Jorge Castañeda, who served as Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003, has been both an insider and an outsider in Mexico’s political system. In Perpetuating Power, he lays bare the often mystifying workings of power in Mexico, offering readers what the New York Times Book Review called “an unusually revealing explication of the inner workings of three decades of presidential succession.”
To outside observers, Mexico stood out for its odd mixture of democratic pretension with autocratic inevitability: there were always elections, but everyone knew the next president would be the candidate of the aptly named Party of the Institutional Revolution, which governed Mexico throughout most of the last century.
In six penetrating essays combined with interviews by Castañeda with each of the living Mexican ex-presidents, Perpetuating Power provides a remarkably candid account of the political machinery behind Mexican presidential politics and a view, startling to political outsiders, of how power really operates.
|Publisher:||New Press, The|
|Product dimensions:||6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Jorge G. Castañeda is a Mexican politician and academic who served as Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs from 2000 to 2003. He worked as a professor at several universities, including the National Autonomous University of Mexico; the University of California, Berkeley; Princeton University; New York University; and the University of Cambridge. He has authored more than a dozen books, including Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants, The Mexican Shock: Its Meaning for the United States, and Perpetuating Power: How Mexican Presidents Were Chosen, all published by The New Press. Castañeda regularly contributes to newspapers such as Reforma (Mexico), El País (Spain), the Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek.
Read an Excerpt
DÍAZ ORDAZECHEVERRÍA (1970)
Luis Echeverría Álvarez was unveiled as the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presidential candidate on October 22, 1969, in a manner fully in keeping with the best Mexican traditions. According to then-PRI President Alfonso Martínez Domínguez, the main PRI leaders were summoned to President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz's office at Los Pinos. Before they entered the meeting room, the president revealed his verdict to Martínez Domínguez: the victor was Ordaz's minister of the interior, Luis Echeverría.
Martínez Domínguez asked his boss insistently if he was sure of his decision. The president replied with a question: "Why do you ask? It's the most important decision of my life and I've thought it over well." Martínez Domínguez suggested that the president notify the losing candidates before informing the others of his decision. At first Díaz Ordaz refused: "We have no reason to show them any special consideration. Let them find out through the normal channels; we've done them honor enough by making them government ministers." Martínez Domínguez pressured him further, adducing reasons of tact. It would be necessary to continue working with them, and it was desirable to treat them with deference. Díaz Ordaz concluded, "Do it yourself if you want." So Martínez Domínguez spoke personally with the three losersAlfonso Corona del Rosal, Emilio Martínez Manatou, and Antonio Ortiz Menathereby guaranteeing their loyaltyto the PRI and their acceptance of Luis Echeverría's candidacy. Thus Luis Echeverría became the seventh presidential candidate in a row to be designated by the ruling party without incident, controversy, or setback. The problems would begin later.
Martínez Domínguez has told on several occasions how Díaz Ordaz explained and justified his decision to designate Luis Echeverría. In 1972, during a dinner party at his house in Sierra Ventana, in response to a question from one of his guests, the former president used the simile of a highway robbery to enlighten his friends regarding the rationale for a decision he later regretted. "Let's suppose," he said, "that we're in a car traveling along a mountain road, and suddenly we're held up by bandits. With me in the car is Antonio Ortiz Mena. He hides when they tell us to get out of the vehicle and vanishes from the scene. Emilio Martínez Manatou is also with me, and suggests that the robbers not ask me for money, but make a deal with him. He may be richer and more powerful soon. Alfonso Corona del Rosal, on the other hand, starts negotiating with the criminals and offers them various deals that range from the audacious to the unspeakable. Only Luis Echeverría jumps out of the car, confronts the bandits, and warns them, 'Anything you want with him is with me.'" His conclusion was that, at least at such moments, Echeverría's loyalty greatly exceeded that of his rivals. This was the reason for his choice.
In fact, this anecdote demonstrates something fundamental to the Mexican presidential succession. Carlos Salinas de Gortari has acknowledged, in various moments of candor or clarity, that he prepared Luis Donaldo Colosio well in advance to succeed him in the presidencythat is, Colosio was his candidate by choice rather than by elimination. Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, on the other hand, confessed in his after-dinner conversation that he opted for Luis Echeverría because he lacked alternatives at the critical moment. Díaz Ordaz used a process of elimination. He chose Echeverría because he represented, in Porfirio Muñoz Ledo's fitting words, "the only card left."
