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Norteamérica

versão impressa ISSN 1870-3550

Norteamérica vol.5 no.2 México jul./dez. 2010

 

Ensayos

 

Transnational Influences in a Protracted Democratization: The Case of Mexico

 

Enrique Romero Leal*

 

* Mexico's second consul in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. erl_81@yahoo.com.

 

Abstract

This article seeks to explain the extent to which transnational forces are responsible for advances —and setbacks— in the ongoing transition to democracy in Mexico. It argues that external elements did play a role during this democratization. Concrete examples of transnational forces are analyzed to assess their impact on domestic politics, including the relationship between economic reform and political liberalization —two free trade agreements are analyzed— and the Mexican government's attitudes toward democracy within the Inter–American system. The article concludes that transnational elements play a significant role as instruments offering opportunities and posing limits to democratization.

Key words: transnational forces, transition, influences, democracy, NAFTA, Mexico–European Union Free Trade Agreement.

 

Resumen

Este artículo explica hasta qué grado las fuerzas transnacionales son responsables de los avances y retrocesos de la transición a la democracia que vive México. Aquí se argumenta que los elementos externos efectivamente desempeñan un papel en esta democratización. Se analizan ejemplos concretos de fuerzas transnacionales para evaluar su impacto en la política interna, incluyendo la relación entre reforma económica y liberalización política (se examinan dos tratados de libre comercio), así como las actitudes del gobierno mexicano hacia la democracia en el contexto del sistema interamericano. El artículo concluye que los elementos transnacionales juegan un papel significativo en tanto instrumentos que ofrecen oportunidades y ponen límites a la democratización.

Palabras clave: fuerzas transnacionales, transición, influencias, democracia, TLCAN, TLCUE.

 

INTRODUCTION: BELATED DEMOCRATIZATION IN A GLOBAL ERA?

The 2006 presidential election results in Mexico marked a turning point in the history of democratic development not only in that country, but in the rest of Latin America. With the exceptions of Cuba and Haiti, it became evident that representative democracy is now the only practicable form of government in the region. The Mexican transition is a key moment in the process of democratic entrenchment in the Western Hemisphere. In 2000, this country of more than 100 million inhabitants joined the rest of the Latin American republics in a global trend referred to as the "third wave of democratization" (Huntington, 1991). For decades, Mexico seemed untouched by this trend. The country appeared to be swimming against the democratic flow that was shattering the foundations of "bureaucratic authoritarian" regimes in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile. However, the defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the 2000 presidential elections inaugurated a new period in the history of contemporary Mexico and confirmed the presence of the third wave in the Western Hemisphere. In the end, it became obvious that a process of democratization had been taking place all along; however, it was not as fast–paced and dramatic as other more famous examples.

Even though Mexico can now be confidently described as an electoral and representative democracy, prospects for democratic consolidation in the country remain unclear. Many moments of crisis that have occurred in the same years in which Mexico's democracy had been on the rise seem to indicate that much room still remains for improvement in its quality. Throughout the last couple of decades, Mexicans have experienced and witnessed allegations of electoral fraud in the presidential elections of 1988 and 2006, increasing political violence in the mid–1990s, the development of a power vacuum as a consequence of a weakening presidentialism, a serious economic crisis in 1995, and many years of meager macroeconomic growth. These trends have been mirrored by episodes of potentially destabilizing social mobilization, the development of powerful extra–institutional groups —some of them illegal— that challenge the power of the state, insufficient poverty alleviation strategies, and increasing insecurity.

This article will analyze the relationship between transnational forces and the Mexican transition to democracy. Its main aim is to assess to what extent forces commonly associated with globalization are responsible for the way this particular process of democratization has manifested itself. Is the Mexican transition a case in which the external influences intervened directly in establishing increasingly democratic practices? Or is the transition driven primarily by actors and trends within the country? Most importantly, what is the relationship between international trends and prospects for further consolidation of democracy in Mexico?

To answer these questions, the article begins with a theoretical overview covering two main topics. First, an academic explanation focusing on the transition to democracy within states and how transnational elements have been increasingly acknowledged as important factors that must be included in any serious analysis of these political processes. The second part is a discussion of democratization in the Latin American context covering some of the advances and setbacks of democratic development in the region, with a specific focus on the role that transnational forces have played in this process.

The second section briefly describes the elements that characterize the Mexican transition and make it unique, when compared with other cases that have been commonly associated with it (especially in Latin America). The third section analyzes the interplay between some transnational forces and the ongoing Mexican democratization, with special attention to the following cases:

• The relationship between economic and political liberalization as reflected by the negotiation and implementation of two free trade agreements (the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] and the Free Trade Agreement between Mexico and the European Union [Mexico–EU FTA]).

• Recent developments in the Inter–American institutional system, its increasing commitment to representative democracy in the region, and its implications for the development and consolidation of the democracy in Mexico.

The article concludes that to understand the democratic transition in Mexico, the role of transnational forces should not be overlooked. Even though external factors were not what triggered initial steps in democratization, their role as agents of change is significant because they have created a series of opportunities and obstacles that domestic actors need to take into account during the multiple cyclical political negotiations that have characterized the ongoing and long–term road to democracy in Mexico.

 

THEORETICAL OVERVIEW RETHINKIMG THE ROLE OF TRANSNATIONAL FORCES IN DEMOCRATIZATION

The role of transnational elements in processes of democratization is a field that developed relatively recently. The first major studies on regime transition concluded that the factors that ignited this type of regime change could be found predominantly in the domestic domain (O'Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead, eds., 1986). Initial studies, thus, centered their explanation of regime change on variables like the degree of economic development (Lipset, 1959; Limongi and Przeworski, 1997), civic culture (Almond and Verba, 1963), or of the "timing" of national development (Bollen, 1979). The role of any external agent was, at best, marginal. Further studies have contested this preliminary conclusion, increasingly acknowledging that external factors play an important role in regime change.

