Politics as Drugs / Drugs as Politics

Despite a raging war against homegrown drug cartels, politics may well be Mexico’s most dangerous drug. Addicted to authority, Mexican politicos crave more and more power and are disposed to obtain same by any means necessary. Conversely, the powerless, who are legion, crave drugs to assuage their condition.

In three years of Felipe Calderon’s questionable presidency, both drug use and the powerlessness of the poor have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, Calderon’s self-inflicted war on drugs that has taken 10,000 lives since his dubious 2006 election has itself become an instrument of political power.

Witness events in Michoacan last week. On May 26th, heavily armed and masked federal police kicked down the great doors of the Government Palace in the capital city of Morelia, taking 19 state officials prisoner. Among those arrested was Citlali Fernandez, a special adviser to Governor Leonel Godoy. Fernandez is alleged to have a “sentimental” attachment to a drug lord nicknamed “El Tio” (“The Uncle”) – Dionicio Loya is accused of being a spokesperson for the peculiar local cartel “La Familia Michoacana.” In addition, federal police raided city halls across this central pacific state, carrying off 10 mayors.

President Calderon is himself a native of Michoacan, even once running unsuccessfully for governor on the right-wing PAN party ticket.

The current governor Lionel Godoy is a veteran leader of the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and one-time party president. Godoy at first loudly protested the detentions but has since lapsed into a cautious silence.

Long-time observers of Michoacan politics who habitually gather each day under the porticos of the state capital’s central plaza a block from the government palace speculate that Calderon’s police threatened the governor with arrest if he did not desist in protesting the detentions – Godoy’s kid brother, a candidate for municipal president of Lazaro Cardenas, a bustling port city, was reportedly recently questioned by security forces.

The unprecedented raids, which strained the delicate federal-state balance as defined by the Mexican Constitution, came one month before critical mid-term elections in which 500 seats in the lower house are up for grabs. The mid-terms, which will determine who is in the driver’s seat for the 2012 presidential run, are, in effect, a referendum on Calderon’s inept governance, and are the first federal elections since he flimflammed the 2006 vote from leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), a fraud protested by millions.

Under Calderon’s unsteady hand, Mexico has fallen into ruins. Despite dubbing himself the “President of Employment”, unemployment numbers are at a 13-year high – more than 2,000,000 jobs will have been lost by the end of 2009 at the current rate of attrition and the economy is headed for -7% negative “growth”. Oil prices continue to stagnate after a $100 a barrel tumble earlier this year and exports are plummeting – the shutdown of the transnational automobile industry that accounts for a fifth of all exports to the U.S. portends fresh disaster.

Moreover, moneys sent home by Mexican workers in El Norte have been cut 20% and the recent swine flu panic combined with bloodcurdling drug violence has crushed the tourist industry, Mexico’s third source of dollars.

Calderon’s war on seven drug cartels which was declared just days after his chaotic December 2006 inauguration in a effort to flout his uncertain authority, has turned into a gory fracaso – Amnesty International’s 2008 annual human rights report unveiled just last week in London decries violations of individual guarantees by Mexican police and military that have resulted in a score of executions of innocents and generated over a thousand formal complaints to the government’s own National Human Rights Commission (CNDH).

The Amnesty report underscores the impunity of the military – soldiers who have been implicated in extra-judicial killings and kidnappings are judged by an internal military justice system with no civilian oversight. As the AI investigation points out, the press has become a target of choice for both the drug gangs and the security forces – two reporters in drug-saturated Durango and Coahuila states have been murdered by unknowns in the past month.

Despite wounded denials, there is little doubt that Calderon’s assault on Michoacan officials obeys the electoral calendar. Of the ten mayors arrested, six represented the once-ruling PRI that Calderon’s PAN considers its chief rival on July 5th, and three were members of the badly-split PRD. The use of the drug war as an electoral tool in Michoacan follows on the heels of similar machinations in Zacatecas, a northern state also ruled by the PRD where Governor Amalia Garcia is reportedly under investigation after 53 alleged narcos were broken out of a local penitentiary last month (April) by an armed commando thought to be associated with the Zetas, once enforcers for the Gulf Cartel but now working for themselves.

In addition, Zacatecas senator Ricardo Monreal, himself a former PRD governor and a supporter of Lopez Obrador, has been forced to take a leave of absence from the legislature after a brother was accused of stashing 14 tons of marijuana in a chile drying shed on his property in Fresnillo.

Calderon’s hard hand against presumed left-wing narco-politicos in Michoacan and Zacatecas contrasts markedly with the kid-gloves handling of Morelos governor Marco Antonio Adame, a PANista – Adame’s Secretary of Public Security is currently being held for colluding with the Sinaloa-based Beltran Leyva Cartel. When federal police laid siege to the home of the gang’s supposed leader in Morelos a mere block and a half from the Cuernavaca Palace of Government where Adame dispatches, the governor was conveniently out of town. The last four governors of this tiny enclave just south of Mexico City have been accused of ties to the narcos.

