As the preliminary election results began to flow this past July 4th, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), Oaxaca’s outgoing governor whose police state tactics have been dissed on every strata of Mexican society from the nation’s Supreme Court to the Zapotec market vendors in his state capital, was not a happy camper. Early returns overwhelmingly favored Gabino Cue, the candidate of a bizarre left-right alliance over URO’s chosen successor Eviel Perez for governor of this impoverished southern state and Ulises began to drink heavily.
Soon, according to eye-witnesses as reported by Proceso magazine, Ruiz got on his cell phone to trash former aides, accusing them of betraying him and threatening great bodily harm. Indeed, his ex-Secretary of Government Jorge Franco took the threats to heart and reportedly fled Mexico.
As Cue’s margin of victory mounted, URO became desperate and tried to shut down the preliminary vote count or PREP, ordering electricity cut off to the state electoral institute where the votes were being registered but the vote counters had back up generators and were prepared to ward off the sabotage.
Although URO’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has had a lock on Oaxaca for the past 81 years and controlled the state electoral apparatus, there seemed to be no way that Ruiz could dodge defeat. Even though URO’s henchmen had set up duplicate Internet pages to communicate doctored results, URO’s candidate was losing on both of them.
Ulises Ruiz’s star rose precipitously in the PRI firmament when his political godfather Roberto Madrazo won the presidency of the party in 2004 – URO had once been his chauffeur and Madrazo engineered Ruiz’s successful candidacy for governor of Oaxaca.
Madrazo won the PRI presidential nomination in 2006 but ran an inept campaign and finished in third place, the worst showing ever for the party that had controlled the nation’s destiny from 1928 through 2000.
Ruiz did not fare much better in Oaxaca. In June 2006, one month prior to the presidential election, it became evident that URO would lose the state for Madrazo to the leftist upstart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and he went on the war path, ordering state police to break up a “planton” (encampment) of teachers from the maverick Education Workers Union’s Section 22 in the Oaxaca city plaza – but the maestros soon rallied and took the square back. After three days of bruising confrontations with the police, hundreds of social struggle groups from all over this majority Indian state convened to form the Oaxaca Peoples’ Popular Assembly or APPO, which became the linchpin of the landmark civic insurrection of 2006.
At the zenith of the uprising, the APPO and its allies took over the state television channel and set up a thousand barricades in and around the capitol, the self-declared “Commune of Oaxaca.”
URO retaliated. 26 APPO supporters, including U.S. Indymedia reporter Brad Will, were executed by the governor’s roving death squads between August and November. Will’s murder October 27th during a last-ditch effort by the APPO to shut Oaxaca city down triggered federal intervention and thousands of military police were sent in to crush the rebellion. Hundreds were arrested and tortured and flown to out-of-state prisons where they were locked up for months on bogus charges.
The suppression of individual guarantees in Oaxaca during URO’s reign of terror drew condemnation from the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and even the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice. International human rights organizations issued highly critical reports. When Irene Khan, director of Amnesty International, tried to hand her organization’s conclusions to URO, he defiantly refused to accept the document.
The international spotlight has continued to dog Ruiz since 2006. On April 27 of this year, goons thought to be on URO’s payroll opened fire on a bus full of human rights workers seeking to deliver humanitarian aid to the autonomous Triqi Indian municipality of San Juan Copala, killing one international observer from Finland, Jyri Jaakola. When deputies from the Green Party faction in the European parliament traveled to Oaxaca to interview Ulises this June about his role in the killing, the governor refused to meet with them and accused “foreigners” (“extranjeros”) of intervening in the Oaxaca elections.
As news of the PRI’s defeat spread this July 4, Oaxacans took to the streets, giving voice to the belatedly fulfilled chant of 2006: “Ya Cayo! Ya Cayo! Ulises Ya Cayo!” (“He’s Fallen! He’s Fallen! Ulises Has Fallen!”) The “voto de castigo” or punishment vote meted out to the now ex- governor “expressed the exasperation of the people with the repressive, authoritarian, and, yes, fascist rule of URO and the PRI,” Azael Santiago, leader of Section 22, summed it up for the press.
The unlikely new governor Gabino Cue, the candidate of a much-questioned alliance between the left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and President Felipe Calderon’s right-wing PAN plus two small left parties (Cue, a one-time PRIista is himself a member of record of Democratic Convergence, a shadow party of ex-PRIistas) handed the Institutional Revolutionary Party its most damaging setback in eight decades of iron-fisted, cradle-to-grave rule in Oaxaca – even when the national PRI lost the presidency in 2000, the Institutionals retained control in this conflictive southern state.
Cue’s awkwardly-named alliance “United for Peace & Progress in Oaxaca” (UPPO), topped the former ruling party by nine points July 4th, soundly whipping URO’s hand-picked “gallo” Eviel Perez by 200,000 votes (700,000 to 500,000.) For Ruiz, the vote represented a double TKO. Thought to be next in line to succeed Beatriz Paredes as president of the PRI (Paredes is an unannounced presidential candidate), the Oaxaca thrashing appears to have derailed URO’s national political ambitions.
Nonetheless, results from the state congress races proved less gloomy for the PRI with the Institutional Revolution taking 16 seats, the PAN 11, and the PRD 10. Although the two alliance partners hold a majority, whether they can work together for legislative change remains to be tested.
In the aftermath of the July 4 shakedown, a bitter Ruiz appointed Perez president of the state PRI to confirm the former governor’s continuing domination of the party apparatus in Oaxaca, refused to negotiate with Cue on the details of transition, and lodged protests in a thousand polling places with the state electoral institute to overturn what appears to be an irreversible debacle.
