The crowds -- huge crowds -- protest a corupt election in Mexico City. But what's the endgame?
MEXICO CITY, Aug. 24th -- The Congress of the country is ringed by two-meter tall grilled metal barriers soldered together, apparently to thwart a suicide car-bomb attack. Behind this metal wall, 3000 vizored, kevlar-wearing robocops -- the Federal Preventative Police (PFP, a police force drawn from the army) -- and members of the elite Estado Mayor or presidential military command, form a second line of defense. Armed with tear gas launchers, water cannons, and reportedly light tanks, this Praetorian Guard has been assigned to protect law and order and the institutions of the republic against left-wing mobs that threaten to storm the Legislative Palace - or so the president informs his fellow citizens in repeated messages transmitted on national television.
No, the president's name is not Pinochet and this military tableau is not being mounted in the usual banana republic or some African satrap. This is Mexico, a paragon of democracy (dixit George Bush), Washington's third trading partner, and the eighth leading petroleum producer on the planet, seven weeks after the fraud-marred July 2nd presidential election of which, at this writing, no winner has been officially declared. One of the elite military units assigned to seal off congress is indeed titled the July 2nd brigade.
“MEXICO ON A KNIFEBLADE” headlines the British Guardian. The typically short-term-memory-loss U.S. print media seems to have forgotten about the imbroglio just south of its borders. Nonetheless, the phone rings and it's New York telling me they just got a call from their man on the border and Homeland Security is beefing up its forces around Laredo in anticipation of upheaval further south. The phone rings again and it's California telling me they just heard on Air America that U.S. Navy patrols were being dispatched to safeguard Mexican oil platforms in the Gulf. The left-wing daily La Jornada runs a citizen-snapped photo of army convoys arriving carrying soldiers disguised as farmers and young toughs. Rumors race through the seven mile-long encampment installed by supporters of leftist presidential challenger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) three weeks ago, who have tied up big city traffic and enraged the motorist class here, that PFP robocops will attack before dawn. The campers stay up all night huddled around bum fires prepared to defend their tent cities.
The moment reminds many Mexicans of the tense weeks in September and October 1968 when, 12 days before the Olympic Games were to be inaugurated here, President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz ordered the military to massacre striking students in a downtown plaza not far from where AMLO's people are now camped out. Some 300 were killed in the Plaza of Three Cultures, their bodies incinerated at Military Camp #1 in western Mexico City. The Tlatelolco massacre was a watershed in social conflict here and the similarities are sinister-- in fact, Lopez Obrador has taken to comparing outgoing President Vicente Fox with Diaz Ordaz.
Fox will go to congress September 1st to deliver his final State of the Union address; the new legislature will be convened the same day. The country may or may not have a new president by that day. In anticipation of this show-down, on August 14th, newly-elected senators and deputies from the three parties that comprise AMLO's Coalition for the Good of All attempted to encamp on the sidewalk in front of the legislative palace only to be rousted and clobbered bloody by the President's robocops.
With 160 representatives, the Coalition forms just a quarter of the 628 members of the new congress, but its members will be a loud minority during Fox's “Informe.” Since the 1988 presidenciales were stolen from Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, founder of AMLO's Party of the Democratic Revolution, PRD legislators have routinely interrupted the president during this authoritarian ritual in orchestrated outbursts that have sometimes degenerated into partisan fisticuffs.
The first to challenge the Imperial Presidency was Porfirio Munoz Ledo, a hoary political warhorse, who in 1988 thrust a finger at President Miguel De la Madrid, accusing him of overseeing the theft of the election from Cardenas. Munoz Ledo's J'Acuse stunned the political class; he was slugged and pummeled by members of De la Madrid's long-ruling PRI when he tried to escape the chamber. Munoz Ledo now stands at AMLO's side.
