PRI Victory? 
The term "PRI victory" is generally misused in both the
Mexican and international media. The history of the PRI in Mexico is
not one of a monolithic state party; on the contrary, from 1929-1987
the party was a spectrum of political and philosophical views. It
would, therefore, be more accurate to call the PRI a coalition of
competing, centrist forces, than to think of it as a single party with a
narrowly defined ideological framework. During this period, the PRI
coalition was made up mainly of three political forces, which may be
referred to as the Left, Center, and Right, or PRI(L), PRI(C) and
PRI(R). The competition between these forces was analogous to the
competition between the Democratic and Republican parties in the
From 1929-34, the coalition was led by the PRI(R), with
Plutarco Elías Calles at its head. The next period, from 1934-40, saw
the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas of the PRI(L). The war years were
ones in which the policies of the PRI(C), with Manuel Avila Camacho
as president, prevailed. The post-war period of 1946-52 again saw
the rule of the PRI(R), this time with Miguel Alemán as president.
The PRI(C) governed during the period 1952-58 (Adolfo Ruiz
Cortines), followed by a second PRI(L) government (Adolfo L.pez
Mateos). The rule of the left wing of the coalition was interrupted for
six years (1964-70) by the PRI(R) government of Gustavo Díaz
Ordaz. Again in power, the PRI(L) government of Luis Echeverría
ruled from 1970-1976, during the time of the world economic crisis
caused by the First Oil Shock of 1973-74 (This crisis eventually led in
1976 to the first devaluation of Mexican currency in twenty-two
years). The government of Echeverría was replaced by a President,
José Lopez Portillo, whose first three years in office (1976-79) were
ones in which PRI(C) policies were enforced. The last three years of
his administration, in contrast, were ones in which Mexico's economy
was rocked by the Second Oil Shock and the peaking and unexpected
decline on the international price of crude oil. These three years
were noted for a switch to PRI(L) policies. The last president of the
PRI coalition was Miguel de la Madrid from the PRI(R), who led the
coalition from 1982-87.
In 1987 the PRI coalition came to an end. In this year there
occurred the historic splitting off of the PRI(L). The leaders of this
movement, then and now, have been Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas and
Porfirio Muñoz Ledo. Cárdenas is the son of former President Lázaro
Cárdenas (PRI(L)) and is a former PRI senator and state governor.
Muñoz Ledo was labor minister, as well as President of the PRI
coalition itself, during the PRI(L) government of Luis Echeverría.
For the presidential elections of 1988, the PRI(L) joined forces
with previously existing socialist and labor parties of the extreme
left. They formed the National Democratic Front (FDN) with Cárdenas
as its powerful presidential candidate. During this election the
traditional extreme right (which, in recent years, had modified its
proposals toward a more centrist orientation), was ably represented
by the late Manuel Clouthier, the candidate of the PAN.
In the elections of 1994 the main elements of the former FDN
coalition, still under the leadership of Cárdenas and Muñoz Ledo,
have evolved into the populist party known as the PRD. The PAN,
led by its candidate, Diego Fernandez, and its party president, Carlos
Castillo, has put forth a political and economic program that in major
respects resembles that of the PRI(R).
These two parties will compete against the PRI coalition of the
PRI(R) and PRI(C). This coalition has been rebuilt by Ernesto Zedillo,
a self-made career public official from the U.S.-Mexico border region.
Zedillo was called on in late March of this year to continue the
campaign of the late Luis Donaldo Colosio, who tragically lost his life
by assassin's bullets on March 23rd.
The term "PRI victory," therefore, has never meant only one
thing. During the period 1929-87 there was a dynamic fluidity of
power within the old PRI coalition. Looking back, Mexico has been
governed by the PRI(R) of the reduced PRI coalition since 1987, a
period of roughly seven years. Should Ernesto Zedillo carry his party
to victory in the August 21 elections, it will extend the rule of the
PRI(R) to a total of thirteen years (1987-2000). (By comparison, in
the United States the Republican Party--to which the new PRI(R)
most closely approximates--has been in the White House for twenty
of the past twenty-six years: 1968-76, 1980-1992.)
What, then, of the argument that the PRI has governed Mexico
uninterruptedly for sixty-five years? That argument, as this
discussion suggests, is a mistaken one; it is one that rests more on
labels than on political facts.
Our argument is that a PRI coalition governed Mexico from
1929 to 1987, a coalition that kept competing political parties within
a framework of generally accepted rules and values. Governments of
the different ideological currents of the old PRI coalition brought
Mexico nearly six decades (1929-1987) of social and political
stability--in sharp contrast to the pattern of instability found
elsewhere in Latin America. This period, which ended in 1987, gave
rise to new conditions of political competition in Mexico, with rules
not yet fully formulated (as dramatically illustrated by the current
conflict in Chiapas). A PRI victory in 1994 would mean the
continuation in office of a political current that has held power since
1987--not one that has held power since 1929.
The outlook for democratic competition among the
reconstituted political actors in Mexico is positive, as the majority of
the presidential candidates have agreed. The present uncertainties in
the political landscape should be taken as indications that Mexico's
civic culture is moving towards a strengthened democratic
framework --with or without a PRI victory.
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* George Baker, based in Hoston, Texas, is a writer and speaker
Alfonso Galindo is coordinator of UCLA- Mexico programs. He can be reached at 310-903-2044.