The 29 Michoacan officials hauled in by Calderon’s drug cops are now cooling their heels in a Mexico City lockdown where they have declared themselves on hunger strike – hundreds of relatives and supporters have traveled from Michoacan to protest their incarcerations. Prosecutors indicate the accused will undergo 40 days of interrogation and will not be considered for release until after the July 5th election.

All are fingered for aiding and abetting the very sui generis Michoacan cartel known as La Familia, which stands accused of dumping five severed heads on an Uruapan dance floor on the eve of Calderon’s 2006 election and the terrorist bombing of Independence eve celebrations last September 15th in Morelia over which Godoy presided – nine citizens were killed. La Familia claims the bombing was the work of their rivals, the Zetas. Despite their violent track record, La Familia proclaims in Internet press bulletins and “narco-mantas” (banners draped from pedestrian overpasses in Michoacan cities) that it supports “family values.”

La Familia is said to run dozens of speed labs in the scorched southern hills of Tierra Caliente in addition to marijuana production in that bioregion. The Family is reputedly at war with the Zetas for control of Lazaro Cardenas, the Pacific coast container port through which Colombian cocaine is purported to flow like the mighty Amazon.

The wags gathered over café under the porticos in Morelia concur that the current brouhaha is indeed a family affair: La Familia Michoacana vs. the Familia Calderon – the president’s sister is the boss of the state PAN and has aspirations to succeed Godoy as governor.

The July 5th vote taking is the first federal balloting since the fraud-tarred debacle of 2006 and comes at a point when high dudgeon at the political parties is peaking. With the PAN held responsible for wrecking the economy and steeping the nation in blood, and both the PRD, torn between Lopez Obrador and the devious faction known as Los Chuchus that controls the party machine, and the PRI in maximum disarray, as few as 30% of the electorate out of 77 million registered Mexicans are expected to show up at the polls July 5th.

The PRI, which ran the lives of Mexicans from the cradle to the grave for seven decades before being ousted by the right-wingers, has been ripped asunder of late by the revelations of former president Miguel De la Madrid, a party elder, who, during a radio interview with crusading newswoman Carmen Aristegui, broke with his party’s sacrosanct code of Omerta, and admitted that his successor, the much-reviled Carlos Salinas de Gortari, had close ties to the narcos and fleeced the nation’s treasury before leaving office. PRI bigwigs immediately rushed to De la Madrid’s Mexico City home to paper over the scandal, issuing a bulletin explaining that the former president was in frail health and did not know what he was saying.

Other troubled players on the mid-term dance card are the so-called Mexican Environmental Green Party which is campaigning for a return of the death penalty, two tiny AMLO-associated parties that have long been the personal property of their leaders, and the Social Democratic Party (PSD) which wants to legalize drugs as a way of combating the drug war travesty.

Although absenteeism is a way of protesting the veniality of the Mexican political class and the parties it runs, some are plotting more active resistance, including marches to the polling stations and disruption of the voting process. The actions, spread spontaneously on blogs and the Internet by disaffected voters, include writing in joke candidates (Kurt Cobain and Heath Leger are suggested by one San Luis Potosi-based blogger who argues that the criteria for write-in candidates should be that they are dead.) Mexicans have a penchant for writing in tongue-in-cheek candidates when they are disaffected with those proposed by the political parties – the beloved comedian Cantinflas is said to have won the presidency in 1954 and Batman is always a popular nominee.

Activist-writers such as Jose Luis Crespo, the author of a detailed study of the 2006 fraud, and National University law professor John Ackerman suggest that voters make their disaffection patent. Some advocate scrawling slogans on their ballots like “Coruptos!” (“Corrupt Ones!”) or “Que Se Vayan Todos!” (“That They Should All Be Kicked Out!), first sounded in the Argentinazo of 2002 when that South American nation had six presidents in three weeks.

Others, like the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), avowed enemies of the electoral process, have been monumentally silent for many months about the upcoming elections. It should be noted that 2010 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, an uprising that began after a fraud-marred election amidst widespread disparagement of the political class. Imbued with a sense of historical destiny, the Zapatistas have a fondness for such historical moments.

JOHN ROSS’s “Iraqigirl – Diary of An Iraqi Teenager” (Haymarket) will be in the bookstores this June and his “El Monstruo – Dread & Redemption in Mexico City” will be published by Nation Books this fall. If you have further information write johnross@igc.org or visit www.johnross-rebeljournamist.com

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 johnross@igc.org