Mexico’s transition to democracy has not been a linear path of progress. From the late 80’s with the split in the Revolutionary Institutional Party to the triumph of the conservatives in 2000, to the return of the ruling party, it has been a bumpy road. There are few people who know this process as well or have played such an active role as Porfirio Muñoz Ledo. Mr. Muñoz Ledo is a former congressmen, Secretary of Labor and Education, cofounder of the Democratic Front and currently commissioner of the political reform commission in Mexico City, among many other titles and achievements.
Mr. Muñoz Ledo thank you so much for being with us today on Interviews from Mexico.
PML: Thanks to you, Laurita.
LC: We could go on and on with Mr. Muñoz Ledo’s extensive curriculum and for viewers who are interested, there’s a new book out called: “Historia Oral” (Oral History) that covers the period from 1933 to 1988 in the life of Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, which also covers the major events of that period of which he was an active part.
Mr. Muñoz Ledo, many people have said that there are parallels between the elections this year and what you witnessed in 1988. As a co-founder of the Democratic Front, you witnessed and you protested against fraud in the presidential elections of 1988. And you said in a recent column: “The backdrop today is the same–a small group in power and an insatiable technocracy determined to block democratic change”.
LC: In this context, can we expect another fraud in the 2018 elections?
PML: Of course. Look, we are in a very similar situation. In 1988, we made a huge effort to make the election democratic, but the government of Miguel de la Madrid carried out a post-electoral fraud. They didn’t think they were going to win. When they saw the numbers, they got scared.
LC: When the election results were coming in?
PML: Exactly, that’s the post-electoral fraud, in the sense that they changed the tally sheets of the election, and the votes. So they changed everything after the election. Now, they’re planning ahead, they’re preparing for the election. It’s a different kind of fraud, it’s a pre-electoral fraud. They’re using public resources, social programs, all kinds of resources to prevent free elections.
LC: What can the society do to prevent this kind of fraud if it’s almost inevitable in this elections as you say?
PML: We are creating a national movement, with intellectuals and journalists, to confront the country’s electoral authorities. I have the documents, I’ll send them to you. We are going to confront the country’s electoral authorities in a public debate, including the National Electoral Institute, the Electoral Tribunal, and the Fepad– the Electoral Prosecutor. We are going to create a large social movement to prevent fraud.
LC: So, first of all it’s holding the authorities accountable. We have a different situation here because in 1988 we didn’t have the electoral infrastructure that we have now. And now we have it, but there’s still room for fraud?
PML: It’s a big deception. In 1994, after the death of Colosio and the uprising in Chiapas, I negotiated with the government, and they ceded to us, allowing the first autonomous electoral structures. Then, in 1996, I did the same thing again. So by 1997, we finally got autonomous electoral structures, and we won the majority in the congress, where I was president, and then, the first alternation of power, with Vicente Fox. But then, the system was corrupted, totally corrupted, because the political parties took power over the electoral bodies.
Vicente Fox threw democracy out the window. So what happened? After we achieved opposition majorities, and an alternation in government, what happened next were electoral frauds. Vicente Fox, it was he who directed the electoral fraud against Lopez Obrador. You remember how famous that was. He confessed it. “I got my revenge,” he said.
So, the most fraudulent of all, more than the PRI, was Fox. Then came the electoral fraud of — that one was from 2006 — and then came the fraud in 2012, which brought Peña Nieto into power. And then, in 2015, there were the brutal frauds in the State of Mexico and Coahuila.
We’re faced with a very difficult situation, but we have several advantages. First, Lopez Obrador is too far ahead for them to hide a fraud. Second, there will be a social movement to put pressure on the electoral agencies, so that they do what they are supposed to do. And we hope to receive support from international organizations as well.
LC: It’s worrisome that there was just what appears to be a serious fraud in Honduras, and there seemed to be very minimal international reaction so far to that. Do you think they can still get away with something like that in Mexico?