But perhaps the most comical moment in the annals of acting out during the Informe came in 1996 when a brash PRI deputy donned a Babe the Valiant Pig mask and positioned himself directly under the podium from which President Ernesto Zedillo was addressing the state of the nation and wiggled insouciant signs with slogans that said things like 'EAT THE RICH!" Like Munoz Ledo, Marco Rascon was physically attacked, his mask ripped off like he was a losing wrestler by a corrupt railroad union official -- who in turn was hammer locked by a pseudo-leftist senator, Irma "La Tigresa" Serrano, a one-time ranchero singers and, in fact, the former mistress of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz.
This September 1st, if martial law is not declared and the new Congress dissolved before it is even installed, the PRD delegation -- which will no doubt be strip-searched by the Estado Mayor for incriminating banners -- is sworn to create a monumental ruckus, shredding the tarnished decorum of this once-solemn event forever to protest Fox's endorsement of electoral larceny. Some solons say they may go naked.
But no matter what kind of uproar develops, one can be secure that it will not be shown on national television, as the cameras of Mexico's two-headed television monstrosity Televisa and TV Azteca will stay trained on the President as he tries to mouth the stereotypical cliches that is always the stuff and fluff of this otherwise stultifying seance. The images of the chaos on the floor of congress will not be passed along to the Great Unwashed.
There is a reptilian feel to Mexico seven weeks after a discredited Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) cemented Lopez Obrador into a second place coffin by awarding the presidency to right-winger Felipe Calderon by a mere 243,000 votes out of a total 42,000,000 cast. Both Calderon and IFE czar Luis Carlos Ugalde (Calderon was best man at Ugalde's wedding) make these little beady reptile eyes as they slither across national screens.
Those screens have been the scenes of some of the slimiest and most sordid political intrigue of late. One of the lizard kings who is fleetingly featured on Televisa primetime is an imprisoned Argentinean construction tycoon, Carlos Ahumada, who in 2004 conspired with Fox, Calderon's PAN, and Televisa to frame AMLO on corruption charges and take him out of the presidential election. El Peje" (for a gar-like fish from the swamps of Lopez Obrador's native Tabasco) was then leading the pack by 18 points.
Charged by Lopez Obrador, then the mayor of this megalopolis, with defrauding Mexico City out of millions, Ahumada had taken his revenge by filming PRD honchos when they came to his office to pick up boodles of political cash for his lover, Rosario Robles, who aspired to be queen of the PRD. Although the filthy lucre was perfectly legal under Mexico's milquetoast campaign financing laws, the pick-ups looked awful on national television -- AMLO's former personal secretary was caught stuffing wads of low denomination bills into his suit coat pockets as if he were on Saturday Night Live.
Ahumada subsequently turned the tapes over to the leprous, cigar-chomping leader of Fox's PAN party in the Senate, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos ("El Jefe Diego") who in turn had them delivered to a green-haired clown, Brozo, who was then reading the morning news on Televisa. Then the Argentine fled to Cuba in a private plane. Televisa would air the incriminating videos day and night for months.
Apprehended in Veradero after his lover Robles was shadowed to the socialist beachfront, Ahumada spilled the beans to Cuban authorities: Interior Secretary Santiago Creel, who was then AMLO's lead rival for the presidency, had cooked up the plot with the connivance of reviled former president Carlos Salinas, Lopez Obrador's most venomous foe, the then attorney general, and Fox himself, to remove AMLO from the race.
The Mexican government did not ask for extradition and Ahumada's deportation from Cuba was not seen as a friendly gesture. Within a month, diplomatic relations between Mexico and that red paradise were broken off and ambassadors summoned home. The construction tycoon has been imprisoned in Mexico City ever since he was booted out of Cuba, and was last heard from when he had his rogue cop chauffer shoot up the family SUV, a charade both Fox and Televisa tried to pin on AMLO -- Ahumada had suggested he was about to release two more incriminating videos. These dubious events took place on June 6th, the day of a crucial presidential debate between AMLO and Calderon.
