By RICARDO CASTILLO
The new Chamber of Deputies president, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, is a master of political discourse and parliamentary procedures. During the “installation” (to use the Mexican term for inauguration) of the two houses of Congress last Saturday, Sept. 1, Porfirio, at age 85, presided over the inaugural process of the 64th Legislature. And in so doing, he showed his experience leading what was promising to be a rough and tumble meeting among the new members of Congress, transforming the event into a smooth procedural process.
Previous to inauguration, Porfirio – best remembered in Congress for his cat calls interruptions back in 1988 against then-outgoing President Miguel de la Madrid – received from Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida the State of the Nation Address to Congress from President Enrique Peña Nieto.
A master of diplomacy, Porfirio asked Secretary Navarrete back to convey the president that “we will join him during his address and then during the nation’s fiestas.”
And indeed he did. Porfirio on Monday, Sept. 3, was at the National Palace, flanking an uptight-looking Peña Nieto, who was also flanked by the new Senate president, Martí Batres – both of the incoming majority party National Regeneration Movement (Morena,) led by president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).
But many people are asking why is Porfirio being so politically correct nowadays? The answer is that, as the leader of the Morena deputies in the Chamber of Deputies, along with the leader of the Morena Senators in the Chamber of Senators, Ricardo Monreal, he was personally instructed by AMLO to maintain “an ambiance of respect” to their political adversaries – namely, five minority political parties of which the most outstanding are the Institutional Revolutionary (PRI) and the National Action (PAN) political organizations. Both of these two are disdainfully known to the Morena former minority as “the mafia in power,” or PRIan, for short.
During Saturday’s Congressional inauguration, each of the new party leaders got 15 minutes of speechmaking. It all went well until the new PRI president, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, went to the podium and the new Morena majority began heckling her.
Ms. Ruiz Massieu tried to convey the message that President Peña Nieto is leaving a wonderful national development so that the AMLOists can have great successes. At one point, she began praising Peña Nieto’s PRI, claiming that its members are not “the group of mercenaries,” while the Morena deputies and senators counted from one to 43 – in reference to the 43 teachers’ college students murdered in Guerrero as part of a gang war, which the Peña Nieto administration never fully explained satisfactorily – fully interrupting her speech.
Porfirio kept on shouting, demanding “let the orator continue her speech,” to no avail. The rowdy new crowd in Congress was having a heyday while Ruiz Massieu applied the attitude her blood uncle, former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, had applied to Porfirio Muñoz Ledo and all the leftists who were congregated in the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) way back then. “I neither see you nor hear you,” they said. The approximately four minutes lost in the 43 count had to be replenished by Porfirio in what was indeed the most intense moment of the congressional inaugural proceeding. The Morena majority left no doubt as to their disdain for the now-minority PRI, which boasts only 13 senators and 45 deputies.
Several deputies belonging to the Green Party (PVEM) praised Peña Nieto’s administration’s “achievements,” but, in the end, another Morena leader, Mario Delgado, took the podium to tell the PRI and PVEM congressmen that Peña Nieto leaves “a dirty house behind, and it will not improve, even if he paints it white” – in direct reference to the “white house” bribery scandal that tainted the entire Peña Nieto administration.
The Morena majority in Congress finished their noisy debut chanting, in rhyme, “it is an honor to be with López Obrador.” after which Porfirio rang a little bell ending the proceedings.
On Tuesday, Sept 4, both Houses of Congress will hold separate meetings, “as of 11 a.m. on the dot” (“en punto,”as Porfirio put it, aware of Mexican tardiness), with which a new chapter in Mexican legislation begins, this time controlled by the representatives of what is left of a whole bunch of yesteryear’s radical communists and socialists. But this time, under AMLO’s leadership, they will stay on course and away from turning Mexico again into a pseudo socialist nation.
Back to Porfirio, he’s been in government for so many years not even he remembers. Back in 1968, he defended back then-President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, who ordered the Oct. 2 massacre at Tlatelolco, in which the Mexican Army repressed the student movement allegedly organized by Fidel Castro in order to destabilize Mexico and the Díaz Ordaz administration just before the 1968 Olympic Games, which started on Oct. 12.
“Perfidious,” as his detractors call Porfirio, attacked the “conservative” student movement and defended Díaz Ordaz. In a long career, he moved on to become secretary of Education during the Luis Echeverría administration (1970-1976) and a series of other posts under the PRI-led government.
In fact, in what many consider his worst moment in history, he was, at one time, the senator in charge of carrying out the ceremony of the placing of the presidential sash of Jose López Portillo (1976-1972)-
Incidentally, Porfirio is already slated to place the presidential sash over AMLO’s chest come the Dec. 1 presidential inaugural ceremony.
Porfirio’s history in the past 50 years of Mexican politics is a lot longer – as a diplomat, he represented Mexico at the United Nations and also served as the country’s representative at the European Union Parliament – among other things.
His role nowadays, however is nothing new, although on Saturday he made it a point to say that we are at ground zero of AMLO’s much-touted Fourth Republic, whose construction starts now with a new and different regime.
But for sure, at 85, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo is still grabbing the limelight, now featuring a crackling old man’s voice, but still with some black in his salt-and-pepper hair.
Mainly, as he demonstrated over this past weekend, he is alert and the times of struggle are over, as he is now at the helm of Congress.