Mexico’s Gasolinazo

Luis Rangel

A hike in fuel prices has sparked popular protests across Mexico. Will it take a deeper political form?

A march against the gasolinazo in México City, México on January 9, 2017. ProtoplasmaKid / Flickr

Interview by
Eva María

At the beginning of 2017, an outpouring of protests, marches, and blockades have shaken the streets of Mexico in response to a 20 percent increase in the price of fuel, popularly known as “el Gasolinazo.”

This new wave of struggle, however, doesn’t come as a surprise: it comes after years of accumulated anger against the Mexican state. In this interview, Venezuelan-born socialist Eva María talks to Mexican revolutionary Luis Rangel about the immediate situation that has brought about this last spark of struggle, as well as the challenges and possible prospects facing socialists and the Left in Mexico today.

Eva María

Last week, Mexico saw a new wave of protests known as “el Gasolinazo.” What is the social character of these protests? What sectors are involved? Are they different from other recent movements such as the demand to bring back alive the forty-three disappeared students from Ayotzinapa and the movement in defense of public education?

Luis Rangel

The social character of these protests is very wide. We have working at the same time a wide range of social sectors, from farmers who will see a reduction of their earnings due to the increased cost of transportation for their products, as well as middle-class people in the cities who can’t fill up their cars with gas.

The most astonishing aspect of these mobilizations, however, is the fact that places in the North such as Tijuana, Monterrey, and Ciudad Juárez, and in places in the west of the country such as Colima or Guadalajara, we’re seeing people going out in mass numbers. Mobilizations of this sort are very atypical in these regions.

The mobilizations have taken different forms, the most common being mass marches and road blockages. Additionally, there have been reports of lootings in malls. This is important since it’s been proven that these actions in some places were organized by groups related to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, the party currently in government and the oldest political party since the Mexican Revolution).

But it is wrong to assume that all the people involved in the lootings are provocateurs. We should see these kind of actions critically, beyond maneuvers from the government to confuse, infuse fear, and justify repression. These events also show that there is a profound social discontent, sometimes due to the fact that the revolutionary left is very small.

What’s happening right now in Mexico is a result of an accumulation of offenses by the regime led by Peña Nieto. For one, Ayotzinapa (one of the thousands of cases of disappeared people, as is the case of Raquel Gutiérrez, the disappeared daughter of our comrade Guillermo Gutiérrez), as well as massacres such as that of Tlatlaya or Nochixtlán, and the seven femicides per day reported in our country that, for the most part, go with impunity.

Politically, Peña Nieto’s government has killed the constitution of 1917 (which came out of the revolution) and the Mexican state’s “social pact” that was created in the twentieth century.

Additionally, with the new energy reform, oil, until now under state control, has been newly sold to the transnational companies expropriated under Cárdenas. If we add to this the surreal cases of corruption, the mining concessions (at least 20 percent of the national territory), the invitation to Trump to come to Mexico when he was just a presidential candidate (!), among other things, what we are seeing is not only the little credibility this government has, but also the deep crisis that the regime is facing as an “oligarchic-neoliberal” state which substituted the “Bonapartist sui generis” of the twentieth century.

Thus, “el Gasolinazo” isn’t a last drop in the bucket, but part of a climate of constant crisis and mass uprisings in Mexico.

Eva María

Why is there this absolute lack of confidence in the governing party? Is the PRI any different from the other two traditional political parties?

Luis Rangel

The crisis of the regime has, among its main causes, the lack of legitimacy of practically all the traditional political parties. The PRI is, before anything else, a clientelist machine that buys and coerces votes. Therefore, their candidates are all chosen by their leaders.

The crisis of legitimacy is expressed every time there is allusion to the “political caste.” There are clear reasons for this. When, for example, last year in Veracruz the Party of National Action (PAN) finally won a state election, it did so by running Miguel Ángel Yunes as their candidate, an old leader of the PRI who switched parties only when he failed at his attempt of becoming the party’s presidential candidate. When he joined PAN, he ran as a candidate for “change,” and won. Cases like these help make people think that the differences between PRI, PAN, and the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) very unclear.

