The Mexican Left’s Road to the Presidency

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Dedicated to U.S. Ambassador to México Christopher Landau, who, like so many American newcomers, admittedly fails to understand feminist icon Frida Kahlo’s admiration for traditional Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist Communism in Mexico.

The radical democratic transitions in 21st century Mexico are unparalleled in the history of the nation. The first 12 years were ruled by the conservative National Action Party (PAN), followed by six more years with the return of the once-almighty Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and now, by the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party, founded as recently as 2014.

Twice in the past elections, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ran for the now-wilted and once-fresh flower of the Mexican communist party, the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), which at one point in history, back in 1989, came to amalgamate under one banner the badly splintered Mexican left.

The fact is that Morena is actually an offshoot of the PRD, whose leftover stalwarts last mid-August threw in the towel, trying to come up with a new party that’s going to be called, or so they hope, Futuro 21. In this case, the PRD leftover leaders will lend the party’s still-valid registration with the National Electoral Institute (INE) to form what they hope will be “a new force.” The sad reality is that now, alone, the PRD cannot contend in another election for lack of a following.

The Party of the Democratic Revolution evolved out of yet another alleged electoral fraud committed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party during the 1988 presidential election.

Prior to that election, at the PRI there was a schism that shook up the party. The PRI was at the time an amalgamation of all the different forces and ideologies that were represented during the years of the Mexican Revolution, which lasted from 1910 through 1928. Then-President Plutarco Elías Calles – nicknamed the Maximum Chief of the Revolution – managed to convince warring forces to be patient and wait their turn to govern, a wise move that may not have brought democracy in the U.S. sense because it was a one-party system (based on the Stalinist model), but with a moveable leadership. No president could be reelected, fulfilling the first motive of the 1910 Mexican revolutionary outbreak, banning reelection of presidents.

But during the mid-term elections of 1985, during the President Miguel de la Madrid mandate, the left-wing forces within the party grew weary since, by then, the revolution had not given them proper representation and definitely not the presidency.

It was clear by then that De la Madrid was not going to give them the presidency either, as it became apparent that he had a strong preference for aspiring candidate and Commerce Secretary Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who was elected the PRI candidate after a mysterious fishing expedition in the Gulf of California between De la Madrid and then-U.S. Vice President George Bush.

The political joke at the time was: “They were fishing for a dolphin.”

The appointment of Salinas as the PRI candidate was the corn cob that broke the burro’s back. The man most interested in being candidate at the time and the most representative leader of the socialists within the PRI was Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. The moment Salinas was appointed, Cárdenas summoned not just the left-wing forces within the PRI, but from all over, to come together to back his candidacy.

Cárdenas decided to splinter from the PRI, and with him went fellow socialists, including now-Deputy Porfirio Muñoz Ledo and AMLO. They disagreed in depth with the new “neoliberal” economic program, which tilted the scale in favor of entrepreneurs and against workers’ wages, curiously designed in 1982 by a University of Texas at Austin Cuban-born economics professor named Saul Landau (any relation?)

At the time. the only left-wing political party that existed was the Mexican Socialist Party (PMS), but like all other left-wing organizations, it was in shambles. Another minority party with a registration was the Unified Mexican Socialist Party (PSUM), which in turn had inherited the electoral registration from none other than the Mexican Communist Party, which was declared dead in 1979.

A myriad of socialist movements during the 1980s that called themselves parties decided to join Cárdenas in his campaign, including the Mexican Workers Party led by communist ideologist and engineering genius Heberto Castillo, the Union of the Communist Left and the People’s Revolutionary Movement.

In short, communists from all shades of red finally got their act together to back up a candidate that could actually lead them to the presidency, without having to fight another revolution, since by then it was clear in the minds of all politically oriented Mexicans that violence would never be the path to presidential power.

Cárdenas and all the socialist movements, scornfully nicknamed in PRI circles as “La Chiquillada” (in memory of the old Hollywood short films comedy group known the “Little Rascals”), decided to take up an ideologically non-comital name and the groups ran under the banner of the Democratic National Front.

According to then-Interior Secretary (under President Miguel de la Madrid) Manuel Bartlett Díaz, now head of the Federal Electricity Commission and the man in charge of the 1988 election, upon checking out exit polls it was clear to De la Madrid that Salinas was going to lose the election to Cárdenas. It was then, Bartlett Díaz said, he did just that and, at the time, all political hell broke loose.

But on seeing that they had a highly competitive force, Cárdenas, Muñoz Ledo and AMLO, leading all the leftist organizations leaders, saw light at the end of the tunnel and kept their unity and on May 5, 1989, they formed the Party of the Democratic Revolution.

Definitely, during the past 30 years, the PRD came to represent all of the communist forces in the nation, leading the country into a mild left by 2012, which was then repudiated by all those who followed AMLO after he splintered with the leaders – carpetbaggers, some say – now holding funerals for the once-flourishing left, now alive and reincarnated as Morena.

As for Frida Kahlo, she along with her husband Diego Rivera were the artists of the now-long-gone communist dream of the first half of the 20th century.

Times have changed, and so has the Mexican left, now in presidential power.

PD. San Miguel de Allende extends to Ambassador Landau an invitation to see more of Frida. A local antiques gallery has – if you are interested – the original Mexican flag with a hammer and sickle (drawn by them) right next to the Mexican eagle and snake symbol. Check with our editor, Thérèse Margolis, for details.


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