The Marcos Factor

The Marcos Factor has unexpectedly become a wild card in Mexico’s closely fought July 2nd presidential election.

While out of earshot plying the back roads of provincial Mexico with his “Other Campaign”, an anti-electoral crusade designed to weld underclass struggle groups into a new left alliance, the ski-masked rebel mouthpiece, now doing business as Delegate Zero, stayed aloof from the electoral mainstream although he attacked it relentlessly. But Marcos’s arrival in the capital at the end of April has propelled him back into the national spotlight with less than 50 days to go until Election Day.

Poll results are brazenly for sale in the run-up to Mexican elections and all are equally untrustworthy. For almost 30 months, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the former Mexico City mayor and candidate of the leftish Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) led preferences, sometimes by as much as 18 points.

But by April, under an unanswered barrage of attack commercials labeling him a danger to the nation in big block letters across the television screen, AMLO’s lead had frittered away into a virtual tie with rightwing National Action Party candidate Felipe Calderon–polls paid for by the PAN even give Calderon a ten point advantage. On the other hand, Mitofsky Associates, contracted to produce monthly polls by the television giant Televisa, which tilts towards Calderon, gives the PANista just a one point edge with a two point margin of error. All pollsters have the once-ruling (71 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party’s Roberto Madrazo running a distant third with 23-28%of voter preferences.

AMLO’s diminished numbers were further complicated by ex-Subcomandante Marcos’s arrival in the capitol. Delegate Zero has blasted the PRD and its candidate unceasingly in stump speech after stump speech across much of Mexico for the past five months. Although the Other Campaign focuses on the deficiencies of the electoral process and the political parties to meet the needs of the people, Marcos always reserves special invective for Lopez Obrador and the PRD–the Other Campaign is, after all, a battle for the hearts and minds of the Mexican left.

But perhaps the cruelest blow that Delegate Zero has yet struck against his rival on the left came when he declared under the heat of national TV cameras that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would be the winner of the July 2nd election. Marcos’s “endorsement” is seen in some quarters as being akin to Osama Bin Laden’s 2004 U.S. election eve TV appearance that frightened millions of voters into re-electing George Bush.

In truth, Marcos’s appearance in Mexico City at the end of April generated little press interest and numbers at marches and rallies were embarrassingly small. But two days of bloody fighting between farmers affiliated with the Other Campaign and state and federal security forces at San Salvador Atenco just outside the capitol that resulted in hundreds of arrests, rampant violations of human rights, the rape of women prisoners, and the most stomach-wrenching footage of police brutality ever shown on Mexican television, put Marcos back in the media spotlight.

Leading marches in defense of the imprisoned farmers and vowing to encamp in Mexico City until they are released, Delegate Zero broke a five-year self-imposed ban on interviews with the commercial media (coverage of the Other Campaign has been limited to the alternative press.) A three part exclusive interview in La Jornada–the paper is both favorable to the Zapatista struggle and Lopez Obrador – revealed the ex-Sup’s thinking as the EZLN transitions into the larger world beyond the indigenous mountains and jungle of their autonomous communities in southeastern Chiapas. After the Jornada interviews began running, dozens of national and international reporters lined up for more.

Then on May 8th, Marcos startled Mexico’s political class by striding into a Televisa studio, an enterprise he has scorned and lampooned for the past 12 years and which that very morning in La Jornada he denounced as being Mexico’s real government, and sat down for the first time ever with a star network anchor for a far-ranging chat on the state of the nation and the coming elections that effectively re-established the ex-Subcomandante’s credibility as a national political figure in this TV-obsessed viodeocracy.

Among Delegate Zero’s more pertinent observations: all three candidates were “mediocrities” who would administrate Mexico for the benefit of the transnationals but that Lopez Obrador had a distinct style of dealing with the crisis down below, and would emerge the winner on July 2nd.

Although observers differ about whether Marcos’s “endorsement” was the kiss of death for AMLO’s candidacy or just a peck on the cheek, Lopez Obrador’s reaction was of the deer-caught-in-the-headlights variety, emphasizing the prolonged animosity between the PRD and the EZLN to disassociate himself from the Zapatista leader.