Basically, two types of succession have prevailed in Mexico, at least since 1969: successions by choice or decision, and by elimination. Each employs different procedures and has different consequences. Each emanates from a different source. As in any taxonomy in the nonexact sciences, no instance is pure. Each succession has been decided partly by elimination and partly by decision. All have gone through several stages, in which a secondary trait may prevail briefly, but the dominant trait finally leaves its mark on the entire process.
To begin to understand the Mexican presidential succession, it will help to classify the last six successions in these two categories. The successions by elimination favored Luis Echeverría in 1969-1970, Miguel de la Madrid in 1981-1982, andin what would seem to be the supreme process of eliminationErnesto Zedillo in 1994. The second category includes the successions by choice or decision that favored José López Portillo in 1975-1976, Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1987-1988, and Luis Donaldo Colosio, fleetingly, in 1993. In fact, if we go even further back, we find, for example, that, according to Humberto Romeropress secretary under Adolfo Ruiz Cortines (1952-1958) and all-powerful chief of staff to Adolfo López Mateos (1958-1964)the dichotomy dates from even earlier days. Ruiz Cortines chose López Mateos at the end of his term of office. In contrast, according to Romero, López Mateos had decided on Gustavo Díaz Ordaz from "the day he took office" and never contemplated any other alternative. If we examine the cases presented herein from this perspective, we may elucidate the effects, costs, and damages that each entailed, in accordance with the category it falls under. In summary, for now, we will present the logic that guides our typology. Successions by elimination exacerbate conflicts between incoming and outgoing presidents; successions by choice maximize the deceit practiced by the outgoing president on the losing prospects and stretch resentments between the competitors to the limit.
A theoremthat is, something demonstrableof the presidential succession in Mexico indicates that the process of shifting political positions and weighing the support or opposition of the real sources of political power occurs before the final threesome or foursome is defined. Inclusion in the presidential cabinet fulfills this function. Only those who already provide satisfactory guarantees of ideological continuity, alliance-building, and the ability to avoid vetoes are appointed to the cabinet and in due course included in the circle of possible successors. In other words, the candidates who reach the semifinal stage have usually already passed all the necessary tests, and therefore the process of choosing from among them does not really respond to any ideological or strategic criteria. All the finalists identify with the outgoing president's economic, social, and strategic policies, or at least represent an equivalent risk of betrayal or adjustment. They all have the same potential for forming alliances between deputies, senators, governors, union leaders, etc., and all have, in fact, already eluded possible elimination by the real sources of power.
If the acting president learned or suspected that Fidel Velázquez, or the business community, or the Catholic Churchor, as López Portillo says in his interview, the United Stateswas vehemently opposed to any prospective candidate, the individual in question would have been immediately disqualified. Thus, in the endgame, the competition is above all in the political-tactical terrain, focusing on personal differences and on the play of seduction-deceit-reassurance between candidates. Therefore, learned analyses of a candidate's supposed affinity with, or animosity toward, a given political line, or any of the real sources of power, tend to lose touch with reality. In the universe of predetermined candidates, all are partisans of the president, all share his way of thinking, and all have the tacit approval of the main political forces.
Gustavo Díaz Ordaz faithfully observed the axiom put forth by Adolfo Ruiz Cortines. Rafael Moreno Vallea military doctor from Puebla who became Díaz Ordaz's closest friend in the final years of his life and was on friendly terms with Ruiz Cortinesrecalls how Ruiz Cortines explained the situation: "The president can have neither more nor less than three candidates. If there are only two and he favors one from the start, the jackals tear him to bits and he is very battered by the time he is nominated. Also, if the predestined candidate falls ill or is involved in a scandal, you have to put your hand on someone else, who will either assume he's been chosen as understudy, or believe he made it on his own, and the others will think the president made a mistake. However, the number is never greater than three. The rest are filler to take some of the heat off the real prospect." Curiously enough, thirty years later, Miguel de la Madrid made a similar observation regarding the struggle within the PRI to succeed Ernesto Zedillo. If there are only two candidates, the loser can divide the party. If there are more than three, support is atomized.
