Since 1994, the political landscape in Mexico (and throughout the world) has changed quite a lot. And politicians did not escape the changes. Some have been replaced by ‘entrepreneurs’, others have simply become their agents. As a result, the economic interests of business elites have become entrenched even more as State policy. The social good is pursued even less than it was before this neoliberal assault.
In Mexico, a large part of the population still lives in shocking poverty. In fact, with national wealth and land being concentrated even more in the hands of a wealthy, exploitative few, the majority of Mexicans have probably seen their conditions worsen, if anything. Political polarisation has become a lot clearer, with the farce of voting for different shades of the same thing being played out every time elections come around. Sophisticated fraud and abuse of power structures has ensured that the institutional Left has been kept out of power. What’s more, this institutional left has actually joined together with their opposition to implement neoliberal reforms (see the Pact for Mexico). Marxists would refer to this form of politics as a bourgeois democracy – a system in which a political elite fools voters into thinking they have a choice, but in reality the only thing elections achieve is the legitimisation of the exploitation of a powerful few over the majority of the population. Naturally, this effective powerlessness simply increases popular anger and disillusionment with the political system.
However, it also inspires some to fight, both in cities and in the largely indigenous countryside. The appearance of the EZLN on January 1st 1994 gave new strength to indigenous communities. The Zapatista uprising forced the government to give indigenous people greater participation in the nation’s political dialogue. In 1996, the San Andrés Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture were signed between the federal government and the EZLN. This laid the foundation for a new type of relationship between indigenous people, the government and society. Unfortunately, the Mexican government refused to keep its word and indigenous people throughout the country, faithful to theirs, began the construction of their autonomy. However, successive governments have tried to use welfare policies to distract people from what the Zapatistas were doing (seeking meaningful change and true autonomy).
There is resistance elsewhere, though. Some defend their territories, their forests and waters from the encroachment of multinational corporations. Some have organised into community police forces to combat the spread of the drug trade and the violence that follows close behind. Some promote community radio stations to communicate and disseminate their culture or create community schools because they feel that teachers in government schools don’t teach them what they need for life. Others promote planting their own food – reassessing their traditional practices and knowledge – to escape from the clutches of those who have made food a commodity and a weapon of domination. Some of these regional processes have been successful, others not so much.
Today’s government has suddenly promised that it will fulfil the agreements of 1996. But Peña Nieto has lost the trust of most Mexicans. The purpose of the ‘reforms’ made under his administration seems to be the privatisation of as much of Mexico as possible, whether that’s education or petrol. Also, in order to fulfil the San Andrés Accords, other laws, granting private corporations licences to exploit the nation’s resources, would need to be repealed. And this seems more than unlikely. Any ‘recognition of rights’ would almost certainly be nothing more than an empty gesture – a façade hiding ever greater exploitation and cultural, political, and economic domination. The path of autonomy exemplified by the Zapatistas over the last twenty years seems to be the option offering the most hope for true justice in Mexico.