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Exclusive Interview: New Oaxaca Governor on State’s Power Shift

December 01, 2010

Gabino Cué, the new governor of Oaxaca state in Mexico, spoke with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis on location in his transitional offices in the days leading up to his December 1 inauguration. Through an unlikely political alliance that included the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Cué won a historic July 2010 election to become the state’s first opposition governor in more than eight decades. He takes over from Ulises Ruiz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who may be investigated on corruption and human rights abuse charges after stepping down.

Cué, who lost to Ruiz in a 2004 election marred by fraud allegations, talks about how he plans to move his resource-rich but poverty-plagued state beyond 2006 protests that drew international attention as well as how his government plans to unify disparate ideologies of the alliance that backed him during the election. “We built an opposition alliance that had at its core an agenda for a democratic transition that would tackle issues important to all parties,” says Cué. “We’re going to build our government in the same way.” The new governor also touches on topics ranging from national security to investment prospects to the 2012 presidential vote.

  • Usted puede leer la entrevista en español aquí.

AS/COA Online: You are replacing Governor Ulises Ruiz, who has the lowest approval rating of all the governors in Mexico. As the first opposition governor of Oaxaca in more than 80 years, what will be the first action your government takes to set Oaxaca on a new path?

Cué: First of all, we are experiencing a historic moment in Oaxaca where, after more than 80 years, the opposition won. There are great expectations when power shifts take place. And what we’ve said is that, at first, we want to do all we can to transition power from an authoritarian regime to a democratic regime. This means we have to dismantle the form in which practices have been carried out, which did little to support democracy. So, an important change will be the ways and style of relating to the electorate, the people, and those we govern.

The next change will be a package of institutional reforms that will allow us to move forward on practical themes: transparency, auditing, strengthening of autonomous agencies, the handling of human rights—all of which are, without a doubt, crucial in a state that has experienced so many violations of individuals’ rights. We have to do this through institutional changes that allow for better collaboration and equilibrium between powers—such as legislative power and judicial power—that permits greater independence and collaboration.

So I would say that the changes will be institutional, and it will be a new regime that shifts toward greater plurality. I’ve said that we are going to create a coalition government, made up of women and men of different party affiliations, and civil society will join us in this task. From there, we’re going to set up the bases to take on specific themes that are related to economic and social issues.

AS/COA Online: In 2006, Oaxaca attracted international attention due to the dozen killings that occurred here in connection with protests that paralyzed the state’s capital city. Moreover, in 2010, human rights workers, including one from Finland, were killed in the rural town of San Juan Copala. Do you have a plan to improve Oaxaca’s image on an international level and improve the human rights situation on a state level?

Cué: Yes, I believe this is a local, national, and international concern. Sadly, as you mentioned, Oaxaca has been the subject of unpleasant news regarding human rights violations, particularly on deaths of social leaders and participants in social movements. Obviously, the fact that the opposition is taking over has created expectations for creating solutions.

We’ve already said we will do all we can to bring about justice. But we won’t seek justice by adopting a factious attitude, nor by antagonizing adversaries or outgoing government officials, but rather by conducting a serious investigation and analysis.

In every case we will need to pay special attention to the conflicts and to the deaths related to the 2006 conflict—the deaths of activist leaders.

The issue of San Juan Copala requires special attention. It’s an area of tension and it’s a case linked to problems going back many years where social groups are active but the government is absent. So we’re going to do all we can in order to, first, achieve peace and, second, bring about reconciliation and forgiveness while creating an institutional presence that will allow us to raise the living standards of the people in that region.

AS/COA Online: Oaxaca is a place with vast natural resources, but also with a great deal of social inequity. What are the sectors that you believe offer the best chance for development and investment? Moreover, many Oaxacans leave the state to migrate to other parts of Mexico and beyond. How can more opportunities be created for Oaxacans who want to start their own businesses and contribute to the state economy?

Cué: I have proposed that all government efforts should go exactly in this direction. Not only to raise living standards, but also to generate conditions for investment and, along with that, jobs. This change will be a priority for us. Many people have to emigrate because they don’t find opportunities in their communities. Many people essentially have to leave for the middle and the north of the country to look for what they can’t find here. So we have to create peaceful and secure conditions for investment.

The paradox is that Oaxaca, being a state immensely rich in natural resources, forests, beaches, coastline, fertile land, and skilled labor, has to send people away because there have not been economic programs that permit them to take advantage of Oaxaca’s productive sectors. So, by reconfiguring the Secretariat of Tourism and Economy and by creating clusters, we’re going to look for ways to integrate products such as coffee, mezcal, and all that Oaxaca produces to make these sectors much more profitable.

AS/COA Online: You, like other new governors, supported the federal reform to create a unified Mexican police force. How do you believe this law could change the security situation here in the state as well as at a national level?

Cué: Well, a priority for my government, and also a priority at the national level, is the issue of security. President [Felipe] Calderón has been insisting on the idea of a strategy involving a unified command as a way to boost the capacity of our police forces to allow for better coordination and greater efficiency to fight delinquency and crime.

Our position is one of solidarity with this policy, while continuing to ensure the feasibility of carrying it out in Oaxaca, where many of our towns don’t even have a police force. Thus, we’re going to keep participating so Oaxaca plays the role it should in the national strategy, which seeks to consolidate our system of control over security, create anti-kidnapping measures, and deploy the tools we have in the best way possible to confront crime.

AS/COA Online: You were elected through an alliance of different parties, including the PAN and PRD. The officials of your government come from all these various political forces. How will the people of your government work together in spite of ideological differences among parties?

Cué: I believe in alliances. I believe that alliances are built around areas of accord. We built an opposition alliance that had at its core an agenda for a democratic transition that would tackle issues important to all parties. We’re going to build our government in the same way.

[On November 22] I received the preliminary government program, which draws on the parties’ political visions as well as our own commitments. This will become the government plan, bringing together good ideas from across the parties. The plan, which outlines the responsibilities of various parties, will build a cabinet of women and men who come from these parties. And what will be the objective that unifies us? Implementing the plan, independently of the vision that each party has on specific themes, which will remain within party spheres. But there has to be a government plan that brings us together.

AS/COA Online: Despite pronouncements by some national leaders against an alliance of the PAN and PRD for the 2012 presidential elections, do you see an opportunity for opposing parties to work together in the face of a resurgent PRI?

Cué: Each election is different and each year the parties define their strategies on whether to align or not align. I don’t know what will be the strategy of the parties, first in the elections of 2011 [for governor of the state of Mexico] and later in 2012. We will be careful and respectful of these decisions. We’re going to work for everyone, without distinguishing between parties, to fulfill a constitutional mandate to govern for all. And, well, the parties will have their electoral strategies. And we’ll be observing.

AS/COA Online: Due to the fact that governors can only serve one term in Mexico, you will be governor of Oaxaca for just six years. What do you see yourself doing after you step down at the end of 2016?

Cué: I am a professional politician—that’s my vocation. Right now I’m focused on creating good government. I’m devoting everything to this end. In 2016 I’ll see what I’ll dedicate myself to next.