However, there are a few differences between these formations. PAN is a party of the traditional right wing, linked to the clergy and openly opposed to abortion rights and LGBT rights. PRD, on the other hand, originates from currents of nationalism within the Left in the twentieth century. They present themselves as the party of the “responsible left,” but really they are a caricature of the Left. José Luis Abarca, for example, a PRD politician, was the mayor responsible for the disappearance of Ayotzinapa’s forty-three.

Eva María

Have new political organizations of importance emerged as a result of these struggles?

Luis Rangel

Unfortunately, no. In my opinion, what has been developing since 2012 until now are lots of small collectives of people who meet in the mass movements and, when the momentum slows down, they look for different ways of continuing their involvement. These activists are of different tendencies, training, and interests. However, in part because of the overall rejection of the “political caste” and the traditional parties, in part because of the indirect influence of autonomism which rejects the building of wide and permanent structures, there is very little dialogue between these new groupings.

On the other hand, there are the democratic unions and the popular and farmers’ organizations which do group thousands of people on a permanent basis. But these existed before these new cycles. Unfortunately, sometimes there is very little dialogue between these established organizations and the new ones as well.

Eva María

Who are Morena and what is their ideology as a party? What is the political program of Andrés Manuel López Obrador? What should be the attitude toward Morena from the socialist left?

Luis Rangel

Morena emerged as a political party in 2013 after the electoral process of 2012, when Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) “won” (through fraudulent means) the election, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) took second place in the race. To be brief, Morena broke off from the PRD when the latter finally stopped being a party of the opposition to PRI.

In reality, however, Morena’s political program is not anything but a cheap update of the revolutionary nationalist program: they propose the old idea that there needs to be an alliance between the non-existent national bourgeoisie and the Mexican people to implement protectionist policies and local investment to promote the country’s development. But just like Guillermo Almeyra says, the big issue with Morena and AMLO is that they sell the Bonapartist past of Mexico as the future alternative to neoliberalism.

As to what the socialist left should do with this party, it is an unresolved debate. In addition to the limitations of their political program, Morena is also a profoundly undemocratic party. Its only end goal is to get AMLO elected in 2018 because this is the main way in which they believe we can transform Mexico.

And even with all these problems, we need to understand that Morena is the only political group in the opposition that is legally able to participate in elections. Every other party is already inside the “political caste.” Morena is on its way to the same end, but today it is still a party of the opposition. Plus, there’s the fact that AMLO is a charismatic person.

Millions of people, seeing no other options, are going to place their hopes of change in the hypothetical triumph of Morena. This is the reason why we still need to somehow relate to Morena as the socialist left. Some socialist groups are active in the party thinking that they might be able to create a revolutionary current within it. This is not the case of our party (the Revolutionary Workers Party [PRT]).

In our view, past experiences such as what the PRD went through in 1988 show how devastating it can be for socialist organizations to sacrifice their political independence to the impulse of trying to escape marginality and advance within wider formations. At that time, the immense majority of socialist parties, with the sole exception of the PRT, dissolved themselves inside the PRD. Nothing is left today of these socialist formations.

When the moment came that the PRD finally became a party of the regime, it wasn’t socialists, but revolutionary nationalism again which broke with the party from the left. Morena is heading in the same direction at an even quicker pace. This is why we fully believe that it is essential to maintain independence as revolutionary socialists, even when needing to relate to broader formations.

Of course, this is without fooling with sectarianism or thinking that every member of Morena is an opportunist. Instead, we have to relate to them by debating out our differences and, most importantly, trying to build together in the areas where we can, and walk separately when this is the better choice.

Eva María

One of the main obstacles we have in the United States is not the lack of protesting, but the organizational void we see on the Left. What is the state of the Left organizationally in Mexico?

Luis Rangel

Other than Morena as a legal party of the opposition, there is a large pole of organizations to the left, all from student groups, farmers’ collectives, and some independent unions, to popular organizations in some neighborhoods. Another social element of relevance is the dozens of eco-social movements fighting against the “megaprojects.” Many of these are grouped within the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) together with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).

As for the socialist left, there are some organizations with a wide range of tendencies. But in reality, if we were to add up all of our forces, the organized left is still very small for how big and culturally diverse this country is. This is, just like you’re saying, also one of the biggest obstacles we face in Mexico today, the million-dollar question.