The end of the Cold War, the fall of Communism and the prominence of economic liberalism, coincided with a "wave" of democratizations in several parts of the globe. After beginning in Southern Europe in the 1970s, it shifted toward South America in the mid– and late 1980s and then expanded notably in Central and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s. It also reached Central America and some parts of Asia and Africa. Even though there have been setbacks in this "third wave" of democratizations, one of its outstanding characteristics is its global scope. This has led many experts to re–think the importance of non–domestic factors in processes of regime change. Indeed, in a further study, Schmitter and Whitehead (2001) acknowledge that external forces do matter when it comes to explaining recent cases of democratization. Whitehead (2001a: 6–15) advances the concept of three overlapping "international dimensions" that serve as modes of analysis of democratization. According to this view, international dimensions can influence domestic processes of democratization through contagion (neutral mechanisms that might induce countries bordering on democracies to replicate the political institutions of their neighbors), control (overt influence by the policies of a third power), and consent (positive support and involvement of a wide range of social and political groupings within the country being democratized, often with the support of external actors). In the same study, Schmitter introduces a fourth dimension that he calls conditionality, which should be understood as "the deliberate use of coercion —by attaching specific conditions to the distribution of benefits to recipient countries— on the part of multilateral institutions" (2001: 30).

Another element that has been debated is the geographical scope of cases of democratization. Is it possible to identify regional or global trends in democratization in recent years? Most studies reach more or less the same conclusion: a clear regional element explains trends in democratization. Ray attempts to establish whether certain global forces account for a similarly global trend toward democracy. After applying a statistical analysis of all the regime transitions in countries that were part of the international political system over the period 1825–1993, he concludes that "the impact of state–specific factors has been greater on democratization than the net impact of general, system–level forces" (1995: 51–60). In a recent study, Gleditsch and Ward identify regional patterns that lead them to conclude that "fusion processes among states influence the distribution of democracy in the international system and there is a strong association between a country's institutions and the extent of democracy in the surrounding region. Not only are regimes generally similar within regions, but there is also a strong tendency for transitions to impart a regional convergence" (2006: 930). Pevehouse also identifies a certain regional element in these processes. In his view, membership in regional and densely democratic international organizations (IOs) can positively influence democratic consolidation (2002b: 623). These IOs "tend to operate with...higher levels of interaction than global organizations; causal processes such as socialization, binding, monitoring, and enforcement are more likely in regional organizations" (Pevehouse 2002a: 520). Schmitter (2001: 40) accepts that the vast majority of democratizations can be grouped in what seem to be "temporal and geographical clusters." He therefore raises a hypothesis: "the really effective international context that can influence the course of democratization has increasingly become regional and not binational or global."

Finally, it is important to stay away from the common assumption that processes of democratization follow a predictable sequence of events that include, first, a transition to democracy followed by democratic consolidation. For years, initial studies about this type of regime change seemed to imply that once a democratic process was ignited, consolidation would rapidly and inevitably ensue. Perhaps these assumptions were encouraged by the striking speed with which previous authoritarian states like Spain, Portugal, and Greece democratized and consolidated. However, many other examples of unfinished democratization that do not seem to evolve as expected —most of Latin America is a case in point— and even some democratic breakdowns, are a clear indication that democratization should be regarded, instead, as a "complex, long–term, dynamic, and open–ended process" (Whitehead, 2002: 27). This long–term, non–linear approach is, according to Whitehead, very useful in explaining a wide array of political processes and serves as a cautious warning that even though the common element of democratization processes is an "intention to democratize," the final outcome does not necessarily have to be a consolidated democracy (Whitehead, 2002: 33).

 

HOW HAVE TRANSNATIONAL FORCES SHAPED DEMOCRATIZATION IN LATIN AMERICA?

Transitions to democracy in Latin America have been clearly influenced by transnational factors. Recent developments in the democratic transition in Mexico account for only some of the most recent episodes of a democratic trend that began when the military regimes of the Southern Cone were ousted in the 1980s. This trend has been present in the region throughout the last two decades. Astudy by Mainwaring and Perez–Linan (2005) echoes the findings that are advanced by Gleditsch and Ward (2006) when it states that a favorable regional political environment in Latin America has reduced the chances of democratic breakdown in the region. Similarly, a study by Adams (2003) seems to replicate the claims put forward by Pevehouse (2002a; 2002b) in terms of the activities of the Organization of American States (OAS), a democratic regional organization that has worked to "establish representative democracy as a normative obligation in the Western Hemisphere" (Adams, 2003: 84).

It is important, however, to be very precise in any claims about the advance of democracy in the region. It is true that democracy in Latin America is now more present than ever, and that full breakdowns have been increasingly uncommon. However, it also must not be forgotten that in terms of consolidation of democracy, there seems to be a lack of progress. Putting aside the cases of Uruguay, Costa Rica, and perhaps Chile, it is clear that Latin American democracies still face significant challenges in terms of democratic consolidation. Many societal and political attitudes in the region still display some authoritarian tendencies and have led many observers to categorize these systems using adjectives such as "delegative," "illiberal," or "formal" democracies (O'Donnell, 1994; Zakaria, 1997; Huber, Rueschemeyer and Stephens, 1997). Philip (2003: 4), for example, talks about the "adaptiveness of pre–democratic patterns of political behavior in the region."

There is, therefore, a clear consensus that transitions to democracy in the region have been influenced to varying degrees not only by domestic elements but also by external agents. Studies on democratization in Latin America also agree that representative democracy is more present than ever in the region and that democratic breakdown is highly unlikely (Philip, 2003; Hagopian and Mainwaring, eds., 2005; Adams, 2003; Reid, 2007). However, it is also commonly accepted that the quality of democracy in the region is far from satisfactory. In this context, there seem to be two main lines of argumentation regarding the role that transnational forces play in democratization processes, specifically with regard to the perspectives for democratic consolidation. The first claims that democratic consolidation can be influenced by external factors, while the second contests that assumption, arguing that transnational forces have an identifiable influence on democratic transition but that consolidation is not affected by them.

