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Mexico - Government


FOR MORE THAN THREE GENERATIONS, Mexicans have attributed the origins of their political system to the Revolution of 1910-20. They cite the constitution of 1917, a sweeping document that capped nearly a decade of civil war among rival regional militias, as the foundation of their modern political institutions and practices. Mexico's governing institutions and political culture also bear the imprint of three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Mexicans' adherence to a highly codified civil law tradition, their acceptance of heavy state involvement in business and civic affairs, and the deference accorded the executive over other branches of government can be traced to the administrative and legal practices of the colonial period. Finally, the traumatic experiences of the nineteenth century, including foreign military occupations and the loss of half of the national territory to the United States, as well as the disillusion sown by a series of unconstitutional regimes, continue to have a profound impact on contemporary political culture.

During the 1920s, President Plutarco Elías Calles (1924-28) reorganized Mexican politics along corporatist (see Glossary) lines as a way to contain latent social conflicts. Calles expanded the government bureaucracy to enable it to mediate among rival constituencies and to dispense state funds to organizations supportive of the "official" party. Calles also created new umbrella organizations that lumped together disparate groups according to broad functional categories. The newly created interest groups depended heavily on the state for their financing and were required to maintain strong ties to the ruling party. By grafting corporatist institutions onto Mexico's historically fractious political system at a time when ideologies of the extreme left and right were gaining support throughout the world, Mexico's leaders avoided a return to the widespread violence that had engulfed their country during the 1910s and early 1920s. Subsequently, the relatively inclusive nature of Mexican corporatism and the firm foundations of civilian supremacy over the military prevented Mexico from following the pattern of alternating civilian and military regimes that characterized most other Latin American countries in the twentieth century.

One of Calles's successors, Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-40), revived populism as a force in national politics by redistributing land to landless peasants under a state-sponsored reincarnation of communal farming known as the ejido (see Glossary) system. Cárdenas also emphasized nationalism as a force in Mexican politics by expropriating the holdings of foreign oil corporations and creating a new national oil company. Cardenas's reforms of the late 1930s bolstered the legitimacy of the government while further concentrating power in the president and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional--PRI), the "official" party of the Revolution. By the early 1940s, the political processes and institutions that would broadly define Mexican politics for the next forty years were well established: a strong federal government dominated by a civilian president and his loyalists within the ruling party, a symbiotic relationship between the state and the official party, a regular and orderly rotation of power among rival factions within a de facto single-party system, and a highly structured corporatist relationship between the state and government-sponsored constituent groups.

During the financial crisis of the 1980s, the stable, ritualistic pattern of Mexican politics instituted by Calles and Cárdenas began to break down. As public funding for a variety of programs dried up, the state's role in the economy was scaled back, and the clientelist relationships developed over four decades between government agencies and legally recognized constituent groups were weakened. Seeking to establish a basis for future economic growth, the governments of Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado (1982-88) and Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94) carried out a structural adjustment program that systematically rolled back state ownership and regulation of key industries. They also eliminated long-standing protectionist legislation that had made Mexico one of the most closed economies in the world and lifted the constitutional prohibition on the sale of ejido land to allow it to be converted to larger, more efficient farms. In the mid-1980s, an internal rift emerged between the populist and the more technocratic wings of the ruling party over the market reforms and the authoritarian nature of the PRI-dominated political system. The economic reforms initiated by President de la Madrid had been opposed by many members of the PRI's core agrarian and labor constituencies. These groups rejected privatization and the elimination of economic subsidies for consumer goods and services. The naming of Salinas, a United States-educated technocrat, as de la Madrid's successor was also repudiated by the leftist faction of the PRI leadership. This internal rift developed into the first major mass defection from the PRI ranks when Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, son of the former president, left the party to contest the 1988 presidential election as head of a coalition of leftist parties.

Since the late 1980s, the PRI has defeated serious electoral challenges to its central role in Mexican politics from parties of the left and right. During his presidency, Salinas liberalized the electoral system but further concentrated power in the executive. The main objectives of the Salinas administration were to restructure the Mexican economy and to integrate Mexico into the global market, rather than to democratize the political system. Nevertheless, the electoral reforms enacted by Salinas under domestic and international pressure for democratization set the stage for competitive, internationally monitored presidential and congressional elections in 1994.

After a strongly contested presidential campaign marred by the assassination of its original candidate, the PRI maintained its hold on the presidency with the election of yet another United States-educated technocrat, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, in August 1994. Zedillo's victory preserved the PRI's dubious distinction as the world's longest-ruling political party. The PRI victory also presented Zedillo and his party with the unenviable challenge of guiding Mexico through a difficult and uncertain period of economic dislocation and broad political realignments. By the mid-1990s, most observers believed that the PRI-dominated political system begun in the 1920s was in an advanced state of decay and that a transitional period marked by a greater pluralism of organized political activity was at hand. How this transition would unfold, and whether it would ultimately lead to a more participatory and competitive political process across the spectrum of Mexican society, was yet to be determined.

<>The Constitution
<>Government Structure
<>Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
<>National Action Party
<>Democratic Revolutionary Party
<>Organized Labor
<>Business Organizations
<>The Church
<>The Media
<>The Electoral Process and Political Dynamics
<>Foreign Relations
<>Relations with the United States


Mexico - The Constitution


Nineteenth-Century Constitutions

The roots of the Mexican republic can be traced to two documents drafted during the early independence struggle against Spain: Los sentimientos de la nación (1813), by José María Morelos y Pavón, and the Constitution of Apatzingán (1814). These tracts introduced the ideal of a republic based on liberal political institutions and respect for individual rights. Mexico's independence was attained, however, by an alliance of liberal and ultraconservative forces under the leadership of Agustín de Iturbide (see Wars of Independence, 1810-21, ch. 1). Iturbide's Plan of Iguala proposed an indigenous constitutional monarchy, rather than a republic, as the alternative to Spanish rule. By assuming imperial powers following the victory over Spanish colonial forces in 1821, Iturbide continued the Iberian practice of plenipotentiary rule by the chief executive.

Mexico's first republican constitution was the Acta Constitutiva de la Federación Mexicana (Constituent Act of the Mexican Federation), which was promulgated in 1824, following the forced resignation of Iturbide and the breakup of the short-lived Mexican Empire (see The Abortive Empire, 1821-23, ch. 1). A liberal document modeled largely on the United States constitution, the constitution of 1824 established a federal republic with a divided central government. To avoid the abuses of executive authority experienced under Iturbide, the constitution required the president to share power and responsibility with a bicameral congress and the federal judiciary. Breaking with the Spanish colonial legacy of centralism, the constitution instituted a strong federal system, wherein presidents were to be indirectly elected every four years by a simple majority vote of the republic's nineteen state legislatures.

A document of dubious relevance, the constitution of 1824 was never fully observed by the politico-military leadership of the early Mexican republic. The survival of two of its most important principles, federalism and congressional authority, was more a reflection of the de facto decentralization of power in early nineteenth-century Mexico than of a generalized observance of the rule of law. Many provisions of the constitution of 1824 and subsequent nineteenth-century constitutions were simply ignored by the combative regional caudillos (strongmen) who dominated national politics. The most commonly breached constitutional principle was that of an orderly, electoral process of presidential succession. The violent overthrow of governments and the perpetuation in office of powerful presidents were problems that would plague Mexico throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and into the revolutionary period. Between 1824 and 1857, only one president, Guadalupe Victoria, completed his term and handed over power to an elected successor (see Centralism and the Caudillo State, 1836-55, ch. 1).

In 1833 the conservative president and military caudillo, Antonio López de Santa Anna Pérez de Lebrón, suspended the 1824 constitution and imposed a new national charter known as the Siete Leyes (Seven Laws). The Siete Leyes was a reactionary document that strengthened the powers of the presidency, militarized the federal government, and raised property qualifications for voting.

After three decades of political instability stemming from unrestrained power struggles between liberal and conservative elites, a new reformist constitution was promulgated in 1857 by the liberals, who had gained the upper hand. The 1857 constitution was reminiscent of the 1824 charter but was noteworthy for its introduction of major reform laws restricting military and clerical fueros (privileges) and clerical property rights. The new constitution also introduced a bill of rights, abolished slavery, and reestablished a strong national congress as a unicameral body. The clerical reform laws, moderate in comparison to the strongly anticlerical constitution of 1917, nevertheless galvanized the conservative opposition and led to a three-year civil war. Although the liberal forces under President Benito Juárez eventually prevailed, the conflict left Mexico divided and deeply in debt.

Using the excuse of collecting compensation for damage incurred during the civil war, the French landed troops in Veracruz. The French government, hoping to reestablish a French empire in the Americas, allied itself with conservative and church forces in Mexico and sent French troops to take Mexico City (see Civil War and the French Intervention, ch. 1). French troops entered the capital in 1863, and an empire under the Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph von Habsburg was declared. Republican forces retreated to the far north, and for four years Mexico had two governments.

