Nine years ago on a sultry July morning, Mexicans woke up and discovered to their great amazement that the Dinosaur that had hunkered down at the foot of their beds for 71 years was gone. This July 6th, when Mexicans rose in the morning, the Dinosaur was back.
In the famous short poem by Augusto Monterroso, the Dinosaur is the PRI – the Institutional Revolutionary Party – once the longest-ruling political dynasty in the known universe that controlled the destiny of Mexicans from the cradle to the grave for seven interminable decades until it was dislodged from power by the right-wing PAN party in the July 2000 presidential elections. In its unslakable thirst for power, the PRI committed unspeakable crimes against the Mexican peoples, stealing elections from the most humble city hall to the presidential palace, jailing and torturing and executing those who stood in its way, and emptying out public treasuries in an unmatched kleptocracy that was a legend throughout Latin America, “the perfect dictatorship” Latin American novelist Mario Vargas Llosa once dubbed it (for which the PRI had him tossed out of the country.)
“Have we Mexicans lost our memories and our minds?” asks Sylvia Insulza from behind the counter of her newspaper dispensary in the old quarter of the capital. Tears of frustration crystallize in the corners of her eyes.
The depth and breadth of the PRI victory July 5th is nothing short of stunning. From a distant third place finish in the 2006 presidential fiasco in which the rightist PAN stole the election from Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and his left-wing PRD party by .57% of the popular vote, the PRI (“proven experience and a new attitude” is its current campaign slogan) took 37% of the total ballots cast, nearly doubling its votes three years back, and taking control of congress for the first time since 1997. The once-upon-a-time ruling party’s alliance with the so-called Mexican Green Environmental Party (PVEM – see sidebar below “THE GREEN PRI”) will give it 259 seats out of 500 in the lower house, an absolute majority. In nine out of 31 states, the PRI won every office up for grabs – federal congressional representatives, local congresses, and municipal officials, a “carro completo” or “full car” in the Institutionals’ curious lexicon.
The Dinosaurs also proved triumphant in five out of six governors’ races, winning two statehouses in which the PAN had resided for 12 years. Only in the northern border state of Sonora where the PRI governor was seen as complicit in the tragic incineration of 48 babies in a Hermosillo day care center a month before the election, was the PAN able to squeeze out a victory in an election in which the PAN and PRI candidates were cousins.
Moreover, the PRI won cities like Naucalpan, an upper middle class Mexico City suburb the right-wingers have controlled since the 1980s, and the nation’s second city, Guadalajara, which the PAN has owned since 1995. In alliance with the Mexican Green Environmental Party, the PRI won its first elected office in Mexico City since 1994. Although the left PRD maintains control of the nation’s capital, the Party of the Aztec Sun does so by a greatly reduced margin. Whereas the PRD registered 51% of the vote in Mexico City in 2006, three years later it weighs in with just 29%.
But Sylvia’s tears of frustration may soon dry. Whether the Dinosaurs are really back or just staying overnight (in Jurassic time) is not yet clear. Mid-term elections are referendums on the sitting president and his administration’s management of the country and July 5th represented a crushing vote of no confidence in Felipe Calderon on whose watch the economy has tumbled into freefall – “growth” in 2009 will measure a negative 8%, the worst slide since the Great Depression of 1929-32. Calderon, who campaigned as the “President of Employment” has presided over the loss of 2,000,000 jobs. The president’s ill-advised war on the drug cartels has soaked the country in blood – over 12,000 lives have been lost – and fueled corruption and human rights abuses on the part of the military and the police. Calderon’s panic-driven handling of this spring’s Swine Flu “PAN-demic” kicked the bricks out from under the tourist industry, the nation’s third source of dollars, and his arrogant imposition of candidates in the July 5th vote-taking angered and turned many in his own party against him.
Ceding the PRI a 10-point advantage (37% to 27%) in the national vote and the loss of congress to the Institutionals’ absolute majority effectively shuts down Calderon’s legislative agenda. Indeed the PANista may be the weakest president in a century – no Mexican president since the 1910-1919 revolution has ever ruled with the opposition holding an absolute majority in the lower house. Felipe Calderon will be a lame duck for the next three years – in real terms, his presidency ended July 5th.
One of the first casualties of the debacle was PAN party president German Martinez, a creature of Calderon, who tossed in the towel the morning after his party’s most devastating defeat since its founding in 1939. Similar demands for the resignation of PRD president Jesus “Chucho” Ortega, who orchestrated the left party’s worst showing since 1991, are legion.