Adams's account of the role of transnational intergovernmental and non–governmental organizations in Latin America belongs to the first group. Even though he acknowledges the prominent participation of domestic factors in democratization processes, he argues that these organizations' activities have been key in the effort to "deepen" democratic institutions and practices in the region (2003: 2). His approach is in line with Pevehouse's claims about the impact that certain regional organizations have on democratic consolidation during democratic transitions. Adams, therefore, argues that even though there have been limits on the quality of the democratic transitions in the region, transnational and intergovernmental organizations can play a "supportive or complementary role" in the process of deepening of democratic practices and institutions. In his view, these organizations present an "increased power and influence" that reflects an emerging world order in which national sovereignty is "gradually giving way to global governance" (2003: 2).

With regard to OAS activities, for example, Adams argues that its political reform programs "have contributed to the consolidation of democracy in LatinAmerica" (2003: 101). This claim is based on the OAS's role as the institution that has contributed the most to establishing representative democracy as a "normative obligation" in the region.

Mainwaring and Perez–Linan, on the other hand, adopt a more skeptical approach when assessing the effects of transnational forces on democratic consolidation in the region. They identify a series of actors and processes that contribute to the sustainability of democracy, and a significant number of them are not domestic. In their view, the international ideological context, the policies and attitudes of external actors such as the U.S. government and the Catholic Church, and multilateral organizations (OAS, Mercosur) have created the necessary conditions for democracy to thrive in the region despite serious challenges such as multipartism, party system polarization and poor economic growth (2005: 38–43). However, they also claim that democracy in the region has stagnated. It is true, according to their study, that democratic breakdowns were avoided in Guatemala in 1993, Paraguay in 1996, and Venezuela in 1992 and 2002. It is also true that the prevention of the collapse of democracy in these countries can be attributed to the higher costs of overtly–authoritarian rule that the Inter–American system and the Mercosur have contributed to imposing. But in terms of democratic consolidation, external agents like multilateral organizations seem to be powerless to avoid the erosion of democracy and unable to contribute to developing a more robust democracy (Mainwaring and Perez–Linan, 2005: 52). According to their line of argumentation, the quality of democracy seems unaffected by the role of the external, and improvement in this area seems to depend heavily on domestic politics. Hagopian supports these claims and contends that a key factor that explains improvement in the quality of democracy is citizens' support for this type of government, in itself highly dependent on vibrant, and well–functioning institutions of political representation, accountable to the preferences of the citizens (2005: 336). Hagopian claims that international support for democracy "cannot in itself guarantee the quality of democratic governance." In fact, when exploring the possible links between transnational forces and citizens' disillusionment with democracy, she concludes that one of the main explanations that can be identified as the potential cause of citizen disaffection with their democratic regimes is neoliberal state reform (2005: 341).

Mainwaring and Perez–Linan (2005) talk about the marginal role of the external in democratic consolidation while Adams (2003) sees a "challenge" that transnational and intergovernmental organizations seem to be able to overcome. The evident disparity between both views depends, perhaps, on the difference between the two conceptions that these authors have of "democratic consolidation." Pevehouse and Adams's view of consolidation seems to be associated with "durability," or the life–span of democratic regimes. This is closer to the view of Barracca (2004: 1472), who considers that a consolidated democracy is unlikely to break down. Mainwaring and others, on the other hand, are more concerned about the quality of democracy.

The analysis of the Mexican case presented in this article will focus on the elements described above: the international dimensions of democratization, the regional scope of these processes, and their open–ended nature. It will claim the following:

1. Domestic actors' willingness to be influenced by external factors (consent) coupled with a certain degree of external limitations on perpetuating authoritarian attitudes (conditionality) are the two main dimensions through which transnational forces contributed to shaping the Mexican road to democracy.

2. This case of democratization can be understood as part of a broader trend of democratic expansion in the Western Hemisphere, corroborating theoretical claims on the regional scope of democratizations. This is valid only if democracy is understood in a procedural sense (formal, electoral, representative). However, the degree to which these external influences on regime change contribute to democratic consolidation remains vague.

3. The nature of the Mexican transition confirms the need to retain a long–term perspective of these open–ended processes. Even though political liberalization is unquestionable in this case, it is important not to expect specific outcomes in ongoing transitions. In other words, democratic consolidation of the Mexican political system is not guaranteed.

 

CHARACTERIZING THE MEXICAN TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY

A key point that must be stressed in this article is the fact that not all democratization processes follow the same pattern. The mechanisms through which a political system liberalizes are very diverse, and differences among the mechanisms adopted can be reflected in the great variety of possible outcomes seen when comparing two or more cases of democratization (Whitehead, 1996). Obviously, this has implications for factors like the institutional framework of the new democratic system, its prospects for consolidation and —most importantly for the purpose of this article— for the ways in which the external interplays with the internal during the whole process. This section argues that Mexico's democratization has certain characteristics that differentiate it from other cases of regime transition with which it is commonly compared, and these elements greatly influence the ways in which transnational forces participate in this country's process of democratization.

Mexico should be regarded as a case of "protracted democratization" (Eisenstadt, 2000). This means that, unlike other cases of transition in which it is possible to clearly identify a specific moment when the authoritarian regime shifts toward democracy (like the cases of Spain, Chile or the countries of Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism), political liberalization "takes place when opposition groups (usually political parties) debate political liberalization, step by step, strategic interaction by strategic interaction, over the course of years and decades" (Eisenstadt, 2000: 6). One of the main characteristics of protracted democratizations is that identifying a single episode in the process that can be pinpointed as the start of the regime change is not very clear. It has been very difficult to agree on a commonly accepted date as the beginning of the Mexican transition. What is important to note is that the Mexican transition has lasted a long time, and this process of "incremental bargaining" takes place especially in the electoral arena (Eisenstadt, 2000; Magaloni, 2005). Before alternation of power in the executive branch began in 2000, most opposition groups (notably the center–right National Action Party [PAN], but also, to a lesser degree, the left) were willing to participate in the political system following the rules created by the then–authoritarian regime and were happy to gain a series of small concessions granted by the PRI as a reward for taking part on an increasingly competitive electoral system. These concessions often came in the form of electoral reforms that gradually liberalized the system, and of increasing recognition of the opposition's local electoral victories. However, this political liberalization via authentic electoral competition was not created by the regime with democratization as its final goal. In the end, the loyal opposition became strong enough to effectively compete for power in national elections and thus able to oust the PRI from the key elected position that had been reserved for it for seven decades: the presidency. This is not to say that the process has ended.Akey argument this article will stress is that democratic consolidation as understood by the studies of Linz and Stepan (1996) and Hagopian and Mainwaring (2005) is far from being a reality in Mexico. Thus, Mexican democratization should also be regarded as an ongoing process.

