Elections in Mexico

Report Americas

Elections in Mexico

June 20, 2000 39 min read

Authors: Carlos Salazar, Francisco Guerrero and Carlos Heredia

STEPHEN JOHNSON: On July 2, some 60 million Mexican citizens will go to the polls to elect their next president. Perhaps at no other time in recent history will an election have been so important and so scrutinized as this one. Mexico is clearly in transition. Domination by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is no longer a given. Last October, the PRI held its first primary instead of observing the usual custom of letting the incumbent president pick the party's candidate to succeed him. More and more, mayors and governors come from opposition parties. The national Congress is no longer a rubber stamp for the president's initiatives. And there is a growing sense among Mexican citizens that elected officials are there to serve the people rather than the other way around.

Mexico's next president will deal with a number of internal challenges--some of which include opening up Mexico's economy, making public institutions more responsive, improving education, and establishing a true separation of governing powers. Externally, there are questions of how to craft trade relations and deal with the cancer of international drug trafficking and crime. As a next-door neighbor affected by events in Mexico, the United States recognizes that Mexico is an important political and economic partner in our relations with the rest of the hemisphere.

Joining us today to discuss these questions are representatives of Mexico's three leading political parties.

Dr. Francisco Guerrero represents the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). He is the current president of the party's Political Training and Development Institute. He was trained in England and holds a doctorate in international relations. One of his specialties is U.S.-Mexican relations.

Diputado (Congressman) Carlos Heredia represents the Party of the Democratic Revolution or PRD. He has been a member of Congress, Mexico's Chamber of Deputies, since 1997. He coordinates international relations for his party's congressional caucus and has been a frequent commentator on Mexican issues in the United States on CNN, Nightline, and the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour. An economist, he is an associate professor of political economy at the Monterrey Institute of Technology campus in Tampico.

Dr. Carlos Salazar represents the National Action Party (PAN) and has been its director of international relations since 1998. He is a political scientist, trained in Italy. A student of Western political institutions, he is managing director at the Phoenix Institute and also teaches political science at the Monterrey Institute of Technology at the Mexico City campus. Dr. Salazar is also director of the publication, The Phoenix Informer.

Also with us are three distinguished journalists: Dolia Estévez, Washington correspondent for the Mexico City daily El Financiero; Laurence Iliff, Mexico City correspondent for the Dallas Morning News; and Tom Gjelten, diplomatic correspondent for National Public Radio.

Now on to the debate. Each party representative will make an opening statement. Each representative will have an opportunity to make a rebuttal. After these statements, the members of our journalist panel may ask each representative a question. To conclude, each representative will have an opportunity to make a summary statement.

Our first speaker is Congressman Carlos Heredia.

Stephen Johnson is Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

Mexico's July 2, 2000 Elections

Mexico's presidential elections occur every six years, marking periods known as "sexenios." This year, in addition to electing the president, voters will choose all 128 Senators (six-year terms) and all 500 members of the lower Chamber of Deputies (three-year terms). Moreover, they will choose governors in two of Mexico's 31 states and cast ballots for state legislatures and municipal offices in nine states and the federal district of Mexico City.

These elections are the first to occur under sweeping electoral reforms enacted during President Ernesto Zedillo's administration. They will be the first to be administered by an autonomous Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) and culminate more than a decade of electoral reform since 1988 when a purported computer malfunction and questionable vote tally scandalized the election of President Carlos Salinas Gortari.

So far, the dominant campaign topic is electoral honesty-whether the PRI, which has governed Mexico since 1929, will refrain from manipulating the elections; whether Mexicans can accept change should the ruling party lose; and who can best continue political reforms already in progress. Candidates have also debated how to compete in the global marketplace, how to improve Mexico's workforce through education, and how to make Mexico's legislative and judicial branches of government more independent of the executive. On U.S.-Mexican relations, some candidates have proposed new agreements on labor and migration as well as better cooperation on fighting crime and drug trafficking.

The six presidential candidates are: 

Francisco Labastida Ochoa  -Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) 
Vicente Fox Quesada  -National Action Party (PAN), in coalition with the Mexican Green Party (PVEM) known as the Alliance for Change
Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas  -Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), in coalition with the Workers' Party (PT), the Social Alliance Party (PAS), the Convergence for Democracy (CD), and the Nationalist Society Party (PSN) known as the Alliance for Mexico 
Gilberto Rincón Gallardo  -Social Democracy Party (DS)
Porfirio Muñoz Ledo  -Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolution (PARM) 
Manuel Camacho Solís  -Democratic Center Party (PCD) 


CARLOS HEREDIA: Good morning, everyone. I would like to thank Steve Johnson and The Heritage Foundation for this opportunity to share with you some ideas about the impact that elections in Mexico may have on U.S.-Mexican relations.

