Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 1997
Volume 8
Issue 4
Page Numbers 180-84
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On 1 September 1997, two months after legislative elections brought an end to his party’s total domination of Mexican national politics, President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León delivered his annual State of the Union Address to a divided Congress (see articles on pp. 13–57 above). Excerpts from his speech appear below:

The vote of the Mexican people has given this legislature a pluralistic composition that should encourage respectful dialogue and agreements, mindful always of the higher interest of the nation. I am fully confident that the legislative and executive branches of government will maintain a mature, constructive relationship that will be useful for the country. Achieving that relationship should be the next step in strengthening the democratic normality attained through the efforts of all the political forces on July 6.

Indeed, on July 6 the country took a major step forward in reaching democratic normality. That day marked the culmination of the aim I expressed on 1 December 1994, of working to ensure that this year’s federal elections would satisfy everyone as to the manner in which they were conducted, regardless of the results. To achieve that aim, in January 1995 I called upon all the national political parties to undertake a definitive electoral reform. . . .

As a result of that reform, the institute responsible for organizing, computing, and validating the elections gained full autonomy from the government. The personnel of the Federal Electoral Institute and the hundreds of thousands of public-spirited citizens who generously contributed to organizing the elections deserve our utmost appreciation. As a result of that reform, the executive branch no longer intervenes in the settlement of disputes that may arise in elections. They are now settled by a tribunal that forms part of the judiciary and is therefore totally independent from the executive branch.

Furthermore, the different political parties were provided with a fair [End Page 180] and transparent allocation of public funding for their campaigns and with equitable access to the electronic-communications media. In short, the foundation was laid to make the elections not only legal, but also fair. Also, thanks to the reform, Mexico City residents for the first time elected the regent of the Federal District.

When I encouraged electoral reform, I did so in the complete surety that intense political competition and the pluralistic results it produces would contribute to national unity, political stability, and progress for the country. I have always been confident that free and open competition would enable each of us to shoulder our commitment to democracy in the practice of a genuine ethic of political responsibility: an ethic of responsibility that includes unwavering defense of our laws and respect for our institutions; an ethic of responsibility that encourages tolerance and restraint, not confrontation and rancor; that favors dialogue, not imposition; that stimulates truly viable proposals for Mexico’s development. An ethic of responsibility that recognizes that in our nation’s progress the only indispensable and truly significant role is played by the people of Mexico.

I am certain that at every decisive moment that ethic—which I have tried to honor by calling for and encouraging political reform—will prevail. That ethic of responsibility serves the interests of us all because, within the framework of the law, it must govern our civic life; it must govern the treatment given and received by each of us in our democratic life. We are all going to need that ethic of responsibility, because enormous tasks lie before us that can only be completed through respectful collaboration among the branches of the government.

Furthermore, today I reiterate my firm will and unwavering commitment to see to it that the federal government continues working with respect for and in harmony with all the state and municipal governments, regardless of the political party they represent.

President Zedillo’s speech was followed by a response from Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, who was elected by a coalition of opposition parties as president of the lower chamber:

By the will of the voters, all congressmen and senators represent the nation; our origins or parties are unimportant. Consequently we assume the commitment to honor our duties, always acting with honesty and integrity, in accordance with our mandate, and with regard to the interests of the country.

We should insist that patriotism, rationality, and tolerance be the norms that dictate our conduct; the new Mexican Congress should be known for the seriousness of its work, the rigor of its deliberations, and the quality of its decisions. Above all, we should commit ourselves to faithfully reflecting the sentiments of the nation and maintain a broad, [End Page 181] pluralistic, and daily relationship with society and its organizations. We are the fundamental link between the citizen and the state.

The relationship between the different chambers of Congress should be characterized by genuine and effective cooperation toward the end of executing responsibly our legislative functions. The relationship between Congress and the executive and judicial branches should be conducted with strict adherence to the roles assigned to us in our Constitution. From today on, and we hope forever, no power will be subordinated to another in Mexico, and the rights of citizens, the strength of our institutions, and the integrity and sovereignty of the country will be guaranteed.

The fifty-seventh session of Congress is the depository for decisions adopted by a majority representing the citizen preferences of the elections of 6 July 1997. The first step is to continue without hesitation the course of democratic transition, abolishing the limitations of authoritarianism. The most important task is the reestablishment of peace and harmony between Mexicans: peace in Chiapas through implementation of the accords and the will to correct historical injustices; peace through dialogue and the reestablishment of a state of law, which has been overwhelmed by violence; and an end to this silent war which is fed by impunity, corruption, abysmal inequality, and inadmissible misery.

