Mexico splits in half

The election moves into the streets – and the U.S. needs to be paying attention
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MEXICO CITY (July 11th) -- A full week after the most viciously contested presidential election in its modern history, a Florida-sized fraud looms over the Mexican landscape and the nation has been divided almost exactly in half along political, economic, geographical and racial lines.

Mexico has always been two lands -- "Illusionary Mexico" and "Profound Mexico" is how sociologist Guillermo Bonfils described the great divide between rich and poor. But now, should it be allowed to stand, right-winger Felipe Calderon's severely questioned 243,000 vote victory over left-wing populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) will split the country exactly in half between the industrial north and the impoverished, highly indigenous south with each winning 16 states -- although the southern states won by Lopez Obrador, who also won Mexico City by a million votes, constitute 54% of the population.

Moreover, the disputed election pits an indignant Indian and mestizo underclass that believes AMLO was swindled out of the presidency by electoral fraud against a wealthy white conservative minority that controls the nation's media, its banks, and apparently, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), Mexico's maximum electoral authorities. Lopez Obrador charges the IFE and its president Luis Carlos Ugalde with orchestrating Calderon's uncertain triumph.

At a raucous July 8th rally that put a half million supporters in Mexico City's vast Zocalo plaza, the political heart of the nation, Lopez Obrador called upon his people to demand a complete vote by vote recount of the results. Speaking from a flatbed truck set up in front of the National Palace, the official seat of the Mexican government, the fiery, former Mexico City mayor characterized President Vicente Fox as "a traitor to democracy" and for the first time at a public meeting uttered the word "fraud," accusing the IFE of rigging the election to favor his opponent.

Indeed, fraud was the central motif of the mammoth meeting. Large photos of IFE president Luis Carlos Ugalde slugged "Wanted for Electoral Fraud" were slapped up on central city walls and tens of thousands of protestors waved home-made signs dissing the IFE official with such colorful epithets as "No To Your Fucking Fraud!" Throughout the rally, (which was billed as a "first informative assembly"), the huge throng repeatedly drowned out Lopez Obrador's pronouncements with thunderous chants of "Fraude Electoral!" At times, AMLO seemed on the verge of tears at the outpouring of support from the sea of brown faces that pressed in around the speakers' platform.

The gathering in the Zocalo signaled the kick-off to what is sometimes called "the second election in the street," a mass effort to pressure electoral officials into a ballot-by-ballot recount that Lopez Obrador is convinced will show that he was the winner July 2nd. The IFE has resolutely resisted such a recount.

AMLO, a gifted leader of street protest, is always at the top of his game when he is seen as an underdog battling the rich and powerful, and the next days will be heady ones here. This Wednesday (June 12th), the left leader is calling upon supporters in all 300 electoral districts across Mexico to initiate a national "exodus" for democracy that will converge upon the capital on Sunday, July 16th for a mega-march that may well turn out to be the largest political demonstration in the nation's history. Indeed, AMLO already set that mark in April 2005 when 1.2 million citizens surged through Mexico City to protest Fox's efforts to bar the leftist from the ballot; the president dropped his vendetta three days after the march.

But Lopez Obrador and his Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) will not just do battle in the streets.