Mexico's geopolitical situation is another factor that has to be taken into consideration when analyzing the specific ways in which the transition has developed. Mexico enjoys a unique position as a large Latin American country in a North American context. Its situation as a North American country which in the 1990s began to openly link its economic development to the U.S. market via the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), marks a striking contrast with other big Latin American democracies that tend to be compared to Mexico, like Argentina or Brazil, which did not have that option. The relationship between political and economic liberalization in Mexico has been widely discussed (Heredia, 1994; González, 2001; Cameron and Wise, 2004) and, undeniably, to properly assess the transition to democracy in Mexico it is very important to include in the picture the series of economic reforms that transformed the country from a protectionist economy based on import–substitution industrialization to one of the most export–oriented markets in the world. However, this relationship is complex, and causality between economic and political liberalization has not been straightforward.

Finally, the size and complexity of an economy and a society like Mexico's is a condition that sets limits and at the same time offers some opportunities for the ways the external can influence domestic political processes. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in 2006, Mexico had the third largest GDP per capita in Latin America. It is the region's second biggest economy after Brazil. It is also the region's second most populated country, with 105 million inhabitants in that same year (United Nations, Department of Social and Economic Affairs [ECLAC] and Cepalstat, 2008). Its territory is one of the largest in the world (11th), with 1 958 201 square kilometers (United Nations, Department of Social and Economic Affairs, 2007: 62). Hurrell (2001) argues that these elements (size of the economy, population, development indicators) do matter when assessing the extent to which external influences have an impact on political processes in "very large, relatively closed societies" that are not as vulnerable as smaller states (2001: 170). He defends the plausibility of this statement for the case of the Brazilian transition to democracy, arguing that the success of democratization did not depend directly on transnational factors. These elements were present in the process of transition, but they were important insofar as they contributed in shaping "the character of the political and economic system within which democratization takes place." The influence of external forces in processes of democratization is more evident in smaller countries, as evidenced by the case of Panama, where overt U.S. intervention can be associated with further advances in representative democracy. This article argues that in the Mexican case transnational forces indeed play a significant role in the transition; however, they have to interact at all times with elements like the degree of economic development, demographic trends, and complexity of the economy. Intervention of the style seen in other smaller, more vulnerable countries is unthinkable. However, the subtle influence of external forces must not be underestimated.

The elements described above form an analytical lens though which the Mexican transition can be viewed. This is not the only and most comprehensive characterization of the political phenomenon in this study. However, it is useful in explaining the different routes political actors (both external and internal) have chosen in order to shape the current development of democracy in the country. Therefore, it is very helpful in describing Mexico's democratization as a protracted, ongoing process that has been greatly influenced by the dynamics of North American economic integration, by the size and dynamics inherent to the Mexican economy and, finally, by the complexity derived from the scale of its population and territory.

 

THE MEXICAN SCENARIO: A COMPLEX INTERACTION OF EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL FACTORS

Having explained the main features of the Mexican transition, we can now turn to the discussion of the role played by transnational forces in Mexican democratization. The following cases by no means comprise an exhaustive list of all the external influences that can be identified in the Mexican democratization, and should not be regarded as such. The examples cited here are only meant to demonstrate the various ways in which transnational forces can affect political processes in countries in transition, and to underline the very complex dynamics of democratization, in which many elements, both internal and external, offer opportunities and constraints for democratic transition and consolidation.

 

THE AMBIVALENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL LIBERALIZATION

The opening of the Mexican economy after the 1982 debt crisis increased the vulnerability of Mexico's market, society, and political system. The relationship between economic liberalization and regime change in Mexico seems logical, since advances in the democratization process roughly correspond to the same period in which the country experienced a radical shift of its economic development model. This article acknowledges the validity of this relationship. However, it is important to point out that the relationship is not strictly causal. A view that holds that economic re–structuring predated political liberalization and had a positive and direct influence on it is not quite true. Specialists in the subject rather characterize it as an uneven process. Carol Wise argues that "deep market restructuring since 1982 and gradual political reforms interacted erratically over time to prompt an almost inadvertent democratic transition in Mexico" (2003: 160–161).

In this section, I argue that economic liberalization in general, and the negotiation and implementation of two free trade agreements (FTAs) in particular, represented both opportunities and obstacles for advancing the process of democratic transition in Mexico.

González (2001) claims that the transition to democracy began to take shape slowly and belatedly. In her view, the process whereby the Mexican political system democratized was mainly a government response to internal and external pressures. During the Salinas and Zedillo administrations, the Mexican government was apparently more committed to economic than political liberalization. Political liberalization in Mexico during the 1990s was an uneven and contradictory reaction to pressure from civil society, opposition parties, and national and international NGOs, and the government's increasing need to present a democratic profile (González, 2001: 620).