First of all, let me tell you that the core of the U.S.-Mexico relationship in the past few years has been, as you know, trade and financial issues. The continuity of that priority will depend on who gets elected.

The candidate of the Alliance for Mexico [an alliance that includes the Partido de la Revolución Democrática], Mr. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas has very clearly stated that our priority is Mexico and Mexicans. It is not to please Wall Street. It is to nurture our domestic market to promote micro, small, and medium Mexican companies, to enhance the possibility of Mexicans to participate in a vigorous economy at home.

This is not to say that we advocate an isolated economy at all. It is just getting our priorities right. In the past 18 years, the priorities have been mistaken, and our economic policy has sought to be on good terms with the international financial institutions and financial centers rather than creating more opportunities for Mexicans.

Mr. Cárdenas aims to recreate the sense of a national community. We want to give that a lot of interest, a lot of priority. We want to emphasize the sense of a national community. Our nation has grown increasingly polarized, both in economic and political terms.

The 20 percent of Mexicans that are at the top, in terms of the distribution of income, are 30 times richer than the 20 percent that are in the lower echelons. At the same time, in spite of the progress we have made in terms of the political system, it is still a challenge to have free, fair, democratic elections.

We believe we have a general counsel of the IFE [Federal Electoral Institute] that is reliable, but the farther away you go from the urban areas into the slums, into the rural areas, then vote-rigging and vote-buying is still an extensive practice. We have to stop that so as to make sure that the free will of the Mexican people will be represented in the economic policies and the social policies that whoever gets elected will promote.

As for the relationship with the United States, the U.S. government has made it clear that it can work with whoever gets elected. But it is also very clear that what they are aiming for is a continuity of the financial policies that have been in place, at least during the last three administrations.

That is why I take interest in the contrast that there is between the remarks of people like [former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury] Bob Rubin and [current U.S. Secretary of the Treasury] Larry Summers, who pronounce the Mexican economy in good health, and [Attorney General] Janet Reno and the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service], who say we need more money, more people deployed along the border of the same country whose economy is supposed to be doing very well.

Thousands and hundreds of thousands of Mexicans try to migrate northward. NAFTA was supposed to help stem this migration and create jobs for Mexicans at home so as to prevent them from coming to the United States. The number of Mexicans here in this metropolitan area in Manassas, in Arlington, in Manhattan, is unprecedented, and that begs a question.

The question is: What are the policies that best serve the interest of the Mexican people? Our answer and Mr. Cárdenas's answer is: policies open to the world but that have the priorities right. And the number one priority for us is to create opportunities, education, jobs in Mexico, at the local level, at the regional level, at the national level.

We believe that delivering for Mexicans will make us stronger and will put us in a better position to have a very vibrant, friendly relationship with the United States, both at the executive level, president-to-president, and at the congressional level. We just had the 39th inter-parliamentary meeting with the U.S. Congress, and it was highly productive.

So that is the message Mr. Cárdenas sends. Our priority is the Mexican people, the welfare of the Mexican people, and to create opportunities for the Mexican people. Thank you.

CARLOS SALAZAR: Good morning to you all.  I would like to thank The Heritage Foundation and Steve Johnson for organizing this historic event.  I would like, also, to thank you for being here, because I know you have your own presidential election, and you still have time to hear about what is happening in Mexico.

I am here to tell you that Mexico can be much better than it is today. I represent the PAN, Mexico's oldest and largest pro-democracy political force.

What is PAN? According to a U.S. scholar from the World Policy Institute in New York, the PAN is anything but radical, but it proposes democracy. Honest elections and rule of law are nonetheless revolutionary in a country accustomed to corruption, electoral fraud, and one-party rule. In other words, the PAN advocates what Americans are fortunate to take for granted.

On the 2nd of July, we will have the opportunity to choose between more of the same 71-year policies of corruption, fraud, and economic stagnation or a true democracy of rule of law, transparency, and economic freedom advocated by the PAN, its presidential candidate Vicente Fox, and most Mexicans. The PAN is Mexico's democratic alternative, and it is known for good government.

As you know, our candidate, Vicente Fox, is tied, and even ahead, in most opinion polls with the candidate of the PRI, a former secretary of government who is in charge of the secret police and political police of Mexico. Fox will have the first legitimate government in generations. Legitimate government is the first step in working towards a solution for Mexico's many problems, and we will need a lot of work to overcome a sad legacy left behind by the one-party regime.

