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El Desafuero

Lopez Obrador, Mexico’s Would-Be Mandela, Stares into the Darkness

by JOHN ROSS

Mexico City, Mexico

Andes Manuel Lopez Obrador looked out upon the sea of brown faces flooding the great Zocalo plaza at the heart of this ancient Aztec city and pleaded for peace. Within hours, Mexico’s political bosses would strip him of his immunity from prosecution ("el desafuero"), displace him as the extraordinarily popular mayor of the hemisphere’s most teeming megalopolis, and bar him from the 2006 presidential ballot ­ and his supporters were not at all happy about it. "No estas solo! No estas solo!" 300,000 throats roared over and over again,"You are not alone!"

The official police count for the April 7th Zocalo rally was 330,000, perhaps the biggest outpouring of support for a politician here since Lopez Obrador’s predecessor as the leader of Mexico’s electoral Left, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, was swindled out of the presidency 17 years ago.

To consolidate the parallels between then and now, AMLO as he is universally acronymed, would utilize the moment to announce his candidacy for the presidency of this long-suffering republic in next year’s elections no matter what his legal entanglements might be by then. The disclosure was anything but a surprise ­ AMLO has been leading his closest rivals in President Vicente Fox’s National Action PAN Party and the long-ruling (71 years) PRI since 2003 mid-terms by margins of 10 to 20 points in the most respected polls.

Mexico’s civil society has often responded en masse in the face of myriad injustices perpetrated by the nation’s political class but the size of the turnout in defense of "El Peje" (for "Pejelagarto", a gar-like fish native to his home state of Tabasco) was remarkable because it came early in the official mourning for Pope John Paul II in a country that insists it is 93% Catholic (Lopez Obrador is himself a member of an Evangelical church.) Despite papal media saturation, the dead pontiff played second fiddle to El Peje in Mexico April 7th.

Although the New York Times likened the huge crowd to recent democracy demonstrations in the Ukraine, the million plus who gathered in Caracas following the April 2002 White House-orchestrated coup to welcome Hugo Chavez back to the Miraflores Palace is a more pertinent comparison. Foes and friends both have often made Andes Manuel out to be a kind of Mexican Chavez, an attribute he aggressively rejects

Now the hushed throng clung to each of AMLO’s words. He was being framed by the PRI and the PAN ­ the "PRIAN" ­ for the heinous crime of trying to build an access road to a hospital (the road was never even built.) Imagine! In a land where the massacre of hundreds of striking students at Tlatelolco in 1968, the dirty war of the ’70s, the stealing of the 1988 election, assassination, political thuggery, and spectacular thievery remains unpunished, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would now be convicted by his political enemies on trumped-up charges of trying to build a road to a hospital!

El Peje would confront his accusers eyeball to eyeball in the congress of the country. He was determined to face them alone and he pleaded with his followers not to accompany him. "A politician can risk his own life but not the lives of those who support him." "No estas solo!" AMLO’s people continued to chant.

Driving his battered Tsuro to the legislative palace a few blocks east of City Hall and puffing away on the inevitable Raleigh (he must have furnished several homes with the coupons by now), AMLO could not have avoided contemplating the dismal fortunes of Left candidates in this distant neighbor nation. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, once his mentor but now estranged, had stood in that same Zocalo in July 1988 after the theft of the election by Carlos Salinas and the PRI, and pleaded for peace before hundreds of thousands of enraged citizens, some of whom were firebombing the great portals of the National Palace ­ Cardenas later would insist that he turned back the assault on the seat of power to avoid a bloodbath by the military. Nonetheless, in the years that followed over 500 members and supporters of the Party of the Democratic Revolution were murdered in political vendettas by the PRI under the regimes of Carlos Salinas and Ernesto Zedillo. Luis Donaldo Colosio, Salinas’s handpicked successor, was himself cut down in a Tijuana slum in 1994 by an assassin who allegedly sought retribution for the theft of the 1988 election.

Indeed, in just three days Mexico would mark the 86th anniversary of the persecution and execution of that incorruptible revolutionary martyr Emiliano Zapata by his own government April 10th 1919, the last gasp of the Mexican revolution.