Moreover, it is clear that initial steps in economic liberalization were facilitated by the authoritarian nature of the regime. Heredia (1994) points out that the economic program implemented in the 1980s required De la Madrid's administration to bring to a halt some achievements in the arena of political liberalization. Important victories for the PAN in 1983 local elections in the northern states of Chihuahua and Durango did not prevent the federal government from intervening in the next local elections in 1986, in which the opposition claimed electoral fraud in the election process in the Chihuahua governor's race. This is due to the fact that in order to continue to enjoy the loyalty of local PRI elites during a time of economic reform, the federal government needed to retain control of the distribution of elected positions (Heredia, 1994: 24–28). At least during this initial phase of economic reform, the regime could not afford to recognize key opposition electoral victories, since they would make for a shortage in the number of available posts (local and federal members of Congress, mayors, and governors) whose allocation by the PRI at regular intervals was vital for ensuring the survival of the authoritarian regime.

Thus, it is possible to argue that, from the perspective of the relationship between democracy and economic liberalization in Mexico, the latter has been divided in two phases. The first can be labeled as essentially "antidemocratic." Initial steps in the economic reform required a strong authoritarian government, able to institute measures that according to many authors "could not have been pursued as consistently in a democratic political context" (Cook, Middlebrook, and Molinar Horcasitas, eds., 1994: 41).

However, the gradual economic liberalization entailed a number of costs, such as a mounting tension in the electoral arena (which was becoming increasingly competitive) and a shift in the balance of state–society relations (Heredia, 1994: 29; Cook, Middle–brook, and Molinar Horcasitas, eds., 1994: 7). Some of these changes, as predicted by Cook, Middlebrook, and Molinar Horcasitas, occurred as "either direct or indirect consequence of economic crisis and restructuring in the 1980s and early 1990s" (1994: 7), contributing to the weakening of authoritarian elements of the system, such as the presidency (Dresser, 1998: 223). In the end, the regime's authoritarian character began to erode, giving way to increasing electoral competition and a gradual acceptance by the government (at least rhetorically) of respect for human rights and democratic values as well as of a growing involvement of international actors in this regard.

The second phase is clearly more "pluralist" and was clearly noticeable from 1997 onward. That year marks the beginning of something that has characterized Mexican politics for the last 10 years: a divided national Congress, where none of the major parties enjoys an absolute majority. This meant that further economic (second generation) reforms now have to be negotiated among an increasing number of political actors.As Dresser rightly argues, "The process whereby economic policy making was made in Mexico changed, irrevocably and for the better" (1998: 239).

Some of the most visible signs of Mexico's newly adopted commitment to economic liberalization have been a series of FTAs it has negotiated with important world economies. The most important of these are the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was negotiated in the early 1990s and came into force in 1994, and the Economic Partnership, Political Coordination and Cooperation Agreement between Mexico and the European Union (TLCUE, as it is known in Spanish), which came into force in 2000. The following sections will discuss how the negotiation and implementation of these two treaties relate to the issue of democratic development in the country. It will become clear that the relationship between these international instruments and domestic politics in Mexico entails a very complex network of forces flowing in different directions; some of them represent opportunities for democracy; some others do not. Therefore, these concrete examples will show how transnational forces can have uneven implications for democratization.

 

NAFTA: OPPOSING FORCES FOR DEMOCRACY

The political implications of Mexico's economic integration with its two North American partners have been thoroughly analyzed. One of the more interesting dimensions of this integration process was the fact that a developing country with an authoritarian political system found itself a key economic partner of two industrialized countries with vibrant and consolidated democracies. Would this economic alliance entail a significant change in the political system of the least democratic of the three partners?

When assessing the implications for democratization during the NAFTA negotiations (1990–1994) and its consequences (1994 to date), the existence of opposing forces becomes evident. NAFTA increased significantly the awareness of the international community about ongoing issues in Mexico. During the negotiation process, the governments of the three North American countries had to take into account the views and interests of a wide range of governmental and non–governmental actors, both within and outside their own territories. Concern about the way politics was done in Mexico was of course part of some of these groups' agendas.

There are two ways to look at how the negotiation process and implementation of the FTA influenced democracy in the country. The first is optimistic in its approach and has considered NAFTA an opportunity for further advances in democracy in the country. Alba (2003), for example, identifies a series of domestic political processes in Mexico that can be directly linked with NAFTA. The report "Human Rights in Mexico: a Policy of Impunity," prepared by the NGO Americas Watch in 1990, sparked a rapid response by the Mexican government. The administration of Carlos Salinas, in an attempt to mitigate possible harsh reactions by the international community regarding the human rights situation in the country, created (almost at the same time as the report was being published) the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH), an autonomous public institution that oversees the state of human rights in Mexico and that had the competency to send non–binding recommendations to public authorities that are found to be breaching those rights (Alba, 2003: 186). Even though its capacity to enforce these recommendations is non–existent, the work of the CNDH has proved to be vital in raising awareness about these issues among the public. Another example in which the increasing visibility of Mexican politics derived from NAFTA negotiations contributed to advances in the democratic arena is the regime's acceptance of international observers in the 1994 national elections (Alba, 2003: 187). This represented a radical change, since the PRI regime had been very careful in avoiding international influence over its domestic politics in order to ensure the continuance of politics as usual.

During the negotiation process, the government promoted an atmosphere of debate among the different actors who had a stake in the process of economic reform. Even though it was very likely that the outcome had already been decided by the government, it is worth pointing out that the regime promoted the participation of various groups that had to take sides in the debate on whether Mexico should become part of a North American integration process (González and Natal, 2003: 862).

However, the degree of inclusiveness was limited. Some groups found themselves in a better position to advance their interests than others. The private sector enjoyed particular strength, and in fact participated in partnership with the government during the FTA negotiations.1 Mexican NGOs (as well as U.S. and Canadian–based NGOs) were also able to participate to a certain degree in discussions with the government and during the negotiation of the FTA. In the debate surrounding NAFTA, the organized civil society of Canada, Mexico, and the United States took advantage of the great opportunity to establish links with groups that shared their same values and interests in the other North American countries. However, according to one of them (the Mexican Network of Action Facing Free Trade [RMALC]), "despite achieving a very important degree of communication with the authorities, we were unable to transform this dialogue into a real, palpable influence with regard to the contents of NAFTA" (Alberto Arroyo, cited in González and Natal, 2003: 886). Moreover, Mexico's negotiation of subsequent FTAs has not meant the deepening in the participation of this type of organizations during negotiations. According to González and Natal, compared to its PRI predecessors, the Fox administration (2000–2006) did not comprehensively modify its stance with regard to the participation of society in the trade integration agenda (2003: 883).