What does this legacy include? According to the World Bank, Freedom House, Transparency International, and other organizations, real wages in Mexico are the same as they were in 1970. Mexico has twice the child malnutrition rate as South Africa and Brazil. Yet Mexico also has the fourth largest number of billionaires in the world, who mostly owe their fortune to their government connections.

Mexico has one of the most underfunded health care systems in Latin America--even lower per capita than Peru, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. Mexico is one of the most restrictive countries in terms of freedom, according to Freedom House.1 Mexico is one of the most corrupt nations on Earth, tied with Senegal, China, and Belarus.

In a survey of 67 countries by the World Bank, Mexico was the most restrictive place for new business creation. All 22 past communist countries, and 20 African countries, fared better in that survey. Mexico has one of the poorest countrysides in Latin America. In fact, Brazilian, Paraguayan, Syrian, South African, and Iranian farmers have more tractors per capita than Mexican ones.

If one adds the amount of money that is known to have been stolen by the PRI since 1970, it is $128 billion. That would be as if a U.S. politician had stolen $3 trillion since 1970. Mexico also has the highest overall amount of domestic capital flight in Latin America.

I highly encourage all of you to visit the Web site, www.PRILEGACY.com, to see how devastated Mexico really is. This is at the World Policy Institute of New York.

Could all this be because Mexico also has the longest-ruling one-party system in the world? While Mexico today suffers from Africa-like conditions, there is no reason why Mexico cannot become the next Spain, the next Czech Republic, the next Poland. According to the Technological Institute of Monterrey, which is the Harvard of Mexico, the states governed by the opposition are the best-managed states in Mexico, despite all of the obstacles we have to face.

Our main points are, first, economic freedom: PRI represents only macroeconomic stability with very restrictive micro. I would like you to remember what happened with Ceausescu in Romania. They had very healthy macroeconomic indicators. On the other hand, this was one of the most oppressive dictatorships of the last century.

Second point: emphasis on human capital. Illiteracy actually increased in the latest PRI sexennial.

And the third one: rule of law. The PAN will end the culture of impunity. Vicente Fox will lead Mexico into the 21st century with prosperity, hope, and freedom.

FRANCISCO GUERRERO: First of all, I would like to thank Stephen Johnson and The Heritage Foundation for the kind invitation. It is always good for democracy to discuss and analyze different points of view. Particularly, I am glad to share this experience with Carlos Salazar and Carlos Heredia from the PAN and the PRD.

As we all know, Mexico and the United States are holding presidential elections this year, and independent of the result, both countries will continue the path of cooperation and free trade in the future. This event is a great opportunity to understand the context in which political parties in Mexico are competing and to determine the effect of their policies on the bilateral agenda.

But prior to explaining the position of my party, in terms of the bilateral relation, I would like to speak a little bit about the context in which these elections are happening. As you should know, Mexicans have overcome the economic crisis of 1994, and towards the end of the Zedillo administration, we are searching for ways to ensure that economic crisis will not appear in the years to come.

It is important to remember that NAFTA has emerged as a powerful market that drives economic development in the region. And it is important to remember as well that under the PRI government, NAFTA was encouraged and defended against other political forces who did not believe in this idea.

The political scenario in Mexico has changed dramatically in recent years. The opposition holds 11 governorships and, within Congress, continues sets of equilibriums that produce new checks and balances within this body. We have to recognize as well that we have a new role of the media, which is particularly interesting at this moment, and that elections are being organized by the IFE and qualified by TRIFE [the Federal Election Tribunal], which I believe give us a certainty that we will have clean elections this year. Nevertheless, despite all of the advantages of the "new" Mexico, we have to recognize that we still have to fight against poverty and social inequality.

Over a year ago, the PRI took the historic decision to hold open primaries to elect its presidential candidate. Francisco Labastida was elected on November 7 with the participation of almost 10 million Mexicans. It is important to say that the PRI was the only political party that used these procedures, which meant that any citizen with voting credentials could vote, even if he didn't belong to the party.

Francisco Labastida is a democratic candidate who is running now against other parties with the strength of an open process and the support of millions all over the country. Francisco Labastida, our presidential candidate, is politically positioned in the center and is using his political experience to guarantee a viable and mature project that will put people in first place among any other considerations.

It is very complicated to explain his political platform in five minutes, but I will try to summarize very briefly the main aspects of his political campaign.

  • First of all, we believe that we have to continue with economic growth and job opportunities. In this sense, NAFTA is an essential part of this strategy.

  • Second, we believe in more and better education. PRI has been always a promoter of education, and we keep working this issue.

  • Third, we believe that we should invest more in people's lives, which means to increase the quality of living of many Mexicans around the country.

  • Fourth, we believe in equity and access to personal development of opportunities.

