By ENRIQUE KRAUZE
Mexico’s Senate has in its hands the future of Mexican democracy.
Will it allow the nation to suffer the greater damage caused by the electoral legislation that was sent by the Chamber of Deputies? Or will it, in this crucial hour, assume its historic duty to represent the interests and will of the Mexican people?
Maybe it’s worth reminding the senators a bit of history.
In September 1856, the most brilliant political generation in Mexico history was debating the division of powers in the new constitution. Barely a year prior, that very same generation had deposed Antonio López de Santa Anna, a popular, charismatic, arbitrary, fickle, despotic leader who for more than 30 years had intermittently presided over Mexico until he had turned it into the country of one-man rule.
Given the situation, it was imperative to root out that concentration of power in the executive. To accomplish this, the institutional solution was evident: to strengthen the legislature. The constituents hesitated between two options: give the Chamber of Deputies powers comparable to those of the French Assembly during the Revolution, or return to the original formula of the 1824 Constitution, which provided for bicameral integration.
No doubt imbued with the exaltation of the moment, many of the deputies voted for the first solution, fearful that the Senate would delay the issuance of laws. But the voice of the now-famous journalist Francisco Zarco defended the second option, arguing that in the course of the normal order of constitutional systems, this delay , in fact, constituted “an advantage … for the people.”
The actions of a congress should never be as expeditious as those of a dictatorship, and the discussion, voting, revision and amendments to a congressional vote are guarantees of an outcome that is favorable to the interests of the overall society. A project, once approved in one chamber, can be perfected in the other, and when one body is subject to the revision of the other, even if it is only for self-interest, the final legislation incurs fewer inconsistencies and versatility than one that is only voted on once.
Another Mexican liberal deputy, Isidoro Olvera, expressed his concern that in the case of a single chamber, “the most serious business was celebrated, yielding to a moment of hallucination or enthusiasm.” Olvera defended the Senate for “being the representation of federal interests and of the political entities that constitute the union.”
Zarco and Olvera lost their battle. The Mexican Constitution ratified on Feb. 5, 1857, excluded the Senate. However, the new legislation was barely able to test its validity. For 10 roaring years, there would be almost no place or time for legislative deliberation, but only for executive and military action. Led by Benito Juárez, that generation would wage the War of Reform and the War of Intervention.
When the republic was restored, Juárez and his group took up the arguments of Zarco and Olvera. The Senate should be the instance of balance, moderation, responsibility and parsimony before the executive and the Chamber of Deputies itself. In fact, although the bill was presented in 1868, its promulgation occurred in 1874, and the installation of the first Senate was delayed until September 1875. According to economist Daniel Cosío Villegas, the slowness had “more than enough justification, since it was a constitutional reform and in a country with a federal regime.”
“In addition to the fact that every constitution is made to be reformed only by exception,” he wrote, “in the case of the federal regime, it must be approved by Congress, by a majority that is never simple and the majority of the state legislatures.”
A full 150 years have passed since those events occurred. With just a handful of exceptions, history has recorded few Mexican senators who in that very long time have taken their constitutional duty seriously. Most have betrayed that duty.
How will Mexico’s senators act in the coming days? It would be naïve to attribute the predictable acquiescence of some to “moments of hallucination and enthusiasm” that the liberals sought to prevent. The senators belong to the “reviewing” chamber and will have before them a document that mutilates the National Electoral Institute (INE), a creation and conquest of Mexico’s citizens. But they won’t bother to review anything. As in the times of the 31-year rule of Porfirio Díaz and the seven-decade mono-party rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), they will simply raise their hands, moved by servility rather than duty.
But perhaps a segment of that upper house will remember the raison d’être of their inauguration and vote against the so-called Plan B that violates the Mexican Constitution, obstructs respect for the vote and affects all citizen rights.
Even if the Senate betrays its mission, history will undoubtedly record this dark hour.
The Supreme Court will remain as the last instance of hope. It will be the final dam before we go back to the wretched times when Mexico was a country ruled by one man. And if the court fails, we, the citizens, will be the last resort. And we are legion.