One pivotal addition to the new state congress will be Flavio Sosa, a former spokesperson for the APPO during the 2006 Battle of Oaxaca. Sosa was once a PRD deputy in the federal congress but jumped briefly to the PAN before returning to Oaxaca to become a key voice in the APPO. Lured up to Mexico City in August 2006 to negotiate with federal officials, Sosa was arrested after meeting with then-Secretary of Government Carlos Abascal and locked down in the nation’s maximum-security penitentiary for ten months, during which stretch Sosa was transformed into Mexico’s most public political prisoner. Cue is thought to have nixed the flamboyant Sosa’s candidacy for the state congress but relented when he realized his veto would cost the Alliance the votes of APPO supporters.
The PAN-PRD alliance was brokered by political fixer Manuel Camacho Solis, a former PRI mayor of Mexico City and now a PRD honcho who brought together Jesus Ortega, the leader of the “Chuchus” group (many members are named Jesus) that controls the left party apparatus and are arch-foes of the PRD’s ex-presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), and Cesar Nava, installed by Calderon as president of the PAN. The goal of this coalition of strange bedfellows was to halt the PRI steamroller before it reaches critical mass and takes back the presidency in 2012.
Accompanied by Lopez Obrador, Gabino Cue, a former mayor of Oaxaca city who challenged URO in the 2004 gubernatorial race, visited all 572 municipalities or counties in the state last year, 402 of which are autonomous majority Indian entities, an expedition that established his cred with social struggle organizations. The tour with Lopez Obrador is thought to have been the building block that put Cue over the top July 4.
Ironically, AMLO rejected the alliance between the PAN and the PRD and refused to take part in Cue’s campaign for governor – Lopez Obrador continues to maintain that he was stripped of presidential victory in 2006 by PAN flimflam (although AMLO did win Oaxaca handily that year.)
The PAN and the PRD fielded joint gubernatorial candidates in five states July 4, winning in three of them – as graphic evidence of Mexico’s Byzantine political dynamic, all five of the PAN-PRD coalition candidates were ex-PRIistas. But whether the left’s fortunes will prosper in states where it was part of the winning ticket remains to be seen. In Sinaloa and Puebla, where the alliance scored upsets, the PRD has minimal influence and will not play a pertinent role in the new administrations. But in Oaxaca where the electoral left has aligned itself with the social struggle and Lopez Obrador remains a popular figure, the PRD will command a quota of power.
Which side of the alliance Gabino Cue ultimately favors remains up for grabs at this early hour. The morning after his resounding victory, he telephoned both Felipe Calderon and Lopez Obrador to thank them for their support and invited them both to his December 1 inauguration (don’t expect AMLO to put in an appearance.) Perhaps the litmus test for the leftists’ strength in the incoming Oaxaca government will be how Gabino Cue handles seething public indignation at URO’s prolonged police state regime. “There are widows and orphans. Hundreds were sent to jail unjustly and tortured. Someone has to answer for all this,” insists Adelfo Regino, a Mixe Indian lawyer and founding member of the National Indigenous Congress. Adelfo worries that the new governor will offer amnesty to Ruiz and his thugs in exchange for political peace.
Throughout his campaign, Cue pledged justice for the families of the dead but has been quick to reject the creation of a truth commission or the appointment of a special prosecutor. On the other hand, Gabino Cue’s election extends a slender beam of hope for justice to the family and friends of Brad Will, cut down by URO’s police in Santa Lucia del Camino, a suburb that the alliance won July 4. Cue’s coalition also won Oaxaca city.
2010 is the bicentennial of Mexico’s War of Independence from Spain and the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, twin celebrations that will have deep resonance in this southern state, the birthplace of three seminal personages in Mexico’s history: Benito Juarez, the Zapotec Indian who rose to become Mexico’s first (and last) indigenous president; Porfirio Diaz, dictator from 1876 to 1910 whose overthrow ushered in the revolution; and Ricardo Flores Magon, the anarchist writer and organizer who played a crucial role in the genesis of that first great uprising of the landless in Latin America. Indeed, the defeat of the PRI is freighted with historical significance, particularly for armed groups who view 2010 as a platform for renewed revolutionary struggle. Oaxaca has traditionally been fertile ground for guerrilla movements.
But for the survivors of URO’s 2006 onslaught, optimism is tempered with caution. The next months before Gabino Cue takes office in December will be extremely treacherous ones, frets Gustavo Esteva, rector of the University of the Earth and a theoretician of grassroots organizing in Oaxaca. The “colatazo” or tail whipping of the PRI dinosaur as the party is so often caricatured, could produce plenty of fresh victims. After 81 years with its foot on the throat of this poverty-wracked, mostly rural and indigenous state, the PRI is not going to go gently into the good night. “We have to get ready for the War!” a drunken Ulises shouted at his compinches on election night.
That war was apparently detonated July 19 on the first day of the state-wide Guelaguetza fiesta, when the outgoing governor ordered his state police to drive APPO street venders from the Oaxaca city plaza. Dozens were injured and arrested in the melee.
Gabino Cue did not win the July 4 election so much as voters turned out to dump URO and the PRI machine, Esteva reasons. Gustavo is amazed that brigades of rebel youths who in 2006 fought Ulises’s death squads on the barricades, plastered walls with fierce anarchist slogans, and who usually reject electoral politics as an avenue of change, pitched in to organize the voter turn-out and volunteered as poll watchers in 2010. The bases do not really trust Gabino Cue to satisfy their demands without a fight, Esteva confides. Indeed, justice is only going to come home to Oaxaca if the social thrust from the bottom that was embodied in the 2006 revolt by the APPO and Section 22 rises up to challenge the new governor to do the right thing.