As he reached the end of the road to the succession in mid-1969, Díaz Ordaz kept three prospects alive: Minister of the Interior Luis Echeverría, Minister of the Presidency Emilio Martínez Manatou, and Mexico City Mayor Alfonso Corona del Rosal. According to privileged sources, Antonio Ortiz Mena, the financial wizard and architect of the Mexican miracle, never counted among the true finalists. He lacked personal ties to Díaz Ordaz and had competed too aggressively with Díaz Ordaz to succeed Adolfo López Mateos in 1963. Moreover, as Luis Echeverría himself explains in the first interview presented in this book, he had been overzealous in his attempts to gain the support of political and financial circles in the United States.
In successions by elimination, the president tends, almost out of desperation, to continue exploring new alternatives. In the case under consideration, faced with the prospect of choosing between the three disagreeable prospects mentioned above, Díaz Ordaz considered other options. Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios, federal security director and a close colleague of Díaz Ordaz from the López Mateos administration, recalls how Díaz Ordaz flirted with the idea of designating Antonio Rocha Cordero governor of San Luis Potosí and former attorney general of the republic. He was a natural candidate, with the only impediment being age. He would be fifty-eight years old in 1970.
But Díaz Ordaz dwelt at length on an ideal alternative in Jesús Reyes Heroles, because he satisfied all the imaginable conditions, except for a constitutional requisite. Not yet fifty years old, he would mark an undeniable generation shift, faithful to the theory of generations that Mario Moya Palencia uses to explain José López Portillo's triumph in 1976. He had a political background, but he had acquired the necessary administrative experience in a six-year stint in the Mexican Social Security Institute and another six years heading Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). His loyalty and personal friendship with Díaz Ordaz had remained, as far as possible, uncorrupted. During the terrible weeks of the 1968 student movement, no one, except perhaps Marcelino García Barragán, the minister of defense, had kept the president's trust as he did. The problem lay in Article 82 of the Constitution. Reyes Heroles's father had been born in Spain, and the law demanded that both parents of the manor woman, although the issue did not arise at the timewho occupied the presidential chair be Mexican citizens by birth.
Reyes Heroles told his younger son Federico and wrote in his journalsand of course we must be aware of the understandable exaggeration that may prevail in this type of conversation or writingthat Díaz Ordaz sounded him out on at least two occasions about the possibility of making him the PRI's presidential candidate. On one occasion, in the spring of 1969, he was probed during the return flight from a PEMEX trip to the interior. It wasn't the first time the president had attempted to persuade his PEMEX director to embark on such a venture. In his journalswhich are in the custody of his family and several passages of which were read to the author by his son FedericoReyes Heroles relates the events of November 5, 1968, shortly after the Mexico City Olympic Games and the Tlatelolco massacre. "The president asked me what I thought of the constitutional impediment [Article 82] and I said I had defended it in my law school lectures for sixteen years and that it seemed to me to be an appropriate limitation for Mexico. He insisted, 'Then I've lost an ace from my deck?' I replied: 'Two years ago I told doctor Martínez Manatou, and he assured me that it wasn't necessary for me to tell you; that he would inform you ... Didn't he?' The president answered, 'No. When the matter of the Veracruz governorship came up I heard some rumors that you were the son of a Spaniard.' I confirmed this: 'As I was telling you, that's basically true; my mother is Mexican by birth, and my father Mexican by naturalization.'"
Everything indicates, in fact, that Díaz Ordaz was left without aces. He chose Echeverría by elimination, and because Echeverría had won the race in its final stage. The president probably chose the man who would succeed him in power in the first few months of 1969, although he didn't notify the lucky winner until Juneaccording to Luis Echeverría himself---and the nomination was not officially announced until November 8.
