Live Webcast: Somos Muchos/We are Many
On July 13, 2005, the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center held a policy forum with Jorge Castañeda, an independent Candidate for President of Mexico and former Secretary of Foreign Relations from 2001 to 2003.
Jorge Castañeda opened his presentation by saying that he had launched his presidential campaign almost two years ago in response to his belief that the three most prominent political parties are incapable of strengthening Mexico's economy and democracy. The Mexican party system, Castañeda said, is obsolete and characterized by political parties that are bankrupt, divided, corrupt, and paralyzed. Castañeda asserted that Mexican political parties could not transform themselves unless the political system changed. The great challenge, according to Castañeda, is to enact a dramatic reform to the political system. However, he worried about the real difficulties of obtaining political reform in Congress. He noted that since no party could obtain a majority, and because the political costs for any incumbent to introduce reform are very high, constitutional reform could not be achieved by a president from one of the principal parties. As a result, Castañeda argued, only an outsider can break up the parties' monopoly. He said that he is ready to accept that challenge.
Mexican law only allows candidates presented by official political parties; however, Castañeda is awaiting judgment on a lawsuit he filed that would allow independent candidacies. He acknowledged that if the pending Supreme Court's decision is in his favor, this would have a positive effect on the entire political system by allowing independent candidacies at the municipal and state level and by permitting local candidates to run for office without affiliation with any of the current parties. He noted the growing dissatisfaction of the Mexican electorate with all of the political parties. He argued that without independent candidacies, disaffected voters might simply stay home. Castañeda observed that former Mexico City Mayor Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas or Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos could have taken advantage of this opportunity, but both have decided not to. Therefore, he is the only one that has accepted this role.
Castañeda briefly discussed three ideas from his proposal for governing Mexico, widely described in his book Somos Muchos ("We Are Many"). According to him, the elimination of extreme poverty can be accomplished in the short-run through a virtuous circle that can foster a competitive economy that can in turn generate employment and reduce poverty. In more specific terms, Castañeda outlined some of the policies he would like to introduce, such as the creation of a single social welfare net financed by the transfer of central revenues to assure all Mexicans receive minimum healthcare, a pension, and unemployment insurance. This would replace the current inefficient scheme, which includes separate funds for insurance for different kinds of workers.
In addition, Castañeda sustained that it is possible to generate necessary funds for economic investment in the short run through oil revenues. The current approach of supporting policies that will never get through Congress, such as the privatization of the energy sector, has been a great mistake. In contrast, Castañeda emphasized the need for Mexico to conserve its resources and obtain financing from abroad. It is also important to improve the country's competitiveness by reducing prices for key inputs, such as electricity. He acknowledged that rule of law is essential for competitiveness. Finally, he warned against the current trend of many important Mexican companies that are moving their investments abroad.
During the session of questions and answers, in reference to the current North American relationship, Castañeda pointed out the need to continue with the agreements reached at the 2001 meeting in Guanajuato. Castañeda asserted that there is no possibility to have a bilateral security agreement without the inclusion of a migration component and vice versa. In its relationship with the United States, Mexico needs to recognize its priorities and work on an issue-by-issue basis. Concerning NAFTA, Castañeda suggested targeting funds for social cohesion and infrastructure. Mexico needs to balance its relationships with the United States and Canada through multilateral engagement.
For the education system, Castañeda suggested a clarification of priorities such as increased attention to elementary education, which should move from four to eight hours daily. He also favored the introduction of a K-12 system where students can receive a certificate after twelve years of education.
In response to whether the PRI was an unbeatable political machine, Castañeda noted that the 2000 presidential election proved the PRI's fragility. Moreover, the PRI's recent electoral victory in the State of Mexico, which came with only 19% of the votes despite extremely high campaign expenditures, was further proof of that party's weakness. Castañeda maintained that with the current parties, needed political reforms were not likely to happen. The only way to improve the effectiveness of the government is through institutional reforms that reduce the number of members of Congress, allow for their reelection, and introduce a semi-parliamentary system.
Asked whether Mexico should be considered "the backyard of the United States," Castañeda referred to the latest bilateral problem of the "Memin Pinguin" stamps issued by the Mexican Postal Service, which portrayed a popular cartoon character who is black and has pronounced facial features. Castañeda noted that Mexicans should reflect on the struggles of civil rights organizations in the United States that have worked to eradicate racism and be sensitive to their concerns. He noted that stamps are an official government document. He asserted that Mexico would have similarly felt deeply offended if the United States Postal Service had issued stamps with the images of Speedy Gonzales or "Los Tres Amigos." Mexicans should expect the U.S. government to treat them with respect, and the Mexican government should show the same respect.
Finally, Castañeda commented that although the media often fail to cover topics of substance, people want substance (albeit not in academic prose). As a result, he has accepted the challenge to talk directly to people about the important issues that affect them and to propose solutions. He concluded he is ready to become an independent candidate, and that he believes Mexico is ready for an independent voice with new ideas.