Bowing to pressure from the United States and responding to the increased belligerency of Prussia, Napoleon III of France decided to withdraw French troops at the end of 1866. The conservative forces in Mexico, disillusioned by Maximilian, threw their support to Juárez. Before the last French troops had boarded their ships in Veracruz, Maximilian had surrendered, and the republican forces again controlled the entire country.

Although the constitution of 1857 was restored, its democratic principles were increasingly violated in the decades to follow. Juárez was reelected twice amidst charges that his administrations were becoming increasingly dictatorial. After Juárez's death in 1872, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada assumed the presidency. Under Lerdo, a bicameral congress was reinstated. When Lerdo announced he would run for reelection in 1876, José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz took control as dictator. For more than a third of a century, either directly of indirectly, Díaz ruled Mexico (see The Porfiriato, ch. 1).

The revolutionary years from 1910 to 1917 were a period of governmental chaos (see The Revolution, 1910-20, ch. 1). Various groups espousing populist and revolutionary ideals roamed the country. By 1917 forces under Venustiano Carranza gradually had consolidated their control of the nation. Carranza then called a constitutional convention and presented a draft constitution, similar to the constitution of 1857, to the delegates. Carranza's moderate faction was outnumbered by the radicals, however, and numerous anticlerical and social reform articles were added.

Constitution of 1917

The constitution of 1917, proclaimed on February 5, 1917, is considered by many to be one of the most radical and comprehensive constitutions in modern political history. Although its social content gave it the title of the first modern socialist constitution--it preceded the constitution of the former Soviet Union--the Mexican document replicates many liberal principles and concepts of the constitution of the United States. The liberal concepts include federalism, separation of powers, and a bill of rights. In addition to reaffirming the liberal principles of the nineteenth-century documents, the 1917 constitution adds a strong nationalist proclamation, asserting Mexico's control over its natural resources. It also recognizes social and labor rights, separation of church and state, and universal male suffrage. Reflecting the varied social backgrounds and political philosophies of its framers, the constitution of 1917 includes various contradictory provisions, endorsing within the same text socialism, capitalism, liberal democracy, authoritarian corporatism, and a host of unimplemented provisions for specific social reforms.

Formally, the constitution prescribes a federal republic consisting of thirty-one states and a federal district. The federal government is divided into executive, legislative, and judicial branches, but these branches do not have comparable powers. Only the president may promulgate a law, by signing it and ordering its publication. The executive can veto bills passed by the legislature, either in whole or by item, and although a veto may be overridden, there is no constitutional way in which the president may be forced to sign a bill into law. In addition, executive-sponsored bills submitted to the Congress take precedence over other business, and the constitution gives the president broad authority to issue basic rules (reglamentos ). Reglamentos have the same legal force as laws and are the source of most statutory regulations.

The constitution treats many matters of public policy explicitly. For example, before being amended in 1992, Article 27 placed stringent restrictions on the ownership of property by foreigners and the Roman Catholic Church and declared national ownership of the country's natural resources (see Church-State Relations, ch. 2). Religious groups were excluded from any kind of political activity and were not allowed to participate in public education, conduct services outside churches, or wear clerical dress in public. In its original form, Article 27 also granted the government broad powers to expropriate private property in the public interest and to redistribute land.

The constitution prescribes an activist state that will ensure national autonomy and social justice. Thus, in addition to a charter of individual rights, the constitution provides for a number of social rights for workers and peasants and their organizations. In Article 123, the constitution provides what has been described as "the most advanced labor code in the world at its time." It guarantees the right to organize, as well as an eight-hour workday, and provides for the protection of women and minors in the workplace. It mandates that the minimum wage "should be sufficient to satisfy the normal necessities of life of the worker," and establishes the principle of equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. In addition, Article 123 clarifies the right to strike. Strikes are legal when their purpose is to "establish equilibrium between the diverse factors of production, harmonizing the rights of labor with those of capital." The article further establishes arbitration and conciliation boards made up of equal numbers of management, labor representatives, and one government representative. Although many of these provisions were not implemented until 1931, Article 123 mandates the incorporation of organized labor into the formal political process and serves as a basis for labor's claim to a preeminent status in national politics.


Mexico - Government Structure



The presidency is the paramount institution, not only of the Mexican state, but of the entire Mexican political system. Critics have pejoratively labeled the presidency the "six-year monarchy" because of the seemingly unchecked power that historically has resided in the office. Much of the aura of presidential power derives from the president's direct and unchallenged control over both the state apparatus and the ruling political party, the PRI.

Presidents are directly elected by a simple majority of registered voters in the thirty-one states and the Federal District. The president holds the formal titles of chief of state, head of government, and commander in chief of the armed forces (see fig. 11). Presidential candidates must be at least thirty-five years old on election day and must be not only Mexican citizens by birth but also the offspring of Mexican citizens by birth (this clause was amended in 1994 to make the children of naturalized citizens eligible for the presidency, effective in 1999). To be eligible for the presidency, a candidate must reside legally in Mexico during the year preceding the election. The candidate cannot have held a cabinet post or a governorship, nor have been on active military duty during the six months prior to the election. Priests and ministers of religious denominations are barred from holding public office.

The presidential term of six years, commonly known as the sexenio , has determined the cyclical character of Mexican politics since the late 1930s. A president can never be reelected, and there is no vice president. If the presidential office falls vacant during the first two years of a sexenio , the congress designates an interim president, who, in turn, must call a special presidential election to complete the term. If the vacancy occurs during the latter four years of a sexenio , the congress designates a provisional president for the remainder of the term.

In addition to the president's prerogatives in legislative matters, he or she may freely appoint and dismiss cabinet officials and almost all employees of the executive branch. Subject to traditionally routine ratification by the Senate, the president appoints ambassadors, consuls general, magistrates of the Supreme Court, and the mayor of the Federal District. The president also appoints the magistrates of the Supreme Court of the Federal District, subject to ratification by the Chamber of Deputies. Presidential appointment authority also extends downward through the federal bureaucracy to a wide assortment of midlevel offices in the secretariats, other cabinet-level agencies, semiautonomous agencies, and parastatal (see Glossary) enterprises. This extensive appointment authority provides a formidable source of patronage for incoming administrations and has been an important factor in ensuring the regular, orderly turnover in office of competing elite factions within the official party.

Despite the nominally federal character of the Mexican state, presidents have historically played a decisive role in the selection and removal of state governors, all of whom, until 1991, were members of the PRI. President Salinas was particularly assertive in bringing about the resignations of PRI governors widely believed to have been elected through blatant fraud. In some cases, Salinas annuled the election and appointed the opposition candidate governor.

The president confers broad powers on cabinet secretaries, although the cabinet rarely meets as a single body. There is a hierarchy of influence among the different cabinet posts, and the power of a minister or secretary varies, depending on the priorities set by a particular president as well as the resources available at the time. Traditionally, the secretary of interior has been an influential figure and often has been chosen to succeed the president. During the José López Portillo y Pachecho sexenio (1976-82), the Secretariat of Programming and Budget (Secretaría de Programación y Presupuesto--SPP) was reorganized to coordinate all government agencies, supervise the budget, and design the national development program. Until its merger with the Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público) in 1992, the SPP was extremely influential, becoming the launching point for the presidencies of de la Madrid and Salinas.

In 1994, President Salinas broke with the pattern of selecting SPP economists by designating the Secretary of Social Development, Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta, as the PRI presidential nominee. This departure from the established practice of nominating ministers with economic portfolios appeared to reflect a reemergence of a social welfare agenda within the PRI after years of orthodox economic policies. When Colosio was assassinated during the presidential campaign, Salinas returned to the fold by selecting Zedillo, a former education and SPP secretary who was then serving as Colosio's campaign manager, to replace the fallen candidate.

One of the unique features of the Mexican presidency has been the highly secretive and mysterious process of presidential succession. Since the 1930s, Mexico's PRI presidents have enjoyed the right to personally name their successor, a privilege known as the dedazo (tap). The prerogative of choosing one's successor has allowed outgoing presidents to select individuals who embody either change or continuity with past policies, as demanded by circumstances and public opinion. Over the years, the skillful selection of a successor to the president has become an important element of the adaptability that has characterized the PRI-dominated system.

During the last two years of a sexenio , a president selects a short list of candidates for the PRI nomination from among an inner circle within the cabinet. Before announcing the nominee, an event known as the destape (unveiling), a president gauges public opinion of the candidates. The destape has been criticized for being undemocratic and anachronistic in the age of mass communications. Beginning with the elections of 2000, the PRI's presidential candidate will be selected by a nominating convention, similar to that followed by the other major parties.


