The criminal fraud perpetrated in the July 2 presidential election against leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) by the right-wing PAN party, President Vicente Fox, the Federal Electoral Institute and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal once again rips the mask off racism in Mexico.
As has been evident since the campaigns kicked off last January, Lopez Obrador represents the aspirations of Mexico’s brown underclass. His right-wing rival Felipe Calderon’s people are translucently white. Although the media and the political class refuse to recognize this reality, two months after the most hotly-contested presidential race in the nation’s history, racism is driving the Mexican car to the precipice.
This Monday (August 29), the all-white Tribunal accelerated the suicide run when it ignored ample evidence of ballot box tampering and computer fraud presented by Lopez Obrador’s electoral representatives, to confirm Calderon’s and the white ruling elite’s – much-questioned “victory.”
Although color has been at the core of post-electoral turmoil here for two months, one of the few to play the race card out loud was newly-elected senator Maria Irma Ortega of the anything but green Mexican Green Environmental Party (PVEM), a sometimes Fox ally that is always available to the highest bidder. Forced to enter the Senate building in downtown Mexico City by the back door because striking teachers from Oaxaca were blocking the front entrance and Lopez Obrador’s people were clogging the side streets, Ortega screamed at the press what a lot of white Mexicans are muttering under their breath these days: “how is it possible that these pinche indios (f– Indians) won’t let me pass?”
The startlingly incendiary conflict in the southern state of Oaxaca where police death squads roll through the streets before dawn gunning down teachers and supporters grouped together in the Oaxaca Popular Peoples’ Assembly (APPO) on orders from Governor Ulisis Ruiz, a white man, is fragrant with racism. Oaxaca is Mexico’s most indigenous state, home to 17 distinct Indian cultures, More than 1.5 million citizens of indigenous descent are the majority in 412 out of the state’s 572 municipalities or counties. The APPO is comprised of representatives from many of these majority indigenous municipalities and many of their comrades on the barricades, striking members of Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union, teach in the Indian outback bi-lingual “maestros” are traditionally the most radical wing of Section 22.
It is hardly a coincidence that Lopez Obrador, a white man who grew up in the Chontal Indian region of his native Tabasco state and who has the overwhelming support of “the people the color of the earth” as the absent Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos once tagged the brown underclass, won Oaxaca handily last July 2. In fact, AMLO won 16 highly indigenous, impoverished, “brown” southern states while Calderon swept 16 states in the much more lightly complected north in the fraud-marred July balloting.
In Chiapas where the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) first ripped the mask off Mexican racism in 1994 by rising up against the “mal gobierno” (bad government), both AMLO’s PRD party and the long-ruling PRI in alliance with Calderon’s PAN all ran white men in August 20 gubernatorial elections in a state where at least a third of the population are Mayan Indians Lopez Obrador’s white man seems to have squeaked out a narrow victory in a race which featured 55% absenteeism.
In selling their candidates to the indigenous communities, the parties pitted Indians against Indians and the killing began before the ballots were even counted when supporters of the PRI and the PRD opened fire on each other in the highland Tzotzil municipality of Zinacantan. The bodies lay on the town basketball court for hours, the villagers too frightened to approach their dead. The Zapatistas reject elections and the political parties precisely because they divide and wound Indian communities.
The Indian-ness of Lopez Obrador’s crusade to prevent a tiny white elite personified by Felipe Calderon from assuming the presidency is evidenced each evening at 7 PM when spectators gather by the thousands in Mexico City’s Zocalo plaza where they have been encamped for a month. The color of those convened is almost uniformly that of the earth there are few white and even “guero” (lightly pigmented) mestizo faces in the crowd and fewer suits. This reporter often feels like a Martian in this mix but I am redeemed by my age. So many who come to these nightly gatherings come on canes, hobbled by age, tired of being stepped on all their hard lives by the whites who rule this racially polarized land.
You see it in their lined brown faces, 70 year-old janitors and exhausted maids just off work from the nearby tourists hotels, the “abaniles” or day laborers, short dark street vendors, their faces taut with the fury that has been bottled up for 500 years, buried under the whips of the overseers and the crumbs the mal gobierno sprinkles on the poor, the hypocritical lip service paid to them on patriotic holidays, the dictatorship of the Televisocracy.
You hear it in the intensity of their chants, how they erupt from each brown throat in short angry bursts: “Duro!” (Hard!), “Fraude!” (Fraud!), “No Pasaran!” The signature cry of “Voto Por Voto, Casilla Por Casilla” (“Vote by Vote, Precinct by Precinct!”) is almost too long to express their frustrations now.
The official stats are always undercounted but close to 15,000,000 people identify themselves as indigenous Mexicans, about 17 per cent of the Mexican people.
