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Calderón’s iron-fisted governance may back-fire

28 April 2007

Fred Rosen’s long analysis of FElipe CALderón’s “law n’ order” approach to governance is well worth reading. 

Rosen very nicely ties together the three “newsmakers” — the crackdown on narcos (and dissidents), the troubles in Oaxaca and the tortilla price jump — into into one scary enchilada.  His thesis is that given the Calderón administration’s tenuous victory in the July elections, and the political right-wing’s preference for “market solutions” without interference, Calderón is going to opt for these kind of responses (every forgets Calderón’s original campaign slogan was “Una mano duro para México).

What’s not widely reported in the “mainstream press” is the level of dissent and dissatisfaction.  AMLO has pretty much disappeared from the foreign press, other than to note that his support has dropped off since the occupations in Mexico City after the election.  It seems (and I’d have to confirm this) that his support is back to about what it was in the election… about a third of the voters, with significant numbers of people who would go along, or cooperate with him.  As we’ve seen with issues like abortion in DF, and gay marriage in Coahuila, the progressives may have allies in the PRI, and the minor parties.

 The FAP (PRD and congressional allies) are doing their best, and may yet convince enough members of congress to take their alternative solutions to Calderón’s “strong hand” policies to keep the “elected President” from instituting the “reforms” that may not be in Mexico’s best long-term interests — dealing with the agricultural crisis and formenting education would go a long way to eliminating the need for the “hard hand” that is only marginally successful in eliminating the narcotics trade (and which may be counterproductive). 

Here’s some highlight’s from Mexico: Year Zero

Calderón’s government is determined to present itself as tough enough to crack down on disorder and to balance its fiscal budget by imposing austerity on the public sector (except on that part of the public sector that enforces the government’s toughness). He wants to restore law and order to those areas beset by criminal violence or social protest (two activities he deliberately conflates), and he wants to maintain macroeconomic stability by cutting federal spending, even while raising military and “security” expenditures.

He has begun by launching what has been billed as an all-out war against Mexico’s brutal drug traffickers, vigorously defending the social order by cracking down on the social movements in the state of Oaxaca, and responding quickly to the stunning rise in corn and tortilla prices. As these three components of the political moment play themselves out, things are beginning to look dicey for the new president. Illicit drugs are becoming cheaper and more plentiful on Mexican streets, tortillas are becoming more expensive and less plentiful on the kitchen tables of the poor, and repression and dissent are escalating in Oaxaca. The new drug war, however, may have broader motives. The administration may simply be signaling that whether it is confronting civil unrest, labor conflicts or criminal activity, it will increasingly rely on police and military force to establish the conditions for law and order, no matter what the disorder is all about. Which brings us to Oaxaca.Though the intolerable social conditions that reign in most of rural Mexico are just beneath the surface of the conflict, the APPO’s demands have never been very radical: better conditions for teachers and schoolchildren, the removal from office of a repressive governor, the withdrawal of federal police and, now, the release of imprisoned APPO members.All along, even after the PFP was dispatched to the city, the Fox government indicated it might recognize the validity of the social struggle, which had burst into violence under severe provocation, and begin a serious dialogue with the leadership of the union and the APPO.

Had such a dialogue taken place then, or more to the point, were it to take place now, it would touch on issues of education (the unrest began with the teachers’ strike), health, housing and creating decent work opportunities.

With the arrest of Sosa and his compañeros, the Calderón government has clearly opted for what has been labeled “the criminalization of the social struggle.”

The arrests in early December, before the launch of the Calderón government’s drug war, also signaled its intent to inaugurate the crusade for law and order—not against the drug gangs, but against militant social movements. The gangs and the dissidents were thus lumped together as criminal disrupters of the social order.

For Calderón’s neoliberal economic advisers, the tortilla crisis showed that corn markets had to be allowed to operate more freely, and that Mexico must further open itself to free trade by rapidly abolishing all remaining tariffs on imported corn. Indeed, the initial government response was to authorize the tariff-free import of an additional 450,000 tons of white corn from the United States, and another 200,000 from the rest of the world. Mexico currently imports about 8 million tons of various kinds of corn per year. This comes to over one quarter of all the corn that is consumed in the country.

For much of the opposition, by contrast, the crisis demonstrated that the corn markets must be more tightly regulated to guard against unscrupulous manipulation. “It doesn’t add up,” observed a mid-January editorial in El Universal. “If a kilo of corn costs 2.20 pesos and at the end of the productive chain a kilo of tortillas sells for 10 pesos or more, then most of what the consumer is paying goes to intermediaries, who certainly incur costs and have the right to a profit, but not to take such a disproportionate slice of the pie, much less to speculate with the product to cause an artificial shortage.”

In fact, the price agreement was never meant to be enforceable. High international corn prices, combined with the lack of any integrated, independent production-distribution chains within the country, and the lack of political will to intervene in the markets, have allowed transnational importers like Cargill, Wal-Mart and Pan Bimbo to raise prices in selected outlets while adhering to the agreement in others.

So this past January, people were not simply feeling sin dinero…. Many not only noticed the dramatic increases in corn prices, but significantly reduced their caloric intake. Which brings us back to the political moment.

For now, the stage belongs to Calderón: This government, he is telling everyone concerned, is prepared to impose its will. But after a month of triumphant success, things may be slipping out of control.

Rosen’s article was in the NACLA Report, which publishes excellent pan-Latin studies, as well as country specific information.  Much of the material is free, but I’d love to be able to afford a subscription… or share a subscription: Blogistas of the world unite…we have nothing to lose but our phone lines!
If you aren’t subscribing for us, do it for yourself:

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