The legislative branch of the Mexican government consists of a bicameral congress (Congreso de la Unión) divided into an upper chamber, or Senate (Cámara de Senadores), and a lower chamber, or Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados). As in the United States, both chambers are responsible for the discussion and approval of legislation and the ratification of high-level presidential appointments. In theory, the power of introducing bills is shared with the executive, although in practice the executive initiates about 90 percent of all legislation.

The congress holds two ordinary sessions per year. The first session begins on November 1 and continues until no later than December 31; the second session begins on April 15 and may continue until July 15. A Permanent Committee (Comisión Permanente), consisting of thirty-seven members (eighteen senators and nineteen deputies), assumes legislative responsibilities during congressional recesses. The president may call for extraordinary sessions of congress to deal with important legislation.

Historically, the Senate consisted of sixty-four members, two members for each state and two representing the Federal District elected by direct vote for six-year terms. However, as part of the electoral reforms enacted by the Salinas government in 1993, the Senate was doubled in size to 128 members, with one of each state's four seats going to whichever party comes in second in that state. Since 1986 the Chamber of Deputies has consisted of 500 members, 200 of whom are elected by proportional representation from among large plurinominal districts, and the remainder from single-member districts. Members of the Chamber of Deputies serve three-year terms. All members of the congress are barred from immediate reelection but may serve nonconsecutive terms.

The powers of the congress include the right to pass laws, impose taxes, declare war, approve the national budget, approve or reject treaties and conventions made with foreign countries, and ratify diplomatic appointments. The Senate addresses all matters concerning foreign policy, approves international agreements, and confirms presidential appointments. The Chamber of Deputies, much like the United States House of Representatives, addresses all matters pertaining to the government's budget and public expenditures. As in the United States, in cases of impeachment, the Chamber of Deputies has the power to prosecute, and the Senate acts as the jury. In some instances, both chambers share certain powers, such as establishing committees to discuss particular government issues and question government officials. The deputies have the power to appoint a provisional president. In the event of impeachment, the two chambers are convened jointly as a General Congress. Each legislative chamber has a number of committees that study and recommend bills. If there is disagreement between the chambers, a joint committee is appointed to draft a compromise version.


The judicial branch of the Mexican government is divided into federal and state systems. Mexico's highest court is the Supreme Court of Justice, located in Mexico City. It consists of twenty-one magistrates and five auxiliary judges, all appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate or the Permanent Committee.

Mexican supreme court justices must be Mexican citizens by birth, thirty-five to sixty-five years old, and must have resided in Mexico and held a law degree during the five years preceding their nomination. According to the constitution, supreme court justices are appointed for life but are subject to impeachment by the Chamber of Deputies. In practice, the justices, along with the entire federal judiciary, traditionally submit their resignations at the beginning of each sexenio .

The Supreme Court of Justice may meet in joint session or in separate chambers, depending on the type of case before it. The high court is divided into four chambers, each with five justices. These are the Penal Affairs Chamber, Administrative Affairs Chamber, Civil Affairs Chamber, and Labor Affairs Chamber. A fifth chamber, the Auxiliary Chamber, is responsible for the overload of the four regular chambers. Court rulings of both the whole, or plenary, court and the separate chambers are decided on the basis of majority opinion. Rulings by the separate chambers may be overturned by the full court.

There are three levels of federal courts under the Supreme Court of Justice: twelve Collegiate Circuit Courts, each with three magistrates; nine Unitary Circuit Courts, each with six magistrates; and sixty-eight District Courts, each with one judge. Federal judges for the lower courts are appointed by the Supreme Court of Justice. The Collegiate Circuit Courts are comparable to the United States Courts of Appeals. The Collegiate Circuit Courts deal with the protection of individual rights, most commonly hearing cases where an individual seeks a writ of amparo , a category of legal protection comparable to a broad form of habeas corpus that safeguards individual civil liberties and property rights. The Unitary Circuit Courts also handle appeals cases. The Collegiate Circuit Courts are located in Mexico City, Toluca, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Hermosillo, Puebla, Veracruz, Torreón, San Luis Potosí, Villahermosa, Morelia, and Mazatlán. The Unitary Circuit Courts are located in Mexico City, Toluca, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Hermosillo, Puebla, Mérida, Torreón, and Mazatlán.

The Mexican legal system is based on Spanish civil law with some influence of the common law tradition. Unlike the United States version of the common law system, under which the judiciary enjoys broad powers of jurisprudence, Spanish civil law is based upon strict adherence to legal codes and minimal jurisprudence. The most powerful juridical instrument is the writ of amparo , which can be invoked against acts by any government official, including the president. Unlike the United States system, where courts may rule on basic constitutional matters, the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice is prohibited by the constitution from applying its rulings beyond any individual case. Within this restricted sphere, the Supreme Court of Justice generally displays greater independence in relation to the president than does the legislature, often deciding against the executive in amparo cases. Nevertheless, the judiciary seldom attempts to thwart the will of the president on major issues.

State Government

Mexico is divided into thirty-one states and a Federal District that encompasses Mexico City and its immediate environs. Each state has its own constitution, modeled on the national charter, with the right to legislate and levy taxes other than interstate customs duties. Following the federal organization at the national level, state (and local) governments also have executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Despite its federal structure, Mexico's political system is highly centralized. State governments depend on Mexico City for much of their revenue, which they, in turn, funnel to municipal governments in a clientelist fashion. Mexican presidents have historically played a prominent role in selecting PRI gubernatorial candidates and in settling state-level electoral disputes. President Salinas was especially assertive in this regard, having removed or prevented the seating of eight PRI governors widely believed to have been fraudulently elected.

The state executive branch is headed by a governor, who is directly elected by simple majority vote for a six-year term, and, like the president, may not be reelected. State legislatures are unicameral, consisting of a single Chamber of Deputies that meets in two ordinary sessions per year, with extended periods and extraordinary sessions when needed. Deputies serve three-year terms and may not be immediately reelected. Legislative bills may be introduced by the deputies, the state governor, the state Superior Court of Justice, or by a municipality within a given state. Replicating the pattern of executive dominance at the national level, most policy-making authority at the state level has historically resided in the governor. The state judiciary is headed by a Superior Court of Justice. Justices of the Superior Courts of Justice are appointed by governors with approval of the state legislatures. The superior court magistrates, in turn, appoint all lower state court judges.

The Federal District, which encompasses Mexico City and its southern suburbs, has traditionally fallen under the supervision of the president, who appoints a mayor (regente ). In addition to performing his municipal duties, the mayor also holds cabinet rank as head of the Department of the Federal District. In September 1993, the congress approved an electoral reform package that introduced the indirect election of the mayor of the Federal District.

The Federal District has local courts and a Representative Assembly, whose members are elected by proportional representation. The assembly, historically a local advisory body with no real legislative power, is scheduled to elect Federal District mayors beginning in late 1996.

Local Government

The basic unit of Mexican government is the municipality (municipio ), more than 2,000 of which were legally in existence in 1996. Municipal governments are responsible for a variety of public services, including water and sewerage; street lighting; cleaning and maintenance; public safety and traffic; supervision of slaughterhouses; and the maintenance of parks, gardens, and cemeteries. Municipalities are also free to assist state and federal governments in the provision of elementary education, emergency fire and medical services, environmental protection, and the maintenance of historical landmarks.

Municipal governments, headed by a mayor or municipal president (regente ) and a municipal council (ayuntamiento ), are popularly elected for three-year terms. Article 115 of the 1917 constitution proclaims the autonomy of local governments according to the principle of the free municipality (municipio libre ). Although they are authorized to collect property taxes and user fees, municipalities have historically lacked the means to do so, relying mainly on transfers from higher levels of government for approximately 80 percent of their revenues. Responding to concerns that excessive centralization of political power and financial resources would jeopardize long-term popular support for the PRI, President de la Madrid advocated reforming intergovernmental relations to allow greater municipal autonomy. De la Madrid's municipal reform culminated in the 1984 amendments to Article 115, which expanded municipalities' authority to raise revenue and formulate budgets. The Salinas administration's National Solidarity Program (Programa Nacional de Solidaridad--Pronasol) provided another source of revenue for municipal governments (see Social Spending, ch. 2). By bypassing state bureaucracies and channeling federal funds directly to municipalities and community organizations, Pronasol undermined state governments' control over municipal finances, albeit by promoting municipalities' dependence on the federal government.


Mexico - Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)


The PRI, Mexico's "official" party, was the country's preeminent political organization from 1929 until the early 1990s. In terms of power, it was second only to the president, who also serves as the party's effective chief. Until the early 1980s, the PRI's position in the Mexican political system was hegemonic, with opposition parties posing little or no threat to its power base or its near monopoly of public office. This situation changed during the mid-1980s, as opposition parties of the left and right began to seriously challenge PRI candidates for local, state, and national-level offices.