Eva María

In the last decade, some countries in Latin America have experienced a progressive cycle of left-leaning governments, the “pink tide.” How did the different sectors of the Mexican left live this phenomenon?

Luis Rangel

In some sectors this phenomenon was characterized with dangerous generalizations like saying that Lula or Kirchner were the same as Hugo Chávez, for example. On the other hand, there is also a relative distance to these processes because Mexico is not a member of some of the most important regional developments like Mercosur or the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).

To give you a sense, at the time in which other countries had the biggest impact with their “progressive governments,” Mexico acted more like Colombia or Peru: as the main allies of the United States. Against Mercosur, we went into the “Pacific Alliance.” (And this is not to mention the North American Free Trade Agreement).

With all the issues that the pink tide governments are facing, the possibility of having a Mexican version of this process (such as a hypothetical government of AMLO, for example) becomes more and more difficult.

Eva María

The PRT just celebrated its forty-year anniversary on December 2016. What are the main political tasks for the party in the year ahead?

Luis Rangel

I would say there are two: On the one hand, getting involved with our modest forces as much as possible in the struggles against the gasolinazo and Peña Nieto’s rule. We predicted a few months ago that the contradictions with his government would only increase, and that this would create the conditions for a new wave of mass protests. The beginning of 2017 confirmed this for us. The level of the crisis in this country supposes a big challenge for all of us struggling, and it therefore makes it necessary to take big chances politically beyond the main goal of building our own organizations.

This is why, on the other hand, we have to wrap our heads around how to best contribute to help channel all of this social unrest and struggle of the past few years into political organizations that are stronger and longer-lasting. It is with this in mind that we, after the fight of the Electrical Workers Union of Mexico (SME), have launched the Political Organization of the People and Workers (OPT) as the seed of a political party for the workers.

Also recently, we see the possibility that the Indigenous National Congress (CNI) will call for an Indigenous Government Council that will then propose an indigenous woman for president in 2018. We believe that this could bring a social layer to the left of Morena that might want to organize.

Eva María

How does the PRT see the victory of Donald Trump? Among his many threats, Trump has announced that he wants to kick out three million immigrants immediately. Under the Obama administration, over two million immigrants were already kicked out. How do you see the immediate effects of this threat for Mexico?

Luis Rangel

It is a very dangerous threat with uncertain consequences. If this threat of mass deportations does occur in a short amount of time, or if he taxes immigrants’ remittances, or if he goes ahead with an even worse renegotiation of NAFTA, the social crisis in Mexico would deepen dramatically.

For his part, Peña Nieto is already playing along. He recently named Luis Videgaray secretary of foreign relations. Before that Videgaray was the secretary of the treasury, who had to quit his post after he got heavily criticized for inviting Trump to Mexico when he was only a candidate. This proves that we can’t expect any sort of resistance to Trump’s threats from the Mexican state. It will have to come from below through the building of international solidarity networks between the United States and Mexico.

Finally, it’s important to add that Trump’s positions are actually proving very challenging for the Mexican left when seen beyond an obvious rejection of his xenophobia. The Mexican left has been denouncing NAFTA for decades, and now that Trump is proposing to cancel it or renegotiate it from a right-wing perspective, the situation has become more complicated. The PRD has already made a caricature of themselves by saying that, in order to oppose Trump, they should reconsider their position on this treaty. This is a terrible contradiction.

As for the Left in the United States, people shouldn’t forget that if companies come to Mexico or China, this is not because of a supposed anti-patriotic sentiment, but because the working conditions are notably worse here than they are in the United States. If Trump did convince these companies to not move to any of these countries, this would only mean a dramatic lowering of working conditions in the United States.

It’s very important that the Mexican and the US left talk a lot more so that we can start building more bridges and organizing together. In Mexico, for obvious reasons, we tend to see the United States only as an imperialist monster without stopping to think that there are also struggles and resistance going on, just like we saw recently with Standing Rock.

For the Left in both sides of the Río Bravo, it’s strategic to link our struggles much more organically, not just with the connections that already exist, but with a much wider layer of society. We need to share debates and experiences, as well as think of our struggles as interconnected.