The Mexican political world was upended in 2000 when the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost the presidency after more than seventy years in power. Today, the PRI is the country’s strongest opposition party and is trying to make its way back to Los Pinos (the Mexican presidential house). Key to the party’s ambitions has been its president since 2007, Beatriz Paredes, who is also a federal representative in the Mexican Congress and vice president of Socialist International, the worldwide organization of social democratic, socialist and labor parties.

Paredes got an early start in politics. In 1974, at the age of twenty-one, she was elected state representative and just a few years later she was appointed undersecretary for agrarian reform. In 1987, she became the second woman in Mexican history to rise to the level of state governor. As leader of the PRI, Paredes has restored the party’s political brand and has become one of the most powerful players in Mexican politics. When her term as PRI’s president ends this month, she plans to continue serving in Congress as well as to continue her work for Socialist International.

Beatriz Paredes is a composer and singer, a political fan of U.S. President Barack Obama and former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, not to mention a highly accomplished politician in her own right who was first elected to office at the age of twenty-one and has served as president of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party for the last four years.

C&E recently caught up with Paredes to discuss her political experience and vision:
C&E: How would you address the political disaffection experienced by so many Mexicans? What would you say to those who think all political parties are the same?
Paredes: I am not convinced that a party’s role is to increase its membership. I believe that political parties have to help inform citizens so that they understand their civil rights as well as their obligations. In election campaigns, parties should put forth a set of positions so that voters know what their options are and can make a choice that helps define the future course of their society.
The primary goal of a political party should be to make politics reputable again. This goal can only be achieved through consistency in what politicians think, what they say and what they do. This consistency must be verifiable by the people so they do not feel cheated or let down.
C&E: What would Beatriz Paredes say to a woman who is interested in getting involved in politics, but feels unwelcome because she is a woman?
Paredes: I would emphasize that it is of fundamental importance to have clear objectives, to have reason on your side and to have a sense of what you want to bring to the political world. I would tell aspiring female politicians that they must push to achieve their goals, that they must not allow themselves to become dispirited and that they must be prepared to open doors themselves.

Paredes with local party members.
C&E: Political consultants have been widely criticized in recent years, and their role has been questioned. Do you believe that political consultants play a positive role in politics or not?
Paredes: I believe that there are good political consultants, and good political consultants play a positive role. There are also bad consultants, and they discredit and dishonor politics. I think that it is an important profession, and professionalizing is always useful. As a result of the effort to systematize, politicians who are bogged down in their everyday work have analytical resources at their disposal. I also think it is essential to distinguish between the role of the consultant and that of the candidate.
C&E: What is the main challenge that your party will face in the next five years or so?
Paredes: On the one hand, I believe that it is imperative that the PRI offer a clear benefit to Mexican society. I share a vision of a social democratic party that recognizes Mexico’s current needs, especially the need to be able to develop in the twenty-first century in an inclusive, prosperous and equal way.
On the other hand, I think that we face the challenge of winning successive elections and of ensuring that the officials elected from our party govern well.
C&E: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment? Is there room for improvement in your tenure as leader of the PRI?
Paredes: I have been very critical of my term. I would have liked to have had more time to consolidate our training strategy. My professional experience is very much tied to training processes and adult education, and I had hoped to have put in place a sort of think tank devoted to training future party leaders. I have also fallen short on some of my initial strategic projects. I have advanced the PRI’s commitment to environmental issues and climate change, but not to the extent that I would have liked. From my point of view, I still have some unfinished business.
On the more positive side of things, in electoral terms we have had a notable recovery. We have gone from being a minor political force in 2006 to being the first in the country. We have a relative majority in Congress [i.e., more representatives than any other single party], and now have more elected congressmen than we did in 1994. If it weren’t for the “over-representation” clause, [which limits the number of at-large representatives that a single party can have], we would have a simple majority in Congress.
Paredes holds a copy of the Latin American edition of Campaigns & Elections
C&E: What lies in store for Beatriz Paredes after she leaves the party leadership?
Paredes: I will remain a legislator in Congress. I like this role, because I have extensive parliamentary experience and I have important legislative projects underway. I look forward to being a legislator who has more time to devote to legislation rather than to running a political party. I am also vice president of the Socialist International.
It is the first time that the PRI has had such an important role in this family of social democratic parties. I also like to sing and compose music and I like to write, so there are thousands of things in store for me.
C&E: What is the best lesson that you have learned from a political campaign?
Paredes: That electoral results can change in the last two days.
C&E: Please recommend a book and a movie.
Paredes: Doctor Zhivago is a great movie, nominated for many Oscars. It is a film adaptation of a book by Boris L. Pasternak that tells the story of the Russian Revolution. And as for a book, I will always recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.
Israel Navarro is associate editor for the Latin American edition of C&E.