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v9_1998j - 9 THE MYTH OF THE INEALLIBLE TECHNOCRAT...

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Unformatted text preview: 9 THE MYTH OF THE INEALLIBLE TECHNOCRAT: POLICY-MAKING IN MEXICO UNDER THE SALINAS ADMINISTRATION Alina Rocha Menocal The argument is often made that speedy and efficient imple— mentation of macroeconomic stabilization and structural re— form programs requires an insulated and sometimes authori— tarian decision—making process. Mexico’s President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988—1994) not only supported this argu- ment but also believed that economic reform must be given priority over democratization. This article presents the case of Mexico as an example of the way in which autocratic policy— making weakens democratic institutions. It posits that in countries where a tradition of an efficient bureaucracy is not deeply rooted, the centralization of economic and political power in the hands of a small group of technocrats severely undermines governmental accountability and the process of democratic consolidation. Futhermore, it can sometimes lead to disastrous consequences. The article argues that while the democratic process may slow the momentum of economic reform, it provides citizens with the best possible means of reaching decisions and holding the government accountable v for its actions. Alina Rocha Menocal is a Master of International Aflairs candidate at the School of International and Public Aflairs, Columbia University. 168 Alina Rocha Mammal INTRODUCTION It has often been argued that, in developing countries, an insulated and authoritarian decision—making process is necessary to deal effectively with economic crisis and implement macroeconomic stabilization and struc— tural reform. A strong supporter of this school of thought in recent years was Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Mexico’s president from 1988 to 1994. Under his leadership, the Mexican government embarked on an ambitious effort to transform the country’s economic structure and accelerate its integration into the global economy. Claiming that the challenges of transitional adjustment pose special difficulties for a regime struggling with the twin goals of achieving economic and political reform, Salinas chose economic reform as his top priority but cared little to foster a democratic opening of Mexico’s political system, which had been domi— nated by the Partido Revolutionario Institutional (PR1) since the 19205. Cautioning, in his own words, that “countries [that attempt] . . . both economic and political reform at the same time, end up with no reform at all,” Salinas believed that it was necessary to postpone substantive political democratization (Baer 1993, 64) . In his view, once economic reforms were consolidated, democratization would inevitably follow.1 The case of Mexico illustrates the way in which an autocratic policy— making style weakens democratic institutions and often leads to unfore— seen outcomes. In countries where the tradition of an efficient bureaucracy is not deeply rooted, the centralization of economic and political power in the hands of the executive and a small group oftechnocrats—who together possess almOSt complete control over the determination of public policy— severely undermines governmental accountability and democratic con— solidation. Rule by insulated technocrats who are not accountable to the public for their actions may facilitate the implementation of economic reforms; however, it also undercuts the prospects for building a system of citizen participation with effective checks and balances. Often, the conse— quences of such policy—making can be disastrous. An analysis of the Mexican experience strongly suggests that the democratic deficit that Salinas and his close-knit group of advisers promoted with their authori- tarian policy-making style contributed to the political and economic crises that shook the country in 1994 and 1995. ECONOMIC POLICY DURING THE SALINAS ADMINISTRATION Once he assumed office in November 1988, President Salinas made economic recovery the focal point of his sexenio, or six—year term, leading The Myth of the Intallible Technocmt 1 69 to what Mexican scholar Jorge Chabat has described as the heightened economization of both domestic policy and international relations, espe- cially regarding the United States (Chabat 1 990, 1). Mindful of the failed experiment in the Soviet Union to promote glamoxt before perestroz'ka, which led eventually to a disintegration of the state, Salinas embraced a different reform strategy. For him, economic issues had to be resolved first, While substantive political reform could be addressed later, if at all. Fully subscribing to the neoliberal consensus that emerged in the 19805, Salinas assumed that a transformation to a market economy would naturally lead to a strengthening of democracy. The underlying idea was that a liberal— ized economy would be a natural catalyst for democratic governance. In