MEXICO CITY (July 19th) – The day before Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the peppery Mexican left leader who insists he is the winner of the fraud-marred July 2nd election, summoned more than a million Mexicans to the great central Zocalo plaza to lay out plans for mass civil resistance to prevent right-winger Felipe Calderon from stealing the presidency, this reporter marched down from the neighboring Morelos state with a group of weather-beaten campesinos the color of the earth.
Saul Franco and his companeros farmed plots in the village of Anenecuilco, the hometown of revolutionary martyr Emiliano Zapata who gave his life to defend the community's land from the big hacienda owners. "It is our obligation to fix this fraud and kick the rich out of power," Saul explained. "If Zapata was still alive he would be with us today," the 52 year-old farmer insisted, echoing the sentiment on the hand-lettered cardboard sign he carried.
But although Saul and his companions admired and supported Lopez Obrador, they were not so happy with AMLO's party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution or PRD. "We had a PRD mayor and things went badly and we lost the next time around," remembered Pedro, Saul's cousin. Indeed, many PRD candidates are simply made-over members of the once-ruling (71 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI who have climbed on Lopez Obrador's coattails to win public office. In 57% of all elections the PRD has won, the party has failed to win reelection.
Yet the farmers drew a clear distinction between AMLO's "Party of the Aztec Sun" and Lopez Obrador himself. "Andres Manuel will never surrender. He is decided. He will never double-cross us or sell us out." Saul was adamant.
It is that aura of dedication and combativeness and the belief that, in contrast with other leaders that have risen from the Mexican left, that AMLO cannot be bought or co-opted, that helped draw 1.1 million (police estimates) or 1.5 million (PRD estimates) Mexicans to the Zocalo, the political heart of the nation, July 16th.
The numbers of those in attendance – the line of march extended for 13 kilometers and moved continuously for five hours – are integral to AMLO's notion that these are historic moments for Mexico. Only if this understanding is impressed upon the seven-judge electoral tribunal (TRIFE) that must decide who won the fiercely-contested July 2nd election will the panel order the opening of all 130,000 ballot boxes and allow a vote-by-vote recount.
Lopez Obrador is convinced that he has won the presidency of Mexico from his right-wing rival, Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN), who was awarded a severely critiqued 243,000-vote margin by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) on the basis of what now appear to be manipulated computer tallies.
The July 16th outpouring may or may not have been the largest political demonstration in Mexican history. AMLO himself set the previous record back in April 2005, when he put 1.2 million citizens into the streets of Mexico City to protest efforts by President Vicente Fox, a PANista like Calderon, to exclude him from the ballot. But what is most important in this numbers game is not how many were turned out at each event but the exponential growth of the gatherings. Back in 2005, AMLO called a rally in the Zocalo that drew 325,000 supporters. Two weeks later, he tripled the size of the turnout, forcing Fox to drop his scheme to prevent Lopez Obrador from running for president.
Six days after the July 2nd election, AMLO summoned a half million to an "informative assembly" in the vast Tienanmen-Square-sized plaza, and once again, if the PRD figures are to be accepted, tripled participation last Sunday. He is now calling for a third "informative assembly" July 30th which, given the statistical trend, should settle the question of which is the largest mass demonstration in Mexican political history.