Repression on the Menu in Mexico

Mexico City.

The official swearing-in of Felipe Calderon as president of Mexico presented formidable logistical difficulties to the high echelon military officers designated to protect chiefs of state here. For three days prior to the constitutionally-mandated ceremony in the congress of the country, the presidium had been turned into a war zone when deputies and senators of the three parties that back left candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s claim that he is the legitimate president of Mexico stormed the tribune and fought members of Calderon’s rightist National Action Party or PAN in a series of battle royals that featured punches, pepper gas, hair-pulling, hammerlocks, tossed soft drinks, torn suits and bloody noses – the final fracas occurred just minutes before the scheduled swearing in.

For two nights, both parties camped out on the platform, huddled in sleeping bags, glaring at each other and howling popular songs to keep the other side awake, the PRD ironically at stage right, the rightists at stage left. Getting Calderon onto the stage would be a nightmare.

Meanwhile, outside the congress which angry throngs of Lopez Obrador’s people threatened to overrun to prevent Calderon’s investiture, thousands of federal preventative police and military troops crouched behind two meter tall metal barricades, backed up by tanks, water cannons, tear gas launchers, long guns, and snipers on nearby roofs.

To whisk the President-elect through this labyrinth without incident, the Estado Mayor or elite presidential command, first sent out a dummy caravan whose route was tracked by the two national television networks in a successful ploy to thwart the protestors. Calderon was then smuggled into congress in an unmarked vehicle through the underground parking lot while hundreds of ceremonially garbed cadets awaited the fake motorcade on the steps of the legislative palace.

The president-elect then emerged from backstage as a phalanx of burley bodyguards opened an aisle on the PAN side of the tribune for the blunt 44 year-old rightist to deliver the briefest acceptance speech in the annals of such ceremonies – the short, balding Calderon had to pin the presidential sash on his own chest while his predecessor Vicente Fox smiled wanly at his side – Fox is reported to have suffered a mild heart attack several days before the change of power and the relationship between the two men has always been frosty.

But the official swearing-in had been preempted by the unprecedented transfer of powers from Fox to Calderon at Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, in the early morning hours with the military brass bearing witness. Never before in Mexico had power changed hands in such circumstances. Swearing the oath read to him by an unidentified voice off camera, Felipe Calderon became the first Mexican president ever to privately assume power – the constitutionally mandated congressional swearing-in was designed to bolster the PANista’s dubious claim to the office awarded to him by a razor-thin margin in the fraud-marred July 2nd election.

The militarized spectacle of this post-midnight swearing-in broadcast nationally by the nation’s two-headed television monopoly sends a clear signal of just how Felipe Calderon intends to govern this sharply polarized land – with the military and the media.

Indeed, repression is right at the top of Calderon’s menu as evidenced by his cabinet appointees, many of them like him chosen from the right wing of the rightist party. The new interior secretary who oversees national security and internal political relations and whose powers are second only to the president, Jose Ramirez Acuna, had perhaps the blackest human rights record of any state governor outside of Oaxaca tyrant Ulisis Ruiz when he ruled Jalisco, never once accepting recommendations from the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) to curtail flagrant abuses by his security forces.

Ramirez Acuna was notorious for ordering the brutal repression of an anti-globalization demonstration during a Latin American-European Union summit in Guadalajara in May 2004 in which a hundred protestors were jailed and beaten, tortured for days by state police and thrown into Jalisco’s maximum lock-ups for months despite an outcry from national and international human rights organizations. Ramirez Acuna’s appointment as Interior secretary during a particularly turbulent moment of social upheaval her is a sign of the “Hard Hand” (“Mano Dura”) to come.

Even more ominous is the naming of Eduardo Medina Mora as the nation’s attorney general. Medina Mora, former director of the CISEN, Mexico’s top intelligence agency, served as public security secretary under Fox and organized the bloodthirsty police attack on the rebellious farmers of San Salvador Atenco last May in which hundreds were brutalized, two young men killed, and 23 women raped or otherwise sexually abused by the security forces.