an interview in 1991 , Salinas spelled out the basis of his approach, which came to be known as “Salinistroika”: When you are introducing such a strong economic reform, you must make sure that you build the political consensus around it. If you are at the same time introducing additional drastic political reform, you may end up with no reform at all. And we want to have reform, not a disintegrated country. . . . The priority is economics (New Perspectives Quarterly 1991, 8). In 1 988, Salinas assembled a team of young, ambitious, foreign—trained technocrats who were soon considered “simply the most competent and innovative in the Americas” (Roett 1 993, 5). According to scholar Barbara Geddes, presidential appointment strategies are crucial for a president to be able to maximize political power and influence, achieve program goals, and build a strong political machine of loyal supporters. Thus, she writes, “presidents seek certain kinds of appointments . . . [t] hey would like to staff their administrations with people who are both technically competent and loyal to them personally” (Geddes 1994, 143, 131—133). In Mexico, the political elite has traditionally constituted an extremely close-knit group. Many of the individuals who Salinas appointed to his cabinet and other high level positions had been close childhood or high school friends, and most shared similar educational and social backgrounds. Together, they implemented an aggressive, outward-oriented economic agenda that sought to profoundly and permanently transform Mexico’s economic structure. The primary goal for Salinas and his bureaucratic team was to accelerate and deepen Mexico’s integration into the global economy. Within ‘a few years, the restructuring efforts had produced impressive results. By 1 99 1 , Mexico’s economy was considered one of the most open in the world. Foreign investment regulations had been significantly modified to allow, 1 70 Alina Rot/m M moral among other things, 100 percent foreign ownership in selected industries. The Mexican government also dropped numerous tariff barriers. In addition, the role of the state in the economy was reduced, as state and Consumer subsidies were either cut substantially or eliminated alto- gether, and a growing number of state enterprises, including banks and the national telephone company, were sold to private investors. At this time, the Mexican qjido system of land tenure, one of the most symbolic legacies of the Mexican Revolution enshrined in the Mexican Constitution, was reformed to allow ejido lands to be bought and sold.2 During the Salinas sexenio, the number of state—owned enterprises fell from 618 to 210 (Purcell 1995, 3). As a result of these ambitious reforms instituted during the first years of the Salinas administration, the Mexican government came to enjoy a positive image abroad. As foreign investors became increasingly enthusi— astic about the prospects of getting involved in Mexico, foreign capital flooded the country. The widespread impression of foreign investors and other followers of the Mexican economic and political situation was that Mexico had succeeded in building an environment of confidence and stability that was favorable to investment. President George Bush, who came to power at the same time as Salinas, welcomed the Salinas administration’s attempts to transform Mexico’s economy and manifested his strong support of the Salinas regime from the outset. During Bush’s term, the two presidents met ten times, making impressive progress in accelerating the economic integration between Mexico and the United States. Numerous analysts have contended, in fact, that Mexico—U.S. relations “had never been better” (Purcell 1997, 142). After President Bill Clinton came into office in 1992, relations between the two countries remained friendly. The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the United States, and Mexico in November 1 993 was perhaps the most important accomplish- ment of the Salinas administration. NAFTA embodied “the symbol of the neoliberal project in its entirety” (Arriaga 1994, 758).3 Within US. political circles, praise for Salinas and his economic project was ubiquitous. In an editorial in The Washington Post in January 1989, Henry Kissinger wrote: The United States and Latin America are both fortunate that the first governmental change in the massive transformations looming for the entire hemisphere has brought President Salinas into office in Mexico. No other Latin American leader shares to the same degree the U.S. preference for market economics, private capital and cooperative solutions. Moreover, Mexico under Salinas’s predecessor President Miguel de la Madrid, has had The Myth of the In fallible Tet/mocmt 1 71 the most sustained record of economic reform of any of the Latin American countries (Kissinger 1989). In the opening statement to the plenary session of the U.S.