PML: What we need is for an international audience to have a clear idea that we are the freedom fighters. There’s no consciousness that the PRI is corrupt. There is no international consciousness that the PRI is authoritarian, that the PRI engages in electoral fraud, because there is a certain amount of international complicity with the current situation in Mexico. They criticize any authoritarian regime, around the world, except for the PRI. I watch CNN every day, for example. There is never any criticism of the PRI as an authoritarian regime. Yet it’s the most authoritarian regime in Latin America.
LC: You’ve written extensively about this and you have documented the dictatorship, the authoritarianism of the PRI. To defend the vote, what’s going to have to happen to break through this international image of “well, maybe not everything’s perfect in Mexico, but they have a democratic government”.
PML: Well, there are three tasks, and you’ve pointed out the first. There is international complicity with the PR. It’s not that they don’t know. There are correspondents from all over the world here, and they’re not stupid, and they’re not blind. But still, for reasons of complicity with the great powers, especially the United States, they consider the Mexican regime to be democratic. And that’s absolutely absurd. It’s the most authoritarian regime in Latin America. Name another regime that’s more authoritarian. Honduras, maybe. That’s it. It’s proven historically. So, first is to raise international consciousness about the authoritarian character of the Mexican regime.
Second, a social and intellectual mobilization, which we are organizing, to confront the electoral authorities. And then, a strong attitude on the part of citizens, because if, in 2018, this year, there is an electoral fraud, there could be a popular insurrection.
LC: And will this be the electoral observation that you’re talking about–are you already laying the base?
PML: But it needs to be done seriously. Election observation, unfortunately, which we have been promoting since 1994 — In 1994, we negotiated with Carpizo that there would be electoral observation. People from the European Union came, a lot of people came from all over. But on the day of the election, they were acting like tourists. They didn’t know what had happened before.
The electoral observation process should start at the beginning of the electoral process. They come, they watch the votes being counted, but they don’t know that the votes themselves have been compromised.
LC: Especially now that we’re not talking about a post electoral fraud so much as everything that’s already starting to happen now, maybe.
PML: Exactly. So, they show up on election day. I was the ambassador to the European Union, I invited the European Parliament, and they said everything was okay. Because they just watched the votes being counted, but they didn’t see everything behind the election, the vote buying. So electoral observation can’t just be on election day. The entire process needs to be observed. Without that, there are no guarantees.
LC: How do you guarantee a mobilization of the people in defense of the vote? And was that what was lacking in 1988?
PML: In 1988 there was a very important mobilization. The Zocalo was filled up several times. What happened is that the decision was not made to confront the government nonviolently, because the political parties in the coalition preferred to accept positions in congress. For the first time, the opposition had 45 percent–that was a lot, 180 deputies, it was huge. And they didn’t have the decisiveness. If they had had it, we wouldn’t have had to back down, definitely.
LC: I want to go back to the formation of the Democratic Front, such a key moment in the transition to democracy in Mexico, which has had its advances and…
PML: Transition to democracy or to WHAT
LC: Or to what, exactly. At that time there were three points that you brought out: National sovereignty, a critique of the economic model of concentration, and the system of decision making at the time. Let’s look quickly at those three.
First of all, national sovereignty: You said that recently power has been exercised from abroad in Mexico and that is reflected in the renegotiation of NAFTA and in the context of US national security.
PML: Well, look, the government of Miguel de la Madrid had been weakened by international pressure. I was the ambassador of Mexico to the United Nations and I was a personal friend of the president. I spoke several times with Miguel de la Madrid. And I was a witness to what happened in October of 1994, when Miguel went up to Washington. We were all there–the ambassadors in Washington, the president of the BID, who was Antonio Ortiz Mena. We talked with de la Madrid. And he gave up everything, accepted all their conditions, in order to accept the Baker Plan.
