Two years ago, in the midst of the Iguala student crisis, he walked away from the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) that he had himself founded after squaring off with a leadership that refused to address the trainee teacher tragedy.
Since then, Cárdenas has been staying away from the vertigo of everyday politics, but not from politics entirely. He now quietly leads a project named Por México Hoy (For Mexico Today), which aims to channel social anger in order to change the country’s Constitution.
At the age of 82, the man whose close circle refers to him as El Ingeniero (The Engineer) exhibits a calm and courteous demeanor – one that only the subject of Donald Trump can shake.
Question. What does it mean to be a leftist in Mexico?
Answer. There are many lefts. To each his own judgment. There is no judge or pattern to decide who is a leftist.
Q. Has the left become estranged from citizens?
A. Not just the left. All parties in general have failed to work sufficiently near the people.
Q. The PRD, the party that you founded and turned into a force capable of running for the presidency, is now in crisis. What’s happening?
A. Internal groups carry too much weight, and decisions are made on the basis of quotas. That is a mistake. Not enough attention has been paid to the grassroots or to its presence among citizens.
Q. Has the fracture within the PRD hurt the left?
A. There is no reason why everyone must necessarily be in the same party. It’s just like in Spain, where not everyone has to be part of the United Left or Podemos or the Socialist Party.
Q. Describe your ideal presidential candidate.
A. I am not interested in the candidate’s height or weight. I want to hear about proposals. And I’m not hearing anything.
Q. What do you think about the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto?
A. Let’s look at the results. Two million more people living in poverty, an economy that is not growing fast enough, uncontained violence, greater concentration of wealth, no in-depth fight against corruption…
Q. Do you see the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in crisis?
A. What I see in crisis is this country’s economic and political model. This model is leading us to more problems, to a state of disrepute. And the PRI cannot escape from it.
Q. What is your prescription for improving the model?
A. A policy for economic growth and industrialization, with a priority on job creation. A real education reform that is viewed not merely as a matter of social justice but as an engine of economic growth. And fighting crime through direct action and other measures in education, jobs, health and issues affecting our youth.
Q. Is Mexican politics lacking grandeur?
A. There is no doubt about it; there is no national project. This country also used to have an international policy that was once recognized abroad, but which has been abandoned. We need to recover our spot in the global arena. We were once leaders in the Americas.
Q. What did you think of Trump’s visit to Mexico?
A. It was a visit by a boor – someone who was welcomed cordially and ceremoniously, and who five minutes later was already ranting about his host.
Q. And what do you think will happen with him in the White House?
A. No [US] president walks into the job thinking about what he’s going to do for Mexico. But he will not be good to us, because he has shown a lot of hostility towards Mexicans. Although reality often imposes certain conducts.
Q. Have you considered returning to active politics?
A. I am in active politics now, but I will not be a candidate to any popularly elected position.
Q. What have you done right and wrong throughout your career?
A. What I did wrong, I couldn’t say; and what I did right was to make sure that my actions were always consistent with my words.
English version by Susana Urra.