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Towards Armageddo and After

Endgame Engulfs Mexico

by JOHN ROSS

Mexico City.

They carried the coffin of Jose Jimenez Colmanares on their shoulders through the narrow streets of Oaxaca city into the old colonial plaza they had occupied for months and deposited it outside the state government offices. There his comrades ­- striking schoolteachers and militants of the mostly-indigenous Oaxaca Popular Peoples’ Assembly (APPO) mourned the fallen car mechanic with furious epithets and accusations. Jimenez, the husband of a striking teacher, had been gunned down by goons during a march two nights before and the assailants had been tracked to a nearby warehouse where they were captured by the furious crowd and their hideout burnt to the ground. But for the striking teachers and their allies in the APPO, the bullet that murdered Jose Jimenez was fired by Governor Ulisis Ruiz whose resignation they have been demanding for months.

The strike of Oaxaca’s teachers began last May 15, the Day of the Maestro, when 70,000 members of the radicalized Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union walked out of their classrooms in pursuit of a cost of living increase. Encamped in the same plaza where Jose Jimenez’s corpse was now planted, the maestros refused to move even after Governor Ruiz set a thousand state police on them June 14–more than a hundred were injured as the cops slammed concussion grenades into the swirling crowd below from low-flying helicopters. But the teachers soon retook the plaza and together with the even more radical APPO have continued to carry on a vigorous campaign of civil disobedience and just plain sabotage.

Pledging to physically obstruct the July 2 presidential balloting in the state, many teachers instead voted for leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) who won the popular vote in Oaxaca handily greatly embarrassing Governor Ruiz, a disciple of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) standard bearer Roberto Madrazo.

In the heady days since July 2 during which Lopez Obrador was apparently swindled out of the presidency of Mexico, both sides in the Oaxaca stand-off have grown more aggressive, the maestros and their allies blocking highways, tourist hotels, and burning up the stage at the annual Guelaguetza indigenous dance festival, forcing the cancellation of Oaxaca’s top tourist attraction. Governor Ruiz has responded in the old PRI way, sending his pistoleros after his detractors–a university radio station was shot up, as was a local newspaper Noticias which had dared to diss Ruiz. A professor was gunned down near the Autonomous Benito Juarez University and protestors’ buses were torched. Leaders of the APPO, including one wheelchair-bound activist were arrested and jailed in maximum-security prisons. Jimenez’s death may not have been the final straw.

Up until the present face-off, Ulisis Ruiz was a rising star in the sinking PRI firmament. During its excruciatingly long and cruel seven decade rule, the former ruling party stole one election after another, crushed or co-opted those who opposed it, dominated the nation’s political agenda, and deliberately kept the Mexican people in abject poverty, holding their votes hostage for crumbs until the PRI was unceremoniously dumped from power six years ago by the right-wing National Action or PAN party and outgoing president Vicente Fox.

The ex-official party’s fortunes fell even more precipitously this past July 2 when the PRI finished a dismal third behind Lopez Obrador’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and right-winger Felipe Calderon’s PAN. Its unctuous candidate Madrazo had been Ulisis Ruiz’s protector in PRI ruling circles and the Oaxaca governor’s political future is deeply entangled with the snake-slim former party president from tropical Tabasco. But for now, the future of the PRI, not only in Oaxaca but all over Mexico’s political map, is past.

Southern Mexico was once the ex-ruling party’s "green reserve" where the ballot boxes always came back stuffed with 110% of the votes for the PRI, a "zapato" (shoe) or "carro completo" (full car) in the Institutionals’ arcane argot – but on July 2, Lopez Obrador swept 16 southern Mexican states, the poorest, most indigenous, and resource-rich region in the union containing 54 per cent of the nation’s population, including the PRI’s greenest reserves–Veracruz, Tabasco, Chiapas and Oaxaca.

Both Tabasco and Chiapas are expected to sustain the AMLO tide in gubernatorial elections this August and September. But in Chiapas, it is not easy to separate the PRIistas from the former PRIistas who have moved into the PRD’s house in the last months. The PRD’s candidate for governor- Juan Sabines, the nephew of the nation’s most passionate romantic poet, is a political hack who accepted the left-center party’s nomination only after he had been denied the slot by the PRI. Under the auspices of outgoing Chiapas governor Pablo Salazar, who spent six years walking a tightrope between Fox, the PRI, and the PRD, Sabines was running 10 points ahead of the pack when abracadabra, the PAN candidate and an ex-PRDista who had opportunistically availed himself of the PANAL or New Alliance Party’s nomination under the tutelage of teachers’ union czarina Elba Esther Gordillo, abruptly retired from the race and threw their votes to the PRI’s Juan Antonio Bodegas. If this sounds like universal treason, it is.

