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Margaret Thatcher and México

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Margaret Thatcher, who died earlier this month, confronted British trade unions in the 1980s, in order to revitalize Britain.

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto wants to do something similar, in order to shake up his country's stagnant economy.

At the same time, Peña is different from Thatcher, who famously said: "I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician".

For his part, Peña and his Institutional Revolutionary Party prefer to build alliances with the main opposition groups, especially the center-right National Action Party, whose candidates won the last two presidential elections, and the center-left Revolutionary Democrats, whose candidates in both cases came second.

To build consensus, Peña has promised a new, modern PRI, cleansed of the party's old failings of corruption and crony capitalism.

But the task may be hard, following recent allegations by both opposition parties, that the PRI in the state of Veracruz uses social programs to buy votes.

As far as union-busting is concerned, Thatcher 30 years ago broke the power of some of Britain's most powerful labor groups, including the miners.

Mexican unions may be tougher.

Radical schoolteachers in the Pacific Coast states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Michoacán have grown increasingly violent, in response to the government's plan to end what it considers self-serving practices, including the exclusive right of the union to fill job vacancies in public schools.

Meanwhile, masked "community policemen" have emerged, who challenge the established authorities.

The consensus concept is very attractive for a nation such as Mexico, beset by years of violence.

Likewise, there is widespread approval for a plan to put an end to what is known as the "México profundo", in which vested interests invisibly wield a significant measure of power.

To achieve both goals, Peña may need to be both tougher and more conciliatory than Maggie.