—Mexico Binational Commission in Mexico City in August 1989, Secretary of State James Baker similarly praised the Mexican president and his team of technocrats: We admire and respect the many positive changes introduced by the Salinas administration— tariffs liberalized, investment restrictions lifted, freer markets, more private business, an increased opportunity for the people of Mexico, whatever their status or station in life, to determine their own economic future (United States Department of State 1989). LACK OF DEMOCRATIC REPRESENTATION AND AUTOCRATIC POLICY-MAKING Much of the Salinas administration’s success in implementing such vigorous economic reforms was related to the authoritarian nature of Mexico’s political regime. More than 90 percent of all new laws formu- lated in Salinas’s first year were introduced by the executive and merely rubber—stamped by Congress (Camp 1993, 261). If it were not for the extremely concentrated nature of political and economic power in Mexico under Salinas, it would have proved significantly more difficult for the President to impose reforms from above without consultation. 4A5 Jorge Dominguez has noted, What made Salinas and the Mexican technocrats successful—bureaucratic insulation and centralized economic decision- making—also made it less likely that they would seek to promote a more democratic political system, because a deepening of democracy might lead to their losing the power and advantages which the system had provided them (Dominguez 1997, 40). Operating under the principle that eco— nomic liberalization had to be consolidated before the floodgates of political dissent could be unleashed, the Salinas administration sought to gain legitimacy by focusing on improving economic conditions and delivering high economic growth rates. Mainly concerned with ensuring the speedy stabilization and transformation of the Mexican economic system, the Salinas team paid little attention to the political and economic sustainability of the reforms over the long term. Vigorous presidentialism became a significant obstacle to the strengthening of democratic institu- tions through which citizens could channel their demands. Under the Bush and Clinton administrations, the US. government enthusiastically supported Salinas’s restructuring of the Mexican economy without showing a similar interest in promoting an equivalent political 172 Alina Rocha Menard] opening. Washington fully backed the Salinas administration’s argument that economic reforms should be consolidated before a political opening is pursued (Arriaga 1 994; Purcell 1 997; and Castaneda 1 990). At least for the White House, protecting US. interests in Mexico and preserving the country’s stability were more salient concerns than promoting democra— tization. Particularly beginning in 1 990, it appeared that both the United States and Mexico tacitly agreed to reinforce the aspects in the relationship that were of mutual interest to the two governments—mainly the consoli— dation of economic reforms in Mexico and the promotion of free trade— and to minimize those elements, including drugs and immigration, which gave rise to contradiction or conflict (Chabat 1 990; Dillon 1 996; Zebadua 1994; and Weintraub 1990). ‘ While the US. administration and other prominent U.S. political actors hailed Mexico for the dramatic economic transformation under- way, other national and international figures were critical of the government’s lack of progress in democratizing the Mexican political system. At a forum of Latin American intellectuals convened by Octavio Paz in Mexico City in September 1990, for example, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa called the Mexican regime “the perfect dictatorship:” The perfect dictatorship . . . is camouflaged so that it appears not to be a dictatorship. Yet, it has the characteristics of a dictatorship: the permanent rule of one party. Though the Mexican system concedes sufficient space for criticism, since that criticism confirms its democratic character, it uses all methods against any criticism that endangers its permanence (New Perspec- tive: Quarterly 1991, 23—24). During his administration, Salinas did make some gestures to project the image of himself as a modern leader committed to the democratization of the political system in Mexico.5 In an attempt to restore the legitimacy of his administration after he assumed power in November 1 988 under a cloud of unprecedented suspicion and illegitimacy, he stated in his inaugural speech that the days of one-party rule were over and that his government would undertake a process of meaningful political opening. But throughout his term, Salinas proved that his commitment to democ— racy was at most conditional and that he was not prepared to make consistent and serious attempts to promote free and fair elections. Between 1988 and 1993, fraud was prevalent in every election at the state and federal level. In many cases, as in Michoacan, a stronghold of the left—wing Particle de [a Revalucién Democm’tz'm (PRD), and the Estado de Mexico, a stronghold of the right-wing Partido Accidn National (PAN), levels of The Myth of the Infallible Tet/macmt 1 73 fraud