Also, Francisco Labastida stands for an open fight against corruption and power abuse. He is the only candidate that has disclosed his personal assets. As an honest man, he has a popular reputation as a politician who has lived a clean political life.

Going particularly to the bilateral agenda, since the overlapping administrations of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Adolfo Ruiz Cortines in the 1950s, the inaugurations of the U.S. and Mexican presidents have coincided every 12 years. The synchronism offers both incoming leaders an opportunity to reevaluate relations between their countries and to outline future priorities.

We believe, and Francisco Labastida believes, that North America is a strategic region for Mexican national interests and, therefore, relations with the United States and Canada are a foreign relations priority. Through NAFTA, we have become partners in one of the biggest and most successful economic areas of the world. Our bilateral agenda includes a myriad of issues at the domestic, regional, and global levels that must be addressed through a respectful and constructive dialogue in order to make the most of the current trends and opportunities that this unique relationship offers.

In that sense, we have four particular objectives.

  • First, we believe that we should endeavor to strengthen mutual trust, consolidating and improving the institutional mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation that we have developed over the past few years, particularly NAFTA.

  • Second, Mexico should strengthen the mechanisms to protect and support Mexicans who immigrate and live in the United States.

  • Third, it is vital to promote greater comprehensive and conditional economic and political cooperation, with respect for each other's sovereignty, to make the most of the opportunities stemming from globalization while minimizing its negative effects.

  • Finally, it is important to promote a better understanding of each other's culture and identity among our government, private, and academic sectors and--more importantly--between our people.

These objectives will be fundamental for reducing the negative stereotypes that effect our relationship.


CARLOS HEREDIA: The position of the PRI vis-à-vis the Mexican community in the United States is very clear. They voted "no" to the right of Mexicans to vote in presidential elections abroad, and they voted "no" in the House, and they voted "no" in the Senate, so they ultimately blocked the opportunity for Mexicans living abroad to vote in these presidential elections.

Mr. Cárdenas has been very consistent in the past few years in saying we need to incorporate immigration, labor, mobility into NAFTA. Some people will say that won't fly in the U.S. Congress right now. Ultimately, we are bound to include the exports of Mexican manpower in any kind of comprehensive economic agreement that we may have in North America, and that will take us on a route on which Mexico will be more competitive internationally by having a vibrant domestic market.

Finally, I would like to make it clear that Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas is leading the race in Mexico City, according to the poll issued by Berumen Associates a couple of days ago, which is the best informed electorate in the country. We are leading the race for the gubernatorial election in Mexico City. We are leading the race for the presidential election in Mexico City.

CARLOS SALAZAR: I think there is no doubt that the relationship between Mexico and the United States, and also with Canada, is very important. But we have to be very clear on this. If Mexico does not do its own homework--that is to say, if we don't have rule of law, economic freedom, honest elections, if we don't have a true democracy--this relationship is not going to improve, because it affects all of the issues of the bilateral agenda: trade, crime, drug trafficking, and migration.

So the most important thing in Mexico is to have a government which has the legitimacy and the will to change and to do our homework, and the PRI has not the legitimacy nor the will.

FRANCISCO GUERRERO: Because of time constraints, I would just like to focus on two comments made by the representative of the PAN that I believe are extremely negative in a way and do not correspond to reality.

First of all is this Africa-like comparison that he makes with the data of an international organization. I think that everybody who has been in Mexico knows that Mexico is not close to these examples that he has used. I don't see Mexico with the same eyes that he is looking at the country. I don't agree with that view. I think it is unacceptable, and it is unrealistic.

The second thing that I would like to point out is that not only Carlos Salazar, but even Fox during the debate, keeps saying that he is ahead in opinion polls. Francisco Labastida is ahead in more than 25 opinion polls, and although in some polls--some of them made by Fox--he is ahead, the comparison between 25 and 2, I think, is clear. So I think it is a shame that he comes to this event to spread this kind of information.


DOLIA ESTEVEZ: My first question is for Mr. Guerrero from the PRI. Francisco Labastida has said throughout the campaign that if he wins the election, he will not tolerate corruption in his government. But how can people believe him when we recently saw the way he brought back some of the most questionable people in the PRI?

I am referring to the old guard, to the group called the "dinosaurs," who he has reached out to and who are very well known, both in Mexico and in the United States, for their questionable personal reputation. By reaching out to these individuals, is he not sending the wrong message?

DR. GUERRERO: First of all, as you have mentioned, Dolia, one of the main points in Francisco Labastida's agenda is to fight corruption. I wouldn't like to direct the discussion, particularly, to particular persons. You have mentioned some people.

