Andres Oppenheimer

The 95-point political agreement signed by Mexico's three biggest political parties may have a positive impact on Mexico, and could teach a lesson of civility to the U.S. Congress as it continues fighting over how to avert a fiscal cliff.

The Pact for Mexico, as Mexico's national accord is named, was signed Dec. 2 by new Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and the leaders of the two biggest opposition parties. It is described by many as the most ambitious political accord ever signed by Mexico's political parties to modernize the country and make it more competitive. Among other things, the Pact for Mexico calls for creating universal social security and health care systems, and for passing education reforms that include teacher evaluations. It also calls for increasing private sector participation in the energy sector, an increase in the science and technology budget to 1 percent of the country's GDP, opening bids for two new television networks, and measures to create greater competition in the telecommunications industry.

Some of the Pact's proposals, such as the education and telecommunications reforms, are to be presented to Congress by Dec. 15. Others will be submitted to Congress over the next two years, according to a timetable included in the agreement.

While most Mexican political analysts have applauded the Pact as a first-of-its-kind agreement, skeptics point out that many of its clauses are vague statements of good intentions that may not be easy to pass through Congress. The devil is in the details, they say.

In addition, skeptics see the Pact as a "pacto de cupulas" (a deal among political bosses) that did not go through a formal process of approval by each party's membership, and may thus not be heeded by legislators.

The Pact was signed by Pena Nieto, ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party president Maria Cristina Diaz, right-of-center National Action Party president Gustavo Madero, and left-of-center Party for the Democratic Revolution President Jesus Zambrano. Hours after the signing ceremony, the PRD's leftist wing denounced that Zambrano had signed the deal without his party's approval.

Still, there is a general consensus that the Pact broke new ground. Mexico has long been locked in political gridlock, to the point that key energy, fiscal, social security and education reforms have languished in Congress for more than a decade. The day after the deal was signed, Mexico's stock market rose by 1.2 percent despite a decline in New York's stock exchange.

Jeffrey Davidow, a former head of the State Department's Latin American affairs office who also served as ambassador to Mexico during the Clinton administration, told me that "while it is a starting point, the Pact for Mexico is an impressive document." The national accord "reveals a level of political consensus that has generally been absent in recent years in Mexico," he said.

"Regrettably, in the United States, which is also facing the need to deal with major structural problems, we do not see evidence of the kind of cooperation and maturity," Davidow added.

My opinion: I agree. While it's far from sure that Mexico's political accord will produce concrete results - political quarrels among legislators may prevent it from resulting in meaningful laws - it's a major step forward for a country whose Congress has long been unable to agree on almost anything of substance.

Granted, the national accord is still nothing but a piece of paper. But in Mexico's increasingly vibrant democracy, where the media is not shy about demanding that politicians meet their promises, it will put pressure on legislators from across the political spectrum to meet their promises, or face public ridicule.

Perhaps even more important, the Pact for Mexico will give Pena Nieto a convenient political cover for taking measures against powerful labor unions and business monopolies that in many cases have strong ties to his own party. It will allow Pena Nieto to tell special interests, "There's nothing I can do about this: it's what the three parties have agreed before I took office."

If Pena Nieto has the guts to undertake the reforms Mexico badly needs to take off, the Pact for Mexico could be a great tool for untangling his country's political paralysis, and could serve as a great example for the deeply divided U.S. Congress.







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