This brings us closer to the second view of NAFTA's relationship to democratization in Mexico. This view is useful for analyzing the limits of the democratic thrust of NAFTA negotiations and implementation. When assessing the implication of the economic integration of Mexico and its relationship to the country's democratic development, Gentleman and Zubek (1992) conclude that the Mexican government did not feel particularly strong pressure on the part of U.S. officials to instigate genuine advances in democracy. According to their study, largely based on official and unofficial statements and declarations by U.S. authorities during the NAFTA negotiation process, "Mexican leaders concluded that progress on democratization was of minimal concern for US authorities and was by no means a pre–requisite for economic integration" (1992: 85). For instance, referring to the NAFTA negotiation agenda, Assistant Secretary of Inter–American Affairs Bernard Aronson pointed out that political issues were not being considered when he stated, "It's already been decided; commerce and investment, nothing more" (D. Estevez, cited by Gentleman and Zubek, 1992: 81). One should not forget that during the NAFTA negotiation period, the Mexican government launched a public relations campaign in the United States aimed at easing potential anxiety derived from the prospects of economic integration. However, this effort targeted groups that were not an integral part of the U.S. official delegation during the negotiations. Instead, Mexican efforts to promote NAFTA in the U.S. were aimed at civil society, trade unions, and other interest groups, members of Congress and senators, whose influence could activate significant opposition to the FTA during the following phase of legislative approval.

This means that, if a democratic impetus arose from NAFTA negotiations that pushed the PRI regime to diminish some authoritarian attitudes in domestic politics and start liberalizing politically, this was due to the influence of actors outside the U.S. federal government and not because of overt pressure from U.S. officials in the executive branch. Measures for political reform (like creating the CNDH or allowing foreign observers in national elections) that can be associated to NAFTA negotiation and implementation were, in most cases, reactive and uneven, as González argues. However, these achievements proved crucial in laying the foundations for further advances in democratic development, and should not be overlooked.

 

ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP, POLITICAL COORDINATION AND COOPERATION AGREEMENT BETWEEN MEXICO AND THE EUROPEAN UNION: THE LIMITS OF THE "DEMOCRATIC CLAUSE"

The agreement Mexico and the EU negotiated during the late 1990s is more than a mere FTA. This document establishes a framework that calls for the liberalization of trade of goods and services and sets the foundations for the institutionalization of political dialogue between the two parties, as well as for the development of more profound cooperation for development.

The agreement is relevant for democratization in Mexico because its negotiation and successful implementation entailed Mexico's unprecedented acceptance of the principle of democratic conditionality. The "democratic clause," a much publicized feature of the agreement, is the key element that introduces conditionality in the political and economic relationship between the two parties. Article 1 of the agreement states the following: "Respect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights, proclaimed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, underpins the domestic and external policies of both Parties and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement" (European Union, 1997, Art. I). The implications of this section of the agreement for the continuation of what the Mexican government saw as a privileged relationship with the EU were clear: the EU could put an end to part or all of the agreement if it considered that flagrant abuses to human rights and democratic principles were taking place in Mexico.

During the initial negotiations, the Mexican government rejected including such a clause in the agreement. For most of the twentieth century, Mexican foreign policy had displayed rather isolationist behavior that prioritized the defense of sovereignty and self–determination over the issue of human rights in third states. This attitude contributed to divert international attention away from the domestic situation in Mexico. By not criticizing the internal situation in other countries, Mexico contributed to minimizing the incentives for the international community to start focusing on events happening inside its own borders. This was a very useful tool that helped perpetuate the stability of Mexico's authoritarian regime.

During the 1990s, however, the EU changed its strategy with regard to the relations it established with other countries. In 1992, the European Community approved new strategies on economic assistance to developing countries that included the principle of democratic conditionality. The 1993 Treaty of the European Union specifies that promotion of democracy is one of the main objectives of EU development policy (Sanahuja, 2000: 50). Hence, during negotiations with Mexico, the EU, especially the European Parliament, was inflexible about including a democratic clause in the agreement (Sanahuja, 2000: 53). In fact, negotiations languished as soon as the topic was debated. In the end, the political costs of refusing to accept democratic conditionality were very high for Mexico. Seven months passed before the Mexican authorities finally relinquished their original position. By continuing to adopt such a rigid position, the Mexican government, very eager to portray a democratic stance, faced the risk of losing face by rejecting a provision that many other countries had adopted without problem. Despite attempts by the Mexican side to minimize the effects of the democratic clause, the final text of the agreement that was approved included a reciprocal, open commitment to democratic principles and human rights (Castro, 2003: 901).

Thus, in the case of the Mexico–EU FTA, the growing opening of the Mexican economy and society, coupled with a shift in EU strategy in its relations with other countries, made it increasingly difficult for the Mexican political elite to continue to display isolationist attitudes reflected in its traditional defense of a narrow concept of national sovereignty. This contributed to transforming the attitudes of Mexican authorities and served as an incentive for the government to re–direct the discursive foundations of the Mexican regime toward a more democratic ethos. From then on, the Mexican government has committed itself to preserving democratic practices and respecting human rights in its relationship with the EU.

However, this commitment has yet to be put to the test. It has been prudently pointed out that "the efficacy of the democratic clause, the real scope of trade liberalization, and, more generally, the utility of the agreement as an instrument for economic and social development and the consolidation of Mexican democracy depend on future negotiations and the scope and intensity of future political dialogue" (Sanahuja, 2000: 54, emphasis added). So far, the political will to advance further in this regard seems to be non–existent. Many civil society groups, both in Mexico and in Europe, claim that despite evident persistence of serious breaches of human rights in Mexico, the "democratic clause" has never been invoked. Both the Mexican NGO Centro de Derechos Humanos "Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez" and the Transnational Institute, an Amsterdam–based think tank, agree that the lack of concrete mechanisms to ensure proper enforcement of the democracy clause will perpetuate the "decorative" nature of this element of the agreement (Meyer, 2004: 6; Aguirre and Perez, 2007: 21). Despite proposals from some civil society groups in both Mexico and Europe aimed at creating a clear framework that would contribute to establishing the desired mechanisms that could trigger the democratic clause, officials on both sides of the Atlantic have not concentrated on addressing this possibility.

