July 17, 2000, by Gene Kira:
It almost doesn't matter whether Mexican president-elect Vicente Fox does a good job or not. After 71 years of suppression and hopelessness, the Mexican people now know that if the old bum doesn't perform, they can damned well elect a new one!
This is a radical change in the national Zeitgeist of a people who have up until now felt powerless before their own federal government in fundamental ways that Americans have difficulty grasping on a gut level.
The victory of the National Action Party (PAN) in the July 2 elections, after four generations of domination by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is a victory for the Mexican people as profound for them as the fall of the Berlin Wall was for Germany, or the breakup of the Soviet Union was for the many peoples of Eastern Europe. It is, indeed, a victory as profound as our own American Revolution was for this country, a victory of empowerment, of the most fundamental human rights of happiness and self-determination.
The people of Mexico are now enjoying a giddy honeymoon period. They are bursting with renewed dreams and hopes for their children's futures, waiting to see what happens when Fox takes office in December. It is getting harder and harder to find anyone who will admit that he or she ever voted for PRI.
In reality however, it no longer matters what initials belong to the party in power. PAN, or PRI, or PRD. The winds of political change may shuffle the initials in future elections, but the essential process of electoral participation will go on. The floodgates are open. There will be no going back. Henceforth, the government will be held accountable by its people.
Surely, there will be disappointments as the inevitable compromises are made, and the resulting product can hardly be expected to end up any better than our own government, or any other country's. But the difference, for the first time in history, will be that the Mexican people will have a hand in shaping that product, and they will have the power to change it as they see fit.
The benefits of PAN's vision for the Mexico of the next century are potentially enormous. Fox's victory was a victory of the young, the better educated, and the more northern-looking people of the Mexican electorate. These are the people who will open up their country's economy, thereby making unnecessary the shameful forced migration across the U.S. border, and they will have the ability to put a stop to the Keystone Cops tragicomedy of corruption, cronyism and drug running that have characterized the past. These are the people who will make Mexico proud to be Mexico. These are the people who will lead Mexico to a just and prosperous future, and to full participation in the community of nations.
For those of us enraptured with the exotic charms and natural beauty of Baja California, the new order also brings hope from another direction. It has been said that Mexican agents charged with enforcement of regulations related to Mexican sport and commercial fisheries, are the most corrupt of the federal government. While this claim may be arguable, there is no doubting that the blatant bribery that goes on in the field has been deeply destructive to the environment, the economy, and even the self-image of the Mexican people themselves.
Many years ago, I stood with a group of local fishermen in a remote town on the Sea of Cortez as an ice truck went by carrying tons of illegal totoaba to market. We all shook our heads, and I asked why this was allowed. "What can we do about it?" they answered, "they pay M... [the inspector] fifty dollars and he closes his eyes."
"Can't you get rid of him?"
"He comes from Mexico City."
"So what? Can't you complain?"
"They might send somebody even worse. You don't understand. It is best not to make problems."
I couldn't believe what my American ears were hearing. So, as a gray-haired, left-over, 1960s-style activist, I suggested, "Why don't you set up a road block in the desert and stop the truck? Two loads of rotten totoaba, and they'll get the message. If they send federales to arrest you, it will be on TV and all the papers. They will have a lot of explaining to do. You will win."
Gently, over the course of an hour, they explained that making a big stink over totoaba might cause their commercial licenses to become suddenly invalid, or perhaps a medical certificate would be difficult to obtain, or a job could be lost, or physical harm might even result to them or their possesions. There was only one source of power, PRI. The tendons of that power extended from their little village, all the way back to Mexico City, and there was no way to fight it. I left them, with feelings of sadness and overwheming gratitude that I had happened to be born into a two-party system.
On another occasion, I was standing in front of a very well known restaurant in Baja California Sur, chatting with the owner, an old friend of many years' standing. He had invited me in to have dinner, and I was very hungry, having driven south on Mex 1 for two days without a proper meal. It began to get dark, and my host kept talking and talking, as I began to grow almost faint from thinking about the fantastic Mexican dinner that awaited me inside, if only he would shut up and take me into the dining room!
But he just kept on talking, for over an hour, and finally I just couldn't stand it anymore, and I suggested that we go inside and continue our conversation over dinner.
He looked at me apologetically, and said, "Gene, you go in. Order anything you want. I'll wait for you out here. I'm so sorry. I can't go in there right now."
"I can't go in there. The damned federales. They make me so mad, I'm afraid I might do something I would regret."
There were six of them, at a table laden with plates and bottles, unwelcome guests of the owner, who felt powerless to kick them out. They were still there when I returned outside, after leaving a very large tip, and the owner was nowhere to be found.
We now have the stunning victory of Vicente Fox, in a nation of people who have endured 71 years of such stories, from Tijuana to Salina Cruz, and we have new hope for change.
We don't yet know whether Vicente Fox will become the hero we want him to be, but there is another Mexican president who has already proven himself one: Ernesto Zedillo, of the losing party, PRI. Credit must be given to Zedillo and to PRI for allowing clean elections to take place, for allowing the press to function freely, for not taking the democratic process down in flames, which was surely within their power, unwise though it would have been.
So Mexico can be proud, not only of its new ruling party and its new president, but also for the old party and the old president, who heard the whistling of the axe, and responded not with panic, but with the greatly expanded world view that will be so necessary in the future.
(Related Mexico articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Mexico information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Mexico area in "Mexico Fishing News.")