8.3 Political Background
The year 1982 marked a landmark in Mexican Politics, as the political system made a shift from traditional politics to a technocrat era. Technocrate presidents (Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado 1982-1988; Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) and Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) were economists trained in the USA. This implied a break with the past, when presidents had studied law in Mexico and were trained within the main party, the Partido de la Revolución Institucionalizada (PRI). They took a set of measures to break down the developmentist state and create a neoliberal, free market system, directed towards the satisfaction of (inter)national elitist interest rather than the Mexican population (Babb, 2001:171; Hamnett 1999:284-7; Medina Peña 1995:277-85). This has had a major impact on the presidential discourse. From 1929 until 1982, the PRI derived its legitimacy from the Mexican Revolution.1 Mexican presidents presented themselves as the legal inheritors of the Mexican Revolution. The PRI claimed absolute monopoly to this position - any form of political opposition would be dismissed as being anti Mexican in general and a traitor of the Mexican Revolution, in particular (Montessori 1988:67).
The government used symbols of the Revolution, such as its heroic and most idealistic leader, Emiliano Zapata, land rights, and the use of the ejido to legitimate its power. This orientation changed in 1982 under President de la Madrid who introduced a neoliberal policy that was further developed by Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94), the architect of NAFTA. Especially this period marked a rupture with traditional politics. One of Salinas de Gortari's most controversial measures was the modification of article 27 of the Constitution, which guaranteed rights to common land to peasant communities. The modification implied that this land was now free to be sold on the market. His discourse is social - liberal rather than the traditional national populist discourse that was based on the rhetoric of the Mexican Revolution (Knight 1996:2). Salinas' discourse was projected towards the future rather than the past. In his discourse, the Mexican Revolution as a traditional key concept was replaced by "modernisation" (Gutiérrez 2003:2). A second outstanding feature of his discourse is the way in which he emphasises the concept of nationalism. In this political context of global reform, the EZLN started its armed rebellion on the first day of 1994. Rebellious troops occupied several villages in Chiapas, a state that borders with Guatemala, and proclaimed their demands in terms of freedom, liberty and justice, land reform, work, housing, food, health, education, liberty, independence, democracy, justice, peace (1:35)2.
1 The Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) was originally directed against the authoritarian leadership of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1910). It was a hybrid struggle. Emiliano Zapata fought for land rights for peasants. Carranza and Obregón, the so-called constitucionalistas, fought for the rights of the urban elites. They brought the Revolution to a formal end with the formulation of the Constitution of 1917. In order to achieve a peace that balanced radical forces, this document was a model of radical liberalism, the legal foundation of the new state that was to emerge. Ever since the state has had to balance the rhetoric of the Revolution with the persecution of capitalist development (Williamson 1992:388).
2 For the exact meaning of this indication, see the description of the
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Volumen 22 (2005)