attack the dictatorship of capital. The only social force that can take this fight to its conclusion is the working class. Mexico is the fifth largest oil-producing country, a major producer of natural gas, and the largest producer of silver. It has significant automobile, steel, and petrochemical industries. Therefore the working class is large and important. Mexican workers are also super-exploited. Their real wages have plunged. And after the quarter century of attacks, they have little or no social protections left.
In the past, the Mexican working class showed a tremendous capacity to fight. But in March 1939, Trotsky noted what they were missing: “At the present time in Mexico, there is no workers’ party, no trade union that is in the process of developing independent class politics and that is able to launch an independent candidate in the elections. Under these conditions, our only possible course of action is to limit ourselves to Marxist propaganda and to the preparation of a future independent party of the Mexican proletariat.”
This remains true today.
The article above was translated by The Spark group from an article in the April, 2015 issue of Lutte de Classe (Class Struggle), the magazine of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), a revolutionary workers’ organisation in France.