No Mexican Yells `E-U-M! E-U-M!'

United States of Mexico sounds too much like its northern neighbor, so Viva Mexico!

WHAT'S in a name? Plenty if you're from a nation bordered on the north by the United States and the south by Guatemala.


Wrong, Jalapeno Breath.

If you read the Mexican Constitution of 1917, the country's official name is the United States of Mexico. It's there in 18 places. You can also check the seal on Mexican currency: ``Estados Unidos Mexicanos.''

But over the last 170 years (it was first used officially in 1824), the rubric hasn't stuck. You don't hear Mexican sports fans cheering ``E-U-M! E-U-M!'' at the Olympics the way you hear US fans chanting ``U-S-A!''

Or, on Sept. 15, the most nationalistic day of the year, when Mexicans gather in town squares across the land to celebrate the historic ``El Grito'' or the shout for independence, they don't yell: ``Viva los Estados Unidos Mexicanos!'' Rather, it's ``Viva Mexico!''

Since before the Spanish Conquistadores, it has been Mexico. Nobody uses the official handle.

So, befitting his reputation as a pragmatic reformer determined to modernize Mexico, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari reportedly directed a legislator from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to draw up a law to make the necessary changes.

The reason cited, according to a draft published in local papers, is that given the newly forged North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it would be wise to avoid ``confusion between the United States of Mexico and the United States of America.''

Whatever his intentions, President Salinas kicked over a political hornets nest. The opposition parties claim he is caving in to US pressure.

``Not only do we sign a commercial treaty disadvantageous to us, now we've got to change the name of the country,'' fumed Alfonso Ramirez Cuellar of the left-center Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

Another PRD legislator demanded, ``If the name is causing confusion, why doesn't the United States [of America] change its name?''

Another critic opines sarcastically, ``I'm surprised that the neo-liberals' proposal wasn't to make it `Neo-Mexico.' ''

Others see it as a subtle but important shift in the Mexican government. ``This isn't just a simple name change'' writes columnist Alvaro Cepeda Neri. ``This is a frontal attack on federalism ... and all it signifies: decentralization, division of power, democracy, federal judicial order, and every one of the 31 states.''

EVEN within the governing PRI party, there's confusion over the rationale for the name change.

A few flatly oppose it. ``We are the United States of Mexico, not disunified Mexico,'' one PRI senator says.

Some PRI members don't care either way.

Others openly wonder if there aren't more important issues for the Mexican congress to deal with.

Supporters don't see it as bowing to the Yanquis, but as a nationalist move that erases the shameful ``original sin'' (as one put it) of copying the USA name and Constitution.

But even the ``Mexico only'' advocates say the timing of the proposal, just days after NAFTA's passage, was poor because the NAFTA link opens the door to a flood of ``misinterpretations'' over the motives for the change.

PRI members are already backpedaling on the issue, saying they will put off debate of the bill until April. But they may be too late to quell the controversy. There are calls now for a national referendum.

A commentator wryly observed: ``We'll vote for Mexico. But we'll have to hold a second vote to decide whether to spell it Mexico or Mejico.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.