In Chiapas, at least, and in many states where AMLO won big July 2, both the PRI and the PRD–not to mention the PAN, which seems to have stolen the presidency from Lopez Obrador "a la antigua" (in the old PRI way)–are all living in the past tense

PRESENT TENSE

Despite their demands for a vote-by-vote recount, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is convinced that he won the July 2 presidential race only to have victory wrested away in a complicated fraud orchestrated by the Federal Electoral Commission (IFE) to favor right-winger Felipe Calderon. The seven judge tribunal (TRIFE)which has until September 5 to name the next president of Mexico, has ordered a review of less than 10 per cent of the 130,000 plus "casillas" or precincts where 41 million citizens deposited their ballots back on the first Sunday in July.

Notwithstanding AMLO’s refusal to go along with the "10% Solution", the partial recount began last Wednesday in 149 out of the nation’s 300 electoral districts. Putting little credence in the fairness of a process he is convinced is rigged against him, Lopez Obrador has vowed to intensify the campaign of civil resistance that his followers, still encamped on the streets and boulevards of the capital, have so industriously waged for weeks.

Even as the votes were being counted out in 26 of the nation’s 32 states, AMLO’s people closed down toll booths at the gates of Mexico City, slipping plastic bags that read "Voto Por Voto" over the coin collection boxes, and let thousands of motorists into the city for free–not really a huge favor in a megalopolis where traffic has been hopelessly snarled since the encampments were established July 30. In response, the federal commission (CAFUPE) that oversees Mexico’s mostly privatized highways–road tolls are some of the most expensive in the world to insure a quick return on transnational investment–offered to drag Lopez Obrador into court for endangering the taxpayers’ patrimony.

In a concerted effort to disrupt Mexico’s highly globalized economy, supporters also shut down three major foreign-owned banks (all Mexican banks are foreign-owned) and blocked doors at the Finance Ministry’s tax-collection offices–AMLO’s people shut down the Mexican stock market the week before.

The civil resistance campaign has stoked a backlash amongst chilangos (Mexico City residents) who did not vote for Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of the capital. 349 motorists have filed complaints with the city’s human rights commission protesting that their right of free transit is being violated by the camp-in. Interim mayor Alejandro Encinas, AMLO’s one-time left-hand man and a roly-poly former communist, has been threatened with impeachment for failing to order the police to clean out the encampments. One transnational publicity outfit that has display advertising contracts with the city filed charges with the attorney general because its clients’ billboards were being visually obstructed by the campers’ tents.

To answer the charges, several thousand protestors marched on federal law enforcement offices, some wearing convict’s stripes, others in handcuffs or hogtied or wearing nooses around their necks but all sporting notices of their intention of turning themselves into the authorities for "defending democracy."

But while these hijinks grabbed the cameras, behind locked doors in 149 district offices of the much-abused IFE and indeed staffed by the same IFE technicians who had fouled the July 2 vote, the partial recount proceeded under the eyes of hurriedly appointed members of the judiciary, not all of them of proven probity by any means, and the representatives of the political parties. The press was locked out, permitted in only for photo ops and on-the-fly interviews with party reps. But despite the absence of hard info, the numbers began to flow sub rosa early on.

Inside the counting rooms, Mexico’s 2006 presidential election, exalted by the U.S. State Department as a paragon of democracy, was not a pretty sight. Hundreds of ballot boxes warehoused under military guard had been broken into, their seals ripped open, and the contents contaminated. Sometimes the ballots were scattered on the floor of the warehouse, sometimes there were no ballots inside the boxes to verify what the tally sheets ("actas") affirmed. When AMLO’s representatives grew apoplectic at the wholesale fraud, the judges ordered the military to expel them from the recount.

Jalisco, a PAN citadel, was the first state to report results on election night–there was a governor’s race on the ballot as well as the presidential vote and the PAN seemed to have kicked ass, building up a 70 per cent landslide. But the results seemed so out of whack with national numbers (Calderon was awarded a highly dubious .58 per cent victory by the IFE) that the judges ordered more than 1700 casillas in the state reopened.

The new count did not sustain Calderon’s Election Day claims. In 15 ballot boxes in District 3 (Tepatitlan), the PANista had been awarded 2700 votes according to the tally sheets that could not be found in the ballot boxes. Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, picked up 250 votes in the district, about 12 per casilla–Calderon’s disputed 243,000 "victory" breaks down to about 1.8 per casilla.

On paper, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had only to accumulate a total of 24,000 votes recovered in his favor or subtracted from Calderon’s in the partial sample–10 per cent of all the precincts–in order to catch the right-winger and force the judges to count out all the ballots "voto por voto." According to the PRD’s electoral guru Horacio Duarte, not only has AMLO rescued that many votes in the recount but also at least 150,000 Calderon votes cannot be substantiated by the recount,
Extrapolating the total vote from these estimates would give Lopez Obrador a 1.5 million-vote victory.

