Democracy Is in the Streets
Accountability was a central theme of Fox's presidential campaign. He promised to end years of official impunity for government abuses. But once in office he confronted a dilemma similar to that of the municipal reformer with his garbage collectors. In Fox's case, it was the fact that the PRI remained the largest force in congress. Hoping to win their support for his reform agenda, Fox chose not to pursue accountability for the PRI's past misdeeds. He reneged on his campaign promise to launch a truth commission. Instead he named a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute past human rights abuses but failed--at least until recently--to provide him with the resources and political support needed to carry out an enormously difficult assignment. (Only in recent months has the special prosecutor's office begun to receive more substantial government cooperation and political support--and in February, after two years in operation, it made its first arrest.) In the area of corruption, meanwhile, Fox has done little to hold former officials accountable for their crimes or to clean up the corrupt institutions they left behind.
What has Fox gotten in return? Nothing, according to his former foreign minister, Jorge Castañeda, who recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "The decision to avoid a clean break with the past in exchange for the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party's support for reforms turned out to be futile. We ended up with the worst of both worlds: no reforms, no settling of scores with Mexico's recent history and the country virtually paralyzed."
Mexico's situation may be less dire than that of other Latin American countries. Yet foreign investment is shrinking, unemployment is growing, the limited gains from NAFTA appear to be evaporating in the face of Chinese competition and Fox is already being described as a lame duck, even though two years remain in his term.
For decades, Mexicans struggled to end an authoritarian system that concentrated all its power in the hands of the president. It is therefore ironic, if understandable, that the hottest political topic in Mexico today is not any of the reforms that are urgently needed to address deficiencies in the justice system, the tax code, the labor laws and the provision of basic services to impoverished populations. It is, rather, who will be the next president.
The leading contender for the 2006 election is Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD, who has proven to be an effective and very popular mayor of Mexico City (though his image has been tarnished somewhat in recent weeks by a corruption scandal involving current and former PRD officials in the city government). Another prospective candidate is Fox's wife, Martha Sahagún, whose interest in the job has provoked a heated polemic over the proper role of the first lady. A third is Castañeda, who trails badly in the polls but brings a series of ideas for reforms that could contribute to a national debate that is currently lacking.
If history is any guide, however, real change will come only when Mexicans mobilize once again to demand it.