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2000-12-05

Mexican President Vicente Fox Sworn in, As Zapatistas Propose Round of Negotiations

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Yesterday, Vicente Fox was inaugurated as president of Mexico. He is the first president since 1929 who is not a member of PRI party. But although he promises to bring prosperity, his pro-business agenda may simply offer more of the same to majority of Mexicans who live in dire poverty. [includes rush transcript]

The one bright spot may be the prospect of peace negotiations with the Zapatista movement in the state of Chiapas, in southern Mexico. Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos said Saturday night that while he still distrusts Fox, his fighters were ready to return to peace talks. He even said he would travel to Mexico City personally to push for an indigenous-rights law in Congress.

Breaking a long silence with a press conference in the impoverished region of Chiapas, Marcos said the Zapatistas are willing to return to peace talks if the government closes seven military bases near rebel-held zones, releases imprisoned Zapatista sympathizers and implements a 1996 peace accord.

Guests:

  • Rafael Barajas, cartoonist with the daily La Jornada of Mexico City.
  • Peter Rosset, Co-Director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, speaking from Chiapas.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We move south to the results of other elections. Yesterday Vicente Fox was inaugurated as president of Mexico. He’s the first president since 1929 in Mexico who’s not a member of the PRI party. But although he promises to bring prosperity, his pro-business agenda may simply offer more of the same to the majority of Mexicans who live in dire poverty.

The one bright spot may be the prospect of peace negotiations with the Zapatista movement in the province of Chiapas in southern Mexico. Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos said Saturday night that while he still distrusts Fox, his fighters were ready to return to peace talks. He even said he would travel to Mexico City personally to push for an indigenous rights law in congress.

We go now to Mexico City to Rafael Barajas, who is a cartoonist with the daily La Jornada. Welcome to Democracy Now!

RAFAEL BARAJAS: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, tell us who Vicente Fox, the new president, is, who’s being inaugurated today.

RAFAEL BARAJAS: Well, this is a very hard question to explain clearly, because most of the people do not know clearly who Vicente Fox is. Vicente Fox appeared very recently on the Mexican scenario, and many of his political thinking is not known to the public. So we do not know clearly who he is. We do know that he is for the same economical program that Salinas and Zedillo stand for. And we do know that he comes from the PAN, which is a very conservative party. But we do not know clearly who he is, and that’s one of the problems we have. People voted for him basically because he was an option to out the PRI, and that because there were no other options. The leftwing parties were very discredited, because of their own positions, and the PRI was very discredited because, well, you know, because it was an absurd dictatorship.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by "absurd dictatorship."

RAFAEL BARAJAS: Well, Mario Vargas Llosa once said that the PRI was the perfect dictatorship, and he was right in many senses. But it was not that perfect. It was a very complex system, a very elaborated system that made a very complex net, social net, that went from — and it assembled from very poor associations to the industrialists to the big businessman. So it’s a system that had rules of its own, very complex rules. And they were finally very impractical. That’s what I mean.

AMY GOODMAN: Rafael Barajas, cartoonist with the daily La Jornada of Mexico City. Fox, a former head of Coca-Cola in Mexico, can you talk about the people he has chosen for his cabinet?

RAFAEL BARAJAS: Oh, yes. Well, when we see Fox’s cabinet, we have to — we see that there are very clearly two groups in his cabinet. The economical cabinet is very consistent. It’s mainly — it consists basically on big businessmen. You have a former Coca-Cola — PepsiCo manager there. You have the manager from Justa phon.. You have a man that has worked in the World Bank. You have people that have worked for Telmex, which is the Mexican phone company.

It is very consistent in this sense. It is basically a cabinet made — that has assembled people from big business, and they are big business managers directly. And they are people that — they are believers in free trade, in what has been called lately free trade democracy. And they are basically for free trade. They are basically for deregulation of the economy. And they are basically for privatization.

Now, this is exactly the same program that Salinas and Zedillo followed. And this is a program that has widened the gap between the rich and the poor in Mexico. We in Mexico have some of the richest men in the world. And this is a country with 45% of its population that’s living in poverty. You know, that 45%, there’s a huge percentage, I believe it’s 25% that lives in extreme poverty.

