Mexico Trek!   Trekkers DISPATCH: September 18 Silvia's Log

The People Have Spoken... Finally!

A major historical change is underlying Mexico City’s politics these days - a change in the name of true democracy.

Until 1997, one party - the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), (Institutional Revolutionary Party) - has headed Mexican politics. The president of the country has always ruled with a strong, centralized power, a tradition going back to the times of the last Aztec Emperor, Cuauhtemoc. The presidents of the PRI are no different.

President Zedillo on TVElections have almost always raised accusations of fraud and bribery, even intimidation and violence by the all-controlling PRI. Since 1994, President Zedillo has responded to the growing dissatisfaction with the PRI as citizens demanded real democratic change. He freed the body that organizes elections from government control and let it spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build an electoral process free from fraud. In 1997 the first elections under this new creation were held for more than half the seats in the Mexican "Congress," 6 state governorships, and the Mexico City mayorship. This last one is a particularly special case I want to talk about…

Lazaro CardenasSince the Mexican Revolution in 1917, the mayor of Mexico City has been directly appointed by the nation’s president instead of being elected by the people. In 1997, President Zedillo opened the post of mayor, the "alcalde," to popular elections. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the opposition party, the Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD) won. It’s interesting that he is the son of a very popular ex-president of Mexico, Lazaro Cardenas. So the first elected mayor of Mexico City has the first name of the last Aztec emperor, and the last name of one of Mexico’s most popular presidents. And guess what else… his father was a member of the very political party that he is trying to defeat! Part of the reason for his father Lazaro's popularity was because he gave much land (ejidos) to poor people. (Read about the results of the ejido program in Monica's 9/13 update) Mexicans also appreciated that he took over oil companies that were owned by American and British companies so that Mexicans would get more of the money from their own natural resources.

Cuauhtemoc CardenasCuauhtemoc Cardenas was himself almost elected President of Mexico in 1988, but a mysterious "computer breakdown" occurred when the votes were being tallied. He had been well ahead of the PRI opponent, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, but ended up losing. Nevertheless, he is still dedicated to his cause and the PRD. Cardenas wants to improve public security and public services (especially water), tackle traffic problems and pollution, fight organized crime and police corruption, raise educational standards and salaries, and decrease unemployment. As Mexico City’s mayor, he also chooses the city’s police chief and attorney general, posts that used to be controlled by the president.

The governor’s job is not an easy one. The capital is increasingly unmanageable. Consider these statistics:

  • It has become a megalopolis of over 20 million people - the greatest urban concentration in history.
  • It sprawls over 950 square miles- about 3 times the area of New York!
  • More than 3 million vehicles clog the streets.
  • Every day, automobile exhaust and industrial fumes release 12,000 tons of pollutants into the atmosphere. This pollution causes premature deaths and yellows the sky to the point where the mountains surrounding this Valley cannot be seen.
  • Even the noise level here can reach 90 decibels- that’s like standing next to a jackhammer!
Think about this:
  • In 1940, Mexico was a rural country with 70% of its population in villages of fewer than 2,500 inhabitants.
  • By 1982, 55 million Mexicans were urbanites, out of a total of 77 million.
  • In 1988, almost a quarter of all Mexicans live in Mexico City. Mexico is now one of Latin America’s most industrialized nations.
Cardenas has run for president twice and is likely to run again in the year 2000. His success in that presidential election will probably depend heavily on how well he does as Mayor of Mexico City. Because Mayor Cardenas was elected by the people - the first time in Mexico’s history that the mayor of the Distrito Federal is their choice - the slogan of the party now is Porque tu nos elegistes, te rendimos cuentas: "Because you chose us, we respond to you."

For more information, read the CNN article written when Cardenas was elected mayor.


Related Dispatches: 
Silvia - How students become leaders
Silvia - The People Have Spoken... Finally

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