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Dialogues with Mexico: Carmen Aristegui

January 20, 2010 // 11:00am12:30pm
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Carmen Aristegui questioned the success of Mexico's democratic transition. While admitting that a great transformation has taken place since 1988, she argued that Mexico has traded single-party rule for a system dominated by monopolies, media giants, and interest groups. Mexico failed to capitalize on the "golden moment," the election of Vicente Fox in 2000, to make needed reforms. She described her new book, Transición, as a type of diagnostic performed by asking each of her 26 interviewees to reflect on his or her role in Mexico's transition. Aristegui worried that the transition has not been successful in creating the type of democracy that Mexicans hope for.

Breaking the Golden Rule
Aristegui described several events occurring since the beginning of the transition that demonstrated reccurring failures of democracy. During one of her interviews, Miguel De la Madrid broke the "golden rule" of the old order by speaking out about the alleged fraud committed by his successor, Carlos Salinas de Gortari. More important than the accusations made by De la Madrid, she noted, was the firestorm that followed. In her estimation, the aging De la Madrid was perfectly lucid during their conversation, rather than confused, as he and others later implied. Salinas himself denounced Aristegui, saying she took advantage of De la Madrid. The political pressure exerted by Salinas and others was so great that the story never appeared in the most followed news source in Mexico, television.

The 2000 Elections and the Fox Administration
After years of struggle, the Mexican opposition achieved a great victory in the election of Vicente Fox of the PAN party. Mexico proved able to achieve regime change through the ballot box after seventy years of near-complete dominance by a single political party. While acknowledging the transformation, Aristegui noted that the victory was one of the people rather than of the Fox administration, which she described as a "caricature of the exercise of power." Not only did the needed changes not occur, noted Aristegui, but there was a period in which the powerful elements of the old order were "re-accommodated."

A Divided Nation
The election to choose President Fox's successor in 2006 left the nation injured and divided, said Aristegui. One segment of the population believed that Felipe Calderón was elected by fraud, another that he won by a slim majority, and a significant third group did not know what to believe. Aristegui said other forms of political division, such as the post-election split within the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Demócratica, PRD), showed that Mexico lacked a national project. While there is a commitment to plurality, there is no national consensus, she said.

The Media and the 2012 Election
Aristegui went on describe how, after the period of "re-accommodation" under Fox, an old custom is taking on a new form. Under the old regime, the president would handpick his successor with an act known as the dedazo. "If the old joke was that the president of Televisa was a soldier of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional/Institutional Revolutionary Party), now the joke is that the president of the country is a soldier of Televisa," she said.

"Television has decided not to influence, but to decide who will be the next president of Mexico ... [This is] worse than the dedazo," she said. If elections were held today, Governor Enrique Peña Nieto from the State of Mexico would be the next president, even if there is no political explanation as to why this governor has achieved such popularity, she said. The reason for his popularity, according to Aristegui, is television. As an act of political investment, Televisa has chosen to support Peña Nieto in his yet-to-be announced bid for the Mexican presidency.

While television may be an important source of political power in many countries, Aristegui noted that the situation in Mexico stands apart because such powers are "hyper-concentrated," with the great majority of the market held by just two broadcasters—in other words, a duopoly. Aristegui perceives such a concentration of power and the lack of competition it engenders as stumbling blocks to democratic consolidation.

By Christopher Wilson
Edited by Andrew Selee

 
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