Clinton visit to Mexico raises wave of protest

President meets criticism of bias towards ruling party, writes Phil Davison

It was Mexico's equivalent of the Alamo. As American forces stormed Mexico City's Chapultepec Castle 150 years ago, a group of teenage Mexican military cadets made a last stand. The six last survivors, one of them wrapped in Mexico's tricolor flag, hurled themselves over the ramparts rather than surrender.

In a gesture of reconciliation a century and a half after the neighbours' three-year war, US President Bill Clinton laid a wreath on Tuesday at the castle site known as the Ninos Heroes (Boy Heros) monument.

The 1847 battle, and the Mexican-American war in general - in which 50,000 Mexicans died and the nation lost what are now Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and parts of Nevada, Utah and Colorado - left a deep wound on the Mexican psyche.

That was part of the reason several hundred Mexicans protested Mr Clinton's first official visit to his southern neighbour, burning an American flag and yelling "Yankee go home!" More specifically, they were angered by Mr Clinton's support for President Ernesto Zedillo's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), a long-ruling monster most resembling the old Soviet communist party but with little discernible ideology other than to cling to power.

Many Mexicans blame successive US governments for allowing the PRI to retain power for almost seven decades, traditionally through fraud, in the interests of regional stability but at the expense of democracy and human rights.

In a report last week, the US-based group Human Rights Watch/Americas slammed the Mexican government and the PRI for what it called widespread violence against peasants and political opponents throughout southern Mexico.

Also last week, 12 European tourists were expelled from Mexico simply for following a colourful anti-government protest march by Chol Indians in the state of Chiapas.

Mr Clinton attempted to offset criticism of pro-PRI bias through historic meetings - no US president had ever done so - with two opposition leaders from both the left and the right of the PRI. The two parties, the catholic and conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the social-democratic Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have gained ground in recent years as outside pressure forced the PRI to jettison, slowly and reluctantly, some of its old fraudulent habits and edge at least in the direction of democracy.

But Mexican analysts noted that Mr Clinton gave only 15 minutes each to the opposition leaders and said the PRI's continuing control of much of the press - including through cash payments and perks to political reporters - would ensure that Mr Zedillo would benefit most from Mr Clinton's visit, his first as President to any Latin American nation.

It was no coincidence, those analysts say, that Mr Zedillo wanted the US President in town before crucial congressional and local elections in July. For the first time, pundits are predicting the PRI could lose its congressional majority. Also at stake is the new, elective post of Governor of Mexico City - replacing the old system of a hand-picked (by the ruling party) mayor - seen likely to be the second most powerful figure in the country.

Mr Clinton and Mr Zedillo signed several agreements but they were described variously by diplomats "symbolic", "modest" or "small-bore". There was no sign of progress on the key issues of drug trafficking through Mexico, Mexican anger at tougher US immigration laws or whether US anti-narcotics agents can carry weapons in Mexico.

Mr Clinton was yesterday moving on to San Jose, Costa Rica, for a summit with Central American leaders, followed by a Caribbean summit in Barbados at the weekend.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific