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MEXICO: Anti-Fox protests and their international ties

Those attending the WAIS conference on globalizations had the pleasure of meeting George Grayson, a Mexico specialist who knows that country far better than most of the natives do. He teaches at the College of William and Mary. He has recently completed The Changing of the Guard in Mexico, to be published by the Foreign Policy Association in New York. The Foreign Policy Research Institute has posted his "Mexico: guerrillas, protestors bedevil President Fox". He describes the protesters and guerillas who play havoc with life in Mexico.

Yesterday Mexican TV ran picture of three large and different groups of protesters which brought traffic in the capital to a standstill. At a large meeting of cultural activists, leftist intellectual Carlos Fuentes attacked the plan to put a sales tax on books. Fox, who was on the platformm remained calm and gave a vague promise, which won him a burst of applause, to rescind the tax. In general, his policies have been sensible, and it is not his fault that the Mexican economy has ceased growing. While the masses have good reason to protest, their activities, which worsen the situation, are clearly planned and are connected to the unrest in Chiapas. At the last minute Fox cancelled a planned visit there.

The unrest appears to be tied to the protests against the forthcoming meeting in Washington of the IBM and World Bank. A recent posting described a press conference at the National Press Club, at which a protesting group announced its plan to demonstrate outside the White House, the IBM and the World Bank, despite announcements that they would be surrounded by a security zone. Appearing on TV this morning, Green candidate Ralph Nader denounced the building of police barricades around the three buildings. He said that this was unnecessary unless the government had knowledge which he did not. Since the press conference was given ample publicity, it is hard to believe that he was unaware of it.

Who is behind the anti-globalization protests around the world is not clear. McDonalds has been the prime target, but I have not heard a word against Coca-Cola, which is the prototype of globalization. Take Chile. Its advertisements are everywhere, including on the shirts of soccer teams. Yet is the recent protests against the Santiago meeting of the Rio group there was not a word about Coca-Cola. It may be simply just because people like it.

We may expect continuing trouble in Mexico. Fox can count of the armed forces. The nation's almost two-hundred thousand member armed forces are loyal to the president, and Defense Secretary Gerardo Clemente Vega Garcia views combatting poverty and hunger as central to national security. This brings up the role of the armed forces in Latin America.

Traditionally, like most Latin American armed forces those of Chile have demanded things like advanced fighter planes which the country does not need. President Ricardo Lagos supports the demand of Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo that military expenses be reduced. There is a plan to abolish the seats which the Armed Forces have in the National Congress. A Chilean admiral has resigned to join the political opposition to Lagos. The two sides seem to be on a collision course, and the masses generally regard the armed forces with distrust and fear.

Fidel Castro led the way in making the armed forces a social force, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has a similar plan. This policy encourages the people to view the armed forces as friends, an example which other countries could follow. Likewise, the police must stress their role as friends of the people. These are two confidence-building measures. It is interesting that the Mexican armed forces have adopted them, probably with encouragement from President Fox. Follow this tendency carefully.

Ronald Hilton - 8/24/01