The PRI was founded by Calles in 1929 as the National Revolutionary Party (Partido Nacional Revolucionario--PNR), a loose confederation of local political bosses and military strongmen grouped together with labor unions, peasant organizations, and regional political parties. In its early years, it served primarily as a means of organizing and containing the political competition among the leaders of the various revolutionary factions. Calles, operating through the party organization, was able to undermine much of the strength of peasant and labor organizations that affiliated with the party and to weaken the regional military commanders who had operated with great autonomy throughout the 1920s. By 1934 Calles was in control of Mexican politics and government, even after he left the presidency, largely through his manipulation of the PNR.

Between 1934 and 1940, an intense struggle for political control developed between Calles and the new president, Cárdenas. At the time, Calles represented the conservative elements of the revolutionary coalition, while Cárdenas drew his support from the more radical political elements. To strengthen his hand against Calles, Cárdenas reunited the labor and peasant organizations that Calles had earlier fragmented and formed two national federations, the National Peasant Confederation (Confederación Nacional Campesina--CNC) and the Confederation of Mexican Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos--CTM). Using these organizations as the bases of his support, Cárdenas then reorganized the PNR in 1938, renaming it the Party of the Mexican Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Mexicana--PRM), incorporating the CTM and the CNC and giving the PRM an organization by sectors: labor, agrarian, popular, and military. The creation of these groups and their integration into the party marked the legitimation of the existing interest group organizations and the transformation of the political system from an elite to a mass-based system. Within a year, the PRM claimed some 4.3 million members: 2.5 million peasants, 1.3 million workers, and 500,000 in the popular sector. In 1946 President Manuel Ávila Camacho abolished the military sector, shifted its members into the popular sector, and renamed the party the PRI.

Beginning with the Cárdenas administration in the late 1930s, the PRI and its predecessors engineered an unprecedented political peace. The overt political intervention by the military that had characterized the country's politics throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries largely disappeared when Ávila Camacho, the last president who came from a military background, left office in 1946. For nearly five decades, there were few episodes of large-scale organized violence and no revolutionary movements that enjoyed widespread support, despite considerable economic strains between 1968 and 1975 and a difficult period of economic austerity beginning in 1982.

For the middle class, whose members typically had led rebellions in the past, the PRI provided upward mobility either through politics (the rule of no reelection opened frequent opportunities for public office) or through business during the high-growth period of "stabilizing development" that lasted from the early 1950s until the late 1960s. The PRI also integrated workers and peasants into the political system by claiming to be the only vehicle able to realize their demands for labor union rights and land reform. The party operated much like an urban political machine in the United States. It weakened attempts to form horizontal class- or interest-based political alliances within the lower class by dispensing services to individuals in exchange for their votes. The PRI emphasized personal relationships between individuals of the lower class and party and government officials. It distributed political patronage from the top down to members of organized labor, the agrarian movement, and the popular sector in accordance with each group's relative strength in a given area. Finally, it used electoral fraud, corruption, bribery, and repression when necessary to maintain control over individuals and groups.

The PRI has been widely described as a coalition of networks of aspiring politicians seeking not only positions of power and prestige but also the concomitant opportunity for personal enrichment. At the highest levels of the political system, the major vehicles for corruption have been illegal landholdings and the manipulation of public-sector enterprises. In the lower reaches of the party and governmental hierarchies, the preferred methods of corruption have been bribery, charging the public for legally free public services, charging members of unions for positions, nepotism, and outright theft of public money. This corruption, although condemned by Mexican and foreign observers alike, historically served an important function in the political system by providing a means of upward mobility within the system and ensuring that those who were forced to retire from politics by the principle of no reelection would have little incentive to seek alternatives outside the PRI structure.

Official corruption reached unprecedented levels during the 1970s when petroleum revenues surged as a result of higher oil prices and when newly discovered oil fields in Chiapas and the Bahía de Campeche began producing. Much of the wealth that flowed into the country through the state oil monopoly, Mexican Petroleum (Petróleos Mexicanos--Pemex), was squandered in wasteful and unnecessary projects and the inflation of payrolls. The main beneficiaries of high-level graft during this period were the senior executives of the national oil workers union and high-level PRI functionaries. This brand of official corruption reached new heights during the presidency of López Portillo (1976-82), who allegedly acquired a US$2 million house as a "gift" from the oil workers' union and was subsequently vilified by the media and the public as a symbol of PRI graft.

Public disclosure of the excesses of the López Portillo years, which came to light during the severe financial crisis of the early 1980s, had a significant impact on the PRI's internal politics as well as on its overall level of public support. Internally, the severe public backlash against the PRI discredited many career politicians within the party who had personally benefited from the fiscal profligacy of the López Portillo sexenio , and created opportunities for an emerging generation of técnicos (technocrats) to assume high-level government posts. Many of these técnicos were brought into the cabinet by President de la Madrid to help restore the integrity of the public accounts during the early 1980s financial crisis.

During the de la Madrid sexenio (1982-88), the PRI began to downplay its traditional populist and nationalist agenda and adopted a probusiness, free-market platform. These changes produced an intraparty split between the populist wing dominated by políticos (career politicians) and the politically inexperienced técnicos . The nomination of Salinas, a Harvard-educated political economist, as the PRI candidate for the 1988 presidential election triggered the final rupture between these two groups. Salinas's nomination prompted two important party leaders, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (the son of President Cárdenas and himself a former governor of Michoacán) and Porfirio Muñoz Ledo (a former PRI secretary general), to resign from the PRI and create a broad coalition of leftist parties, labor unions, and grassroots organizations united in support of a presidential bid by Cárdenas (see Party of the Democratic Revolution, this ch.). This leftist faction criticized the "neoliberal" policies of the de la Madrid government and called for a return to the party's traditional populist platform.

Although the PRI party bosses remained loyal to Salinas, allowing the party to win the July 1988 presidential election, the 1988 vote was a major psychological blow to the ruling party. With the 1988 vote, the PRI saw its fifty-year dominance over the political system come to an almost disastrous end. The PRI received its lowest margin of victory ever, a dubious 50.7 percent of all votes cast, down from 71.6 percent in 1982 and 98.7 percent in 1976. For the first time since the consolidation of single-party rule in the 1940s, opposition leaders were elected to the Senate, and the PRI lost more than one-third of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies to the two main opposition forces, the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional--PAN) and the Cárdenas-led coalition. The results of the 1988 elections were widely viewed as marking the end of single-party hegemony by the PRI and were even interpreted by some observers as a prelude to the fragmentation and collapse of the ruling coalition.

Responding to public pressure for political renewal and seeking to avoid further rupture in the party ranks, President Salinas attempted to improve the PRI's public image without fundamentally challenging its authoritarian and clientelist practices. Salinas took steps to clean up the electoral process and moved forcefully against those elements of the party and organized labor most closely associated with corruption. However, Salinas's anticorruption efforts were by no means systematic. In many instances, corrupt officials were dismissed because of their defiance of the new president rather than for their venality. Although he continued de la Madrid's practice of tapping highly trained technocrats to fill cabinet posts, Salinas took care not to completely disavow the party's político wing in filling high-level posts. In addition, the new president shrewdly manipulated state resources through popular programs, such as Pronasol, in order to recover the support of low-income Mexicans who had backed Cárdenas in 1988.

President Salinas's political maneuvers and a modest economic recovery resulted in a better showing for the PRI in the midterm elections of August 1991. In the races for 300 electoral districts in the Chamber of Deputies, thirty-two Senate seats, and six governorships, the PRI won 61.4 percent of the votes cast. This was a sizable increase from the 50 percent received in the 1988 national election. Overall, the PRI won 290 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, all but one seat in the Senate, and five of the six contested governorships.

During his administration, Salinas downplayed the corporatist relationships between the state and society instituted by Cárdenas while reaching out to more traditional interest groups. In his efforts to broaden and democratize the PRI, Salinas distanced the party from the PRI-affiliated labor unions and ejido associations, while seeking a reconciliation between the PRI and its historical adversaries, such as foreign investors, agribusiness, private banks, the Roman Catholic Church, and export industries. In foreign affairs, the PRI shed much of its economic nationalism under Salinas, while retaining its independence from the United States on regional security matters. However, even President Salinas was unwilling to seek a constitutional amendment to end public ownership of petroleum and natural gas deposits, a mainstay of PRI nationalism for more than sixty years.

The executive organization of the PRI is pyramidal, with the president of the Republic at the top. The party is headed by a president and a secretary general, who together direct a National Executive Committee of the party's top leaders. At the party base, there is a National Assembly, which meets every six years to discuss and review the party's platform as well as to formally nominate the party's candidate for the presidency. The National Assembly also elects the members of the National Executive Council. Although the party's presidential candidate is formally nominated at the National Assembly Congress, in practice the assembly has served only to ratify the candidate handpicked by the president through the dedazo . In accordance with political reforms approved in the early 1990s, the PRI's National Assembly is expected to assume a much more significant role in nominating the party's presidential candidate for the election to be held in the year 2000.