The Party of the Aztec Sun plummeted from 38% of the national vote in 2006 when Lopez Obrador was at the top of the ticket, to just 12% three years later and its congressional delegation was decimated, retaining only 71 seats out of the 126 it held in the outgoing legislature. Cities in the misery belt girdling the capital such as Nezahualcoyotl, Chalco, and Ecatepec with a total population of 6,00,000 that have been in the PRD’s pocket for years fell to the Dinosaurs.
Despite hanging on to its hegemony in the capital, the PRD lost four out of 16 delegations or boroughs for the first time since it took power here in 1997 although the leftists still have a commanding advantage in the local legislative assembly. In the battles for the delegations, the PAN picked up three of the wealthiest enclaves in the city and the tiny Party of Labor won the megalopolis’s biggest and poorest demarcation – Iztapalapa – by ten points after Ortega and his co-conspirators persuaded the nation’s top electoral court to substitute their candidate at the last minute for one supported by Lopez Obrador.
AMLO responded by mobilizing his considerable base, including the “Adelitas”, hundreds of working women dressed in the outfits of women soldiers during the Mexican revolution, who last year fended off the privatization of the state oil monopoly PEMEX with a campaign of civil disobedience. “Adelitas” like Berta Robledo, a retired nurse, descended on Iztapalapa walking the precincts day after day to expose the flimflam and support Lopez Obrador’s candidate, a local soccer coach everyone knows as “Juanito.” Now, with Iztapalapa under his belt, AMLO, the once-wildly popular Mexico City mayor who still styles himself as “the legitimate president of Mexico”, has forcibly demonstrated that he is still very much a factor in Mexican electoral politics.
Despite the PRI Dinosaur’s big numbers, it was the Party of No that was the hands- down winner July 5th. Absenteeism hovered between 55 and 60% in the south and center of the country and in northern states like Chihuahua and Baja California where Calderon’s drug war rages, only 25 to 30% of the electorate went to the polls. A national movement to cast protest votes or deface ballots with no-holds-barred slurs against all the political parties, gained resonance throughout the country. The number of “votos nulos” cast doubled from 3% in 2006 to a shade under 6%, and in Mexico City, the “votos nulos” multiplied by 400% to 10 to 13% of the vote. This reporter observed one disgusted voter in a neighborhood polling place here in the old quarter of the capital angrily ball up his unmarked ballot and cram it through the slot in the “urna.”
Because a recount must be ordered when the number of votos nulos exceeds the margin of victory between the first and second-place finishers, ballot boxes had to be opened and counted out vote by vote in as many as 27,000 out of 140,000 polling places. Indeed, the number of votos nulos – 1.8 million (a half million cast in Mexico City and Mexico state alone) – establishes the Nulos as the fifth electoral force in the country behind the PRI, PAN, PRD, and PVEM but ahead of the PT, Democratic Convergence, New Alliance, and the Social Democrats (who, failing to win 2% of the national vote, lost their registration.)
On the Mexican political calendar, the conclusion of mid-term elections signals the kick-off for the next presidential race three years down the pike in 2012. The big pro-PRI turnout puts the Dinosaurs in the driver’s seat to recover Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, which it held hostage from 1928 through the new millennium.
At this fledgling stage, the PRI frontrunner is Mexico state governor Enrique Pena Nieto, a short, pretty boy politico with deep pockets, a trademark pompadour, and a glamorous soap opera star (Angelica Rivera AKA “The Seagull”) on his arm – Pena Nieto, who Lopez Obrador labels “a male Barbie”, is a darling of Mexico’s two-headed television monopoly, Televisa and TV Azteca.
The governor’s resounding sweep of Mexico state municipal (97 out of 125 city halls) and federal elections in the nation’s most populous and economically active state puts him double digits above his closest rival, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, the leader of the PRI’s senate delegation, and a Mafia-like political boss who is often mocked as “Don Beltrones.” The “Don” is a longtime crony of the much-reviled Carlos Salinas, the former president who fell into public disgrace after his brother was imprisoned for masterminding the gangland execution of a political rival. The return of the Dinosaurs marks a possible revival of Salinas’s fortunes. The bald-pated, big-eared former chief of state was pictured depositing his ballot in a large, front-page El Universal photo July 6th just to remind readers who exactly was back.
Also in the mix for the PRI nomination is the voluminous party president Beatriz Paredes, a Dinosauress whose wardrobe contains a different hand-made Indian huipil (a loose-fitting muumuu-like gown) for every day of the year.
To add to Felipe Calderon’s woes, the PAN has no “bueno” or fair-haired boy in the pipeline to succeed him as president – his young protégée, Juan Camilo Mourino, the recently-appointed Interior Secretary, was killed last November in a mysterious Mexico City air crash after returning from overseeing drug war operations in the north. The PAN’s affairs are managed by a council of aging elders who appear reduced to recycling bland party hacks like Senator Santiago Creel, hardly one of the premium numbers on Calderon’s cell phone dial.
