First of July, change and rupture

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

What real possibilities for changing the economic model open up in the next presidential elections? None. The end of the neoliberal model in Mexico is not the order of the day in the coming elections of July 1. The option of moving towards a route different from the Washington Consensus is not at the door.

And it’s not for two different reasons. The first reason is because none of the candidates to the Presidency postulate the need to walk along a post-neoliberal path. There is not a single program of government that maintains that alternative. The second reason is because since 1994-1996 a series of legal locks have been approved that protects the neoliberal project legally. All the aspirants for the first magistrate maintain that said legal framework must be respected.

For different reasons, friends and enemies of Andrés Manuel López Obrador maintain the contrary. They see in him the candidate of rupture. Is he really that? No. His Alternative Project for the nation proposes that we must democratically recuperate the State and convert it into the promoter of the country’s political, economic and social development. He maintains that he will consult the people if the structural reforms are maintained or are cancelled. He announces that the budget will really be public and that he will give a preference to the poor. He insists on the centrality of the struggle against corruption. But he does not speak explicitly –as he did in the past– of eradicating the neoliberal economic model.

However, although there is no deep rupture with the development model followed up to now, that doesn’t mean that his project will be a mere continuation of the current one. Of course there are changes, but the core project is preserved.

Where are those changes? For now, he’s placing the review of public works contracts and governmental concessions at the center of the electoral campaign’s debate because they are, according to Lorenzo Meyer, at the heart of politics. Above all are those involving the construction of the New Mexico City International Airport and those involving concessions for the exploitation of oil fields.

Another change has to do with the education reform. The candidate of the “Together We’ll Make History” (Campaign) signed a commitment with the Progressive Social Networks, the union-electoral arm of Elba Esther Gordillo, in which it promised to reverse the education reform, sending to Congress a new draft of the Law of the Professional Teaching Service, eliminating the punitive evaluation. His proposal doesn’t touch the wording of the third constitutional article or the secondary legislation on the matter.

But, beyond the political will to modify the neoliberal model is the legal framework constructed to avoid modifying its substantive aspects. It’s not just about as lock, but about a complex locksmith’s system concocted from the reforms approved by chambers, resolutions of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN), the functioning of economic regulatory organisms and the signing of free trade agreements. The legal framework approved is a real minefield that invariably favors the interests of large corporations (many of them transnational) against the State’s regulatory powers.

That new legal framework did not begin to be constructed with the Pact for Mexico or with the energy reform; it is only part of the recent cycle of neoliberal reforms.

A key moment for laying out this legal firewall was the restructuring of the SCJN in December 1994. In a sleight of hand, then President Ernesto Zedillo dismissed the 26 ministers that composed it and established a new composition of 11. As Miguel Ángel Romero documented (, the neoliberal project in Mexico has counted on, starting from that moment, an enormous legal shield. Anyone who ventured to make legal changes that could put the pillars of the free market in a predicament, had to pass through the customs office that ultimately defines the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of that modification. Since then, again and again, be it the indigenous reform, the Issste law or the resolution on the constitutionality of teacher evaluations, the ministers have voted against popular interests.

Perhaps the most striking example of this role is the discussion that the Court gave about interest on loans, derived from the 1995 financial crisis. On that occasion, Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero (now proposed by López Obrador to be Secretary of Governance) voted in favor of legalizing usury.

The bolts placed by the country’s economic regulatory agencies have also been fundamental. In fact, they have favored concentration of the market and strengthened monopolies instead of favoring competition. And, far from grantors of true autonomy, they have permitted the Executive to enjoy extraordinary powers.

The signing of numerous free trade agreements (especially in their chapters on investments) obliged modifying internal legislation and subjected the country to what the CELAG [1] has called a “new pro-business law,” dedicated to providing guarantees to foreign investments.

The cherry on the cake of this loss of national sovereignty is the recent Mexican adhesion to the Convention on the Settlement of Relative Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (the ICSID Convention) and their acceptance that it functions as like NAFTA’s dispute resolution process. With it, as the Latin American Network on Debt, Development and Rights has explained, the transnationals have an instrument of pressure on governments that, with the clothing of a court of controversies, that threaten them so that they don’t touch the interests of those companies, once, in a suicidal way, they have submitted to their authority.

If this openly pro-business legal framework is not dismantled, it’s not feasible to undertake a new development model in favor of the majorities (and I’m not talking about socialism). In these elections, no political force has made proposals for ending it.

[1] CELAG is the Latin American Strategic Center for Geopolitics (Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano de Geopolítica, CELAG)


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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