MS. ESTEVEZ: I didn't say any names. I just said--

DR. GUERRERO: I wouldn't like to refer, particularly, to persons. I would like to refer to public policy, and the public policy that Francisco Labastida is defending is that when he was the governor of the state of Sinaloa, he fought corruption in a frontal manner. He will continue to do that when he becomes the president of Mexico.

Second, in relation to this discussion between the new PRI and the old PRI, I do not believe that the PRI can be qualified in this moment as new or old. The party is unified now, and we are working together, young people, old people, mature people. And the main objective at this moment is to win the election. So in the party you can see the coexistence of different currents of different ages, particularly between people who have more experience and people who are not that experienced, but at least who are giving, at this moment, young blood to the campaign.

MS. ESTEVEZ: My next question is to Carlos Heredia. Despite what you just said, most polls indicate that Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the PRD candidate, continues to trail. That is to say, that Fox and Labastida are pretty much, in most of the polls, pretty close.

My question to you is: Do you agree with many analysts and people, even in your own party, who think that on July 2nd, the PRD voters should vote for Fox to get rid of the PRI's control of the presidency? If your answer is no, can you tell us why?

DR. HEREDIA: Thank you for your question, Dolia. Of course, I do not agree. We represent an alternative, a progressive alternative that has been built over time in Mexico, and we are advocating transparency. We are advocating actually a market-led strategy. That may sound ironic.

In the biggest scandal in the Zedillo administration, the Fobaproa,2 the PRD has been the only one that has worked for transparency. The PRD did not approve of the conversion of $100 billion of private liabilities into public debt, and our alternative is to introduce transparency into the system, to make the system accountable.

This alternative has been built over a number of years. We keep pushing for it, working on it. Come July the 2nd, we trust that Mr. Cárdenas is going to be in a much higher percentage than he is right now, and the trend has begun to change. He is going up in the polls.

As I said, we're leading the presidential race in Mexico City, which is the most sophisticated electorate. So the answer is, we are going to go ahead with a campaign that advocates a strong economy for Mexicans, transparency, accountability.

MS. ESTEVEZ: My third question is to Dr. Salazar. Vicente Fox has blamed 71 years of PRI rule for the unprecedented levels of drug-connected violence and corruption we have in Mexico. I suppose a lot of people would agree with him.

But what is he proposing to start reversing that trend? In his speeches and policy statements, there is very little to make one really believe that he has policies to counter such a problem in Mexico.

DR. SALAZAR: First of all, we have to realize that we have some role models--countries that have come from stagnation and dictatorship--and these countries have proved that it is possible to defeat all this tradition, all the legacy we're going to receive. So, for example, Estonia and the Czech Republic, Poland. In the same way, we're going to change.

Then the first thing is that we have to have democracy. What we have to realize is, democracy and good government is going to bring accountability. Then we have to have rule of law. We need to have a true independent judiciary power, and we have to reform the police, all the police forces. Through this, through democracy, we will have the tools to start in changing all the tradition, all the legacy that we are going to inherit from the PRI.

LAURENCE ILIFF: This question is for Francisco Guerrero. For the first time in the campaign, Mr. Labastida has recently admitted that the PRI could lose on July 2nd after 71 years in power. My question is: How did the ruling party get to this difficult situation? What is it going to do to get out of it?

And, if you could, please talk a little bit about the end of the new PRI, the end of references to the new PRI, and the return of people like Manuel Bartlett, who is accused of stealing a 1988 election from the opposition. Thank you.

DR. GUERRERO: Well, again, we keep referring to particular persons. I understand that the purpose of this meeting is to discuss public policy in relation to the United States. But since you want to talk about the new PRI or the old PRI, I will have to repeat the same answer that I gave to Dolia.

Personally, I have been a member of the PRI for 17 years. I am 34 years old, so I don't consider myself as old. In the party you can see people from all ages, people who are very experienced, people who are younger, and all of us have the same goal. The same goal at this moment is to win the election, to win the majority in Congress, to conserve our majority in the Senate, and the most important thing now is that we have the opportunity to tell people what sort of policies Francisco Labastida is putting ahead.

I think it is a false discussion to put the PRI in terms of old or new. I think the real discussion now is that the PRI is defending its political points of view, according to their experience of 71 years governing the country and the good and the bad things that we have had in the past.

I think that the balance that Mexicans are having about the political campaign of Francisco Labastida is not referred to in this discussion that we're having about new and old. I think that the important thing now is the party is united, and within the party all the forces are welcome.

Personally, I have a good relationship with all the members of my party, old or new, and I think this is a false debate, as I was saying. The important thing now is that Francisco Labastida is ahead in the polls and that we are going to win the next election.