Unsuccessful attempts have been made to link the democratic clause to many cases of serious violations to human rights in the past few years.2 However, the possibility of enforcing the democratic clause has not been seriously addressed at the highest levels of EU institutions. According to a report by a European think tank, "In the face of petitions to invoke the democratic clause because of repeated reports of human rights violations by the Mexican government, various EU officials have responded that because these do not constitute systematic violation of rights by the state, they cannot activate the mechanism to apply sanctions'' (Aguirre and Perez, 2007: 24).

 

THE INTER–AMERICAN SYSTEM AND DEMOCRACY IN MEXICO

It is unquestionable that the OAS "has helped to establish representative democracy as a normative obligation in the Western Hemisphere" (Adams, 2003: 84). Throughout the past two decades, this regional organization has been a key actor contributing to the creation of a system of values revolving around the principles of democracy and respect for human rights. These values have been openly embraced by the OAS member states. Aseries of legal documents, resolutions of the General Assembly, and reforms of the charter have contributed to increasing this institution's democratic ethos, and consequently, have had a positive impact on national governments' commitment to democratic practices, at least in normative and declaratory terms. The result has been the birth of a "paradigm of democratic solidarity" based on the notion of immediate collective action in the case of flagrant threats to democracy in the political system of one of the members (Cooper and Legler, 2001: 103).

The 1985 Protocol of Cartagena de Indias modified the OAS Charter to explicitly raise the obligations of the members to "promote and consolidate representative democracy" in the region. In 1991, the "Santiago Commitment to Democracy and the Renewal of the Inter–American System," as well as its associated General Assembly resolution (Res 1080), gave the OAS power to convene a special session of the General Assembly and "adopt any decisions deemed appropriate" in the case of a possible interruption of the democratic government of any of the member states. This commitment to democracy introduced innovative features at the regional level such as the principle of rapid response in the event of a democratic crisis in one of the member states, and the authorization for the OAS to engage in a wide range of collective activities provided they were approved by the members (Cooper and Legler, 2001: 106). The Washington Protocol of 1992 goes further by reforming the OAS Charter to call for the suspension of the right to participate in OAS bodies if a member's democratic government has been overthrown by force. In 2001, two events further deepened OAS democratic density as a regional institution. During the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City (April 2001), a democratic clause was adopted. It stated that "any unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order in a state of the Hemisphere constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to the participation of that state's government in the Summit of the Americas process." The fact that the term "alteration" was employed in the Declaration of Quebec, "opened up the criteria for American states to intervene, as soon as it was considered that the democratic institutions of a country were being bent out of shape" (Cooper and Thérien, 2004: 737). Additionally, after the 2001 summit, the foreign ministers of the member states were instructed to develop what came to be known as the Inter–American Democratic Charter (adopted in September 2001). The Democratic Charter recognized the "right to democracy" of the peoples in the Americas, and institutionalized the mechanisms that the OAS members would employ to engage in a collective action to ensure the preservation of democracy if a democratically elected government of a member state faces a serious crisis.

The aforementioned episodes represent key moments in the evolution of the "paradigm of democratic solidarity" in the Inter–American system and have been the basis for OAS positions, statements, and actions in democratic crises in Panama (1989), Haiti (1991), Guatemala (1993), Paraguay (1996), Peru (2000), Venezuela (2002), and more recently, Honduras (2009) (Cooper and Legler, 2001: 106; Cooper and Thérien 2004: 737). The organization's increasing role as a multilateral institution committed to the development of democratic governance in the region is a working example of Pevehouse's theory of the influence that democratic international organizations have on the democratic processes of their member countries. The level of "democratic density" of the OAS has become increasingly higher, notwithstanding some limitations. The implications for the democratic processes of most of its members have been positive insofar as the OAS has been an important actor that has contributed to preventing the breakdown of democratically elected governments in the region. However, it is important to take into account the limits of the OAS in this regard. The Inter–American system as it stands today seems to be quite effective in preventing full democratic breakdowns; however, efforts concentrated on improving the quality of democracy in the region, pushing toward more consolidated democratic regimes, seem only loosely connected with any activities the OAS is able to perform. What are the implications of OAS's relatively "thin" democratic density for the Mexican transition?

A full democratic breakdown in Mexico is a very remote possibility. One of the few constants of the Mexican experience for decades of regime transition has been the negotiation of concessions between opposing domestic political forces —some more democratic than others— that has produced a protracted democratization where achievements have been taking place against the backdrop of a series of local and national elections. Thus, up to now, this particular type of regime transition has ensured high levels of political stability. The absence of a military capable of posing a threat to civil government and the relative weakness of guerrilla–like movements make a sudden collapse of representative institutions highly unlikely. Threats to democracy in Mexico can be found elsewhere: organized crime undermines the rule of law; the interests of powerful economic sectors distort the market and may contribute to higher levels of inequality; corruption still prevails at all levels of government and society, regardless of social class and political party (Levy and Bruhn, with Zebadúa, 2006: 273). Moreover, the democratic credentials of all the major political parties have still to be put to the test. The OAS's efforts to deepen democracy in Mexico should address the latter issues, not the imminent breakdown of the regime.