Then last week, Ahumada abruptly resurfaced -- or at least his videotaped confession to Cuban authorities did. Filmed through prison bars, he lays out the plot step by step. Yes, he affirms, the deal was fixed up to cut AMLO's legs out from under him and advance the fortunes of the right-wing candidate who turned out to be Felipe Calderon and not the bumbling Creel. The conspiracy backfired badly as his supporters rallied around him and Lopez Obrador's ratings soared.
The origins of the confession tape, leaked to top-rung reporter Carmen Aristegui, was obscure. Had Fidel dispatched it from his sick bed to bolster Lopez Obrador's claims of victory as the PAN and the snake-eyed Televisa evening anchor Joaquin Lopez Dorriga hissed? The air grew serpentine with theories. There was even one school that speculated Calderon himself had been the source in a scheme to distance himself from Fox (there had always been "mala leche" between them) and Creel, now the leader of the PAN faction in congress.
AMLO advanced a variant of this explanation -- the specter of Ahumada had been resuscitated to divert attention from the evidence of generalized fraud the Coalition had submitted to the TRIFE and the panel's impending verdict that Calderon had won the election.
Perhaps the most nagging question in this snakepit of uncertainty is what happened during the partial recount of less than 10% of the 130,000 ballot boxes ordered by the TRIFE to test the legitimacy of the IFE's results. Although the recount concluded on August 13th, the judges have released no numbers and are not obligated to do so -- their only responsibility is to certify the validity of the election.
Although AMLO's reps in the counting rooms came up with gobs of evidence -- violated ballot boxes, stolen or stuffed ballots, altered tally sheets and other bizarre anomalies -- only the left-wing daily La Jornada saw fit to mention them. The silence of the Mexican media and their accomplices in the international press in respect to the Great Fraud is deafening -- although they manage to fill their rags with ample attacks on Lopez Obrador for tying up Mexico City traffic.
According to AMLO's people, 119,000 ballots in the sample recount cannot be substantiated -- in about 3500 casillas, 58,000 more votes were cast than the number of voters on the voting list. In nearly 4,000 other casillas, 61,000 ballots allocated to election officials cannot be accounted for. The annulment of the casillas in which these alterations occurred would put Lopez Obrador in striking distance of Calderon and in a better world, would obligate the TRIFE to order a total recount.
But given the cheesy state of the Mexican judiciary this is not apt to happen; one of the judges who will decide the fate of democracy in Mexico is a former client of El Jefe Diego for whom the PANista senator won millions from the Mexico City government in a crooked land deal.
Meanwhile, thousands continue to camp out in a hard rain for a third week on the streets of Mexico City awaiting the court's decision. They have taken to erecting shrines and altars and are praying for divine intervention. Hundreds pilgrimage out to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, some crawling on their knees, to ask the Brown Madonna to work her mojo. "God doesn’t belong to the PAN!" they chant as they trudge up the great avenue that leads to the Basilica. "AMLO deserves a miracle" Esther Ortiz, a 70 year-old great grandmother comments to a reporter as she kneels to pray before the gilded altar.
At the Metropolitan Cathedral on one flank of the Zocalo, a young worshipper interrupts Cardinal Norberto Rivera with loas to AMLO and is quickly hustled off the premises by the Prelate's bouncers. The following Sunday, the Cathedral's great doors are under heavy surveillance, and churchgoers screened for telltale signs of devotion to Lopez Obrador. Hundreds of AMLO's supporters mill about in front of the ancient temple shouting "voto por voto" and alleging that Cardinal Rivera is a pederast.
AMLO as demi-god is one motif of this religious pageant being played out at what was once the heart of the Aztec theocracy, the island of Tenochtitlan. The ruins of the twin temples of the fierce Aztec war god Huitzilopochtli and Tlahuac, the god of the rain, is adjacent to the National Palace against which AMLO's stage is set. Lopez Obrador sleeps each night in a tent close by.