MR. ILIFF: This is for Mr. Heredia. Last year, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was negotiating an opposition alliance to topple the PRI. Now that he failed to reach the alliance, and failed to move to the center, he seems to be taking more of a hard-core leftist viewpoint toward economics and other issues.

I wonder if you could talk about what that means for U.S.-Mexico relations and what that means for globalization. Is Mr. Cárdenas going in the wrong direction?

DR. HEREDIA: Mr. Cárdenas is going in the right direction, Laurence. Let me tell you that we negotiated in good faith an alliance of the opposition in August and September of 1999. We proposed a citizen council or an election of the presidential candidate of the opposition. It didn't work out.

The mandate is a mandate that has to do with the needs of Mexicans, and I believe that a top issue for the United States in the next few years will be governance in Mexico. Mr. Cárdenas proposes an economy that will help family farms, micro, small, and medium businesses in Mexico become competitive.

We are not advocating an economy that will just trickle down the benefits from big corporations through a handful of individuals. We are going to work on an economy that becomes competitive by enhancing the education, the human capital of our people, of our businessmen, of our workers.

MR. ILIFF: This is a question about the character of Vicente Fox. In recent weeks, Vicente Fox has come under increased scrutiny for what his foes call inconsistencies and untempered populism. In the United States, he hints that he would privatize the national oil company [PEMEX], and in Mexico he denies it.

In the April 25th debate, he pledged to take up the causes of Mexico's neglected minority groups, even while questioning Mr. Labastida's manhood with politically incorrect epithets, and he has promised an astounding 7 percent yearly economic growth. Which is the real Mr. Fox: the populist or the realist, the politically correct or the prejudiced?

DR. SALAZAR: Let me tell you something. I think, first of all, that Fox is a well-grounded person. He has lived in the countryside of Mexico. He has been very successful in the private sector--he worked at Coca-Cola. And he has been also very successful as a politician, as a congressman, and also as governor of Guanajuato. So he knows the different Mexicos we have.

We don't have only one Mexico. If you travel and you go to the countryside, you visit the campesinos, or you visit the cities--for example, Monterrey or Mexico City--you will find that Mexico has very different Mexicos, and we need a president who is able to address to all these different Mexicans first of all.

Then the second thing: I think Fox is changing the way the politicians have been working in Mexico for several years. The PRI has been using lies, so they are very surprised to find someone who speaks with the truth, and he is charismatic. He has a way to communicate to Mexicans that they understand.

And the other, regarding PEMEX: I think there is an article by the magazine Proceso in which they clarified that the words of Vicente Fox in New York, when he was addressing the American Society, were used partially by the PRI in a spot in Mexico. So if you read all the article that was published by Proceso, you will find that there is no contradiction.

The PRI is trying to represent Fox as someone who is not consistent, but the thing is that they are very afraid that for the first time in 71 years, they have a real candidate who can defeat the PRI.

TOM GJELTEN: I think that a lot of people in Washington would be disappointed if no one asked a question about drugs, since this is the number one controversial issue between the United States and Mexico. So, for Dr. Guerrero: How much farther will the Labastida government go than its predecessors, if at all, with respect to cooperation with U.S. counter-narcotics efforts?

I am interested specifically in extradition. Would your government be willing to extradite drug suspects to the United States, more than have been extradited so far? Also, what policies would your government follow with respect to DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] agents operating in Mexico, whether they would have diplomatic immunity, whether they would be able to search Mexican boats, and whether they would be able, in any circumstances, to carry sidearms?

DR. GUERRERO: This is an interesting question, because you have mentioned the drug problem between Mexico and the United States, and we have to find ways to solve it in a more rational manner, and that includes not only Mexico, but as well includes the United States. I think that so far the cooperation has been good, and we have had some results in this field.

But, particularly, I would like to emphasize that Francisco Labastida was governor of the state of Sinaloa, which in the past has had serious problems with drug trafficking. So perhaps he is the only candidate who really understands and knows in his own person. He has lost dear friends, thanks to the work that he has put forward in order to attack drugs.

So I think that we should increase and improve the level of cooperation that we have had in the past, particularly in this field. And Francisco Labastida, because of his experience, I would say he would be tougher against drug lords because he has had experience of fighting them in his own state.

MR. GJELTEN: Dr. Heredia, I'm going to follow up a little bit on Dolia's question. Your economic program put you at the opposite end of the spectrum from the PAN, and yet you share with the PAN a political agenda, which is to dislodge the PRI. If your party has to choose between promoting economic policies that differentiate you from the PAN or cooperating with the PAN in order to dislodge the PRI, which of those agendas has the higher priority?