And before Zapata, there was Francisco Madero who in 1910 challenged dictator Porfirio Diaz for the presidency and was promptly clapped into prison from where he declared the Mexican revolution. When finally he came to the presidency in 1911, Madero ­ like AMLO ­ was chased from office by Diaz’s cronies at the behest of the U.S. ambassador. Hours later, he and his vice-president were gunned down right here on the very streets through which Lopez Obrador was driving.

El Peje’s speech to congress that day was a moment of unparalled drama in a drab and venial political landscape. In the grand style of Fidel Castro’s "History will absolve me" defense to the military court in Santiago, and Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos’s "what gives you the right to pardon us?", AMLO stared down his accusers and spat "you will judge me today but never forget that all of us will be judged by history."

Lopez Obrador spoke with the winds of history blowing at his back. "The people do not suffer from amnesia" he warned the legislators ­ it is, indeed, the neo-liberals who declare it is the end of history. Now AMLO retold the story of the desafuero and death of Madero and leveled a finger at Mexico’s interior secretary Santiago Creel, Fox’s anointed successor, whose grandfather Luis formed part of the plot that displaced the president and financed the bloody Huerta as the nation’s new boss of all bosses. Creel’s great grandfather had been both Porfirio Diaz’s foreign minister and his envoy to Washington. Creel family holdings in the state of Chihuahua were larger than Belgium.

Then Lopez Obrador turned his attentions to Creel’s accomplices in the Institutional Revolutionary Party and told of how another congress dominated by that party just as this one was, had sought to throw out Carlos Madrazo, a fellow Tabasqueno and reformer who tried and failed to democratize the PRI. Madrazo, who died in a mysterious plane crash in 1969, is, ironically, the father of Roberto Madrazo, current president of the PRI and almost certainly the party’s candidate for the presidency in 2006, and AMLO’s blood rival during ten years of political warfare in the swamps of Tabasco. Along with Fox and Creel, Madrazo had configured the desafuero of El Peje.

He had committed no crime but Lopez Obrador made it abundantly clear to his accusers that he would go to jail with his dignity in tact (the contempt of court charge that evolved from the hospital road construction carries a sentence of one to eight years) and would accept no lawyers or bail or appeals. Like Madero. he would campaign for the presidency from his prison cell. Madero won, he is fond of reminding his tormentors.

The Fox government prosecutor, Carlos Javier Vega Memije, who gained notoriety for his persecution of the ecological farmers’ movement when he was attorney general of Guerrero back in the ’90s, adamantly rejects AMLO’s plans, maintaining that he will lose all political rights the moment he is indicted automatically disqualifying his candidacy. According to Memije, unlike the martyred Madero, Lopez Obrador would be barred from even issuing political pronouncements from prison. AMLO’s legal team speculates that Fox will seek to imprison the (ex) mayor either in the Matamoros super-maxi on the U.S. border, or at La Palma in Mexico state where the nation’s leading narco-lords are housed.

What happens next in this highly charged political soap opera is uncertain ­ not since Madero was removed from high office and taken out and shot with the connivance of Creel’s forbearers has so important a personage suffered a desafuero and the rules are ill-defined. It is even uncertain whether or not AMLO has actually been removed from office ­ the Mexico City legislative assembly, dominated by the PRD, says Lopez Obrador is still the mayor as do many jurists nominally affiliated with the PRI, and has gone to the supreme court to make its case. Memije, on the other hand, citing an armload of constitutional clauses, vehemently disagrees and ultimately the high court will have to untangle the affair, a decision that is not expected for months. Meanwhile, El Peje, threatened with charges of usurpation of power if he remains in his City Hall offices and the nullification of any legislation he might sign, has taken a leave of absence, turning over the keys to his vice-mayor Alejandro Encinas, a roly-poly ex-communist who most probably will run the capital for the next 18 months. Although AMLO can be reinstated as mayor if exonerated by the court, a distinct possibility think most constitutionalists, he would have to resign public office six months prior to the July 2006 election date.

(To be continued)

JOHN ROSS will be in San Pedro California on May 15th where he was once imprisoned for refusing to participate in the Vietnam War, to receive an ACLU Upton Sinclair ("Uppie") Award along with Dennis Kucinich. He will then wing off to the UK, Spain, and the Middle East (Istanbul for the concluding session of the Iraq War Crimes Tribunal) on a combined reporting and lecture tour. Contributions to ease travel costs can be sent in Ross’s name to 3258 23rd Street, Apartment 3, San Francisco Ca. 94110.