Many hearts were ripped out smoking on these old stones and fed to such hungry gods before the Crusaders showed up bearing the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
AMLO is accused by right-wing "intellectuals" (Enrique Krauze and the gringo apologist George Grayson) of entertaining a Messiah complex. Indeed, he is up there every day on the big screen, his craggy features, salt and pepper hair, raspy voice and defiantly jutted jaw bearing more of a passable resemblance to a younger George C. Scott rather The Crucified One. AMLO's devotees come every evening at seven, shoehorned between the big tents that fill the Zocalo, rain or shine. Last Monday, I stood with a few thousand diehards in a biblical downpour, thunder and lightening shattering the heavens above. "Llueve y llueve y el pueblo no se mueve" they chanted joyously, "it rains and rains and the people do not move."
The evolution of these incantations is fascinating. At first, the standard slogan of "Voto Por Voto, Casilla por Casilla!" was automatically invoked whenever Lopez Obrador stepped to the microphone. "You are not alone!" and "Presidente!" had their moment. "Fraude!" is still popular but in these last days, "No Pasaran!" -- they shall not pass, the cry of the defenders of Madrid as Franco's fascist hordes banged on the doors of Madrid, 1936 -- has flourished.
In this context, "No Pasaran!" means "we will not let Felipe Calderon pass to the presidency." AMLO, who holds out little hope that the TRIFE will decide in his favor, devotes more time now to organizing the resistance to the imposition of Calderon upon the Aztec nation. Article 39 of the Mexican constitution, he reminds partisans, grants the people the right to change their government if that government does not represent them. To this end, he is summoning a million delegates up to the Zocalo for a National Democratic Convention on Mexican Independence Day September 16th, a date usually reserved for a major military parade.
Aside from the logistical impossibility of putting a million citizens in this Tiananmen-sized plaza, how this gargantuan political extravaganza is going to be financed is cloudy. Right now, it seems like small children donating their piggy banks is the main mode of fund-raising. Because AMLO's people distrust the banks, all of which financed Calderon's vicious TV ad campaign, a giant piggy bank has been raised in the Zocalo to receive the contributions of the faithful.
Dreaming is also a fundraiser. Some 10,000 raised their voices in song this past Sunday as part of a huge chorus assembled under the dome of the Monument to the Revolution to perform a cantata based on the words of Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi. This too is a form of civil resistance, Lopez Obrador commended his followers.
The first National Democratic Convention took place behind rebel lines in the state of Aguascalientes in 1914 at the apogee of the Mexican Revolution when the forces of Francisco Villa and his Army of the North first joined forces with Zapata's Liberating Army of the Southern Revolution. The second National Democratic Revolution took place 80 years later in 1994, in a clearing in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas when the Zapatista Army of National Liberation wedded itself to the civil society in an uprising that rocked Mexico all throughout the '90s; eclipsed by events, the EZLN and its quixotic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos have disappeared from the political map in the wake of the fraudulent election.
What this third National Democratic Convention is all about is now being debated in PRD ruling circles and down at the grassroots. Minimally, a plan of organized resistance that will dog Felipe Calderon for the next six years, severely hampering his ability to rule will evolve from this mammoth conclave. The declaration of a government in resistance headed by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is one consideration. The National Democratic Convention could also result in the creation of a new party to replace a worn-out PRD now thoroughly infiltrated by cast-offs from the PRI.
The Party of the Democratic Revolution has always functioned best as an opposition party. With notable exceptions (AMLO was one), when the PRD becomes government, it collapses into corruption, internecine bickering, and behaves just as arrogantly as the PAN and the PRI. No Pasaran?
Seven weeks after the July 2nd electoral debacle, Mexico finds itself at a dangerously combustible conjunction ("coyuntura") in which the tiny white elite here is about to impose its will upon a largely brown and impoverished populous to whom the political parties and process grow more irrelevant each day. "No Pasaran!" the people cry out but to whom and what they are alluding to remains to be defined.
John Ross's ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible â€“ Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006 will be published by Nation Books this October. Ross will travel the Left Coast this fall with both ZAPATISTAS! and a new chapbook of poetry BOMBA! and is still looking for possible venues; send suggestions to email@example.com