Jorge de la Vega received an early hint of what was to come. In March 1969, he was summoned to the National Palace to discuss the affairs of the PRI's Institute for Political, Economic, and Social Studies (IEPES), which he headed. At the end of the interview, the president told him that thereafter, for inquiries of a political nature, he should see "don Luis." He was referring to his minister of the interior. De la Vega comments that the especially cordial tone President Díaz Ordaz used and his suggestion to "hereafter see don Luis" constituted, in fact, an unequivocal political clue as to the identity of the PRI presidential candidate. Díaz Ordaz rewarded de la Vega's loyalty with an invaluable "tip," that he could dissimulate or even deny, but that would be conclusive to whoever might want to decipher it. Gutiérrez Barrios, who was, as stated, the Federal Security director at the time, recalls a similar incident. In February of 1969, he suddenly received a call from the president summoning him to Cuernavaca on the following daya Saturdayin the company of his boss, the minister of the interior. Echeverría and Gutiérrez Barríos went to the president's weekend home, where they were treated to an extended lecture by Díaz Ordaz on the personality of Lyndon Johnson and relations with the United States and foreign policy that was utterly devoid of relevance or urgency, even to Echeverría. On leaving the meeting, Gutiérrez Barrios thought, "The president had wanted to share his reflections on the international situation with the next PRI candidate to get him ready." Gutiérrez Barrios interpreted his own presence as a cryptic sign from the president of his preference for Luis Echeverría.
These incidents illustrate a peculiar characteristic of the mechanism. The chief executive constantly drops hints to the prospective candidates, and in particular to the one destined to win, but the chosen one doesn't necessarily grasp or comprehend them. Echeverría gave me the impression that he had confused this encounter with another that took place months earlier with the same people at the same placea banal affair, dedicated mainly to the security of Lady Bird Johnson, who was to visit Mexico City to dedicate a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Memories no doubt fade, and in the copious miscellany of signals received, some remain and others fade away over the years. As we will see, however, the pattern repeats itself. Candidates younger than Echeverría in more recent successions also misunderstood, and were misled by, the cryptic and contradictory messages their bosses sent them. It is understandable. Over the years, the acting president gets used to covering his tracks and cultivates circumlocution in the extreme. When he wants to say something clearly, he no longer knows how.
The 1968 student movement played a decisive part in this succession for several reasons, but one in particular stands out, and provides a clue to the essence of the succession, and perhaps also to the events of 1968 themselves. In the whirlwind of hate, passion, and resentment that came to envelop and bewilder Díaz Ordaz, those who proposed negotiation were destined to lose. Whoever abstained from pressing for a negotiated settlement had everything to win. The only one who fully understood this was also the only one who could have succeeded in reaching an agreement with the students, but in doing so would have eliminated himself from the succession race.
Indeed, Echeverría was the ideal official to negotiate with the students. He fit the bill perfectly. He was closer in age to the students than the others. His image as the hardest and most institutional man in the administration would have greatly enhanced the legitimacy of any agreement he might have reached, and he had, in contrast with other real or potential intermediaries, the necessary experience for the task. He didn't do it because he knew that any hint or suspicion of negotiation would doom his candidacy in the eyes of the sole supreme judge. As the succession race got under way, considerations of state began to lose force and personal criteria came to the fore. Something similar occurs in all political systems, but in the absence of checks and balances, autonomous institutions, and restraining barriers, the result can be disastrous for the country in question, and so it was.
The other aspirants were undone by the events of the summer and autumn of 1968. Antonio Ortiz Mena was already sidelined due to health problems, his closeness to the international financial community, and, to a lesser degree, his agehe turned sixty on September 22, 1968. However, Echeverría's other two real rivals were eliminated during the days of lead and horror of the student movement.
Martínez Manatou was Díaz Ordaz's closest friend in the cabinet. Nevertheless, the comments of several witnesses of the presidential race give the impression that the boss showed a certain disdain for his friend. One great defect weakened Dr. Martínez Manatou in Díaz Ordaz's eyes: he wasn't a lawyer, and Díaz Ordaz was, and obsessively so. But the coup de grâce for Emilio Martínez Manatou's potential candidacy no doubt came not from his mistaken choice of profession nor his scant legal expertise, but from his behavior during the final year of the contest. He was, as someone has pointed out, the Manuel Camacho of the day, the man responsible for responding to critics and opponents, who pays a high price for completing his mission successfully.