There is little the OAS can do in Mexico (or any other member state) in the case of protracted regressions or less drastic erosions of democratic practices. Furthermore, Mexico had acted as a rather anti–democratic force within the OAS up until quite recently. During the 1990s, Mexico adopted a very cautious, defensive position with regard to the organization's increasing commitment to democracy. Its representatives at the OAS blocked any proposal to increase the organization's authority to intervene during any situation that represented a breach of democracy and/or human rights. Actually, Mexico's reservations on the matter are part of the reason why Resolution 1080 did not include a provision to expel a member whose democratically elected government has been overthrown (González, 2001: 662). Mexico was the only state to openly oppose the Washington Protocol of 1992 (Democracy Coalition Project, 2002: 4). The country's attitude has changed in recent years, and it is valid to argue that this evident change has a lot to do with the fact that Mexico underwent a very significant alternation of power at the presidential level in 2000. Thus, it adhered without any problem to the Inter–American Democratic Charter of 2001 and was one of the most vocal critics of the 2002 failed coup in Venezuela.

What is important to point out is the fact that the OAS is an organization whose membership is ultimately composed of national governments whose decisions have set the stage for the gradual commitment toward democratic practices in the region. It is no coincidence that the Democratic Charter was adopted by the totality of the members of the OAS just one year after Mexico finally joined the rest of its fellow OAS members in the group of full electoral democracies. Mexico's refusal to sponsor similar Inter–American documents in the past (such as a more radical version of Resolution 1080 and the Washington Protocol) should be regarded as an example of how internal and transnational forces have interacted during the process of democratic development in the region in general, and in Mexico in particular. The process through which a "densely democratic regional organization" (using Pevehouse's term) like the OAS contributes to preserving democracy among its member states does not follow a straightforward top–down logic, where the documents adopted by the organizations emanate from decisions taken independently from the national governments' interests. It can be argued that during the case of Resolution 1080, the Mexican government's role contributed to postponing the development of a tighter sense of democratic solidarity, at least for a decade. However, when Mexico finally adopted a full electoral democracy, strong incentives toopposea deeper democratic commitment in the region disappeared.

International legal documents adopted by increasingly democratic national governments have implications for the future of each and every one of the members' political developments, generating a kind of "cyclical" process. In its first stage, a group of governments ensures the preservation of their newly acquired democratic practices by signing legally binding international commitments. It is noteworthy that the democratic character of these actors has been forged largely by domestic forces. In the ensuing stages of the process, however, the international dimensions of the democratic transition increase in strength. Multilateral mechanisms such as the Inter–American principle of democratic solidarity take on a life of their own and provide important leverage in the processes in which electoral democracy becomes increasingly entrenched in these countries.

 

CONCLUSIONS

Transition to democracy in Mexico is a vivid example of the significant influence transnational forces have on domestic political processes. This article highlighted a select number of transnational factors and explained the links among them and the steps toward political liberalization in Mexico. The relationship between economic reform and political liberalization, as exemplified by the negotiation and implementation of two important FTAs, evidenced the existence of opposing forces that create opportunities and obstacles for democratization in Mexico. The development of an increasingly effective mechanism of regional collective action based on a principle of "democratic solidarity'' in the Inter–American system also showed the OAS's potential and limits for promoting democracy in this country. However, the external elements explained here should not be regarded as the sole transnational actors responsible for shaping the way democratic transition has been taking place in Mexico.

The negotiation and implementation of NAFTA and the Mexico–EU FTA triggered a process through which the Mexican government began to shift significantly many of its attitudes about the way politics was done in the country. Its traditional defense of national sovereignty, which had aided the regime in preventing the involvement of transnational actors in its domestic political arena, gradually changed. It slowly gave way to a more pragmatic attitude by the regime, reflected in its eagerness to integrate Mexico into an increasingly globalized economy. Civil society groups in the country also took advantage of this situation and (to varying degrees) ensured that their interests and claims be heard in a national level. Moreover, they created links with like–minded civil society groups based abroad.

Conditionality was also a complimentary force that encouraged the regime to transform its founding principles, from a position largely based on the defense of a narrow concept of sovereignty, to a formal commitment to respect for democracy and human rights. The strongest sign of this shift is Mexico's acceptance of the democratic clause in the Mexico–EU FTA. However, the extent to which this formal commitment is reflected in reality is still debatable. In light of continuous cases of human rights violations in the country, the capability of the democratic clause to contribute to deepening democracy in the country is yet to be demonstrated.

There are proven links between transnational forces and events that most observers consider important episodes in the forging of Mexican democracy. However, the implications of the influence of external factors on the consolidation of democracy are unclear. Interaction between the Mexican government and other regimes in the region (as evidenced by OAS institutional development in the 1990s) reflected the limits in the capacity of this international organization to contribute to democratization in Mexico.

Despite being a full electoral democracy, Mexico faces enormous challenges that represent an obstacle for further advances toward democratic consolidation. High levels of inequality, the threat of organized crime, and prevailing levels of corruption greatly affect citizens' perceptions of their government's performance. Hago–pian claims that despite the persistence ofsuch problems, democracy can be"somewhat inoculated from setbacks" (2005: 336). However, this depends enormously on "vibrant and well–functioning institutions of political representation, accountable for the preferences of their citizens." If transnational factors represent a tangible and positive influence on democratic consolidation, they need to have a direct impact on these representative institutions. If they do not, then all efforts to consolidate democracy in Mexico remain entirely dependent on the local sphere.

 

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NOTAS

1 Some representatives of key Mexican industries participated in the NAFTA negotiations process in what came to be known as "the room next door." According to Antonio Ortiz Mena, a key figure in Mexico's negotiating team, the "room next door" was a group of industry representatives with whom the Mexican team consulted. While it served to help the Mexican negotiators coordinate with civil society during the process, the industrial representatives came primarily from a limited number of large corporations that could afford the expense, leaving out the interests of small– and medium sized businesses (Ortiz Mena, 2002).

2 Some cases include the arbitrary detentions by local authorities of groups protesting in the streets during a EU–Latin American Summit in Guadalajara in May 2004, the murders of women in the northern state of Chihuahua, the assassination of human rights activist Digna Ochoa, and the situation of indigenous activitists held as political prisoners in Oaxaca (Méndez, 2006; Petrich, 2005).