MEXICO CITY — Amid guerrilla attacks in the countryside and exceptional security in the capital, President Ernesto Zedillo marked his second state of the union address Sunday with an emotional pledge "to act with the full force of the state" against new leftist rebels he has labeled terrorists.
In a 90-minute speech intended to chart Mexico's course through another painful year of economic and political transition, an emotional Zedillo told a joint session of the Mexican Congress, "We will pursue each terrorist act with all our ability and strict application of the law."
Zedillo's hard-line stance against the Popular Revolutionary Army, whose lightning raids in central and southern Mexico have left at least 16 dead since Wednesday and shaken the nation's capital, won a standing ovation from Mexico's senior military officers and members of its mainstream political parties.
But some opposition legislators and independent analysts were more critical of Zedillo's political, social and economic vision in a speech that was built around the theme of "a new era" but differed little in content from his first such address a year ago.
The 45-year-old Zedillo promised to intensify his government's efforts against corruption, organized crime, kidnapping, public insecurity and drug trafficking, which he called "the most serious and violent, most destructive and corrupting threat we face."
On the economy, the Yale-educated economist said he remains committed to a free-market austerity plan that has lifted Mexico from a devastating recession that began with Zedillo's December 1994 peso devaluation.
The president promised to unveil a strategy later this year that he said will produce 4% growth in 1997 and further consolidate Mexico's economic recovery. But he conceded, "Consolidation of the recovery will not be sufficient in the short term to repair the damage to living standards caused by the crisis."
To blunt widespread public discontent--a potential reservoir of support for armed rebel movements--Zedillo announced a pilot project to subsidize food bills for mothers and expand their access to state health care. But the project was the only apparent increase in social spending mentioned in the speech.
And on the political front, the president predicted that an electoral reform bill recently passed by Congress will level Mexico's political playing field as Zedillo's long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party prepares for key polls next year--among them the first-ever direct election of Mexico City's mayor.
"All in all, the democratic progress underway does not mark the end of the road but merely the beginning of a new era," Zedillo said.
But the president's critics charged that he offered no major new programs to address the impact of the economic crisis, rampant crime and corruption and deep poverty--all themes that the new rebel force is using to justify its attacks on soldiers and police officers.
During Zedillo's speech, opposition legislator Marco Rascon wore a pig's-head mask and stood silently on the floor of Congress, holding up 30 printed signs. Rascon's sardonic slogans criticized everything from the president's war on corruption to his tough military line on the rebels. One sign simply stated: "Oink! Oink! Oink! Oink!"
Rascon's appearance provoked a tussle in which the opposition parties showed their deep divisions: Several leaders of the conservative National Action Party had to tackle their former presidential candidate to prevent him from accosting Rascon, who is a member of the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party.
"You saw the total lack of authority here, both by the president and the opposition," concluded independent lawmaker Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, Zedillo's most consistent detractor. "It shows how divided the opposition is. It's an absolutely narrow-minded lack of vision that showed today--both by the government and the opposition."
Independent political analyst Emilio Zebadua was less critical. He said Zedillo's tough, emotional stand against the rebels was a response to "a direct challenge to Zedillo's presidency. He's taking it personally. The [rebel force] has challenged him."
And on Zedillo's lack of substance in a speech that attempted to balance democratic reform with counterinsurgency, and free-market economics with public spending--in a nation still mired in poverty, Zebadua said: "It's hard to get anything substantial or new from this kind of event. He wants to present the image that he's doing his job routinely, laboriously."