The vast girth of the population 80,000,000 or so souls get grouped together as “Mestizos” or those of mixed blood, a category that includes acculturated Indians and ranges in pigmentation from the very dark (“negros”) to wheat-colored (“triguenos”) to “claras” or palefaces, with a deep, rich brown predominating.
Under the colony, Mexico was a slave state and African bloodlines ran so strong that the Spanish installed a system of 16 racial castes (the offspring of blacks and blacks, blacks and Indians, etc.), the most stringent system of apartheid in the new world. But Afro-Mexicans, a third of the population at liberation in 1821, have largely blended into the general racial milieu save for pockets on the Oaxaca coast and in Veracruz, darkening the face of the people in the process.
Finally, another 8,000,000 upper middle class and ruling elites are as bone white as Felipe Calderon and the PAN hierarchy. The PAN, in fact, is a party that has been established to protect the white skin privileges of its constituents.
In the grand gringo tradition of Great White Fatherism, Felipe Calderon ventured out to meet the Indians August 22, when he was helicoptered into a Mazahua community just west of Mexico City. A few thousand indigenas the Mazahuas are divided with some aligned with the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign were trucked in from outlying villages and lined up to be searched and pass through metal detectors to insure they carried no bombs or pro-AMLO materials. Calderon and his wife Margarita, decked out in an expensive Indian gown and escorted by the Presidential military guard or Estado Mayor (although Calderon was not yet president) passed down the main street behind the same two meter-tall metal barriers that now surround the Mexican Congress to keep Lopez Obrador’s supporters at bay.
There were the usual speeches about “our Indian brothers” and how Calderon would be “the president of the poor” topped off by folkloric Indian dances. But when the hungry Mazahuas at last sat down to table to wolf the free “barbacoa” (mutton), a torrential downpour fell from the skies and instantly ended the fiesta. The Gods are not crazy.
Mexico’s unmentioned race war is perhaps most dramatically reflected on the television screen. 100 per cent of those who read the lies-as-news on Televisa and TV Azteca are white Mexicans, some with blonde hair. They deliver the white news, the news of Calderon and his dubious “victory” and how awful AMLO’s brown people are for fouling the streets of Mexico City with their filthy encampments. Although he is white like them, AMLO himself rarely even rates a mention unless Le Monde or the New York Times has run an interview with him that day and any notice of the great fraud perpetrated against the Mexican people is treated with disdain.
In Oaxaca, brown people are so pissed off at the white man’s news that they have occupied the state television and 11 radio stations and started broadcasting their own. Most of the owners just shut down the transmitters but some were eager to destroy their own equipment to keep the brown news off the air goons poured acid into the consoles at Channel 8.
But brown news is resilient and indeed is being nosed around the state on dozens of indigenous community radio outlets, some legal and others not quite, like Radio Planton (Radio Sit-In) that brings you the brown news straight from the occupied plaza of Oaxaca city.
Up in the capital, although Lopez Obrador fumes at being exorcized from the white screens, he counsels serenity. The brown crowd often bellows back “Que Muere Televisa!” (That Televisa should die) and verbally lacerates any cameraperson caught filming in their midst. “We must take over Televisa like our brothers in Oaxaca!” a young very Indian-looking man yells, pumping his fist into the air an inch from my scalp. “No, you are wrong!” a bent, very Indian-looking woman on my right admonishes the “joven”, “we have promised AMLO that we will not be violent.”
Although Televisa’s top anchor Joaquin Lopez Dorriga is the king of the white news, last week he featured some brown faces for once three Mexican shark fisherman who purportedly had drifted for nine months all the way to the Marshall Islands after the motor on their 27-foot open boat konked out off the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit. The intrepid, affable young men had survived on raw fish and a dead duck a week and drank rain water during their odyssey, Dorriga marveled at this point he was devoting most of his hour-long broadcast to the story.
But something was wrong with the picture – the “fisherman” looked rather well fed and hardly burnt to a crisp by the brutal sun, as is usually the case with long-adrift castaways. “Survivors Submerged In A Sea of Doubts” headlined El Universal. Some suggested that the men had actually been out fishing for “white shark” i.e. packets of cocaine dumped into the sea by low-flying narco-planes. Two more fishermen had been aboard when they shipped out of Nayarit last November and their disappearance gave voice to “chisme” (gossip) of cannibalism.
Lopez Obrador’s people had another and more plausible explanation: Televisa had invented the whole tele-myth to divert attentions from the post-electoral crisis.
Missing in this contemporary war of the castes are the voices of those who first so valiantly tore the mask off Mexican racism the Zapatistas wear their ski-masks because before the rebellion they were people “without faces” to the whites of Chiapas.