There is no greater sin in the Mexican presidential succession than forming ties with the chief's enemies, whatever the cause of presidential disfavor may be, whatever indications the president may have given, and whatever the president's relationship with said enemiesof which the interested party may or may not be awaremay be. Martínez Manatou's growing confidence and arrogance irritated Díaz Ordaz. On one occasion, halfway through his term, he commented to his son-in-law, Salim Nasta, "This guy thinks he's already president."
Rafael Moreno Valle, the military doctor who served as Díaz Ordaz's minister of health, also recalls from one of his last conversations with Martínez Manatou at the National Palace before the candidate was announced that Martínez Manatou told him that things were going well. "I'm doing great, I have twenty governors on my side, I have the National Peasant Confederation. Even the president's enemies support me. The president knows it.
Moreno Valle never managed to find out whether or not this behavior did in fact please Díaz Ordaz, although perhaps none of the former president's aides had maintained their friendship with him as Moreno Valle did. Several years after leaving office, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz invited him to accompany him to New Orleans, a carefree and entertaining trip for two old friends. They had never discussed the 1969 succession. During the trip, Moreno Valle finally raised the issue. "Sir," he said, "Emilio told me that he informed you of who supported him, even your enemies. What happened?" Díaz Ordaz replied: "Yes, its true. And then I thought: my enemies should make him president." The remark perfectly matches another, twenty-five years later, that Manuel Camacho attributes to Carlos Salinas: "In politics, Camacho, you made a mistake in allying yourself with my enemies."
If to all this we add the anecdotepossibly false but very well known in circles close to Echeverría, then and nowof the rain of paper clips that pelted the troops beneath the windows of Martínez Manatou's office in August 1968, when the army entered the Mexico City Zócalo, we can understand why, barring the lack of another candidate, the minister of the presidency could not become his successor. The climate of paranoia, isolation, and anti-intellectualism that prevailed in Los Pinos during and after the student movement only exacerbated the president's irritation with Martínez Manatou's arrogance and insensitivity. To Díaz Ordaz, the professors were as guilty as the students were of provoking the crisis.
The other card in his hand was Mexico City Mayor Alfonso Corona del Rosal, "general among lawyers and a lawyer among generals." He had everything it took to come out ahead, as Echeverría states in his interview, except for the favor of the great elector. He had been a deputy, a senator, governor of his native state of Hidalgo, minister of the national patrimony, and PRI president. Since the 1940s and during his years in the Senate, he had forged a solid friendship with Díaz Ordaz, and as Mexico City mayor before and during the 1968 Olympic Games he was not only in the limelight, but in the most attractive, prominent, and privileged position in the government. He was a natural candidate. Three factors contributed to his downfall. The firstinvoked with greater frequency and emphasiswas his age. Corona was born on July 1, 1908. He turned sixty-two only a few months after the 1970 presidential inauguration. If elected president, he would have been over sixty-eight when he left office. A second factor, probably decisive in light of the events of 1968, was his military background. The key here lies in the context rather than in the bare facts of the matter. The events of 1968 had infinite implications for Mexico, among which are that they entailed the reappearance of the armed forces in the public sphere and in the social imagery of the new Mexican middle class. It was certainly not recommendable to press the point. In 1958 and 1959, during the railway workers' and teachers' movements, with the first guerrilla uprisings of the 1960s, and in the sporadic and isolated but ever-present repression of fleeting worker and peasant uprisings, the army was never conspicuous for its absence. But an abyss lay between such interventions and deploying the troops in the vicinity of the central square of Mexico City, the National University (UNAM) campus, the Casco de Santo Tomas, and the Square of the Three Cultures (the Plaza de Tlatelolco). The site of the repression, its victims, its motives, and its extent belonged now to another category.
Under the circumstances, the nomination of a military man, however civilian he may have been, looked much less appropriate, whatever the emphasis placed on substituting "Mi General" with "Señor licenciado," and however prudent and skilled at negotiation the mayor's adepts might swear he was. The mayor himself felt it, and searched, during the weeks leading up to the bloody denouement, for a peaceful solutionnot because he preferred it but because it would save him from elimination in the succession race.
