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The Protests Continue

Electoral Hijinks in Mexico

by JOHN HAZARD

On the eve of Sunday’s national elections, hundreds of thousands of protesters, mostly students, stayed till midnight in marches in Mexico City and other cities. The polls opened at 8  the morning with the usual fraud and inefficiency: some polling places didn´t open till noon, but they closed on time at six and left people waiting in line, unable to vote.

The unofficial results, hailed by most Mexican media and by governments like that of the United States, show Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, the historic ruling party, six points ahead of his nearest rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of a center-left tendency.

Immediately the word spread among supporters of the “Yo soy 132” movement that there would be a march the next day from a recently opened monument called La Estela de Luz in the west of the city to the centrally-located Monumento de la Revolución. (The significance of the number 132 is this: the movement gathered force when Peña Nieto gave a speech at a Jesuit university, la Universidad Iberoamericana, and was heckled by students who accused him of ordering rape, murder, and torture to repress a campesino movement in the village of Atenco in the state of Mexico in 2006 when he was governor.  The protest garnered an unusual amount of attention (though the same media and all the political parties covered up the atrocity when it occurred) and a few days later the students were attacked as “pseudo-students” and partisans of López Obrador. They released a video in which 131 of them showed their student IDs and said they had participated in the protest. The name 132 was thus coined as an umbrella term for protesters around the country, but especially for students in Mexico City. In other cities, the collusion between the ruling parties, the media, and drug cartels is such that expression of political dissent is difficult.

Monday´s march was scheduled for 2 o´clock. López Obrador scheduled a press conference for 6 p.m.  The march meandered strangely through side streets of an affluent neighborhood, Polanco, for several hours. Even there many neighbors showed support. This area has historically been loyal to the right-wing Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), party of the current president, Calderón, and his predecessor, Fox. Their 12 years in power were marked by the same mediocrity and subservience to corporate and imperial interests as had characterized the final years of the PRI. This seemed to be the basis of the desire of many people in the elite to bring back the PRI.

After more than an hour in Polanco, marchers finally entered the city’s second-biggest highway, Circuito Interior, and occupied all the north-bound lanes to take a relatively direct route toward the destination. A very heavy rain came down shortly before the first marchers arrived. This caused people to disperse prematurely.  Some stayed at the Monumento de la Revolución for an assembly, some marched to the huge national headquarters of the PRI a few blocks away and stuck banners to the fence with slogans like “Si hay imposición, habrá revolución”, and others entered the subway station and filled platforms and train cars, shouting slogans. Here also, non-students, decidedly more working-class than the those in Polanco, joined in. Some, after the tour of the PRI, went to the headquarters of Televisa, the biggest television network, about two miles away. Peña Nieto has had a publicity contract with Televisa for years, as was reported recently in the London daily The Independent.

In the assembly, many expressed the opinion that the anti-fraud protests organized by López Obrador six years ago didn’t go far enough. The movement insists  constantly on its non-partisan nature and one person who said it’s necessary to coordinate protests with López Obrador was rejected though, paradoxically, the movement’s insistence on voting and on defending the vote was an obvious suggestion to vote for him and not for the other candidates, all obviously discarded as right-wing and/or corrupt. A significant number of people in the movement, on the other hand, are farther to the left, have no illusions about López Obrador, and are waiting for what has historically happened in Mexico, notable in the Revolution and in the independence movement: the masses make stronger demands than the leaders of the movements.

Today’s front page of La Jornada, one of the few mass media that gives space to criticism, features the march, López Obrador’s press conference, and graphic evidence of fraud: the PRI gave away thousands or millions of debit cards entitling the bearer to at least 700 pesos worth of goods at supermarkets in the Soriana chain, redeemable the day after the election. A photograph shows the chaos provoked by the rush of shoppers. The current exchange rate is approximately 14 pesos to the dollar.

López Obrador signed, as did all the candidates, a pledge to respect the results of the election. This was part of the part of the campaign of the IFE (Instituto Electoral Federal) to clean its image after the debacle of 2006 and to demonstrate by repetition, not by effort or by substantive changes, that this year´s election would be fraud-proof. The campaign included testimonials by university presidents and other ostensibly respectable figures who validated what they could not honestly predict.

López Obrador called the election dirty, alleged that millions of votes had been bought, and announced that he would appeal the (still unofficial) results. He alleged that Peña Nieto and his party had exceeded spending limits by 5 billion pesos and by well over 1000%. (The limit is $260 million and the allegation is that the PRI spent more than $5 billion, or $5 thousand million in Mexican numerical nomenclature.)

Today the “Yo soy 132” movement marches to the IFE and holds a general assembly.

JOHN HAZARD can be reached at jhazard99@yahoo.com