and irregularities were “shocking in their extremity and brazenness” (Coppedge 1993, 131). In order to guarantee electoral success, the PR1 political machine resorted to ballot stuffing, intimidation, co—optation, and the massive and systematic use of public resources to support PRI candidates. VVhile the Salinas administration cannot be held responsible for all these irregularities, it is evident that the president himself often condoned such actions, as reflected by his frequent visits to different states to show his support for PR1 candidates running for office (Coppedge 1993, 13 1). Beyond electoral fraud “corruption . . . reached unparalleled proportions” under the Salinas administration (Castaneda 1996, 94). In a particularly infamous incident in February 1993, Salinas himself presided over a dinner at which 30 ofMexico’s wealthiest businesspeople were each asked to contribute US. $25 million to the 1 994 presidential election campaign efforts of the PR1 (Castaneda 1993, 69). This dinner reflected the tight links that existed between the ruling party and the Mexican business elite. Many of the business people present at the dinner had profited immensely from Salinas’s privatization program.6 In addition, Salinas also used a social program, Programa National de Solidaridad (PRONAS OL) , which has been described as a “quintessential presidentialist program,” to strengthen the electoral appeal of the PRI (Cornelius 1 995, 60). Created by the president in 1 988, PRONAS OL was designed to channel funds to impoverished rural and urban communities that were particularly hard—hit by the dislocations associated with market— oriented policies. In an attempt to strengthen community—based organiz— ing, and, in Salinas’s words “eliminate all vestiges of paternalism, popu— lism [and] clientilism,” PRONASOL involved community members fully in all activities related to the program and required them to assume joint responsibility for financing and implementing PRONASOL projects (Cornelius, Craig and Fox 1994, 7).7 However, although PRONASOL was a social program, it was also a program that served as an effective political tool to build support for the president and generate votes for the PRI. Through PRONASOL, Salinas made a conscious effort to create, in the words ofGeddes, “a political organization with strong loyalties to [the president] personally” (Geddes 1994, 132). “PRINASOL,” as the pro— gram came to be known, frequently dispensed funds on a selective basis, allocating resources not to the communities that needed them most, but rather to the communities Where the opposition, especially the PRD, threatened the hegemony of the PR1. In 1 992, for example, approximately 12 percent of the entire PRONASOL budget went to the relatively small 174 Alina Rocha Menocal state of Michoacan, where the PRD had strong electoral support (Ward 1994, 60). According to Peter Ward: there is . . . incontrovertible evidence to suggest that . . . [PRONASOL’s] targeting is motivated by partisan political considerations, and that it has served the PRI well. . . . The PRONASOL logo carries the PRI’s colors . . ., and subliminally at least it conflates government with the PRI with nation— alist Sentiment. Moreover, PRONASOL funding has been heavily targeted at PRD strongholds (\Ward 1994, 60). Further demonstrating the lack of democracy during the Salinas years is the fact that, in Mexico, unlike in the United States, there never was a full scale national debate on NAFTA (Poitra‘s and Robinson 1 994, 28). In the United States, congressional approval—which was finally secured in November 1993—was necessary to ensure the passage of NAFTA. In Mexico, the free trade agreement was a presidential project, orchestrated and controlled by Salinas and his close-knit team of economic advisors and was a fizit accomplz' from the time it was originally conceived. The authoritarian nature of the Mexican political structure provided the President and the selected few technocrats in charge of economic policy with a remarkable degree of autonomy and insulation from political pressures. As a result, they showed little interest in discussing their agenda with groups outside their immediate circle, mainly because such discus— sion would only slow the progress of the reforms. Embracing Mexico’s tradition ofpresidentialism, Salinas managed free trade talks with the heads of state of Canada and the United States as an area of executive authority beyond the purview of public accountability. Luis Alvarez, a Mexican opposition leader from the PAN, complained, for example, that PAN members of Congress repeatedly requested informa— tion on certain aspects of the free trade negotiations from the Salinas administration, to no avail. He added that even PR1 Congress members seemed to be kept in the dark about the negotiations (New Perspectives Quarterly 1991). Thus, regardless of the virtues or flaws of the NAFTA treaty per se, independent senator Adolfo Aguilar Zinser has emphasized that ...
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