August 12, 1997
Charles Krause interviews Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the mayor-elect of Mexico City and the candidate to topple the city's PRI stronghold, a month after the election.
CHARLES KRAUSE: There are few mayors anywhere in the world whose elections have had international significance, but last month, when Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was elected mayor of Mexico City, it was front page news not only in Mexico, but also in New York, Washington, and elsewhere around the world. Cardenas is a 63-year-old professional politician whos been trying for over a decade to end nearly 70 years of one-party rule in Mexico.
On July 6th, his victory brought that goal a giant step closer. The election was generally viewed as the freest and fairest in Mexico's modern history. And when the ballots were counted Mexicans had voted decisively for the opposition, rejecting the country's long entrenched Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, which has governed Mexico without interruption since the 1920's. In addition to losing in Mexico City, the PRI also lost two more governorships and for the first time ever it lost its majority in the Lower House of Congress, known as the Chamber of Deputies. Mexico's conservative opposition party, Acion Nationale, known as the PAN, won the governorship, but it was Cardenas and his center left Democratic Revolutionary Party, the PRD, that won locally in Mexico City and also at the federal level, where the PRD will have the most number of opposition seats in the new lower house of Congress.
Cardenas, himself, it was a stunning political comeback after two unsuccessful
attempts to be elected Mexico's president. In 1988, Cardenas ran against
Carlos Salinas, and in 1994, he was defeated by Mexico's current president,
Ernesto Zedillo. But since the last election and three years of economic
crisis, sharply increased crime, and revelations of government corruption
and scandal gave Cardenas the edge when he decided to run this year
for mayor in Mexico City. A civil engineer by training, Cardenas was
born a political prince, the son of a former president, Lazaro Cardenas,
revered by many Mexicans for having nationalized Mexico's
oil industry in the 1930's. Like his father, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was
also a member of the PRI until he broke with it a decade ago to form
his own political party. Now, as mayor of Mexico's capital and North
America's largest city, Cardenas automatically becomes Mexico's most
powerful opposition figure. He also again becomes a potential candidate
for president in the year 2000. We interviewed him recently in New York,
where he was taking part in a conference on cities and urban problems
sponsored by the United Nations.
political revolution in Mexico?
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Cardenas, thank you very much for joining us.
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS, Mayor-Elect, Mexico City: Thank you.
CHARLES KRAUSE: It's been said that the July 6th election represents a political revolution in Mexico. Do you agree with that assessment?
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: Yes. I consider this election a very important change in our political life because it was a respected election in most of the country. I couldn't say that in the whole of the country, but in most of it we had a respected election like the one we had in the federal district in Mexico City.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Do you consider that your election represents or that this election represents the end of one-party rule in Mexico?
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: Well, I hope so. I'm not so confident but I would expect that this means that we're moving on that way.
CHARLES KRAUSE: I spoke with President Zedillo, and he said that he did not consider this election to have been a referendum on the policies of his government, nor does he think it represents a defeat for the PRI. He says that the PRI still got more votes nationwide than any other single party. Why would he have said that?
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: Well, he has to defend his positions, his government, his party, but I think that any election is in a way a referendum, so people voted, the majority against the PRI, what the PRI represents, against the present policies; that's against the deterioration of living standards, against the increase of unemployment. Wages have lost at least 75 to 80 percent of their purchasing power in real terms. We have more than half of Mexico's population under the poverty line, so there's no reason to vote in favor of the PRI and this election, I think that in many ways is a referendum of what the government is doing or not doing.
CHARLES KRAUSE: You've used the word corruption several times. I wonder if you would tell us exactly what you mean. How corrupt is the PRI? What kinds of things have gone on in Mexico?
|Corruption and one-party rule|
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: Well, you cannot say how corrupt is the PRI. You have to talk of specific persons, of individuals. And we can see that many of the high officials of that government and most of the present government's high officials were collaborators in the past government, are in one way or another involved in the corruption issues: the selling of the telephone company, or President Salinas's brother, who's now in jail, so if you just investigate a little, you'll find somebody from the government involved in different corruption issues, in different corruption acts.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Do you think that President Salinas, himself, was corrupt?
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: Well, that's for the authorities to investigate. There are evidences -- people think that he is involved in different corruption acts. His brother is in jail. I think that he has at least to be investigated, and let's see what happens.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Do you think that the current government, Mr. Zedillo's government, is prepared to investigate that kind of political --
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: I see no political will to do it. I see no -- at least up to now -- no action in this sense.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Were you surprised that President Zedillo was as gracious as he was publicly in congratulating you when you won and offering his support?
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: No. He had previously said that he would respect the election. What we saw before this July 6th election is that the government had respected previous elections that were held in several states in October and November, so I really expected that the July election was going to be also a fair election. And so I was not surprised to receive his congratulations and the offer of collaboration from the federal government.
CHARLES KRAUSE: During your presidential campaigns, you were critical of NAFTA, of the North American Free Trade Agreement. You said it wasn't in Mexico's interest to join it. What is your position now with regard to NAFTA?
|Free trade and the United States|
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: I think it's necessary to find those specific points where NAFTA has been having difficulties and try to remove those obstacles, and this doesn't necessarily mean that we have to go to a new negotiation passed through the congresses of the three countries, but using the mechanisms that NAFTA, itself, has you can solve this--I would say minor problems.
CHARLES KRAUSE: In general, do you think that three years later that Mexico has benefitted from NAFTA overall?
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: I think Mexico has benefitted from NAFTA. We have important investments in different parts of the country, but this doesn't mean that Mexico is in general improving. But this has nothing to do with NAFTA. This has to do with the general policies that have been implemented in Mexico -- social and economic.
CHARLES KRAUSE: You have been very critical of the current government's economic program in particular. What would you like changed? What do you think needs to be done?
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: What we are demanding is that the government's policies have much more social content and that the government reassumes its social responsibilities. The state cannot be just insensible--
CHARLES KRAUSE: Insensitive.
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: -- insensitive to poverty, to unemployment, et cetera. So the government has to reassume this social responsibilities and give social content and pay attention to -- to expose -- and pay attention to employment, creation of jobs, improvement of living standards, increase of wages, et cetera.
CHARLES KRAUSE: You say that, but, as you know, the government would turn around and accuse you then of wanting to go back to the old system in Mexico, the state-controlled -- system.
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: This can be done through free market policies. Nobody's talking about intervention of the state in economic activities. Nobody's talking about nationalizing or changing the present political status of the country. So with free markets you can improve living conditions.
CHARLES KRAUSE: How would you change the current policy in order to accomplish that?
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: Using government's investment, government funds to put attention to these specific problems.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Over the next three years you will be mayor of Mexico City, but you clearly are also a national figure and you also are leader of your party. Would you expect to be involved in the debate over national policies in Mexico?
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: No. I have many things to do in Mexico City's government, and I'll put all my capacities to work on that.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Would you expect to run again for president in three years?
CUAUHTEMOC CARDENAS: That's -- I don't know. It's too soon to make a decision. I have to see what happens in this next years in Mexico City, what the people think, what I think, what my party thinks, so it's very soon to make a decision on that.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Thank you very much.