Mexico - National Action Party


Founded in 1939 by Manuel Gómez Morán, the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional--PAN) was the first genuine opposition party to develop in Mexico. The PAN emerged as a conservative reaction against the nationalizations and land confiscations undertaken by the Cárdenas government during the 1930s. The PAN resembled a standard Christian Democratic party, and its early support derived primarily from the Roman Catholic Church, the business sector, and other groups alienated by the left-wing populist reforms of the Cárdenas government. Although the PAN is much more conservative than the PRI on social issues, since the mid-1980s the PAN's economic program has been almost indistinguishable from that of the PRI governments it has attempted to supplant.

The PAN has traditionally favored a limited role of the government in the economy, an orientation that has been adopted by the PRI during the past fifteen years under presidents de la Madrid, Salinas, and Zedillo. Historically, the PAN also has campaigned in favor of a breakup of the communal ejidos into individually owned plots of land. In 1992 the Salinas administration introduced radical reforms to the land tenure law that allowed ejidatarios to sell their plots and to consolidate their holdings (see Rural Society, ch. 2). This convergence of PRI and PAN economic programs encouraged the PAN congressional delegation to work closely with the Salinas administration to pass the government's sweeping economic reforms. In an effort to distance itself from the PRI, in the mid-1990s, the PAN has stressed issues such as the need for democratization, eradication of government corruption, and additional electoral reforms.

Traditionally, the PAN has had strong support in the country's wealthiest and most urbanized regions of the north and center, particularly in the Federal District, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Puebla, and Sonora. The effects of PAN victories in the northern part of the country since the 1980s are highly significant, particularly in the states of Baja California Norte, Chihuahua, Durango, Nuevo León, Sinaloa, and Sonora. The PAN has also displayed political strength in the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Yucatán. The PAN won the governorships and congressional majorities in Baja California Norte and Chihuahua during the Salinas administration, and the local congress in the state of Guanajuato gave a third governorship to the PAN after a state election had been plagued with irregularities. The PAN's major handicap has been its lack of appeal to urban labor and peasant groups.

The PAN has presented a candidate in every presidential race since 1946 with the exception of 1976, when its leadership could not reach consensus on a candidate. It has always been the main opposition to the PRI, although in the 1988 presidential election its presidential candidate, Manuel Clouthier, ran third to Salinas and Cárdenas. By 1992 the PAN controlled more than 100 municipal governments in addition to the three governorships. With Diego Fernández de Cevallos as its candidate and "por un México sin mentiras" ("for a Mexico without lies") as its campaign slogan, the PAN won a comfortable second place in the 1994 presidential race. The second-place win consolidated the PAN's role as the main opposition political force in the country.


Mexico - Democratic Revolutionary Party


The Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático--PRD), established in 1989, evolved from the National Democratic Front (Frente Democrático Nacional--FDN), under the leadership of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. Cárdenas left the PRI in 1988 in protest over its choice of Salinas, a free-market reformer, as the PRI's presidential nominee. The PRD's party program emphasizes social welfare concerns and opposes most of the economic reforms implemented since the mid-1980s.

The PRD's agenda dates back to the populist and nationalist measures implemented by President Lázaro Cárdenas during the 1930s. The party promotes economic nationalism, as opposed to the structural neoliberal changes that focus on increasing trade and foreign investment to boost the Mexican economy introduced by the PRI during President de la Madrid's administration. Although the PRD holds a good part of the former communist and socialist parties' rank and file, the PRD is controlled by former PRI leaders. An estimated 70 percent of its leadership consists of former PRI members, while 30 percent consists of former members of the Mexican communist and socialist parties. The PRD president, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, served as president of the PRI during the sexenio of Luis Echeverría Álvarez. The PRD opposed most of the constitutional amendments passed during the Salinas government, the most important being the ecclesiastical, agrarian, and electoral system reforms. Although the PRD is currently recognized as an opposition voice in the national debate, it remains in a distant third place in the electoral scenario. Toward the end of the 1994 presidential race, the left strongly criticized Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas for having lent qualified support to the broad principles of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the privatization of some state-owned companies. Despite these changes, Cárdenas and the PRD are committed to greater state control of the economy and propose the renegotiation of parts of NAFTA with the United States and Canada.


Mexico - Organized Labor


Labor unions are mostly representative of workers in urban areas. Most labor unions are affiliated with the PRI through the Confederation of Mexican Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos--CTM), which is associated with some independent unions and federations in an umbrella organization known as the Congress of Labor (Congreso del Trabajo--CT). During August 1991, the CT confirmed its direct relationship with the government party in a document called the Political Agreement Between the PRI and the Organization of the CT.

The CT, considered the labor sector of the PRI, consists of more than thirty organizations encompassing 85 percent of the unionized workforce. In the early 1990s, Mexico had an estimated 9.5 million unionized workers. The CT mediates between the labor unions and the government. At the same time, it provides the state with a formal mechanism for political manipulation of the labor force.

The CTM is the largest and most influential organization in the CT, comprising over 11,000 labor unions with more than 5 million union members. It is considered the spearhead of the Mexican labor movement. Since 1941 the CTM has been tightly controlled by its secretary general, Fidel Velázquez, considered one of the most influential political figures in Mexico.

The second organization within the CT is the Federation of Unions of Workers in the Service of the State (Federación de Sindicatos de Trabajadores al Servicio del Estado--FSTSE). The FSTSE was established in 1938 as an umbrella organization for labor unions within the federal civil system and other government-related organizations. In 1990 the FSTSE consisted of eighty-nine unions with a total membership of 1.8 million employees.

The Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (Confederación Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos--CROC) is the third largest labor organization within the CT. The CROC was established in 1952; since 1980, it has been under the leadership of Alberto Juárez Blancas. During the 1990s, the CROC had an estimated membership of some 600,000. Other important labor organizations are the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (Confederación Regional de Obreros Mexicanos--CROM), the National Federation of Independent Unions (Federación Nacional de Sindicatos Independientes--FNSI), the Confederation of Workers and Peasants (Confederación de Trabajadores y Campesinos--CTC), the International Proletarian Movement (Movimiento Proletario Internacional--MPI), the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers (Confederación de Obreros Revolucionarios--COR), the General Confederation of Workers (Confederación General de Trabajadores--CGT), the Authentic Labor Front (Frente Auténtico del Trabajo--FAT), and the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers (Confederación Revolucionaria de Trabajadores--CRT). There are, in addition, some 1.5 million members of independent unions and company labor organizations.

In theory, labor-management relations are well defined by the Labor Code, which leaves little margin for bargaining in labor disputes. All labor unions receive official recognition by applying to the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare. Once it is officially recognized, a union is protected by the Labor Code, which details the rights of each official organization to receive social security payments, to participate in profit sharing, and to use meeting halls, among many other benefits. The code stipulates that strikes are illegal if unauthorized by the secretariat and that workers participating in an illegal strike will be subject to government sanctions and dismissal by their employers.

Corruption, paternalism, and abuse of union funds have traditionally been rampant in the labor movement. In recent years, however, the traditional oligarchic leadership of most Mexican labor unions has been challenged by the rank and file, as well as by independent unions wishing to end the use of leadership positions to amass wealth and power. The lack of support for Salinas's presidential bid by the leadership of some powerful unions, in particular that of the union of oil workers, contributed to a change in government relations with union groups. President Salinas launched an anticorruption campaign during his first year in government, toppling from power strong labor leaders in corruption-related scandals. Although the level of corruption and abuse of power has not been substantially reduced, the political relationship and corporatist structure between the labor sector and the party are currently undergoing profound changes. There is a sharp distinction between two clashing forces in the labor movement: the traditional leadership that forcefully resists political change and a new generation that strongly supports the government's neoliberal policies currently in place. In the mid-1990s, labor groups have less impact on Mexican politics than they did in the past.


Mexico - Business Organizations


Traditionally, business interests in Mexico are driven by government policies and interests. In addition to participation of individual businessmen in politics, many business groups are represented in government agencies and commissions. There has always been a close connection between the business community and the different economic cabinets. The most influential of all business associations is the Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce (Confederación de Cámaras Nacionales de Comercio--Concanaco). The Confederation of Chambers of Industry (Confederación de Cámaras de Industria--Concamin) serves as the umbrella organization for industrial associations. There is also the National Chamber of Manufacturing Industries (Cámara Nacional de la Industria de la Transformación--Canacintra), which historically has represented small and medium-sized businesses. A sharp distinction exists between small and big business in Mexican politics. Although technically these organizations are not integrated into a particular political party, contributions of big business go first to the PRI to reward government policies that benefit big business and to make sure that such policies continue. According to PRI Finance Secretary Oscar Espinoza Villareal, the Mexican private sector contributed between 54 and 67 billion new pesos (for value of the new peso--see Glossary) to the campaigns of government party candidates for the August 1994 elections.

