Cecilia Martínez-Gallardo

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The interview focuses on the political side of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and international policy within the United States and Mexico. Martinez-Gallardo first covers everything from how the Mexican government works and is organized, in terms of its democratic representation and the history of leadership beginning in the 1980s and moving through NAFTA into the current period. She also talks about the political struggles and shortcomings of working within governmental bodies to pass such a large encompassing bill. Martinez-Gallardo comments the downfalls and shortcomings of the bill including how it was crafted and negotiated, leaving public sentiment and other concerns such as the environment out of the political discussions.



Eric Brandt: So this is Eric Brandt, I am conducting my fourth interview and today we will be talking about the political side of NAFTA, mainly focusing on the United States and Mexican governments and what goes into such large political movements. So, before we get started, if you would, just introduce yourself, tell a little about your background, your research, and who you are.
Cecilia Martinez-Gallardo: Ya, my name is Cecilia Martinez-Gallardo, I am an assistant professor at UNC in the department of Political science. I studied political institutions in Latin America, particularly in Mexico. I am originally from Mexico and was in Mexico in college when NAFTA was passed. And that’s pretty much it.
EB: Great. So I guess I would like to focus on what goes into such large-scale movements. If we could just go from a beginning standpoint, what does it take to have an international policy as large as NAFTA? What is required for the Mexican government and the United States government to sit together and talk to pass such a large bill?
CMG: I mean the first thing that it takes is for the governments to want to do it. Right? I mean in terms of the history of NAFTA, NAFTA is really inserted in a process of trade liberalization, but kind of a wider sort of liberalization of economics in Mexico and Latin America really. But in Mexico the process started after the 1982 debt crisis. So after the 1982 debt crisis we see a kind of clear movement, especially the government of Miguel de la Madrid we see a clear sort of movement towards the liberalization of the economy. This included other things apart from trade liberalization like international liberalizations, privatization, deregulation, and other sorts of big aspects. The government of Miguel de la Madrid first, in 1982 through 1988, he started, kind of took the first steps toward a policy of trade liberalization that included membership in GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] which sort of required some economic changes as well. So it all fed into a process that started in the mid 1982’s of what I said of liberalization. When Miguel de la Madrid’s successor took office, Carlos Salinas, he clearly has a strong preference for liberalization and was chosen because he has a clear kind of intention not only continue the policies of what became known as the neo-liberal agenda, but also because he wanted to sort of take it even further. And so his big project was NAFTA, he took NAFTA to be kind of one of his main signature policy, and as I said, the initial steps were already taken when he took office. The process through which NAFTA was approved involved many things. First it involved the negotiation between the US and Mexico through its trade representative and sort of secretaries of different economic areas of the goverment. And, also negotiations in Mexico were very important between different stakeholders. So the governemnt negotiatied every piece of NAFTA with different stakeholders, importanty big sectors of the business community. So, there were, you know, the traditional smoke filled rooms, where they would sit with the American governemnt and at a negotiation table for each aspect of NAFTA, and in the back room there would be stakeholders, or members of the business community and different affected interests that would negotiate with US at the same time as Mexcio. And that was kind of the process of negotiation. Once the process was negotiatied, certain aspects of it had to be approved in Congress. The parts that needed to be approved in Congress, really the policy processes that normal policy goes through were the least, I would say, important part of the process. In great part because before 1994 the PRI, [Industrial Revolutionary Party] the government party, had a majority in Congress. It is true that in 1988, just when Salinas took office, the government lost its ability to change the constitution unilaterally, so it now took a majority and had to neogitate a certain aspect of its kind of wider economic policy reform agenda with the PAN [National Action Party]. The PAN was the right-wing party that was sort of very sympathetic to their agenda. And so I think that the biggest locks to the process were not the congressional processes, but were negotiating with stake holders. Right? With unions, well unions were sort of a big obstacle although they turned out to not be a big obstacle because unions at that point were not very strong, and certainly not very independent.
