Pena Nieto and the Death of the Mexican Revolution

By Fernando Chavez

Originally published in America Economia.

MEXICO CITY - The great social revolutions of the early 20th century are dead. Only their myths and founding echoes remain, as the legendary heroes live on in the memories of those who encouraged and defended them yesterday as they do today.

This, of course, is neither new nor surprising, bitter though it may be. It has happened before with other seemingly distant events, like the French and American revolutions of the 18th century.

The Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the 1917 Russian Revolution marked 20th century Western history. The second certainly had a greater impact, but both revolutions were driven by guiding ideas that stood firmly opposed to liberal capitalism. The development of Soviet socialism changed the world's political geography for much of the century, while the Mexican Revolution laid the foundation for a national project of local capitalism, in the face of unique challenges the United States has posed to us since first becoming a nation in the early 19th century.

President Enrique Peña Nieto's energy-sector reforms have brought down the curtain on the last great public-sector companies born of the Mexican Revolution: Pemex oil and the electricity giant CFE. The liberal restoration that began in 1982 has reached its apex with these reforms. Key revolutionary institutions have disappeared one by one since the 1980s: public lands, strategic public firms, an independent foreign policy, a mixed economy, economic nationalism, and rural education are among the many things that have been lost. The institutional cloth of our revolution is practically torn up, for good.

The decisive agents of this liberal restoration have been the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), currently in power, and the more conservative National Action Party (PAN). This was increasingly clear after 1983, as the anti-nationalist component in our public life was given ever-increasing relevance.

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Architects of "restoration"

The core concept is simple: We must modernize economically to integrate into the global economy. But to make up for "lost" opportunities, the restoration architects have turned to electoral fraud, not to mention political filth, to obstruct the reorganization of the revolution's heirs and guardians.We keep hearing how the 1917 Constitution has been amended so many times that it's now hardly recognizable. The constitutional changes implemented for energy reforms have given us another capitalist project and come with the promise of job creation and gradual adjustments to current income distributions. All of this is in the context of increased foreign investment that is expected to fuel a long growth cycle.

Mexico's social swerve in 1917 enjoyed the backing of peasants and workers, the impoverished middle class and the revolutionaries who began to criticize the staid, self-perpetuating regime of General Porfirio Díaz.

The turn we witness today, led by the Peña Nieto regime is really just a maneuver of big foreign and national companies, backed by international finance and, of course, the North American political elite. Two national projects, two visions of the world and society come face-to-face - and one has lost.

What is the Mexican Revolution's bequest? Most important was hope that a sovereign and prosperous nation would one day join the world through international commitments and a basic level of diplomatic respect - as shown in the 1930s by the government of Lázaro Cárdenas del Río. Other, less fortunate legacies were the authoritarian politics and government corruption that were side effects of intermittent development from 1920 to 1982. Not surprisingly, the social and political movements emerging since 1988 have demanded three essential elements of democracy - legality, transparency and accountability.

And so what can we expect in the next stage of Mexico's integration in the American and Canadian model? I would note two key subjects. First, there will have to be, sooner or later, a single labor market in the three countries. The speed of adjustment will depend on U.S. and Canadian exigencies, as integration will supposedly have a double effect on them - penetration of more Mexican workers and trade union reactions to this migratory process. A regional labor market would have unprecedented effects on jobs, wages and benefits, but the articulated response of workers will have a decisive impact on the balance of relations in that market.

More difficult to predict is what will happen with currency. The Mexican exchange crisis in 1994-95 was resolved - at the cost of a deep recession - yet we still recall how businesses demanded then that Mexico adopt the U.S. dollar, and end for good the peso's traumatic devaluations. Today it's Washington that will decide about monetary integration, and few seem interested right now in replacing three national currencies with one stronger currency.

Like millions of Mexicans of my generation, I grew up with the values and dreams of the 1910 Revolution. I recognize my debt to that culture, which is why I won't lose my way as we explore the future with optimism.

Originally published by Worldcrunch. Republished with permission.

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