The Lefts, Mexico, and Latin America: A Conversation with Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas

Biography: Mr. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano is the son of late Mexican President and Mexican Revolutionary General, Lázaro Cárdenas del Río. He has been a Mexican Senator, Governor of the State of Michoacán, and the first democratically-elected Mayor of Mexico City. In 1988 he split with the PRI and launched the first of his three presidential bids as the candidate of a left-wing coalition. After the 1988 presidential election, which was surrounded by allegations of fraud because of an abrupt interruption of the ballot tabulation process that was being carried out by the government, he founded the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The PRD was the most influential leftist party in Mexico for over a decade. Mr. Cárdenas left the PRD in 2014 and is now Director of Foreign Affairs of Mexico City and head of Por México Hoy, a left-wing non-partisan organization.

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Roberto Velasco-Alvarez: The left seems to be experiencing a worldwide downturn. To me, it looks like some of the current political debates are centered in a backlash against migrants and the left has not articulated a strong stance on this subject. What would you say should be the left’s standpoint regarding migration?

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano: Well, first I would say that there are, in every country, several lefts. It’s not solely a unique left; there are several, several lefts. Some of them only discussing ideological issues and others are participating in electoral politics. Others are trying to change things or trying to change the local situation, with different means. So you cannot say that in any country, especially I would be thinking of Mexico, or even for some other countries in Latin America, that there is only one left. This is the first thing to consider.

Then, I would say that there are positions of the different progressive movements or leftist parties on migration issues but not necessarily, parties or leftist movements in government, that makes a difference. I would say most of these movements or most of these parties are in the opposition but I would say that the main problem of migration, like the one we have here from Mexico to the United States or from Central America crossing Mexico trying to reach the United States, or the one we have between Paraguay and Argentina, or what you see in northern Africa and Europe, it’s a matter of poverty or lack of opportunities in all of these different countries.

So, instead of trying just to stop migration with police measures or migration agents, governments should be thinking changing conditions of those countries or those regions that expel certain populations. For example, if on top of a free trade agreement between Mexico, the United States and Canada, we had signed a development agreement, things would be different. If you consider the example of the European Union, you would find that to organize, to bring together different countries, the first step was trying to reduce asymmetries so economic and trade competition could happen in much fairer conditions than, for example, the conditions present between Mexico, the United States, and Canada.

If investments could go to improve conditions, to improve living standards in many regions of Mexico, we would drastically reduce migration from those regions where there are no opportunities for people to make a living.

Velasco-Alvarez: And in the context of the Trump presidency, what role do you think the left should be playing in Latin America?

Cárdenas Solórzano: We don’t know what Trump is thinking or what he is proposing. I would say that is the first incognita. We don’t know what is going on between Mexico and the States and Canada: they are talking of renegotiating NAFTA, but we don’t know what the parties’ understanding is of this possible renegotiation. So it is very difficult to think what could happen.

We disagree with Trump’s declaration that NAFTA has been detrimental for the United States. We just don’t agree with that. I think the States have benefited from this agreement and that, for example, in Mexico’s case, it’s true that Mexican exports have increased very much; I don’t know how many times from 94, when NAFTA was enforced, to the present. But what I am sure about is that these trade exchanges are in a large percentage intra-company, between the same companies. In some cases, products go across the border maybe 6-7 times, until the final product is finished here in the States. But, in these exchanges, maybe over 60% of these Mexican exports are exports of the intra-company exchanges. I don’t think this has been, in any case, not beneficial for the United States. On the contrary, many US-based companies have profited from this trade.

But we don’t know what will happen. We don’t like the aggressive positions or the aggressive declarations of President Trump against Mexicans. We think that there is no reason for them. Because, finally, if you’re thinking of migration or if you’re thinking of exchanges… well, profits come here and are produced and obtained in the US. Migration contributes labor and increases production in many areas. Culture has also benefited by the participation of many migrants from different countries, not only from Mexico; social relationships have also improved or diversified with the presence of migrants from all over the world. So, I don’t think that any position against migration is in any way beneficial for the United States.

Velasco-Alvarez: You were saying that there are many lefts in Latin America, what movements in the region do you see as being the most effective right now?

Cárdenas Solórzano: Well first, I would say maybe it’s not very visible but the Frente Amplio in Uruguay has been in government for maybe 12, both at the national level and in the city of Montevideo, the capital. And I think that they’ve been very successful in their policies. They have improved social conditions and they have reduced poverty. I would say the same for the PT [Partido dos Trabalhadores, Workers Party] governments in Brazil. They have drastically reduced poverty. They incorporated a large proportion of the population to the middle class and now, with the coup given through the parliaments, things are going backwards. Still, I think that there were important development processes in both of these countries and I would think that even Bolivia, in very different conditions, has also showed very important social improvements for its population.

You cannot think of implementing these policies mechanically in any other country. Each country has its own peculiarities but I think that these experiences have been quite successful, I would say, in general. You may criticize or be against certain aspects of these policies but I think that, in general, they’ve been successful in improving living conditions. Especially, in improving living conditions.

Velasco-Alvarez: Moving to the subject of Mexico, the left will arrive at the 2018 presidential election divided into four parties that seem to have irreconcilable differences. Do you see any room for a potential agreement? If so, under what conditions do you see this happening?

Cárdenas Solórzano:  I think that, with the latest declarations of López Obrador, saying that the other parties would have to join Morena [López Obrador’s political party] right now and decline to participate in the State of Mexico election, the parties that consider themselves in the left will not decline. I think that won’t happen. And the reaction of these parties is against this position of López Obrador: join Morena now or never.

So, thinking only of partisan politics, I don’t see any possibility of these other parties, PRD, Movimiento Ciudadano, and Partido del Trabajo, making a coalition with Morena, I don’t see that. But I think it’s a little early to make final considerations of what will happen in 2018. I think we still have to watch what happens in the State of Mexico in a few weeks because this election will have an impact on the federal election we will hold next year. Maybe the three parties, PRD, Movimiento Ciudadano and PT, will be having a common candidate but I would say that if these parties, or the candidates they could propose, are really thinking of forming a winning coalition, they have to incorporate other groups of unorganized citizens to their proposal.

And what I think is more important is that these different parties and different groups in Mexico should present their proposals. Not only presenting the candidates or the potential candidates but what are they specifically proposing to face the most important problems Mexico has at this moment: poverty, social differences, very slow economic growth, violence, insecurity, etc., etc. How will they face these problems, improve living conditions, and open more opportunities for people in general and, in particular, for young people?

Roberto Velasco-Alvarez
Roberto ('17) is a senior editor for Law & Politics. He is interested in economic analysis of law, political strategy & urban affairs.

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