September 25, 1991
By Yolanda Reynolds
Here, in the United States, our newspapers daily recount the political and social events throughout what was once the Soviet Union. Our interest in that vast part of the world has been the movement towards the democratization of its government. Until now, the government or the Soviet Union has been controlled by a handful of people since the onset of the Russian Revolution in 1917.
Various factions of a single party, the communists, have dictated life there for almost 70 years. This has resulted in a dull life for its citizenry – besides a continued lack of personal freedom, basic products and foods because of a faulty economic system, greed and fraud. There has also existed an appalling disregard for human rights and dignity.
Nearer home, many Mexicans feel that the system of government in Mexico also needs reform. The current government in Mexico. the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), has been under severe criticism for not allowing other voices to be heard – for extensive corruption of many of its leaders and followers and the ongoing serious human rights violations perpetrated by some of its henchmen. Even the PR1 itself up to and including President Salinas de Gortari, have denounced abuses and demanded reforms.
All of these conditions have greatly contributed to an economy in Mexico that has been faltering for years. There is little money left for education, which has resulted in a large, uneducated, and unskilled workforce.
According to Gustavo Bernal, a noted Mexican muralist and political activist, there is now no other political party that has maintained such control for so long – 62 years. Just recently, one individual who was not a member of the PRI was allowed to be elected in 1989 – Ernesto Ruffo Apel (a member of PAN) to an important position, governor of Baja California.
Bernal was in San Jose with his two daughters for a short visit and spent a morning discussing the most recent events and pressing issues at a breakfast gathering last Thursday morning. On Friday Bernal painted a mural at the Barrio Art Gallery.
Bernal, a member of the PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democrático). says that Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the current President of Mexico, did not really win the 1988 election, Cuahtemoc Cardenas won. Bernal says that there was widespread fraud and that Salinas and his party colleagues have had to try to quiet the unrest by “promising food (a kilo of tortillas a week”). Bernal fears that Salinas with help from the United States will attempt to overturn the present Constitutional limitation of one term for the President of Mexico. He believes that they will promote this to pursue the free market move that has been proposed by the United States and Mexico.
Mexico does have problems. People are underemployed and unemployed in Mexico. That is one of the major reasons why so many Mexicans must travel so far for work frequently encountering very harsh and inhospitable areas such as those recently exposed in the Salinas Valley and in the San Jose farm labor encampments in order to try to feed and educate their children.
Other Mexicans have come to the United States – for asylum. To stay in Mexico could add their names to the many human rights victims of that country because of their political activism.
Just last week, Amnesty International. a human rights group based in London, England, issued a report stating that in Mexico, over the last two years, there were reports of more than 200 cases of torture.
That respected human rights group says that “the torture of prisoners is almost routine in Mexico and that detainees are at risk from the minute they are picked up by the police or the army… (and that the government) is doing little to put an effective stop to torture and ill treatment.”
Americas Watch, an American based human rights group, says that from Mexico there are repeated reports of “police killings and torture, abductions., illegal detentions, election-related violence and eviction of poor people from their legitimate homes by policemen acting as henchmen for rich landowners.”
Americas Watch has asked that these abuses cease before the negotiations toward a free trade agreement between the United States and Mexico takes place.
Indeed, such abuses are a major concern of many Mexicans. According to Bernal, Mexico’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of some 300, very wealthy and powerful families, who will do whatever is necessary to retain their power.
Gustavo Bernal in 1990, won election as “President” (Supervisor) of the County, Tlalpujahua in the state of Michoacan. He had barely settled into governing the city when he became aware the army was planning to take control, by force – if necessary. Bernal did not want bloodshed (Mexico has had many wars) and negotiated a transfer of power to the PRI. He was able to serve in office from Dec. 6, 1989 until April 6 of 1990.
The agreement Bernal made, included several very important particulars. One was that the Secretario de Ayuntamiento (City Manager), Juez del Registro Civil (Municipal/Civil Judge). Jefe dc Obras Publicas (Director of Public Works), the Di- rector del Museo (Director of the Museum) remain in their appointed positions. They also agreed that a mural Bernal had painted in the City Hall would remain.
The mural Bernal had painted covered several walls and had the hand prints of 200 laborers. The mural was entitled “Democracia, el eclipse de un Sistema” (A System Eclipsed by Democracy).
Bernal says that even though the PRI leaders had signed an agreement that included all of the conditions set forth by him and his supporters. the first violations of the agreement began with defacing the mural he had painted. It was gone in three days, followed in several months by all but one of the previously Bernal appointed department heads.
The meeting with Bernal was an intense, informative exchange of questions and answers. Bernal, not a professional politician, but rather an intellectual and artist has come to San Jose several times. When last here he painted a number of murals, one at Miller School in the Alum Rock School District, another at the Garden School in San Jose Unified School District and another at the Gardner Health Clinic.
Bernal says that there will not be a revolution in Mexico in spite of the conditions. He says that the people are just waiting for an opportunity to have meaningful elections. He says that Mexico will not revolt again because, besides the bloodshed, a revolution drives out the nation’s wealth and leave the country in worse condition than it is now.
Bernal says that he believes that the Mexican-American and Mexico’s ex-patriots who care deeply about the well being of Mexico, will make the difference needed to bring democracy to Mexico and that such help and concern will draw the attention of the world to the injustice, fraud, corruption and undemocratic governance that exists in Mexico.
Bernal says that the wealthy and powerful in Mexico should realize that, they too, will benefit from good government in Mexico – it will help everyone. He says that for their own good (the wealthy) the community should grow economically as well.
The situation in Mexico is grave. Just several weeks ago there was a tourist advisory in effect for North Americans. The United States has had a history of exploiting its neighbors and that realization has angered some Mexican citizens to vent their anger towards tourist.
Many in Mexico (not merely an angry fringe) fear that the Mexican government (PRI) will become the “servant” of major American companies. Their fear is not unfounded. Even here, were we tout our democratic system, special interests have been able to gain enormously greater power. Examples abound – with the regulation in the U.S. – some banks have become very large – so too, a few airlines, retail stores and some media. etc.
Here, in the United States, major companies threaten to leave for parts distant, if the citizens and/or employees do not acquiesce to their wishes for lower pay, no taxes, tax environmental enforcement etc.
In the Bay Area, a number of major companies have joined forces with some politicians to demand that the citizens of the Bay Area accept a new layer of government (Regional Government, BV2020) so that a select group of companies can more easily influence land use decisions – and as well – determine who will live where, how people will get to work etc. All of this without a direct vote of the people.
Bernal says that he will be returning again to San Jose.
El Foro Democrático Mexicano, a local group involved in informing San Joseans of the conditions in Mexico, was host of the breakfast meeting with Bernal. El Foro has held a number of seminars and functions in recent years to discuss the political and economic status of Mexico. They have brought to San Jose important community and political leaders front various parts of Mexico to San Jose.
For more information on these issues and El Foro Demcrático Mexicano contact Aurora Becerra or Maria Ortiz at 729-7834.