They put conditions on everything–the privatizations, the whole neoliberal scheme, the deregulatiion. We were totally shocked. I had a totally different line in the United Nations, I had been the president of the Group of 77 and they had a project to promote national sovereignty. So, I started to have problems with the government, of course.
Second, the issue of the popular decision in the elections, the famous “dedazo” [fwhere the president points his finger to choose the candidate]. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and I, without having talked to each other, in two different places — he was the governor of Michoacan, and I was the ambassador to the United Nations — we spoke out about the “finger system”.
LC: And that was really the origin of the Democratic Front.
PML: Exactly. So, we successfully built public awareness against the finger system. How did we do it? By running people within the party. It was allowed under the rules of the party, the statutes, to do that. It was allowed, but no one did it. So, we ran a candidate inside the party, who was Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. It caused a scandal at the party’s 13th assembly, where they censured us, so we had to split.
They didn’t have the sensibility to accept a candidate from within the party, like happens everywhere else in the whole world. There is no place on earth where candidates don’t face each other within the party before the open electoral process. But in Mexico it’s prohibited, the PRI prohibited there to be various candidates for election. So, we had to split. we went to the general election, and we won the election.
LC: And that was really the start of a big moment in a democratic transition and it went from there to the election of another party in 2000, and then the return of the PRI. Where are we now? Why has this democratic transition that was unleashed at that moment seemed to stall?
PML: No, the democratic transition was aborted. Vicente Fox aborted it. Instead of dismantling the old system, he consolidated it. And he betrayed democracy by launching a campaign against Lopez Obrador. No president of the PRI was so baldfaced and cynical during a campaign, twisting the purpose of universal suffrage.
LC: In that sense then, in 2006 the candidacy of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador represented a possibility to advance in a democratic transition. Is that the case now too?
PML: Of course it did, of course it did. Because it was a game that the government was playing. In 2000, all of us helped bring Fox to power, and in 2006 he betrayed us. And then Calderon’s betrayal, helping Peña Nieto, it was totally fraudulent, totally fraudulent.
LC: There’s a lot of documentation…
PML: It is documented that Peña Nieto is an illegitimate president.
LC: And yet, he’s in charge of these elections. Although in a recent interview, you indicated that power has passed to his Secretary of International Relations, Luis Videgaray. What’s going on there?
PML: During a part of the Mexican Revolution, there were strongman, like General Calles, after the death of General Obregon. So I call him Luis “el Callesito.” Like little street. He’s the “Callesito” because they gave him power. Just like de la Madrid passed power on to Salinas before leaving office, Peña Nieto passed power over to Videgaray, because he’s the link to the United States, ever since he brought Trump here. The first state visit was Trump visiting Mexico, just to keep bashing us.
LC: On the issue of national sovereignty, you mentioned this critical moment when De La Madrid went to the first negotiation and basically gave away everything. What about now?
PML: The big expectation is that the free trade agreement, NAFTA, be renegotiated after the presidential elections. The White House has already agreed to that. There are clear messages that they prefer to negotiate NAFTA with whoever is the next president of Mexico. That is very important, because otherwise it would be a false treaty. The relationship with the United States should be defined by the next government.
LC: There’s already been a path toward a greater alliance some would say, and intervention others would say, particularly in the field of national security. That must have a certain amount of influence in the electoral process as well, no?
PML: It’s a very complicated issue. For the United States, it’s national security. The conservatives in the Mexican government have already said, we accept the United States, accept its national security, accept being part of the United States national security system. That’s what the secretary of economy said, my friend Ildefonso Guajardo. And then we discussed economic issues, the most important part of which is the auto industry. And everything else is dead, it doesn’t exist.
So, we have to make the argument the other way around–first is immigration. Just like in the old negotiations, in international negotiations, they debated the issues. My issue is migration, your issue is national security, and in the middle are the economic issues. If I were a negotiator, I would include migration. In the original NAFTA negotiations, the Mexican government accepted that the fundamental issues were put into side agreements, parallel agreements, that are non-binding, issues including the environment, migration and labor. Very important issues.
