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In the aftermath of the 1982 external debt crisis and in a very restrictive international environment, Mexico abandoned its inward-looking economic model and adopted a more open, export-led and market-oriented stance. Since 1988, the authorities have taken critical steps that induced an increasing level of internationalisation of the economy, and, in 1994, regional integration through the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). These reforms have led to important transformations in the country’s economic structure as well as in its trade patterns. On the social and political side, they have widened the income gaps between different social sectors and regions, and eroded support for the ruling party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party).
This paper seeks to understand the emergence of the Barzón movement in 1993-94 a few months after the emergence of the Zapatistas. Unlike the Chiapas rebels, the Barzón didn’t represent poor, indigenous, landless peasants, but rather, heavily indebted small and medium producers.
The paper is divided into five sections. The first reviews the main features of structural reforms in Mexico and their results, to explain the context in which the debtors’ organisation is rooted. The second and third parts of the paper show how financial opening and bank deregulation produced a growing indebtedness among rural producers, industrial SMEs and households, leading to the birth and first steps of the Barzón movement in 1993-94. The fourth section accounts for the explosion of the debtors’ movements since 1995, while the last deals with its successes and failures in defending its membership.
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