Business associations such as Concanaco play an active role in government policy debates. Most of the business sector currently supports the reduction of trade barriers, liberal economic policies, and conservative labor legislation. The success of the liberal policies launched during the Salinas sexenio greatly benefited the Mexican private sector. Thus, relations between the business community and the PRI improved significantly. A clear example of the improved relationship was a well-publicized gathering held in February 1993, when thirty of Mexico's multimillionaires pledged an average US$25 million each in support of the 1994 PRI election campaign. At the fund-raising dinner, television baron Emilio Azcarrago, considered the richest man in Latin America, pledged US$70 million to the government's party "in gratitude" for his prosperity during the Salinas administration. The great disparity in funding between the PRI and the opposition during the 1994 electoral race was clearly attributable to generous contributions from domestic private enterprises to the PRI.


Mexico - The Church


Although there has been conflict between church and state in Mexico since the country's independence, more than 90 percent of the population remains Roman Catholic, according to 1990 census estimates. The state feud with the Roman Catholic Church is reflected in the 1917 constitution, which imposes many restrictions on the influence and privileges of the clergy in Mexico. The early drafts of the 1917 constitution banned public religious ceremonies, the establishment of monastic orders, and property ownership by the Roman Catholic Church, and forbade the clergy from participating in elections. All church buildings, according to law, were considered national property, and church ministers had to be Mexican nationals. The law also prohibited criticism of public law and institutions, both public and private, by members of the clergy.

Far from bring a traditional conservative force, however, the Roman Catholic Church has been a strong advocate for social and political change. In the late 1980s, for example, the clergy were active in the northern states, condemning electoral fraud to the extent of threatening to cease celebrating masses unless there were a recount of the vote. The Roman Catholic Church was also instrumental throughout the 1980s in demanding recognition of its legal status and electoral participation for the clergy. Despite the traditional view of the Roman Catholic Church as representative or supporter of the elites, the Mexican Roman Catholic Church has emerged during the last decades as the defender of social justice, and the more progressive clergy have worked closely with underprivileged sectors to increase economic and social reform.

The Salinas administration changed dramatically the relations between church and state in Mexico (see Church-State Relations, ch. 2). During the fall of 1991, Salinas's government took the first steps toward lifting some restrictions on church activities and introduced a reform proposal to end constitutional limits on the church. The new law, approved by the Congress in December 1991 and promulgated in January 1992, amended the constitution of 1917. Under the new law, the Roman Catholic Church is formally recognized by the state, the clergy are allowed to vote, the possession of property by churches is legal, and religion may be taught in private schools. Mexico also established diplomatic relations with the Vatican, relations that had been broken in 1867. State and church, nevertheless, remain separate, and church buildings remain state property.

Protestant groups in Mexico have tended to support the PRI, in light of the party's broad appeal. The political alternatives are not viable options for Mexican Protestants because the opposition on the right, the PAN, openly represents Roman Catholicism and groups on the left exclude religion from their political goals. Toward the latter part of the twentieth century, the participation of Protestant groups in Mexican politics increased as Protestants supported efforts aimed at political change.

Given the country's anticlerical history, it is highly unlikely that the Roman Catholic Church will assume a direct role in Mexican politics in the near future. However, the church's traditional commitment to social justice and economic development, along with the government redefinition of its institutional responsibilities, provides the Roman Catholic Church with a strong voice on future political issues.


Mexico - The Media


Based on the number of newspapers, publishers, radio stations, and television networks in the country, Mexico is considered the media power center of Spanish-speaking Latin America. Mexico's mainstream newspapers and periodicals range in political ideology and independence from the official government newspaper El Nacional to the left-wing independent El Proceso . Although the press was for many years generally pro-establishment and supportive of the PRI, it diversified during the 1980s to reflect a wider spectrum of opinion. In early 1994, the government postponed its stated plans to sell El Nacional to private owners but declared that the newspaper would no longer receive public funding.

The constitution of 1917 explicitly guarantees freedom of the press. Article 7 forbids prior censorship, and an amendment to Article 6 adopted in 1977 declares that "the right of information will be guaranteed by the state." However, these guarantees are highly qualified in practice. The Press Law of 1917, for instance, restricts the press on matters of personal privacy, morality, and public health. Many other regulations govern the news media. The 1960 Law on Radio and Television, for instance, forbids the broadcast of material deemed offensive to national heroes.

Although nominally independent, the news media are subject to a variety of mainly indirect economic and political pressures from the government. The Secretariat of Communi-cations and Transport supervises the news media, granting publishing and broadcast licenses and ensuring adherence to the media laws. Successive PRI governments have influenced the news media by paying individual journalists for favorable coverage, by restricting access to newsprint and ink (the state monopolizes the production of both, although this control was somewhat reduced under President Salinas), by withholding information from critical journalists, and especially by granting or withholding government advertising, an important source of revenue for the press. Many newspapers accept government payments for the insertion of official announcements disguised as editorials. Occasionally, the government provides indirect financial inducements to particular journalists (for example, by offering them part of the payment for official advertising run by their newspapers). Some journalists and opposition political parties have accused the government of trying to conceal the extent of official subsidies to journalists by redirecting payoffs through the PRI's Office of Information.

Government tolerance of press freedoms varies according to the sensitivities of the president in office. Traditionally, the media avoid direct criticism of an incumbent president. On sensitive issues affecting the government, the press provides only minimal coverage. Among the many unwritten rules is one that says that journalists are expected to respect the image of the president and other high-level government officials.

In essence, government policies may be criticized, but elected individuals must not be ridiculed. Since the early 1980s, the trend toward a more open political debate has brought greater tolerance of criticism in the media. Some argue that this tolerance, which has occurred faster than the increasing democratization of the political system, has definitively contributed to increasing public awareness of the need for changes within the Mexican political system.

Television is highly biased toward the official party, as illustrated by the open support the Televisa network gives to the government. Televisa is part of Mexican Telesystem (Telesistema Mexicano), considered the biggest communications conglomerate in the developing world, as well as one of the world's major transnational media empires. Televisa's political and economic influence in Mexico is extensive. Aside from the ownership of television and radio stations, it has significant interests in newsprint and publishing, record production, home videos, cinemas, advertising and marketing, real estate, <>tourism, sports, and the food processing and transport industries.

Mexico City has fifteen newspapers; its dailies account for more than 50 percent of the national circulation. In 1994 there were eight newspapers in Mexico City with a daily circulation of more than 100,000 issues: Esto (450,000), La Prensa (300,000), Novedades (240,000), Ovaciones (220,000), El Heraldo de México (209,600), Excélsior (200,000), El Financiero (135,000), and El Universal (122,000). Excélsior is the most prestigious national daily and one of the most prominent newspapers in Latin America, known for its breadth of coverage, analytical style, and relative independence. The oldest of the traditional newspapers is El Universal , closely associated with the government throughout the 1970s, but currently known for its independence in reporting. El Nacional is the official newspaper of the federal government. The largest newspaper group is the Organización Editorial Mexicana (OEM), which owns some ninety newspapers throughout the country. The second largest publishing group is Novedades Editores, which is part of the Telesistema Mexicano conglomerate. Some of the leading daily newspapers, such as Excélsior and La Prensa , are run as cooperatives.

There are five national news agencies: Notimex, Infomex, Noti-Acción, Notipress, and Agencia Mexicana de Información. Infomex is the largest, with almost 100 offices throughout the country and some twenty foreign correspondents. All leading international agencies have bureaus in Mexico City.

National broadcasting stations are divided into commercial and cultural networks. All commercial stations are financed by advertising (both public and private) but must provide 12 percent of broadcasting time for government use. All cultural stations are operated by government agencies or by educational institutions. Media analysts expect that the economic policies pursued by the Salinas and Zedillo administrations will have a major impact on the media by further reducing state intervention and promoting the concentration of private ownership.


Mexico - The Electoral Process and Political Dynamics


The Electoral Process

Article 41 of the constitution of 1917 and subsequent amendments regulate electoral politics in Mexico. Suffrage is universal for all citizens eighteen or older, and voting is compulsory, although this provision is rarely enforced. The Mexican constitution enshrines the principle of direct election by popular vote of the president and most other elected officials. Executive officeholders may not be reelected, and legislators may not serve consecutive terms. Ordinary elections are held every six years for president and members of the Senate, and every three years for deputies. Since 1986 midterm elections have renewed one-half of the Senate, in addition to the entire Chamber of Deputies. Gubernatorial elections are evenly distributed throughout a sexenio , so that ordinarily no more than six governorships are contested in any given year.