Now it’s backwards. Now it’s the issues that —
LC: Migration didn’t even make it on the table.
PML: Right, it has to be on the table. So, we can’t be demagogues and say that we’re defending Mexicans and not put migration on the table.
LC: You said there was a quid pro quo: we will accept being part of US national security if we’re able to negotiate these economic terms.
PML: Exactly. There are two extremes. At one end, national security, and at the other, migration. They had to come to an agreement on both things. And in the middle were the economic issues, which can be easily resolve, maybe by accepting some of Trump’s whims or something, but no, it’s clear that we have a level of economic unity that will keep working as long as Trump doesn’t keep insisting that Mexican businesses should go to the United States,. That’s absurd. There’s an economic unity that is working, especially in the automotive and auto parts sectors, which are the spinal column of the Free Trade Agreement. It’s easily resolvable, it’s just a business agreement, it can be resolved. But it’s the agreements based on principles that need to be worked out, on national security and migration.
LC: And that are not being dealt with, mainly because the Mexican government hasn’t brought them to the negotiation in that same way.
PML: There needs to be strength. There’s no strength in the negotiations, there are no clear positions being taken.
LC: Speaking of national security, you also said in a recent interview that the new Internal Security Law is a threat to these elections. Could you explain that?
PML: First of all, the concept of internal security doesn’t exist in the Federal Constitution. There is just the concept of National Security. So, they invented a concept of Internal Security, which is a kind of trap. Because we need to clarify the situation. The government of Calderon sent the Army in to fight drug traffickers. The Army didn’t want to go, but Calderon forced them. And then the Army said, well, if you sent us into this war, we need guarantees. Which means, to violate human rights.
So, we are in a trap. The solution isn’t to give guarantees to the Army, the solution is getting the Army out of an internal war– that’s the solution. Nw, it’s an issue of gradual change. It’s an issue for new policies that we need to negotiate with the Army. The Army is very loyal to the country’s institutions, it always has been. And we need to say they will be withdrawn, they will not be allowed to violate human rights. That’s the negotiation with the Army.
LC: In this context, is there a greater risk that the army could be used for example to back up a fraud?
PML: I’ve spoken out about that possibility. But fortunately, there is a clause in the Internal Security Law that the armed forces can’t intervene in social protests. So, there’s something. Now, is there is a risk that they could use the law in a case of a social uprising? Of course. It’s a latent threat.
We need to talk to the Army, we need to negotiate with the Army. This has to be more open, more democratic, more public. We need to talk to the Army abot what it is prepared to do what it is not prepared to do. I think we need a wider, more honest democratic debate.
LC: More transparency.
PML: More transparency.
LC: Because one of the concerns is that we’re looking at an election where the ruling party is going in with a very unpopular presidency, and currently in third place, way behind, which could open the door…
PML: That’s a very good observation. Everything was set up so this would end in a contest between Meade and Lopez Obrador. But Meade is at 10% in the polls. So what is the ruling party going to do? Are they going to support the candidate of the so-called alliance, led by the PAN? It’s possible. Today there were polls that showed Anaya, the former president of the PAN, in second place, way ahead of Meade. The issue for the governing party is that Meade isn’t popular, and isn’t going to become popular. So, what are they going to do? That’s the question.
LC: If they did that, would they have to do it under the table? Or would they formally withdraw?
PML: It’s going to be a negotiation. The government can take steps to help the PAN’s candidate. Again, it would be very bad, it would mean going back to the PAN governments, like that of Fox or Calderon. It is a very serious danger for the country.
LC: So for them it’s basically beat Lopez Obrador, whatever it takes.
PML: I think that the logic of history, and national opinion, is moving towards respecting Lopez Obrador’s victory.
LC: Unfortunatelly we’ve run out of time. Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, thank you so much.
PML: Thank you.