DR. HEREDIA: Thank you for your question, Tom. Our top priority is to associate ourselves to cooperate with the Mexican people. We have a very clear platform. It is well-known to Mexicans. We feel that we are moving forward the interest of Mexican families.

So, to the extent that other parties coincide and that we will have a proximity, I, for one, think that alliances are important. That's why we negotiated in good faith in the poll. What will happen from now until July the 2nd, we don't know.

I, too, believe that we need a transition for democracy in Mexico. We don't have true democracy in Mexico now. Mr. Cárdenas has been probably the key figure in Mexican politics during the past 12 years, the most attacked by the system. Mexican democracy has moved forward, to a great extent, thanks to what Mr. Cárdenas has done in the past 12 years.

Let me tell you that I believe that the race in the last few weeks will increasingly become Cárdenas and Fox. Why? Because Mr. Labastida is simply more of the same, and it will become a dead heat in the end. I am telling you this because we are looking at the trends, and the government and Mr. Labastida are in a panic now.

Finally, I would like to get just ten seconds on the former question. The PRD is for globalization, for globalization of a living wage, for globalization of the right to people for work, for globalization of what we have heard in Seattle, in Davos, in Bangkok, right here in Washington, D.C., the right of a parent to earn a living, decent wage to support a family.

MR. GJELTEN: Dr. Salazar, I want to ask you about your expectations with regard to the Clinton Administration and your campaign. How do you feel about the position that the United States has taken or not taken with respect to your campaign? Are you satisfied that the United States is remaining neutral? And, in particular, if Mr. Labastida were to win with fewer than 5 percent of the votes, what would you expect of this administration with respect to their viewpoint on that election?

DR. SALAZAR: Regarding the relationship between Mexico and the United States, I think there has been, for several years, a kind of tacit or explicit support from the U.S. government to the PRI. And I think in the past this happened because there was not a real alternative in Mexico.

I think now things are changing. I think in Mexico we have a true alternative to the PRI, so I don't think that the U.S. government is going to support a party that wins through fraud. I don't think they are going to receive the support from Mexico.

On the other hand, I think now the opposition in this case, Vicente Fox, has the stability card, the one that the PRI has been using for several years. Because if you see all the polls, all the young people, all the educated, all the small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs are supporting the opposition, mainly Fox and the rest, Cárdenas. But no one else is supporting the PRI, only the machinery of the PRI that works in the countryside, where the people are hungry, where the people have fear.

So what Vicente Fox is saying is that the PRI needs to win with a very big margin, because otherwise the young people from the urban side will not accept the result, because they know that they buy the elections or they steal the elections. We trust the IFE, but the IFE has a limited jurisdiction.

We don't trust the PRI. We don't trust Labastida, and the government of President Zedillo, because, as you can read in yesterday's New York Times, they have been trying to stop the campaign of the IFE to promote a free and secret vote. They have been stopping the work of the commission at the Chamber of Deputies, and they have been treating very badly the opposition candidates on television.


DR. SALAZAR: In July 1997, President Zedillo was asked by the Chicago Tribune why Mexico has so much corruption. He cynically answered that this is the fault of the Mexican people and our cultural tradition.

I am here to say to Mr. Zedillo that the corruption Mexico suffers is the fault of those who have failed to overturn the illegitimate one-party state. Mexicans in the United States have proven Mr. Zedillo wrong. When given a chance, Mexicans do well.

The PRI has neither the legitimacy nor the will to end its highly lucrative one-party regime, unjust social system, and crony capitalism. The PAN does have the legitimacy, the will, and the proven leadership to bring democracy, prosperity, and justice to the Mexican people.

Just as the international community was crucial in all those successful transitions we have seen in the last century, so our friends who want democracy for Mexico will be crucial in July. We ask you to be vigilant, to strongly denounce any irregularities, to remember that silence is equivalence of complicity.

America cannot once again find itself on the wrong side of history. Mexico will not be a stable and reliable partner without a legitimate government, not a one-party system that relies on fraud and fear to remain in power at all costs.

A true democracy in Mexico will foster better relations with the United States and will form the basis for a win-win relationship. Only through democracy, rule of law, and economic freedom will the three countries of North America be able to face the challenges of the region--especially in trade, crime, and immigration.

Who would ever have imagined that a poor man from the countryside would become the president of South Africa? Who would ever have imagined that a country who suffered many years of oppressive Soviet rule would be so economically prosperous as the Czech Republic is today?

Now a country on the southern border of the United States will have the opportunity to become the next success story of our times. Fox is a bridge to what has been unknown in 71 years in Mexico: democracy, rule of law, economic freedom. Thank you very much.