Although holding multicandidate elections in which the electorate makes the final choice is one of the basic principles of the Mexican Revolution, the electoral process in Mexico has historically fallen short of this liberal ideal. During the sixty-year period of single-party hegemony that followed the consolidation of the revolutionary regime, regular elections became an important symbol of stability and of the regime's self-ascribed democratic character. Beyond fulfilling an ambiguous plebiscitary function, however, elections were not intended as a means of selecting new leaders, nor were they usually relevant to the public policy process. Instead, leadership turnover was centrally controlled by the president, while most significant interaction between public officials and the citizenry took place within the context of day-to-day corporatist bargaining and informal clientelist relationships.

As the beneficiary of a noncompetitive electoral process, the official party has historically enjoyed a near monopoly of all levels of public office. For almost six decades, the principal political battles in Mexico were fought among elite factions and interest groups within the PRI party structure, with little or no meaningful participation by independent organizations or opposition parties. During this prolonged period of one-party hegemony, several modest electoral reforms were implemented by the government in order to maintain the appearance of electoral democracy and undercut the appeal of latent opposition movements. Electoral reforms enacted during the 1970s included the allotment of a minimum number of congressional seats to both legitimate and "satellite" opposition parties. Additional steps toward greater political pluralism were taken during the early 1980s, when President de la Madrid embarked on a campaign to make local-level politics more competitive.

By the mid-1980s, the electoral arena had been liberalized and the political space for opposition had expanded to such an extent that the PRI found itself increasingly challenged at the ballot box. In 1985 the landslide victories of PRI candidates in gubernatorial and municipal elections in the northern state of Chihuahua led to widespread allegations of electoral fraud by the opposition PAN, which had expected major wins in one of its traditional strongholds. In an unprecedented series of public protests, a variety of civic groups, with support from the Roman Catholic Church, staged massive demonstrations denouncing the official tallies.

Responding to increasing popular pressure for democratization, the de la Madrid administration in 1986 introduced an electoral reform package that expanded opportunities for an opposition presence in the congress. The 1986 Electoral Reform Law enlarged the Chamber of Deputies from 400 to 500 seats and doubled the number of congressional seats filled by proportional representation to 200. Of the 500 deputyships, one each is allocated to 300 electoral districts, elected by simple plurality in single-member districts comparable to those in the United States. The remaining 200 seats are assigned by proportional representation based on a party's share of the national vote tally. The proportional seats give opposition parties an opportunity to be represented in the congress even if they lose all of the district races. The PRI assured, however, that the distribution of proportional seats would not become a means for a coalition of parties without a plurality of the overall vote to take control of the lower house. A clause in the electoral law provides that enough proportional seats in the Chamber of Deputies be assigned to the party winning an overall plurality in the election to give that party a majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

Theoretically, no party is barred from holding a single-member district seat, although in practice an overwhelming number of such seats have been held by the PRI. The increase in the number of proportional seats was a concession to the opposition, which relies heavily on proportional seating for its representation in the congress. The 1986 reform also introduced proportional representation in state legislatures as well as government funding for all registered political parties.

The 1988 Elections

The 1988 elections were a watershed in the history of Mexican politics, marking a radical shift in the country's political dynamics and providing the first test of the 1986 electoral reforms. The emergence of two nationally prominent opposition candidates afforded an unprecedented challenge to the PRI's electoral machine, which until that time had faced mostly obscure and poorly financed adversaries.

Assailed by a partisan rupture over the nomination of Salinas, which ultimately led to the defection of much of the PRI's populist wing to the leftist opposition, the PRI party apparatus was under intense pressure to produce a victory or face disintegration. Within the context of a national economic crisis, an intraparty split, and a hotly contested presidential race, many observers expected the PRI to resort to fraud to secure a decisive win.

Although the PRI maintained control of the presidency and preserved its congressional majority in the July 1988 balloting, the elections were a blow to the PRI's preeminent position in Mexican politics. The PRI suffered a dramatic erosion of 18 percent in its share of the presidential vote from the previous election and surrendered an unprecedented 48 percent of seats in the Chamber of Deputies to the opposition. The official tally, which showed Salinas winning a bare majority of 50.7 percent of the vote, was questioned by an unexpected week-long delay in the computerized tally and widespread reports of vote fraud and irregularities. As a result, the new administration began its term in office as one of the most unpopular in recent Mexican history.

The Salinas Presidency: Reform and Retrenchment

Upon assuming office in December 1988, Salinas faced grave challenges to his authority as president. Among his most pressing concerns was the need to defuse political tensions that had arisen in the highly polarized climate of the election. The defection of many former PRI stalwarts and the threat of further erosion of the party ranks also placed enormous pressure on Salinas to relax the economic austerity measures put in place by his predecessor. Compounding the new government's problems was the fact that, for the first time in its history, the PRI did not command the two-thirds majority in the Chamber of Deputies required to amend the constitution. To continue liberalizing the economy, the government would need to negotiate with the 101 delegates of the "moderate" opposition (the center-right PAN) to remove the remaining constitutional barriers to reform.

Perhaps the most formidable political challenge faced by the new Salinas administration was mistrust of the official party's leadership and its lack of credibility among a likely majority of the electorate in light of the questionable results of the 1988 presidential vote. In the aftermath of the narrow PRI presidential victory and facing widespread charges of electoral fraud, President Salinas sought limited reforms of the electoral process without disavowing the PRI's many legal and financial advantages in the political system.

Seeking to restore the government's credibility and to pacify the opposition, Salinas increased the opportunities for opposition politicians to take office at the state and local levels. This strategy benefited mainly the PAN, whose free-market economic policies closely resembled those of the modernizing técnico wing of the PRI. Whereas previous PRI administrations had been willing to concede some municipalities to the PAN, the growth of opposition strength after the 1988 elections compelled the PRI to begin surrendering state governments as well.

The first test of Salinas's commitment to cleaner gubernatorial elections came in 1989, when the PRI conceded its first governorship to an opposition party by accepting a PAN victory in Baja California Norte. In 1991 PRI victories in the gubernatorial elections in Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí sparked widespread allegations of fraud. In both cases, the president intervened by forcing the local PRI candidate to step down. Whereas in San Luis Potosí another PRI leader was installed as interim governor, in Guanajuato the interim governorship was handed to the PAN candidate.

The 1992 gubernatorial elections in Chihuahua and Michoacán illustrated the Salinas administration's ambivalent approach toward the opposition in general. Although the PAN candidate won and was allowed to take office in Chihuahua, the PRI spent vast amounts of party and government funds to defeat the PRD in its regional stronghold of Michoacán. Following months of strident PRD protests over the official results, Salinas faced the prospect of a massive protest march on Mexico City. The president was finally compelled to intervene and replace the sitting governor with a more suitable PRI substitute.

Although President Salinas's rejection of overt electoral fraud was by no means novel or systematic, his admonitions concerning fraud in state and local elections did help curb some of the more conspicuous abuses. In addition, the president's moves against individuals associated with corruption served as a powerful weapon in his reformist struggles against the most recalcitrant factions of the PRI old guard. Many members of the PRI's político wing opposed the president's economic policies and resented central government interference in state and local politics.

Contradicting his moves on behalf of more transparent and competitive elections, Salinas took some measures that made it more difficult for the opposition to contest the PRI's public policy initiatives. In the name of preserving "governability," Salinas resorted frequently to his executive prerogatives in pushing legislation through the Congress with a minimum of public debate. Although the 1990 electoral reform created institutions and a legal framework to fight electoral fraud and abuses, it also contained a new formula for legislative seating that made it more difficult for the opposition to gain seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Under the 1990 electoral code, the threshold for obtaining an automatic majority of seats in the chamber was reduced to 35 percent of the national vote. This threshold practically ensured that any future PRI administration could count on a PRI-controlled Chamber of Deputies to pass its legislative initiatives. This highly unpopular electoral law was rescinded in 1994 during the reforms leading to the August elections.

One of the key features of the 1990 electoral code was the abolition of the discredited Federal Electoral Commission and its replacement with a new Federal Electoral Institute (Instituto Federal Electoral--IFE). The IFE is a semiautononomous organization, consisting of representatives from government and the major political parties. It supervises elections and investigates complaints of irregularities. The IFE also administers the entire electoral process at the federal, state, and local levels. During the early 1990s, reforms of the IFE strengthened its capacity to serve as a nonpartisan electoral commission. These reforms included the introduction of majority nonpartisan representation (six out of eleven seats) in the IFE governing board, a legal framework for Mexican and foreign observers to monitor the elections, and an independent audit of the national voter list. Other electoral rules implemented during the Salinas sexenio included the compilation of a new and more accurate national electoral roll, and the issue of new voter registration cards bearing voter photographs and fingerprints.

