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Mexico's economic and social conditions have deteriorated dramatically over the past decade, and the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement will only worsen the problems, the government's chief opposition leader said Feb. 24 at Stanford.
Cuauhtemoc Cardenas told an audience of several hundred that the Free Trade Agreement will "consolidate the status quo and . . . lock Mexico into a series of binding agreements that do not help this country to face its own realities or help Mexico join the (world) economy in a truly advantageous way."
The pact, he said, takes advantage of Mexico's low wages but contains no social aid or environmental protection for the country. It will keep Mexico as "an economic subject of the United States," Cardenas said.
He proposed instead a Continental Agreement for Trade and Development that would include all the nations of the hemisphere and take into account differences in degrees of development and economic and social conditions in those countries.
In addition to opposing the Free Trade Agreement, Cardenas said that Mexico must develop a social charter for its citizens and bring about true democracy through respect for the vote.
Many observers believe Cardenas received the most legitimate votes in the 1988 presidential race, officially won by Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Cardenas is traveling through Washington and California to gather support for his Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD). The PRD seeks to end the single-party domination of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
The son of Lazaro Cardenas, one of the most popular presidents of Mexico (1934 to 1940), Cuauhtemoc Cardenas is a former senator and was governor of the state of Michoacan from 1980 to 1986.
The government acknowledged that he received an unprecedented 30 percent of the vote in 1988, but his supporters have charged that fraud deprived him of the presidency. The PRD now seeks international support to prevent fraud in the 1994 presidential elections.
In his Stanford talk, Cardenas said that since its 1982 debt crisis, Mexico has followed an economic model designed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He outlined a host of problems that he charged are the result of this model:
The government, he said, offers "no protections, subsidies or support, but leaves everything to the market." Funds freed through debt renegotiation and money coming from abroad go primarily to speculation, he said.
The paradox is that "the growing economy, fueled by a huge influx of capital attracted to Mexico by an indiscriminate fire sale of national assets, is not creating jobs or expanding the economy. It is simply making the rich richer."
The Free Trade Agreement will simply lock in place the policies that have created the problems, he said.
He proposed a continental agreement that would contain measures to address social issues, harmonize investment rules, protect the environment, provide a way to settle disputes and consider the mobility of workers.
The keystone of such an agreement, he said, would be compensatory investment in less developed countries. Other critical elements would be trade liberalization, new debt negotiation and deterrents for speculation.
In addition to a trade agreement that addresses social issues, Cardenas said, Mexico must develop an internal social charter as a
"central component of our struggle for democracy."
Mexico's image as a democracy does not reflect reality, he said, because the vote is not respected in free elections.
"The international community grants the Salinas government a political legitimacy it does not have," he said.
Short-term political interests in other countries "keep Mexican democracy on the back burner," he said, and advocates for Mexican democracy are non-existent in the official sectors of the United States and most other countries.
If democracy is not established and economic policies changed in Mexico, the same problems will continue, he said. The results will be continuing dependence on foreign assistance -- mainly the U.S. taxpayers - and unchecked migration to the United States.
The recent constitutional reform regarding agriculture, for example, could drive "up to 10 million people from lands they now work and occupy," with an estimated five million of those coming to the United States. Cardenas said.
Cardenas said he seeks support from U.S. citizens in bringing political pressure to bear and monitoring elections, but added that
"bringing democracy to Mexico is a task that above all has to be a Mexican task, achieved by Mexicans in Mexico. This is our responsibility and our commitment. . . . In the end, I'm sure it will prevail."
Cardenas' visit included a question-and-answer session with a panel of experts. His visit was sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies, the campus Association of Mexican Students and the ASSU Speakers' Bureau.
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