DR. HEREDIA: Let me tell you that when the opposition has won in Mexico, it has been in spite of the PRI controlling the federal budget. And this is not just any election. This is the mother of all battles. [PRI-ist labor leader] Fidel Velázquez said, "We came into power by fire power. It will take firepower to dislodge us."

There is too much at stake: too much money, too much cronyism, too many deals. Those who are associated with crime and corruption are not going to go away easily, so we are part of a movement of democratization.

Mr. Cárdenas has been pushing for democratization since 1987. He will continue working for a better Mexico, and a better Mexico means opportunities for Mexicans at home, an economic policy that is driven to enhance the opportunities of Mexican children, our young people, our families to have better education, to create jobs at home.

We do not believe that trickle down will do it. We do not believe that the Washington consensus will do it. We need home-grown policies. And to the extent that we nurture our domestic market, our family farms, our micro, small, and medium businesses, we will become competitive in the international scenario.

The U.S. government has been a passive ally of the status quo, of the establishment in Mexico. How will it behave this time around we don't know. We have said we can work with anybody who is elected, but we know that the powers that be, the Fortune 500 companies, want continuity of a policy that favors them and benefits those companies on Wall Street. We want policies that benefit our people.

Finally, the election on July 2nd is the opportunity to introduce political modernization in Mexico. You cannot have so-called economic modernization without political modernization. Cárdenas has been advocating transparency, the rule of law, accountability in the Fobaproa case. His message is very clear: Democracy works.

DR. GUERRERO: I have to say first that Francisco Labastida, in contrast with Vicente Fox, is a center politician. He is mature, he is experienced, and he is honest. The opposition should not feel afraid of losing. Of course, they're going to lose, but they have to remember that everybody is watching.

They seem to be scared of what's going to happen, because we are going to have international observers. The election is going to be the most observed election in history. I think that is a guarantee of having a clean election.

Not only that, they have recognized the good works of IFE. I would hope that Fox recognizes TRIFE as well. We have to remember that when Fox didn't get a good resolution from TRIFE a few months ago, he called them pigs. I don't know if you remember that. That is the kind of language that this candidate uses.

And because everybody is watching, we should be sure that this election is going to be for the good of the Mexican people. Carlos Salazar and Carlos Heredia keep repeating that we don't have full democracy. They keep saying that democracy is only the result of the efforts of the opposition. They keep forgetting that all the legal reforms that the PRI advanced, sometimes by itself, were the result of the democratic conviction of the PRI.

I would like to say something that for me is essential. When the opposition wins in the governmental level, the PRI accepts the result. We expect from the opposition that they accept the future defeat, whether it is by 1 or by 20 points. This is essential for democracy.

Vicente Fox is a right-wing populist who needs interpretation. That's dangerous. When you talk to someone and you need re-explanation of what he said, it seems that he is not reliable. And in politics, to be not reliable, I think, is a big defect that could be dangerous for the country.

As I said, Fox needs clarification every ten minutes. I could add, in order to understand Fox, you need some sort of interpreter that keeps telling you that "He is not saying this, but he is really saying this." And you have to read and read and read again what he is saying. I think that that is very, very dangerous for the country.

Fox can move from the left to the right in seconds. Imagine a Republican saying that he is center-left. Imagine a Democrat saying that he is right-wing. Fox said a few months ago that he is center-left. I leave the rest to your imagination.

Winning in a democracy is not a matter of margins. You can win by 1 percent or you can win by 20 points, and this is something that has to be taken into consideration. If there are complaints about how clean the election is, they must be presented and resolved according to the rule of law. The important thing is to strengthen democracy and to move on in the bilateral relationship.

Let me just finish with this: Let's recall that NAFTA was possible thanks to the PRI. If we had followed the path of the opposition, we would not have changed from adversaries to partners, and I think that that is something that has to be taken into consideration when analyzing the bilateral agenda.

Finally, on July the 2nd, the PRI will prevail, not only because of its candidate, but because it has the best political offer. Thank you very much.

STEPHEN JOHNSON: Thanks to our participants for sharing their views and for giving us a window on this very important contest for the Mexican presidency, and also for the window on Mexican politics in general.


1. Freedom House ranks countries as "Free," "Partly Free," and "Not Free." Mexico is listed as "Partly Free."

2. Fondo Bancario de Protección al Ahoro, a government rescue fund intended to bail out failed banks that accumulated billions of dollars in bad debt; now superseded by Mexico's Bank Savings Protection Institute.


Carlos Salazar

Health Policy Fellow

Francisco Guerrero

Visiting Fellow

Carlos Heredia

Visiting Fellow