EB: Great ya, that was a great summary, so I have a lot of questions stemming off of that—
CMG: Ya I don’t know that I can go that much deeper than, that but I can try.
EB: Well I guess in terms of, so you mentioned there are a lot of negotiations between different parties, the businesses, the union side… how much do think these political institutions take into account the opinion of the business side, or the labor unions, or even public policy?
CMG: Uh can you tell me what you mean by ‘these political institutions’?
EB: So these stakeholders that are in these smoke filled room negotiations, how much do they care what the public opinion thinks?
CMG: Oh, I think very little. I mean I think that the public opinion mattered very very little.
EB: You think that is both in the United States and Mexico?
CMG: I can't tell you so much about the US, I don’t really study US politics or policy making. The kind of principle of politics is that you have to get elected, and to get elected you care about the public, not always on normative grounds but on instrumental grounds, right? If you were going to get elected you need a certain number of votes so you need to cobble together a coalition to gather enough votes to keep governing. That coalition might be conflicted by different interests, and you might try to do policy so those interests are happy with you still. That is sort of the electoral democratic policy making, and in Mexico in 1994 and certainly between 88 and 98 when Salinas took power, electoral politics have become a lot more competitive. The election in ‘88 when Salinas took power was very contested, so he did take power with a really weak mandate, he was oppressive and at that point had this kind of electoral majority so he did have some sense in which he was trying to build the mandate. So, I do think they made a very big effort to sell NAFTA to the Mexican population. That effort however, obviously was not matched by efforts to involve the actual Mexican population in decision making in NAFTA that is a different matter, there were no consultations no referendums, no real sort of mechanisms through which people could really express their opinion. Where there were forms, they were not very deep. The stakeholders that really had their opinions heard, and had a very important part in the process, were special interests like big business, commerce, associations, business associations. And so I think that you know, I don’t know of the proof of it, but something that sort of points to some kind of deep sense of alienation from the Mexican population, you know this, but when NAFTA affected the first generation in 1994 the Zapatista army rebelled in Chiapas, and though this was sort of a minority group, it certainly didn’t reflect the means with which the political process should be thought out. They did in a way receive support from a lot of people that felt alienation from the process. And this alienation was not particular to NAFTA, as policy making in the 1980s was very top down. It was famously technocratic, famously run from the top down, it was very much sort of moved and oiled through personal relationships that had been forged between the US and Mexico and other sort of politicians that studied together in US institutions and very much sort of top down political process that marked those years and NAFTA was certainly an example of that
EB: Ok, great. I guess if we just take a brief step back, could you explain how the Mexican governmental bodies work? How representations within the different states of Mexico are represented, and the congressional bodies?
CMG: Ya, very very similar to the US. Mexico has a separation of power system. So you have the executive, the legislature, and judicial, very much in the same way that the US does it. Its also a federal system like the US so you have the states and in each state you have, again a repeated system of separation of power where you have a governor and you have typically two houses of local congress. To pass a law you have to pass it through the two houses of congress and the president has to either accept it or veto it, so the process is I would say similar. To pass a constitutional reform, which as I say isn’t sort of particularly important in NAFTA, but was for other parts of the neoliberal reform agenda like privatization for example—to pass a constitutional reform you need the approval, special majorities, 2/3 majorities in 2 chambers of congress and the approval of all state legislatures. So it is kind of a higher order, but the process is very similar.
EB: It seems very similar, ya of course. So then you mentioned the public isn’t necessarily as involved as we would hope, though they have to get reelected. Another thing I was interested n, but I'm not sure if you could speak on this—but I have heard, through rumor so to speak, that there are higher levels of corruption or political payoffs in the Mexican government than supposedly in the United States. Do you think this plays a big role in passing bills of this size, or is that maybe for an effect in local issues?
