Moments after donning the sash that officially made him the president of Mexico for the next six years, Miguel de la Madrid, 47, today delivered a blunt appraisal of the crisis he faces as he assumes office and warned of austere times ahead.
"We suffer an inflation that almost reaches 100 percent this year," the new president said in his inaugural address, using figures that Mexican public officials usually avoid. Saying that the nation confronts the highest unemployment in years, he placed economic growth at "zero" and said that foreign exchange income apart from oil receipts was "paralyzed."
De la Madrid described the radical and controversial September nationalization of all domestic banks as "irreversible." But his new Cabinet and a 10-point program for "Rapid Economic Reordering" suggested that the "new chapter" he will dictate in Mexican history basically leads toward austerity and the economic right. He proposed a slowdown in growth of public spending and hinted that taxes might be raised.
The economic crisis here has raised major worries in the United States about possibilities ranging from increased illegal emigration to bank failures on Wall Street if Mexico were to default on its more than $80 billion in debts. Tensions were heightened when Mexican politicians seemed to make Washington the scapegoat for most of this country's problems.
The new president, however, implicitly but obviously placed most of the blame for the crisis on his predecessor Jose Lopez Portillo. De la Madrid depicted the Mexico he inherits as full of corruption and on the verge of moral as well as economic bankruptcy.
The indirect criticism came despite De la Madrid's membership in the same party as Lopez Portillo -- the party that has dominated this country completely for half a century. Lopez Portillo virtually handpicked De la Madrid as his successor a little more than a year ago.
With a few exceptions, the new Cabinet announced last night is dominated by men like De la Madrid who are relatively young and have longstanding ties to the new president as part of Mexico's technocratic elite.
A key indication of the new administration's economic direction was the decision to keep Jesus Silva Herzog, 47, in the post of treasury minister. He pushed tough austerity measures in April, although they were not observed. He then took on the responsibility of negotiating a crucial agreement with the International Monetary Fund after the economy crashed in August.
Interior Minister Manuel Bartlett Diaz, 46, and Foreign Minister Bernardo Sepulveda were top advisers to De la Madrid when he was secretary of planning and budget.
Bartlett Diaz was campaign director for De la Madrid after his nomination last year and is considered one of the nation's more astute and honest politicians.
Sepulveda, 40, was ambassador to the United States until his appointment as foreign minister. His background includes extensive academic credentials and a stint as director of the Treasury Ministry's Directorate for International Financial Affairs.
Today's inaugural address did not deal at any length with foreign policy questions, a source of constant friction with Washington on the issue of how to cope with Central America's wave of revolutions. But in a recent interview, Sepulveda said that no major changes should be expected and that relations are likely to remain close with Cuba and Nicaragua.
Among the invited guests were Salvadoran and Guatemalan leftist opposition leaders, Nicaraguan Sandinista commanders and Cuban Vice President Carlos Rafael Rodriguez. Ambassador John Gavin led the U.S. delegation, and the governors of Arizona and New Mexico were invited guests.
The tone of the 10-point economic plan harks back to the kind of measures Silva Herzog put forth in April and the IMF tends to demand of loan recipients.
The first point is a reduction in the growth of public spending, which De la Madrid blames for the rampant inflation. He talked of preserving public services at the "indispensable level" in a context of "an austere budget."
The last point emphasizes the government's economic role as part of a mixed economy rather than within a state-controlled economy that some businessmen had feared when the banks were nationalized.
De la Madrid called for readjusted exchange controls. Set in early September, they artificially pegged the peso at 70 to the dollar, spawning parallel and black markets where it trades for as much as 130 per dollar.
The theme struck most often in the speech was the need for honesty and an end to corruption. De la Madrid called for strict new laws and even stricter examples.