Who the PRD nominee will be depends largely on how long Jesus Ortega’s chokehold on the party is allowed to continue. Bloodied by the July 5th debacle, the chief Chucho seems determined to compound his party’s misery by expelling Lopez Obrador from the PRD on the grounds that he violated the by-laws by backing the PT in Iztapalapa. AMLO remains the most popular – if polemical – politico in Mexico with powers of convocation that far exceed any other party’s front-running candidates. Having insured that the PT and Democratic Convergence retained their registration by endorsing their candidates, Lopez Obrador guaranteed himself a place on the 2012 ballot even if Ortega is successful in expelling him from the PRD.
El Peje as he is affectionately called will no doubt face-off against his successor as Mexico City mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, a strapping, well-spoken but distinctly uncharismatic politician, for the votes of Mexico’s leftists in 2012.
Despite its abysmal showing July 5th, the Mexican Left by whatever initials it shows itself is hardly down for the count. The PRI’s overwhelming win at the polls only represents 16% of 77,000,000 registered Mexican voters when absenteeism and votos nulos are factored into the July 5th results. The Dinosaurs staged a modest congressional comeback in 2003 mid-term elections only to be steamrolled by AMLO and Calderon in 2006. Failure to cope with continuing economic and social turmoil and the predictably polluted performance of PRI elites like the Salinas clan that seem to exult in political mayhem and armed thuggery, are bound to revive left fortunes in the next three years.
According to evolutionists, the dinosaurs went extinct 60,000,000 years ago either because a giant asteroid plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the Yucatan peninsula lowering world temperatures by ten degrees, or because climate change so thinned out the oxygen count that the dinosaurs’ huge respiratory systems no longer functioned. As climate change once again threatens Planet Earth, the comeback of the PRI dinosaurs will, no doubt, be short-lived.
THE GREEN PRI
The Mexican Green Ecologist Party or PVEM, which will partner with the PRI to form an absolute majority in the lower house of congress (259 out of 500 seats), is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Gonzalez Torres family. Founded by father Jose Gonzalez Torres, a wealthy construction tycoon, with ample investment from brother Victor, the king of the largest chain of generic pharmacies in Mexico, the party is presided over by Jose’s young scion, Jose Emilio Gonzalez, dubbed “El Nino Verde” or “The Green Child.”
Although the PVEM touts its roots in Mexico’s growing environmental movement – the elder Gonzalez Torres was a player in the failed fight to shut down Laguna Verde in Veracruz, Mexico’s only nuclear power plant, and active in protests against Mexico City’s killer smog in the late 1980s – the Gonzalez Torres clan soon discovered that juicy government subsidies to Mexican political parties could pump up family fortunes.
First aligned with the leftist PRD and subsequently with the right-wing PAN, Gonzalez Torres had his sights set on becoming environmental secretary after the election of PANista Vicente Fox in 2000 but when he was passed over for the post, he delivered the PVEM to the PRI with which he has lined up ever since.
Having abandoned its environmental pretensions, the only green the Mexican Green Environmental party has pursued in recent years is the long green of filthy lucre. In 2004, the Nino Verde was secretly filmed soliciting a seven-figure bribe from developers keen on trashing the coastline of Caribbean Cancun. Scant days before the July 5th shakedown, a PVEM senator was nabbed at a Chiapas airport with a million pesos bundled up in his carry-on baggage.
The centerpiece of the Green Party’s July 5th campaign was the restitution of the Death Penalty, which earned it the condemnation of European-based environmental parties and the PVEM has been excommunicated from the Global Greens Network. During the run-up to the recent elections, political cartoonists substituted a vulture for the party’s colorful emblem, a toucan.
As the PRI’s partner in crime in the new legislature, re-introducing the death penalty will be the big enchilada on the PVEM’s plate. The “Greens” are also expected to lobby for rescinding electoral reforms that deprived Televisa and TV Azteca of millions in political advertising revenues in the prologue to the July 5th mid-terms – the reforms were introduced after the broadcasting giants abused the use of television and radio spots in the 2006 presidential election. To this end, Ninfa Salinas Pliego, daughter of the owner of TV Azteca, has been named to head the PVEM bench in the incoming congress.
JOHN ROSS will present IRAQIGIRL, the diary of a teenager growing up under U.S. occupation in northern Iraq, July 30th at Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District (7 PM.) Ross developed and edited the Haymarket Books volume. These contributions will be issued at 10-day intervals while the Blindman is in California for medical tests. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org