The expected wave of repression has already descended over Oaxaca where the Oaxaca Peoples Popular Assembly or APPO and dissident education workers have occupied the center of the state capital for six months. On October 27th, following the murder of independent U.S. journalist Brad Will on the barricades by a death squad in the employ of Governor Ruiz, a leading member of the PRI party which ruled Mexico for seven decades and whose removal is the key demand of protestors, Fox moved in thousands of Federal Preventative Police, a corps culled from the military, who retook the central plaza. Since then, the dissidents have waged a fierce resistance from behind barricades thrown up throughout the state. Ruiz’s gunsills have now killed 18 demonstrators beside Will – whose killers, police officers themselves, were released from custody last week by the governor’s police.

A peaceful march by the APPO and its supporters November 25th was cruelly suppressed by the federal troops, unleashing elements of Ruiz’s ministerial police who burnt down the Assembly’s encampments, raided APPO leader Flavio Sosa’s offices, and broke into hospitals and private homes hunting protestors. More than 160 militants detained by state and federal cops have been shipped out of state to prisons as far north as Matamoros on the U.S. border in a concerted PRI-PAN plan to crush the self-designated “Commune of Oaxaca.”

As might be expected in the throes of the government-ordered crackdown which accompanies Calderon’s ascendancy to high office, and the sealing of the stealing of the July election that has soured many Mexicans on the effectiveness of the ballot to bring social change, the armed option has emerged as an enticing alternative. The first bombings here in six years were staged in mid-November by a coalition of tiny guerrilla cells that split from the all-but-dormant Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) in the late ’90s, and caused moderate property damage to the bunker that houses the maximum electoral tribunal – the TRIFE – which confirmed Calderon’s victory, the heavily-fortified national headquarters of Ruiz’s PRI, and a transnational bank – bombings at transnational banks occurred in 2000.

Also on the move and a target of opportunity for Calderon’s security apparatus are the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and its quixotic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos who was relatively untouched during the Fox years. This December 1st, the Marcos-directed Other Campaign completed its itinerary of moving from conflict point to conflict point across the Mexican geography listening to “those at the bottom”, the first stage of weaving a national tapestry of resistance of “los de abajo” in every region of the land. The Other Campaign now returns to Chiapas where the EZLN will evaluate the dangers that a Calderon presidency presents – a second group of Zapatista comandantes is projected to resume the Other Campaign’s route in and around January 1st. The plan and pace of “La Otra” seems aimed at the calling of a constitutional convention in 2010, the bi-centennial of Mexico as a nation.

In his first address as president of Mexico, Calderon repeatedly called for “unity” and “dialogue” even as his big business backers were embarking on a TV hit piece campaign accusing Lopez Obrador and his supporters of undermining the nation. Given the seismic divide between rich and poor, brown and white, that has been so evident in past months, and the hard hand still to come, reconciliation seems improbable. Felipe Calderon will be encased in a security bubble for as long as he is president; unable to travel the country he claims to have won in the stolen July 2nd election without inciting riot and resistance.

Mexico has been verging on ingovernability for many months and Calderon’s heavy-handed feint to slam the lid on the upsurge from down below will only crank up class and race discontent.

“Coyuntura”, the gathering of objective and subjective forces, is a favorite tool of political analysts for measuring the possibilities of social change here. Revolutionary “coyunturas” come together when these two forces are in alignment – when the popular movements, the subjective force, has grown sufficiently strong to overcome the increasingly onerous objective forces – in this case, the growing impoverishment of three quarters of the population now living in and around the poverty line thanks to the machinations of neo-liberalism, a personal philosophy of which Calderon is fatally enamored.

In this respect, the new Mexican president ends up on the losing side in Latin America – the election of Raul Correa in Ecuador is just the latest milestone in the pendulum swing to the left on the southern continent. Indeed, Calderon represents a last losing gasp for Washington’s hegemony in the hemisphere. It is not just of passing significance that virtually all of Latin America’s heads of state with the notable exception of Alvaro Uribe, Washington’s puppet in Colombia, chose to absent themselves from the inauguration.

Felipe Calderon has been programmed by his transnational handlers to facilitate their business arrangements south of the border from 2006 through 2012 but history, which in Mexico is as present as the present, may derail this carefully laid plan. In Mexico, revolutions explode in hundred year cycles.

In 1810, the black and brown underclass rose up to overthrow the Spanish and win the nation’s independence. In 1910, Mexico erupted in the first great social revolution of largely indigenous farmers in the Americas, a revolution that was sparked by a stolen election. For Felipe Calderon, 2010 looms on the horizon.

JOHN ROSS’s ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible–Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006 is just out from Nation Books. 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



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