Mexico Between 1991 and 1995

The Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), in power since its foundation (1946), has continued to monopolize the political life of the country, also preventing by repressive means (assassinations of a political nature, electoral fraud) and consociative (corruption, nepotism, collusion with drug trafficking) the institutionalization of any alternative expression to the dominant power. Without real opposition from the only political group allowed, the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), of Catholic and conservative inspiration, the PRI won the majority of votes in electoral consultations (presidential, municipal or regional) until 1991, thus expressing almost all the political and civil leadership of the country.

The accusations of serious irregularities that accompanied the electoral successes obtained by the PRI however forced President Salinas to have measures approved by Congress, in September 1993, aimed at limiting discrimination against the opposition. Among other things, they provided for the possibility of accessing the media to all political groups, the modification of the party financing mechanism, greater representativeness of minor parties in the Senate. The governability clause was also abolished, introduced in 1989-90 (which attributed an absolute majority to the most voted party, provided it received at least 35 % of the votes) and the election control body was reorganized, making it autonomous from the government.

The events that accompanied 1994, the annus horribilis del Mexico, were also decisive, and which had a profound impact on the political, economic and social sphere of the country. President Salinas’ initiation of the privatization of state-owned funds (ejidos) given to peasants for use put an end to the land distribution system initiated in 1917 and supported by President Cárdenas in the 1930s, contributing, among other factors, to to exacerbate the socio-economic distress of many marginal areas. This discomfort exploded in a disruptive way in Chiapas (the eighth state of Mexico by extension and one of the poorest, with 30 % of the population made up of Indians) on 1January 1994, when the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional(EZLN), symbolically choosing the date of entry into force of the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), rose up and occupied four municipalities south of Chiapas, including the tourist city of San Cristóbal.

The EZLN presented itself as the ultimate expression of the rebellion of the Indians at the five hundred years of abuse (‘the war cry of the Indians’), and was the armed wing of the command of the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee, an assembly that represented the different Indian community, decided to go to armed opposition. The action took the government authorities by surprise (Chiapas had given 76 % of the votes to the PRI and had been the main beneficiary of the Programa nacional de solidaridad, PRONASOL), who tried to suppress the movement by carrying out a tough military counter-offensive. This helped to strengthen the growing popularity of the Zapatista forces, which managed to capture the attention and favor of world public opinion also through a targeted communication policy (messages via the Internet and appeal-invitation given to journalists and human rights activists to go and check the place) and a careful use of symbolism (the black balaclava that hid the face of the ‘subcomandante’ Marcos, and the reference to E. Zapata, symbol of the Mexican revolution and leader of the movement of Indian laborers who demanded the reform agrarian).

In an attempt to regain international credibility, the government announced a unilateral ceasefire on January 10 and appointed Mexico Camacho Solís (former Regent of the capital) to head a Peace and Reconciliation Commission. With the mediation of Bishop S. Ruiz, known for his militancy in defense of the rights of the Indians, the Commission started negotiations in February that led to the publication of a document containing the 34 requests forwarded by the community of Indians, including, among the another, the continuation of PRONASOL, the program launched in 1989for marginal areas, the introduction of Indian customs in the judicial and political system of the region, and an analysis of the consequences, for the Indian community, of NAFTA and the new agrarian reform. The government’s partial acceptance of the demands made did not satisfy the Zapatistas and led Salinas to appoint a new prestigious negotiator, J. Madrazo Cuéllar, who was head of the Comisión nacional de derechos humanos. For Mexico 2019, please check

Two months after the Chiapas uprising, the political situation was made even more unstable by the assassination of L. Donaldo Colosio, presidential candidate of the PRI belonging to the most progressive faction of the party. His candidacy had fueled strong dissensions within the PRI and sharpened the conflicts between the two internal factions (the conservative and the progressive). Having captured the material perpetrator of the crime, the case also led to the arrest of some members of the PRI who were acquitted, however, in July, to the great sensation of public opinion, according to the report of the new attorney general in charge of the case. The new candidate of the PRI, E. Zedillo Ponce de León, in charge of the electoral campaign of Colosio, nevertheless managed to win with the 48, 8% Of the vote (against the 25, 9 % of D. Fernández de Cevallos of the PAN and the 16, 6 % of C. Cárdenas Solórzano for the Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD) presidential August 1994, held with regularity and under the supervision of international observers. Even in the legislative elections, the PRI managed to consolidate itself in the Senate (95 seats out of 128) and to defend itself in the Chamber (300 seats out of 500) while, with the proportional share, the PAN gained 24 seats, the PRD 8 and with 10seats made its first appearance in the Partido del Trabajo (PT).

The political instability that had accompanied the six years of the Salinas presidency (during which some 300 opposition activists were killed) exploded in all its drama in the last half of 1994. A second political assassination in September 1994, which hit PRI Secretary General JF Ruiz Massieu, reopened the Colosio case. In November 1994the brother of the assassinated PRI leader, Mexico Ruiz Massieu, resigned from his post as Deputy Minister of Justice, accusing some members of his party of wanting to obstruct the investigation. Accompanied by new appointments of prosecutors, subsequent investigations involved political figures linked to the Mexican drug cartels. Excellent arrests followed such as, in February 1995, that of the brother of former President Salinas, R. Salinas de Gortari, for complicity in the assassination of Massieu, and in April that of the principal (F. Rodríguez Gonzáles, an official of the Chamber) and numerous accomplices including five governors of State. It emerged in particular that Salinas’ brother had used his influence to cover a network of drug traffickers who then financed the former president’s election campaign. Shortly thereafter, President Salinas himself, who declared himself a victim of the internal power struggle in the PRI, was invited by the Mexican government to leave the country.

From an economic point of view, 1994 was characterized by a terrible devaluation of the Mexican peso (it devalued from 15 % to almost 60 % in a few days), which aggravated the already significant flight of capital caused by the assassination of Colosio in March. An extraordinary plan of international aid (amounting to 50 billion dollars) prepared on the initiative of the United States avoided the collapse of the banking system, but it shattered the illusion, supported also by Salinas’ rhetoric, of a strong and stable economy, that the he entry into force of NAFTA and the admission of Mexico, in May 1994, in the circle of the most industrialized countries (OECD) had fed.

President Zedillo, who took office on 1 December 1994, was faced with the difficult task of awakening. The appeal launched on January 4, 1995 for the emergency economic plan was traumatizing for the Mexicans: “The progress of Mexico requires us to recognize, with full realism, that we are not a rich country, but a nation with serious needs and gaps “. Thus, starting from March 1995, austerity measures were implemented which included severe cuts in public spending, an increase in the value added tax from 10 % to 15 %.% and the immediate rise in oil prices; the privatization of the oil company was even proposed (whose nationalization had been a symbol of the emancipation of the revolutionary Mexico). The austere economic plan managed to reassure the capital market by accelerating the economic recovery, but worsened the already difficult condition of the lower and middle classes.

In Chiapas the conflict resumed in February 1995. In March, a special law for dialogue, conciliation and honorable peace in Chiapas, issued by the government and supported by the major political forces, started the opening of negotiations with the guerrillas. A referendum organized in August 1995 by the EZLN in Mexico City and the State of Chiapas (and in which about 1.5 million voters participated) approved the transformation of the armed movement into an independent political force (the Frente Zapatista de Liberación Nacional).

Mexico Between 1991 and 1995

About the author