Thousands of ballots not found in the ballot boxes were apparently added to the PANista’s total July 2 while thousands of other ballots issued to the precincts were never accounted for. One federal judge has suggested that voters took them home as souvenirs. In addition, nearly a million ballots cast July 2 were declared null and void by federal election officials–nearly four times the margin of Calderon’s purported triumph.

Indeed the gross number of anomalies found in the sample that now must be evaluated by the TRIFE could result in the annulation of enough districts to throw the election back to Lopez Obrador – although no one is banking on such a happy ending. AMLO himself seems to have lost faith in a judicial process that has always favored the rich and powerful, and now talks of preventing the presidency of Felipe Calderon from being imposed upon the land.

FUTURE TENSE

This past Sunday (August 13), amidst rumors that the encampments were about to be lifted, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took his customary stance on the speaker’s platform in the packed Zocalo plaza for yet another "informative assembly". For the first time in years, I was invited to view the proceedings from the roof garden of the Majestic Hotel where AMLO’s less impoverished supporters often convene for brunch–the Majestic fronts the Zocalo in sniper’s range of Lopez Obrador.

Down below, tens of thousands of little yellow AMLO ants swarmed and seethed, the chants of "los de abajo" rising in great waves from the street and infecting even the "perfumados" (the perfumed ones.) "Voto Por Voto, Casilla Por Casilla!" and "No Estas Solo!" rang from the rooftop garden.

From that vantage point, Lopez Obrador was poised right behind the monumental Mexican flag planted at the exact center of the plaza. The red, white and green banner, which features an eagle devouring a snake on a nopal cactus bush, kept furling and unfurling dramatically, definitely the visual of the day.

Lopez Obrador was here to talk about the future. No, the camps would not be dismantled. He projected that they might remain in place for years. As usual, he did not express much hope that even confronted by the stinking garbage of electoral fraud their own recount had vomited up, the judges would open any more ballot boxes and count out the votes one by one. Even now, they were preparing to sweep the whole mess under the legal rug and crown Calderon king of Mexico. The immediate task was to prevent the TRIFE from putting the certificate of constancy that would confirm the July 2 flimflam in Felipe’s little hand. Whenever and wherever this crime was to take place, AMLO appealed to his supporters to disrupt the ceremony–peacefully, of course.

There were other dates on the calendar of civil resistance. On September 1, outgoing President Vicente Fox is to go to congress to present his annual "Informe" or State of the Union address and Lopez Obrador called upon his people to surround the legislature. An attempt to establish a camp outside the building August 14 was repelled by Federal Preventative Police and Fox’s elite military guard. Newly elected PRD legislators were gassed and beaten, the first overt repression against AMLO’s people during the post-electoral troubles.

On September 15, Fox is slated to deliver his final Independence Day "Grito" ("Viva Mexico!") to a usually jammed Zocalo but the fiery leftist advised the president to find another venue–his people were here now and they would deliver their own grito. AMLO also encouraged his supporters to dog Fox as he travels around the country, protesting his role in the Great Fraud at every stop–there have already been shoving matches between AMLO’s people and the elite troops assigned to protect the president.

Loath to expose his person to an enraged public, Felipe Calderon has yet to venture outside business and political circles in upscale southern Mexico City–his SUV was attacked by furious street venders on his one foray outside his insulated bailiwick.

September 16 promises to be an exhilarating day on AMLO’s dance card. Traditionally, the Zocalo is the starting point for an ultra patriotic military parade that day. Battalion after battalion goose step beneath the President’s flag-bedecked balcony as he waves from the National Palace. But instead of martial music and streaking jet fighters, Lopez Obrador is summoning all Mexicans to flock to the Zocalo for an historic National Democratic Convention. How the Generals will respond to this cheeky challenge is not much of a mystery. The tanks will be in the street.

Armageddon is scheduled for December 1 on AMLO’s calendar. That’s when FeCal, as he is universally dubbed by his detractors, will receive the presidential sash from his predecessor. As Luis Hernandez, editor of the national left daily La Jornada op ed page recently speculated, the inauguration will probably take place behind the walls of Military Camp #1 in western Mexico City to avoid civil insurrection.

In addition to strong-arming Calderon, Lopez Obrador is reportedly seeking consensus among the PRD’s congressional representatives, about a third of the 628 deputies and senators, not to take office September 1. Such a strike by elected officials could paralyze the new congress and trigger constitutional crisis. But some legislators argue that the PAN-PRI majority will use the interval to order the destruction of the evidence of massive fraud July 2nd by burning the ballots, much as they did after the PRI stole the election from Cuauhtemoc Cardenas in 1988.

And after Armageddon–what next? Widespread armed rebellion? A new Mexican revolution? A sniper’s bullet from a window of the Majestic Hotel? Will Oliver Stone make the movie?

JOHN ROSS’s ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible–Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006 will be published by Nation Books in October. Ross will travel the left coast this fall with the new volume and a hot-off-the-press chapbook of poetry Bomba!–all suggestions of venues will be cheerfully entertained–write johnross@igc.org