CMG: No I think it certainly does. You know, corruption in Mexico and everywhere happens at very different levels. So you have petty corruption, I don’t know how petty it is, but on the level of bribes or police or one on one like extortion on level of individual, but also you have big systemic corruption, and think that that certainly plays a role in policy making. One person’s corruption is another person’s lobbying right? And so I think in Mexico it is certainly the case that negotiations between big stakeholders happened behind closed doors and under circumstances that were out of the public eye. There were a lot of accusations of changes of privileges, it was a moment in which there was a lot going on. There was a lot to offer and a lot to negotiate and exchange. You have for example processes of very deep deregulation, of course deregulation is selective, you don’t require money necessarily to change hands to have deals that might not be completely honest, let’s say. You might have situations in which benefits in the law might be exchanged for changes in regulation schemes or stuff like that. You know privatization was also happening at the same time, and all of these things were part of the package. So there was the sense in Mexico and Latin America that the process especially of divestiture of the economy, and especially privatization, and in part the negotiation of NAFTA and other things, happened in a way that was outside of public scrutiny. So though in NAFTA in particular, I'm not saying I have evidence or anything, but people sort of felt this insular policy making outside of public eye gave opportunity for politicians and stakeholders to exchange favors and privileges outside of public scrutiny.
EB: So we don’t have to direct this just to NAFTA, but who would be benefiting? Is it the business that would pay to bring business from the United States.. or who saw the benefits here?
CMG: Well there are certain economic, you spoke about economics of NAFTA before, so as you know NAFTA is a very very technical very complex set of regulations that had some of its main goals to increase trade in certain areas, right? Especially by eliminating barriers to trade that had existed for many years. NAFTA eliminated many sequentially, and over time. But the idea was to increase the exchange of goods and services. Who benefited? I mean a lot of the details of the law really created a lot of winners and losers. Which businesses were regulated? What order were they regulated in? Which businesses managed to keep their, for example, tariffs? All of these things kind of created a massive web of winners and losers. And so even within industry and business there were industries that were the big winners and compared to other industries. The big billboard loser right was corn. So that was kind of a big loser, but there were tons of other industries that were big winners. It was a very very intricate web of winners and losers that was created even within industry. And so the question for people at that moment and still now, did Mexico lose in terms of the environment or environmental impacts and also sort of workers, did Mexican workers kind of get shorter end of stick? And which industries have benefited or not? These are question that are still kind of certainly open to question. But it certainly did create an intricate web of winners and losers.
EB: So you just briefly mentioned at the end the environmental and labor negatives, which are probably the largest at least from my point of view. Do you know if the Mexican government has bodies such as the EPA or environmentally regulatory agencies? Because I have heard that the regulation is less stringent.
CMG: Ya regulation is not great. Environmental regulations are not great. There has been a lot of pressure, not only from environmental focus, but also from certain businesses and also from international dynamics that have put on more pressure. I think there has been a big effort to change some of these regulations in the past perhaps 10-15 years. So there has been some kind of regulation that has been passed, but I do think that it still remains an area of a lot of concern.
EB: So compared to the United States, this may be an opinion, but would you say the Mexican government from a policy standpoint is as slow moving at the American government?
CMG: I mean ya, I would say definitely. I would say, I mean, in the last, since 1997, NAFTA was passed in 94, since 1997 Mexico has had divided government every single year, so divided government is a fact of life every year. Competition has increased, participation has increased, and divided government has made the Mexican government incredibly slow moving, as you would say in terms of policy. Reform last year has seen a massive amount of policy change and performance that have been done in part because of a reaction to this decades long situation of divided government. When NAFTA was passed though, we have to remember that the PRI still had majorities in both houses of congress. It couldn’t pass constitutional reform, but had swift majority in most of the states and it passed a lot of this reform agenda with the PAN of the right wing. And so then it wasn’t as difficult, then it was actually, passing NAFTA wasn’t… you know the roadblocks were activist and people protesting, more sort of grass roots opposition, but really the PRD the left wing party which was most opposed to the reforms really didn’t have a form from which to oppose them in any sort of significant way. Then policy was easier to pass. It’s just hard to think something like NAFTA could be passed now. Although as I said the last year has seen an explosion of various policy reforms.