As we have mentioned, the last factor was precisely his proclivity for negotiation. Corona del Rosal repeatedly contacted the National Strike Counsel and the Communist Youth Organization. Naturally he didn't hesitate to use force when he considered it indispensable and expeditious, but he understood, at least intuitively, that the use of force would cause him irreparable damage. He didn't oppose the use of force, but made his preference for an alternative solution known. He was too fond of the calm and orderly, suave and subtle solution in the political style that marked his entire life. He was mistaken.
Conversely, one need not possess the talents of a chess master or military strategist to deduce that the hard-line outcome favored the hard-line candidate, Luis Echeverría. With the spread of student agitation and the resulting military response, the minister of the interior killed two birds with one stone. He eliminated his most powerful rival and showed the president his best face: one of loyalty, firmness, and efficiency. Now, thirty years later, clues to something that has been suspected for years are beginning to emerge. To the degree that the student movement favored Echeverría and weakened his two main adversaries, speculation regarding the manipulation, instigation, or exaggeration of the movement by the winning candidate becomes inevitable. From the insistent but flimsy reports of Díaz Ordaz's consternation about the October 2 student massacre, to the contradictory part that certain individuals subsequently associated with Echeverría may have played, and Díaz Ordaz's obstinate insistence on presenting himself as a president deceived by "Echeverría's trickery," the temptation to discern a plot masterminded at the Ministry of the Interior becomes irresistible. (It will not be the last such plot suggested by the facts, the imagination, and guesswork that is presented herein.)
Jesús Reyes Heroles's notes give the argument for a plot masterminded at the Ministry of the Interior a measure of indirect credibility, with the reservation that his relations with Echeverría were terrible and ended years later in public insults. Reyes Heroles's notestaken down at first on a day-to-day basis and possibly influenced by his scant sympathy for Echeverría, but not, in this case, by a desire to incriminate himcoincide with the thesis of another player who was both near and far at the same time. Rosa Luz Alegría was a young student at the UNAM School of Sciences, with close ties to Marcelino Perelló, one of the movement's most intelligent, adept, and charismatic leaders, whom she frequently accompanied to meetings of the National Strike Counsel. In the early days of August 1968, she began to date Luis Echeverría's eldest son, and a month later they were married. On September 7, the newlyweds left for Paris on government scholarships, according to plans laid well in advance. The minister of the interior was unwavering in his insistence on preventing any contact with the students from contaminating his relations with Díaz Ordaz. He asked Rosa Luz to see that under no circumstances would Perelló appear at the wedding. She was not part of the student leadership, but she knew the leaders. She didn't experience the movement from within Echeverría's family, but she was part of the family nonetheless. She thinks now that her former father-in-law "wanted to seize the moment, and to some extent he succeeded. He blew [the problem] out of proportion and then resolved it with a lot of hype. He encouraged the students, granted permission for the demonstrations, even on the same day [July 26] in the same zone. Then it got out of his hands. However, he ultimately resolved the situation with a turn of the rudder, pulled off the maneuver, and that's what I think won the candidacy for him."
Two weeks later, Reyes Heroles once again detected a strange insistence from Minister of the Interior Echeverría on discovering ties between PEMEX and the student movement. Federico narrates, reading from his father's notes: "At 1:30 PM Echeverría called the PEMEX director: 'Jesús, there's a group of rebels on their way to Petróleos Mexicanos, it would be a good idea that the forces of law and order be there.' I questioned Echeverría for a few minutes to find out what was going on, whether there was any internal conflict, labor dispute, or other type problem that might provide a clue as to why a demonstration would appear at PEMEX headquarters. Five minutes later I got in touch with the minister of the interior and I told him, 'Luis, I've found absolutely nothing in the institution. We've had no report of any kind of movement. The PEMEX security team in the building hasn't reported anything. I don't know if you have any more information.' 'Yes, Jesús. I know there's a group approaching the PEMEX building and that's why I think it would be a good idea if the police were there.' Five minutes later a truck appeared. An individual stood up and began vociferating against the president. Not only were they not oil workers, but some of the slogans they shouted were contrary to the demands of the PEMEX workers who had lost their sons and daughters in a confrontation between the preparatory school and the trade school. It was a provocation to the union itself. A few minutes later the armed forces arrived, not at the request of the PEMEX director, and two groups that had nothing to do with Petróleos Mexicanos were on the verge of violence."