July, 2006


ABOUT DEMOCRACY in MEXICO


                  Thirty-six years ago the Governor of the State of Yucatan in Mexico boasted to me his ruling
Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) would win the provincial election with a majority of 94.7 per cent.

                 It turned out he was dead on target with the percentage. The only problem was he made this â
€˜prediction’ early in the morning, before the polling stations had opened.

                 The same year I was in Oaxaca State.  Irate villagers showed me a ballot box someone had
tossed into a ravine. The filled-out voting slips were still inside the box and the villagers assured me it was
their ballot box, the one into which they had deposited their votes. Not surprisingly the villagers insisted they
had all voted for the opposition.
                 Sadly in Mexico democracy has a history of returning the party in power to power - one way or
the other. These crude methods made sure the PRI - born out of a revolution and grown into a political
octopus - was reelected for 71 years with a solid majority of votes. When the PRI, ravaged by corruption,
autocracy and blatant arrogance, was finally voted out six years ago Mexicans envisaged a new era for their
much abused democratic system.
               Wrong. The opposition party, after ruling for six years with methods borrowed from the PRI,
found the old PRI system as good a way as any to cling to government and pad their pockets. As one
gathers from charges of voting fraud and election manipulation emanating from Mexico City after the July 2
election the old methods may have changed but not the results. Tossing ballot boxes into the river or down
ravines (in fact the majority were burned) has been superseded by modern technology and the ability of
computers to be rigged with software to skew vote-account reports, a skill the new government of the
National Action Party (PAN ) may have learned from their neighbors across the Rio Grande.( In 1988 a
computer crash tipped the election in favor of the PRI.)

.                Once upon a time everyone (in politics) was PRI. The PRI graciously tolerated the opposition
party, the PAN, to give Mexico a democratic façade and offer those who felt betrayed by the PRI a way
to vent their anger. The PRI argument was: As long as we have an opposition there is no excuse for our
opponents to take up arms because they can express their opposition in democratic ways through the PAN.

            The PRI even financed the PAN, granting it an annual subsistence fund, enough to make the muzzled
opposition party sufficiently lucrative for a handful of politicians. For most of the PRI’s six year tenures
the paid PAN lackeys were silent. But around election time (when the PRI’s renewal of tenure was put
before the Mexican people) a limited number of PAN candidates were permitted to campaign, not too loud,
never too critical and within certain territorial limits. The police kept a close eye on any PAN campaign rally.
It was not healthy for one’s career, business or peaceful existence to attend PAN campaigns.

             Over the last decade the PRI’s hold on power slowly weakened as the result of better
communications, the arrogance and greed of PRI provincial caciques and the growing gap between Mexicoâ
€™s filthy rich and its wretched poor. The PAN finally saw its chance, having recruited some of the PRI
people who astutely nosed out which way the wind was about to blow. In the election of 2,000 Vincente
Fox of the PAN won the presidency after making the usual bombastic promises of changing the old system,
fighting poverty, nationalizing Mexican resources and finding out the truth behind the 1968 massacre on the
Square of Tlatelolco when hundreds of students and civilians were mowed down by the army.
(Officially the PRI always blamed ‘communist’ radicals for firing on the army whose orders were to
surround the protest rally on the Square. What is now virtually a fact is that specially trained military snipers
fired on the troops, enraging the soldiers who fired back. In the mad crossfire hundreds died, hundreds more
were maimed, hundreds were arrested, hundreds vanished into military camps, some never to reappear. )

          Fox proved to be as ineffective in tackling poverty and injustice as were his PRI predecessors.
In a
final attempt to salvage something he had pledged Fox had former President Luis Echevarria
placed under house arrest for Echeverria’s part in the Tlatelolco blood-letting. At the time of
the massacre Echeverria was Interior Minister.
The President, who allegedly gave the order to attack,
was Gustavo Diaz Ordaz.  But Diaz Ordaz is dead.

        The new mix of Mexican politics has become like a Jarabe Tapatio where everyone stamps their foot
with as much authority as the heels can muster. It is also a kind of folkdance where partners change: Some
former PRI members are now flying new populist flags, PAN members have created new parties and
politicians from all sides are promising to do away with a corrupt system so ingrained in Mexican political life
it would take a revolution to sweep it aside. Only the poor believe Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the
populist mayor of Mexico City, will finally change their life if he wins the presidency. Lopez Obrador has
hoisted the leftwing flag of power now fluttering over Latin America, has promised Mexican oil will be for the
people and is mouthing all the right socialist slogans so popular these days up and down the South American
continent.

      Whether Obrador or PAN heir Felipe Calderon are eventually sworn in as Mexico’s next president
may have little impact on the life of the majority of Mexicans. However the United States next door would be
far happier with Calderon and his agenda of pro-business and his promise not to nationalize the Mexican oil
industry, now firmly in the grip of U.S. interests. In the meantime Lopez Obrador’s supporters are out in
the streets yelling ‘fraud’ after Calderon declared himself the winner. And that is one important
consolation: In the days of PRI power no one, except a few brave souls, would have dared to shout fraud in
public.

      Perhaps the only personality to emerge from the electoral ballyhoo untainted is Sub-Comandante
Marcos, the enigmatic leader of the natives of Chiapas. He refused to support Obrador’s populist
bandwagon, perhaps fearing once again the wagon was rolling to just another gilded future for those with
plush seats on its back. (ends)