EB: Ya so I find it interesting looking at the change of governments going forward and moving throughout. I read somewhere briefly that there was a political coalition in Mexico the Broad progressive front, and that was sort of a center left, leftist coalition founded in 2006 which the labor party, the citizens movement. So you mentioned the last year it has changed a lot, has it been a gradual movement towards this? I'm not completely familiar with how these coalitions work, but how to they affect government?
CMG: No, but to be clear the coalition, the Frente Amplio Progresista was a coalition of political parties that first formed, that had a center the PRD, the left wing party. So Mexico has historically three large parties, the PRI which ruled for 70 odd years was the dominant party till 2000, then the PAN a center right party which governed between 2000-2012, and then the left wing, the PRD which was founded as split from PRI in 1988 which was a coalition of parties founded in 1989. That part of the PRD, the center left party, coalesced with other parties to present as a candidate and create the Frente Amplio Progresista. The leader has since left the party and created a movement, a different party, and the PRD remains the PRD. That is kind of the political competition. Really the change in the last years in terms of policy reform has been that the PRI came back to power and their strategy when they came back was to create a kind of broad negotiation table between the three main parties in which they agreed and were for the precedent of power [CMG’s Phone starts to ring in background, interview is paused for a moment as she speaks]. So I think that as I said, after many years of divided government, the PRI strategy was to create a negotiating table, what they called the structural reforms, that kind of a lot of experts and analysts considered were necessary to move the Mexican economy forward. These were education and tele-communication, engineer, political reform, and were reforms that were passed with the support on some occasions from the left, on some from the right, but the have broken the imbalance, whether good or bad is a discussion for another day. But they broke the impass in terms of policy reform.
EB: Great, I guess kind of shifting the conversation a tiny bit, I saw you also did a little bit of research on the correlation between he economic situation and the accountability for scandal, I think that was how it was phrased. Could this apply at all to Mexico and NAFTA? I know NAFTA increased the GDP of Mexico was this almost an effort to remove, totally opinion, but to reduce accountability from all the building political corruption and negative sentiment of the government?
CMG: I think it’s completely unrelated. I think that NAFTA was passed because the people who passed it president Salinas and Miguel de la Madrid before him and the people in power believed that that was the way forward for both the economy of the country and for party. They strongly believed that the party, to survive, had to change the economic reform program. A lot of them did both things as they saw. It allowed them to become dominant within the party to eliminate the left wing of the PRI, and so politically it was important for them. But mostly they believed that that was the [phone ring again] way forward. It’s important to remember also that the change in policy in 1980s that led to NAFTA is a change that sort of responded to crises in a global context. So the 1982 debt crisis led not only Mexico, but also countries in Latin America to turn to the IMF structural adjustment program in order to bridge the payment prices. The debt crisis, these were conditional of certain reforms, and this conditionality kind of coincided with a wave or change in the kind of focus of US in Mexico and other places seeing the shortcomings of the economic development program that had been there until then. The views had changed to more open markets, freeing markets and liberalizing trade. So they didn’t just wake up and say oh lets to NAFTA, this is something that had been building since the 1980s. And it was part of a trend and requirements of the IMF structural adjustment programs that it also kind of coincided with a change I mean, Reagan and Thatcher take power, thinking of 79 and 81,.. you know this was a global trend toward people believing in a different type of economic orthodoxy. Mexico wasn’t alone in this at all it was part of a global trend toward seeing the liberalization of trade as kind of part of a new economic orthodoxy. So I think, you know, that that was a big part of it. They also saw it as politically convenient because they thought that in the measure it was successful it would allow them to take the upper hand within the party so they could continue to dominate politics. As it turns out the 1994 crisis really eliminated a lot of the gains they had through the negotiations of NAFTA and the big kind of publicity around the world of president Salinas’s economic program. In 1994 a lot of these gains were eliminated. And we know what happened; just one term later they lost power for the first time in over 70 years. So politically it didn’t quite turn out the way they had wished.