The Salinas government reform program was twofold. It focused on economic growth and the replacement of wide-ranging subsidies to the middle class by a welfare program targeted at the poorest sectors of Mexican society. In a coordinated effort to stimulate economic growth and restructure the economy, Salinas promoted the privatization of state firms that brought more than US$10 billion to the Mexican government. The administration also launched an active campaign to increase foreign investment in Mexico. A second approach involved the massive National Solidarity Program (Programa Nacional de Solidaridad--Pronasol), which was to help the poor and attract political support (see Social Spending, ch. 2). Pronasol distributed several billion dollars, derived from privatization funds, aimed at delivering public works projects to poor areas within the country. Heavy government spending on social projects (schools, health clinics, and roads, among others) contributed to PRI victories in the 1991 midterm elections.

Two important events in 1994 led to dramatic political reforms. First came the Chiapas rebellion on New Year's Day, in which an army of some 2,000 peasants led by the masked Subcommander Marcos demanded social justice and democratization of the Mexican political system (see President Salinas, ch. 1). Two months later, PRI presidential candidate Colosio was assassinated while campaigning in Tijuana.

Despite the rhetoric calling for political reform and democratization, President Salinas actually strengthened the traditional pattern of centralized authority in the decision-making process. A clear example of the continuation of the dedazo was the tight control and secrecy around the unveiling of the second PRI presidential candidate, Zedillo, soon after Colosio's assassination. Critics charged that much of the effort to curb voting fraud stemmed not from a change in institutions but from the personal intervention of President Salinas. Electoral reform was also inhibited by a lack of meaningful political participation by women (who did not attain voting rights until 1954) and by ethnic minorities. Despite the glorification of Mexico's indigenous history in popular art and literature, Mexico's indigenous peoples have been largely marginalized in national politics.


Mexico - Foreign Relations


The principles of Mexican foreign policy are respect for international law and the judicial equality of states, respect for the sovereignty and independence of nations, nonintervention in the domestic affairs of other countries, the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and the promotion of collective security through participation in international organizations. Traditionally, Mexico's foreign policy has been considered leftist, prorevolutionary, and nationalistic. Demonstrating independence from United States foreign policy, Mexico supported the Cuban government during the 1960s, the Sandinista (see Glossary) revolution in Nicaragua during the late 1970s, and leftist revolutionary groups in El Salvador during the 1980s.

Mexico has played a minor role in international affairs through most of its history. Since the mid-nineteenth century, Mexican foreign policy has focused primarily on the United States, its northern neighbor, largest trading partner, and the most powerful actor in hemispheric and world affairs. Mexico's role in international affairs was limited until the 1970s, mainly because of the country's need to concentrate on domestic issues, particularly on internal stability and economic growth.

The discovery of vast petroleum reserves during the 1970s, however, placed Mexico in the forefront of oil producers and exporters. Mexico soon became the principal supplier of oil to the United States after the 1973 energy crisis. The heavy inflow of dollars contributed to changing Mexico's perceptions of its role in world affairs while increasing its potential of becoming an important regional power. Mexico has maintained an independent oil policy, however, refusing to join the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) during the 1970s, but participating in the Organization of Latin American Petroleum Exporting Countries (OLAPEC) during the 1980s.

Beginning with the presidency of Luis Echeverría (1970-76), Mexico developed and implemented a more independent and assertive foreign policy. Following an activist policy independent of the United States, the Echeverría government asserted Mexico's position as a leader in the developing world's affairs, particularly on discussions for establishing a new international economic order as part of the so-called "North-South Dialogue." The Echeverría administration boycotted the General Assembly meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1973 to protest the military coup in Chile that deposed the popularly elected government of Salvador Allende Gossens and suspended diplomatic relations with Chile and South Africa because of these governments' human rights violations. The Mexican government frequently criticized United States foreign policy for favoring military regimes throughout the Third World. Most distinctively, Mexico adopted an aggressive role as a leader within Latin America in concerted efforts to adopt a unified position in regional relations against the United States.

During the late 1970s, Mexico broke diplomatic relations with the Somoza regime in Nicaragua on the advent of the Sandinista revolution and in 1980 joined Venezuela in the San José Accords, providing favorable trade conditions for oil supply to the depressed economies of Caribbean and Central American countries. In 1983 Mexico was instrumental in the establishment of the Contadora (see Glossary) Group, a diplomatic effort by four regional governments (Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela) to present a Latin American solution to the crisis in Central America. The document developed by the Contadora Group was instrumental in the final Central American Peace Plan (see The United States and the Crisis in Mexico, ch. 1).

During the Salinas administration, the central theme of Mexican foreign policy became free trade, especially NAFTA. Mexico focused on bilateral discussions with countries within the hemisphere in an effort to improve trade and investment potential. By 1994 it had signed free-trade agreements with Venezuela and Colombia (effective January 1, 1995) as well as with Bolivia. Under President Salinas, Mexican nationalism was redefined as "progressive nationalism," or the pursuit of economic development while strengthening Mexico's international role. Salinas felt that national independence demanded that Mexico effectively insert itself into the international market. In the mid-1990s, President Ernesto Zedillo continued to stress Mexico's strategic position and market potential worldwide.


Mexico - Relations with the United States


Throughout its history, Mexico has had an ambivalent love-hate relationship with its northern neighbor. Nationalist rhetoric continuously highlights the loss of one-half of Mexico's territory and natural resources to the United States in the 1800s. Even at times when United States-Mexican relations have been at their best, this loss is still present in Mexican rhetoric. During the Rio Group summit in September 1994, for example, President Salinas commented on the United Nations-sponsored United States intervention in Haiti, "Having suffered an external intervention by the United States, in which we lost more than half of our territory, Mexico cannot accept any proposal for intervention by any nation of the region." In economic terms, good relations with the United States have long been critical for Mexico, given that its northern neighbor is its principal trading partner, both for exports and imports. For its part, the United States gives serious consideration to its relations with Mexico because of Mexico's strategic location on the United States southern border as well as the fact that Mexico has the largest oil deposits in Latin America.

Relations between the countries often have been characterized by conflict. Analysts attribute much of the antagonism to the great disparities in wealth between the two countries; a history of intervention by the United States that makes Mexico highly critical and suspicious of United States positions; cultural differences and stereotypes of both nations; and the high levels of interdependence on many socioeconomic and political issues, both at the national level and in border areas.

In the past, Mexico defied the United States on a number of crucial hemispheric issues. Mexico never broke relations with the Cuban communist regime as did the rest of Latin America in the early 1960s. During President Echeverría's sexenio , Mexico took a leading role in demands for a new international economic order. During the 1970s, Mexico challenged the United States position in Central America and led a concerted regional effort that excluded the United States to bring a peaceful end to regional conflicts. During the 1980s, Mexico was highly critical of United States policy in El Salvador and, along with the French government, called for formal recognition of the Salvadoran guerrillas in the peace process.

The most important bilateral issues in the 1990s are drugs, trade, and illegal immigration into the United States. Drug trafficking is a pressing issue for both Mexico, as a producer and point of entry of the drug trade from South America into the United States drug market, and the United States, as a major consumer. Mexico insists that the trafficking of drugs would not exist without the enormous and growing market in the United States, thus placing responsibility on its northern neighbor. Nevertheless, the corruption and crime provoked by the growing drug business in Mexico have led the Mexican government to take domestic antidrug measures. The Salinas government launched a massive military campaign to counter the threat posed by the narcotics trade within the country. In 1989 Mexico signed a cooperation agreement with the United States on fighting the illegal drug trade (see President Salinas, ch. 1). Mexico's position on drug trafficking consists of two major contentions: Mexico will make a good-faith effort to eradicate the production and trade of drugs, and it will not, under any circumstances, allow the consolidation of narcotics groups within its territory. Currently, Mexico has a large portion of its army involved in the government's drug eradication program (see Narcotics Trafficking, ch. 5).

Trade between the two nations remains an important issue. A trade and environmental agreement signed in late 1989 paved the way for an expansion of bilateral trade and investment with the United States. In 1990 Mexico began negotiations over NAFTA with the United States and Canada. The main objective of NAFTA was to remove all trade barriers and investment obstacles among the three countries over a fifteen-year period. Negotiations concluded in 1992, and NAFTA was approved in 1993. The agreement was activated on January 1, 1994, creating the world's richest and largest trading bloc, consisting of 360 million consumers in a US$6.6 trillion market.

A third pressing issue between the two countries continues to be illegal immigration of Mexicans into the United States. By the mid-1990s, this issue occupied center stage in United States-Mexican relations. Since the 1960s, the number of Mexican illegal immigrants into the United States has soared to an average of 300,000 to 500,000 per year. These groups are concentrated in the southwestern states of the United States, especially California. Although NAFTA may help to decrease this trend in the long run, the presence of a large number of illegal residents in the United States--many of whom benefit from local and federal programs--triggered a legislative proposal in 1995 in the state of California to deprive these groups of any United States government support. In particular, legislation in the state of California has revived anti-United States feelings among Mexicans.


CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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