The central work of the Congress will be to help implement state reforms that have been agreed to between the government and the political parties; strengthen the balance of powers; transform into reality the administration of justice; undertake reform of the federal tax system; strengthen the sovereignty of the states and the autonomy of the municipalities; and establish the options of referendums and plebiscites for the approval of laws and fundamental political decisions. In sum, to democratize the exercise of authority and restore power to the citizens.

. . . Stubbornness is contrary to knowledge and harmful to the responsibilities of the state, which, while demanding firmness, should also demand flexibility, imagination, and compliance with the electoral verdict. To know how to govern also means knowing how to listen and to respond. The democratic exercise of power is to govern by obeying the public.

The equality among the different institutions of the Republic must become a form of life that we will bequeath to future generations of Mexicans. We must repair the damage done by intolerance. We must show to all that we are capable of building, with fraternity and the supreme weapon of truth, a country for all.


The communiqué issued at the conclusion of the June 1997 Summit of the Eight (the seven leading industrialized nations and Russia) in Denver contained an extensive section on democracy, reprinted below: [End Page 182]

Democracy and Human Rights

68. Recent years have seen an unprecedented growth of democracy worldwide. Yet young democratic states can be fragile and short-lived. We have a responsibility and opportunity to further strengthen democratic values and fundamental freedoms where they have taken hold and extend their reach where they have not.

69. Human rights are at the heart of our concerns. Ensuring accountability for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law is essential to promote conflict resolution and peace. The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will have a crucial role to play. We will continue to give full support to the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and work to ensure that the international community and States concerned bring to justice through due process persons responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

70. Recognizing that strengthening democracy is essential to strengthening peace and human rights, and looking to the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1998, we will work together in the coming year to build on our governments’ most effective democratic development, peacebuilding and human rights programs. Our efforts will focus on promoting good governance and the rule of law, strengthening civil society, expanding women’s political participation, and boosting business and labor support for democracy, particularly in young democracies and societies in conflict.

The protection of the most underrepresented or vulnerable is critical to broaden participation in the democratic process and prevent societal conflict. We will work to ensure adoption and ratification of international instruments designed to provide protection to these groups, in particular the speedy adoption of an International Labor Organization Convention on the eradication of intolerable forms of child labor. We will work through multilateral and regional organizations, particularly with the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD as well as in partnership with nongovernmental organizations and young democracies. We will also consider common efforts to promote democracy where it is not now established.

71. We have asked our Ministers to pursue these efforts and to make recommendations for consideration at our next Summit.

72. Democracy, economic growth and development cannot reach their full potential without good governance, in particular the accountability of political leaders and public servants, especially for corruption. We will actively work to eliminate corruption in aid-funded procurement. We will take prompt steps to criminalize, in an effective and coordinated manner, bribery of foreign public officials, and to implement previous undertakings on tax-deductibility of such bribes. We call upon all other countries to do the same. [End Page 183]


On June 27, four Cuban human rights activists representing the Working Group of Internal Dissidence presented foreign journalists with copies of “The Homeland Belongs to Us All,” a response to an official document published in June by the Cuban Communist Party to be delivered at the party’s upcoming congress. The four authors were promptly arrested for “counterrevolutionary activities.” Excerpts from the response appear below:

When you finish reading this document, you will be able to support us if we can agree on this initial assertion: Man cannot live from history, which is the same as living from stories. There is a need for material goods and for satisfying his spirituality, as well as being able to look to the future with expectations. But there is also a need for that openness that we all know as freedom.

The Cuban government ignores the word “opposition.” Those of us who do not share its political stance, or who simply don’t support it, are considered enemies and any number of other scornful designations that it chooses to proclaim. . . .

The [Cuban] state is not at the service of the citizens. Between them there is not even an egalitarian relationship of reciprocal rights and obligations. Instead, the citizen is at the service of the state. The laws do not respect the rights inherent in human beings, as demonstrated by innumerable denunciations of the violations of these rights as well as repeated sanctions against Cuba in the United Nations over this issue.

The government should resolve problems such as the matter of the right of Cubans to freely enter and leave the national territory and allowing the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and his team into the country. It must also be noted that there is no legal protection in the country, as it has been shown that the laws, and even the Constitution, can be modified overnight. Thus if other ideologies besides that advocated by the Communist Party were recognized, a Constituent Assembly should be convened with the main goal of modifying the existing constitution. The Constitution of 1940 could be used as a basis for the revisions, with the subsequent aim of holding multiparty elections.

Measures such as this are what the Communist Party should propose to try to avoid a spontaneous outbreak in the near future of incidents of social violence. It is impossible to continue leading the nation to its ruin without expecting an uncontrolled awakening of the populace in search of a rightful space within a civil society with democratic institutions. That which no one desires could well occur, and thus it is better to discuss solutions now than to plunge our homeland into mourning tomorrow.