It was too late. Calderon, one of whose key advisors is right-wing Washington insider Dick Morris (the PANista is Washington’s man), immediately lashed out at Marcos as “a PRD militant”, clained AMLO was under Marcos’s ski-mask, and accused Lopez Obrador and Delegate Zero of being in cahoots to destabilize Mexico–the TV spots were running within 24 hours of Marcos’s Televisa interview. In the background, the PRI’s Madrazo called for the “mano duro” (hard hand) to control such subversive elements, tagging the farmers of Atenco whose broad field knives are the symbol of their struggle, AMLO’s “yellow machetes” (yellow is the PRD’s color.)

Lopez Obrador’s only defense against this latest onslaught was to affirm that the mayor of Texcoco, who had been the first to send police to confront the farmers of Atenco, was a member of the PRD. Party members who are usually quick to denounce human rights violations here have stayed away from the police rampage in Atenco for fear that speaking out will further taint Lopez Obrador.

There are some who question Delegate Zero’s widely circulated assessment that AMLO will be Mexico’s next president, as disingenuous. After all, calling the election for Calderon after the Other Campaign has done its damndest to convince voters not to cast a ballot for AMLO could only arouse the ire of PRD bases along the route of the Other Campaign.

Even as Calderon uses Marcos to raise the fear flag, Marcos argues that voter fear of instability does not alter electoral results. Nonetheless, in 1994, Ernesto Zedillo parleyed fears triggered by the Zapatista rebellion and the assassination of PRI heir-apparent Luis Donaldo Colosio into big numbers to walk off with the Mexican presidency.

Although Delegate Zero equates all three political parties, the conventional wisdom is that a return to power by the PRI would animate elements in the Mexican military who still want to stamp out the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, and incite the lust of the PRI-affiliated paramilitaries for Zapatista blood. On the other hand, repeated violence against EZLN bases in Chiapas by PRD-affiliated farmers’ groups, are not a harbinger of better times for the rebels under AMLO’s rule.

Enfrented as the PRD and the EZLN remain, the only avenue of convergence could be in post-electoral protest. As the close race goes down to the wire, one good bet is that the July 2nd margin between Calderon and Lopez Obrador will be less than 100,000 out of a potential 72,000.000 voters. If Calderon is declared the victor by challengeable numbers, the PRD, invoking the stealing of the 1988 election from Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas, is apt not to accept results issued by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) which AMLO’s rank and file already considers partisan to the PAN, and the PRD will go into the streets–most noticeably in Mexico City where it concentrates great numbers and where the IFE is located.

How embarrassed Roberto Madrazo is by the PRI’s performance July 2nd could determine his party’s participation in mobilizations denouncing the results as well–Madrazo has thus far balked at signing a “pact of civility” being promoted by the IFE.

The EZLN has historically been more drawn to post-electoral protest than elections themselves. In 1994, convinced that Cuauhtemoc Cardenas would not take protests into the streets if he were once again cheated out of victory, the Zapatistas sought to inspire such protest themselves (they were successful only in Chiapas.)

The best bet is that given a generalized perception of a stolen election, the EZLN will put its animosity aside as it did last year when the PRI and the PAN tried to bar AMLO from the ballot, the “desafuero.” But the Zapatistas will join the post-electoral fray calculating that AMLO, a gifted leader of street protest, will seek to channel voters’ anger into political acceptable constraints.

The return of Marcos to the national spotlight is an unintended consequence of the Other Campaign. Determined to use the electoral calendar to unmask the electoral process and the political class that runs it, Marcos’s posture as an anti-candidate has made him as much of a candidate as AMLO, Calderon, and Madrazo. Indeed, Delegate Zero’s primetime Televisa appearance has inducted him, voluntarily or not, into the very political class that the Other Campaign detests.

JOHN ROSS is on his way to California to watch basketball. His new opus “Making Another World Possible–Zapatista Chronicles 2000-2006” is in New York being inspected by editors. Ross will return to Mexico in early June to cover both the final spasms of the presidential race and the continued twitchings of the Other Campaign.

JOHN ROSS has covered four previous Mexican presidential election. He is the author of Murdered By Capitalism.



JOHN ROSS’s El Monstruo – Dread & Redemption in Mexico City is now available at your local independent bookseller. Ross is plotting a monster book tour in 2010 – readers should direct possible venues to