Since May, the Zapatista “caracoles” or public centers in Chiapas have been abandoned on orders from Subcomandante who, on the eve of the horrific police assault on the defiant farmers of San Salvador Atenco, declared the EZLN on “Red Alert.” As Mexico disintegrates into chaos, the rebels’ general command, the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee has remained mute and the usually loquacious Marcos, the Other Campaign shipwrecked by the numbing electoral fraud, silently moves around the country huddling with handfuls of supporters sightings have been reported in Puebla, Morelos, Queretero and an informant in the highlands swears that the Sup recently visited Chiapas. The anticipated arrival of Zapatista comandantes in Mexico City has never materialized.
Although the troubles in Oaxaca would seem a suitable vehicle to revive the Other Campaign, Marcos quarreled with Section 22 last winter and the maestros turn dour when questioned about the quixotic Zapatista spokesperson. When his name and that of La Otra was pronounced from the stage at a Zocalo gathering last week (not by Lopez Obrador), a resounding “rechifla” (derisive whistling) flew out of the crowd, and at last Sunday’s informative assembly, the old guys I always stand with wrinkled up their noses like it smelled bad when I tried to defend the EZLN. Many AMLO supporters who now diss the rebels enthusiastically turned out to welcome them in 2001 when the Zapatistas filled this same plaza with a quarter of a million people.
The Zapatistas’ 1994 National Democratic Convention (CND) in a Lacandon jungle clearing brought many visions of Mexico together in an unforgettable and historic “coyuntura” (conjunction) but Marcos’s presence at the mammoth conclave of the same name set for the Zocalo September 16 (over a million delegates are expected to attend) is anything but confirmed indeed if the Subcomandante were to show up, given his broadside attacks on Lopez Obrador during the Other Campaign, he might wind up dangling from the nearest lamppost.
Nonetheless, AMLO’s CND which is bound to be a much more tepid version of the Zapatistas’ Convention, sorely needs the Sup’s revolutionary acumen and is, in fact, shaping up as a battle for the hearts and minds of Mexico’s Indians. Lopez Obrador has invited all of the nation’s 57 Indigenous peoples to stand at the front of the Convention and the Zapatistas’ Accords on Indian Rights and Culture (“Los Acuerdos de San Andres”) signed by the mal gobierno but never honored (AMLO’s own party shot it down in the Mexican Senate) is sure to become a plank in the new CND’s struggle program. The giant meeting, really a congress of los de abajo (those from down below), citizens severely disaffected with the electoral process, could be fertile recruiting ground for the anti-electoral Other Campaign.
These are crucial days for Mexico. In a breathtakingly fast track decision this Monday, the seven judges of the TRIFE the court of last resort for fixing the fraud took just three hours to unanimously disregarded mountains of evidence of malfeasance in thousands of recently recounted ballot boxes and, despite the social cost such a manipulated verdict implies, upheld Calderon’s advantage. In doing so, the judges confirmed not only the stealing of the 2006 election from Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador but also the prevalence of 500 years of institutional racism in Mexico.
September is the patriotic month in this distant neighbor nation. The 15th and 16th commemorate the revolt of Father Miguel Hidalgo and his mostly black and brown underclass army against the Crown in 1810. Earlier in the month, patriotic wreathes will be laid at monuments to the “Ninos Heroes” (“Heroic Children”), young cadets who threw themselves from the balustrades of Chapultepec Castle rather than surrender to the Yanqui invaders in 1846, and the San Patricios, the Irish contingent that came to fight on the side of the Mexicans against the American intruders and who were hung for this maximum expression of solidarity.
The facades of the government buildings that border the Zocalo are decorated with enormous swatches of red, white, and green, the Mexican colors, and giant electric representations of “the heroes who gave us a fatherland” blaze on their walls. This past Sunday, perhaps animated by all the patriotic hoopla, Lopez Obrador spoke of these heroes and how in their time they were all maligned by the white elite, which continues to keep this nation of brown people in thrall. Father Hidalgo was excommunicated; Benito Juarez, the first democratically elected president, was a “dirty Indian”; Francisco Madero who declared the Mexican revolution after the 1910 election was stolen by dictator Porfirio Diaz, was “crazy”; the revolutionary martyrs Francisco Villa and Emiliano Zapata were “brigands and bandits.” “Now they call us crazy too and they are right we are crazy for democracy. Together we are making history and one day, all of us here today will be recognized as heroes too” Lopez Obrador told thousands of people the color of the earth this past Sunday.
On my way home Sunday afternoon, I ran into Rutilio, the crippled, very brown (and very grimey) begger to whose newspaper fund I regularly contribute. “Hola” he waved happily, crouching against the church wall, “I am the President of Mexico!”
This is a battle about many things, about brown and white and rich and poor, electoral democracy and a just, humane society – but above all, it is a battle for the soul of Mexico.
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 email@example.com