EB: then I guess kind of as we look forward in the discussion, do you think that a bill such as NAFTA, maybe not specifically, but something hat large scale of free trade policy, is something that would be continued into the future? Or do you think this was kind of a moment in history and moving forward things are going to change? Or politically are we going to renew these agreements?
CMG: I'm not sure what you mean, that this type of big policy or NAFTA itself?
EB: So I usually say, do you think NAFTA will continue on for the next 50 years?
CMG: Ya I definitely think so. I mean, I think it will change in nature, I think the environment will become imperative and a lot of the under negotiated aspects of the environment will come to the floor and as stakeholders change over in power part of the agreement might be renegotiated. But I do not see NAFTA being overturned. I think that free trade has a dynamic, a logic of its own. I don’t see free trade not being the baseline. You know, free trade, we have to remember it is not always free. It is negotiated; it is full or regulations, full of things. So it is important to remember those regulations, and the extent of which the regulations are put on some products and not others. I think that might change for sure. But I just don’t see the idea of systematic relationship between the US and Mexico and Canada in terms of trade, I don’t see that disappearing
EB: And then I have to ask the tough question I ask everyone. So there are many negatives of NAFTA of course the environment, the labor, the relationships. If you could go back in this time, would you have supported NAFTA and pushed for approval or said this is not the best idea at the moment?
CMG: I mean I was in college at that point and I didn’t support NAFTA then. But I didn’t support it not because I didn’t think it was a good idea to talk about trade, I didn’t support it because I thought it was being negotiated with, as I said before, without an eye towards the most vulnerable groups including the environment, which I saw as a big weakness. Kind of, maybe years on, I still believe the same thing. I mean I think the trade relations and regulation, the trade relations between the 3 countries is something that I support, and is something with a good idea, something natural, something that is interrupted by the artificial creation of borders. But that’s not true if we think about our relationship as integral and organic. I do still think that negotiations over NAFTA should be done in more democratic ways, and the environment should be more important, and workers should play a very central role in the negotiations.
EB: Is that realistic?
CMG: It is realistic in the sense that as long as politics both in the US and Mexico are driven by money it is kind of hard to see how that is going to be the case. But its realistic in the sense that I think that that should be, I think it’s a realistic expectation of the democratic policy. It might not be the case because when we think of the obstacles of political competition and citizens expressing voices and voices being heard, they are vague in Mexico and in the US, so there are big obstacles. But hopefully obstacles that you know can be overcome.
EB: And I guess kind of finally, I know you have also done a lot of research in different Latin American countries, do you foresee or recommend, or what are your opinions on US political interaction or partnerships with other Latin American countries? It works with Mexico currently, is this something that could be expanded through Central America?
CMG: I don’t have an opinion on that in this sense, I mean its not that I don’t have an opinion, I just think its not something that is going to happen. If you mean a trade agreement like NAFTA, the US has many trade agreements with many Latin American Countries. Bilateral and multilateral agreements like CAFTA are an essential part of US foreign trade policy, and will continue to be and continue to expand those relationships. I think NAFTA, the size of the three economies and closeness makes it a very specific particular kind of agreement. I don’t think it will be repeated just because there are no 3 countries with the same relationship. The expansion of trade agreements between the US and other parts of the world, not only Latin American is inevitable and in the US’s best interest, so it’s going to continue to happen for sure.
EB: Great, I think I covered basically everything on my list.
CMG: Great.
EB: Do you have anything you would like to add or say before we end?
CMG: No, nothing. It was a very interesting topic
EB: Ok well thank you for your time, I appreciate it.