And this gap has been widened in the last twelve years. That’s exactly the period when these policies have been applied by the government. And these are the same policies that Vicente Fox is going to apply. Well, he has announced them. And what’s he going to do, for example? He has announced that he is going to raise — he is going to tax food and medicine. Of course, he says he will return that money. What the government — he says that what the government earns on these concepts, he will return to the extreme poor, which is not likely to happen.

And this measure basically means a reform tax that taxes the poor and not the rich. And this is completely absurd. And it means that people will have less money to spend on their basic needs. And it sure means that the government will have more money. He will be retrieving more money from the poor, not from the extremely rich, not from the extremely wealthy. And that’s one thing.

On the other hand, the other part of the cabinet is kind of a melting pot. You have a bit of everything. You have people that come from the right. They’re from the extreme right. You have people that come from the left. You have people that do not have a political career. And we do not know what he’s going to do with that cabinet. Aanything can happen there.

For example, you have Jorge Castaneda in as a chancellor. He’s going to be Fox’s chancellor. And people tend to — people, especially in the United States, people tend to look at Jorge Castaneda as a former leftwing activist. And, well, here in Mexico, we no longer consider him a leftwing activist. As a matter of fact, when he gave his speech, his first speech as a design member of the cabinet, Fox’s cabinet, he said — he asked — he said that he would — he was asking the businessman to look at him as a partner.

So we don’t know what’s going to happen with that, with this side of his cabinet. But one thing is for sure: the expectations most people have on Fox’s cabinet is — on Fox is very, very high, and there are certain possibilities that they will be disappointed.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, breaking a long silence with a press conference in the impoverished state of Chiapas, Subcomandante Marcos said the Zapatistas are willing to return to peace talks if the government closes seven military bases near rebel-held zones, releases imprisoned Zapatista sympathizers, and implements a 1996 peace accord.

Rafael Barajas, we’re also joined on the telephone by Peter Rosset, who’s co-director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy. He is in Chiapas, where he attended the press conference given by Subcomandante Marcos on Saturday. We only have a minute, Peter Rosset. Describe what that press conference was like, what Marcos had to say.

PETER ROSSET: Well, I think it’s quite amazing that anytime the international media feels like the Zapatistas have finally faded away and disappeared from our consciousness, they show their ability to seize the center stage. They basically snap their fingers and the international press — myself included — drove five hours through small dirt roads into a remote jungle location, where Marcos and Comandante Moises and Comandante Tacho held forth and basically captured the attention of all of Mexico the day after Fox’s inauguration, the new president.

And so, it’s sort of like a welcome to the Mexican presidency: on the biggest day of your life, we are going to steal the show. And it was quite impressive. And I think they really reached out, proposing dialogue and proposing that if things can be worked out, they will enter normal political life in Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is happening today in Chiapas?

PETER ROSSET: Well, today in Chiapas, the soldiers have removed their checkpoints from all of the different points on the different roadways around the state. And that’s a very positive development. On the other hand, poverty and misery continue unabated.

And I think the Zapatistas made a very clear statement that while they want to engage Fox in dialogue and they would like to enter a peaceful political process, they are very much the opposition to the business model that Fox is proposing for Mexico, an economic model that seems likely to leave the poor out even more than the previous model did.

AMY GOODMAN: Will the Zapatistas put down weapons and become a large-scale grassroots movement?

PETER ROSSET: They say that that’s what they seek. I think that the one thing that they’re acknowledging that changes with the election of Fox is not so much in the economic or democratic sphere, but in the security sphere. They feel that it’s possible now to work out an agreement in which their security could be assured and they could become a national grassroots movement. I think that’s what they’re hoping to get out of a new — one of the things they’re hoping to get out of a new round of dialogue.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Peter Rosset, I want to thank you for being with us from Chiapas, co-director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First, and Rafael Barajas, cartoonist with the daily La Jornada of Mexico City.

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