Lovefest in the Zocalo

On a damp Sunday morning four years from the month in which the presidency of Mexico was stolen from him in the fraud-marred elections of 2006 and two years before the next presidential race kicks in, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) convoked tens of thousands of supporters to the great Zocalo plaza in the heart of the city of which he was once a wildly popular mayor, to make it abundantly clear that he will again be the candidate of the Left on the 2012 ballot.

The humongous July 25th rally during which AMLO presented what he labeled “an alternative project for the nation” unfolded right under the City Hall windows of Lopez Obrador’s successor as mayor of this monster megalopolis, Marcelo Ebrard, his chief rival to head a coalition of left parties in the 2012 “presidenciales.”

Under the astute guidance of his political Padrino, Manuel Camacho Solis, himself a former mayor of Mexico City, Ebrard has been assiduously positioning himself to lead the left ticket with the connivance of Lopez Obrador’s arch-rivals, bonded together under the collective logo of “Los Chuchus” (slang for both the Christian savior and mongrel dogs) and headed by the Big Chuchu himself, Jesus Ortega, a PRD senator prone to cutting deals with right-wing President Felipe Calderon’s PAN.

AMLO amassed 17 million votes in the 2006 balloting as the presidential candidate of the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and two smaller left parties but despite widespread allegations of fraud committed by the ruling PAN party, Calderon was awarded the election by .057% of the total vote when the nation’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal denied a re-count. A year after Andres Manuel garnered more votes than any other left candidate in Mexican political history, Ortega and his Chuchus took over the structure of the PRD in internal party elections that proved as bogus as the presidential vote-taking. Ballot boxes were swiped and others never counted. Precincts in which no one voted ran up massive tallies for New Left, the Chuchu faction. After several years of internal strife that left the left party badly bruised, Ortega’s group finally consolidated control of the PRD structure if not the base, which still tilts towards AMLO.

Lopez Obrador, who continues to have one leg inside the party of which he was once president, is sharply critical of Ortega’s prolonged game of footsy with Calderon’s PAN. This past July 4th, the Chuchus linked arms with the right-wingers to assemble a coalition that won the governorships of Sinaloa, Puebla, and Oaxaca. The alliance was brokered by Manuel Camacho Solis, Marcelo Ebrard’s guru.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador AKA “El Peje” (a gar-like fish from his native Tabasco) has been running for high office ever since he declared himself “the legitimate President of Mexico” in the aftermath of tumultuous protests that followed the 2006 flimflam. He reaffirmed his intentions on July 7th in an exclusive interview with the left daily La Jornada, a longtime champion of his cause and the July 25th convocation in the Zocalo signified the unofficial inauguration of his presidential campaign – according to Mexican electoral law, pre-candidates for party nominations cannot legally launch their campaigns until six months before the actual election.

In presenting his “New Alternative Project for the Nation” to a delirious throng that never ceased to chant “AMLO Presidente!”, Lopez Obrador called upon the people to rescue the state from a “mafia” of oligarchs and place it at the service of the majority of Mexicans: “Only the people can save the people.” El Peje also advocated for the democratization of the nation’s mass media. The corporate press has attacked AMLO with hateful vitriol since he was elected Mexico City mayor in 2000. One recent example: when one of his sons was spotted sporting $80 USD sneakers, Televisa and TV Azteca, the two-headed television monopoly, ran this earth-shaking item at the top of the news during a week when drug war massacres and killer floods were devastating the north of the nation. “If in 2006, they lied that my campaign was funded by Hugo Chavez, a man I’ve never met, then in 2012 they will say that I am Bin Laden’s brother,” Lopez Obrador joked to La Jornada.

Also included in the leftist’s alternative project for the nation that is guaranteed to be dissed by the oligarchs: the abolishment of fiscal privilege – El Peje promises to tax profits on the Mexican stock market and to force national and transnational mega-corporations that now pay minimal taxes, to cough up their fair share. Lopez Obrador, who, in 2008 built a popular movement that slammed shut the door on a Calderon-inspired privatization of the state-run petroleum monopoly PEMEX, demands a strengthening of the energy sector with sharp diminishment of U.S.-bound exports so that Mexico can use its own oil to fuel national development.

AMLO also pledges to strive for nutritional sovereignty to prevent the nation’s increasing dependency on food imports i.e. eight to 10 million tons of cheap U.S. and Canadian corn that have wrecked Mexican agriculture and driven millions of farmers to seek survival in El Norte. As in 2006, Lopez Obrador seeks the renegotiation of NAFTA.

But what surprised many in AMLO’s flock in the Zocalo was his insistence on incorporating in his presidential platform an emphatic defense of the moral and cultural values of Mexico, urging his followers not to be trapped by materialism and consumerism but rather to cultivate solidarity and nourish family and social relations. “Kisses harvest kisses,” he preached, encouraging the crowd to hug those around them as at the end of Catholic Mass. This mellowing of the once-crusty Peje may flow from his recent marriage and the birth of a new son who made his debut at the July 25th AMLOVE fest, as some leftish wags have dubbed it.

Aside from this surprising twist, Lopez Obrador emphasized many of the same points in his new project for the nation that he did in 2006. AMLO’s crusades always accompany the underclass – “the poor first” was his 2006 battle cry and race and class distinctions – brown vs. white, poor vs. rich – will again be the subtext of his 2012 campaign.

The upcoming presidential race may not be as lovey dovey as Lopez Obrador would like. Although AMLO has built a broad-based social movement from the bottom, he tends to put all his eggs in the electoral basket rejecting more militant forms of struggle. Commited to Gandhianesque non-violent civil resistance, AMLO is critical of armed guerrilla movements and his 2006 presidential campaign was seriously bad-mouthed by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation’s Subcomandante Marcos, who has since dropped out of sight. Nonetheless, armed rebellion is always on the agenda here particularly in 2010, the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution.

With the economy in chaos, unemployment at record levels, and out-of-control drug war raging throughout the north of the republic (25,000 dead since Calderon took office), the 2012 presidenciales are expected to be the most violent in the nation’s history. This July’s gubernatorial elections, the last major round of balloting before 2012, were jarred by the open intervention of the drug cartels which in some states used violence to vet candidates, most prominently the assassination of the PRI party front-runner for governor of Tamaulipas.

Crowd estimates for AMLO’s July 25th campaign opener varied wildly from 30,000 to a quarter of a million – the crowd filled the Zocalo floor and spilled out into surrounding streets which suggests the higher numbers. But whatever the real totals are Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador remains the only politico in the land who can drum out the masses – four years ago on July 30th, at the zenith of post-electoral protest, AMLO drew 2,000,000 citizens to a rally, the largest political demonstration in Mexican history.

This July 25th, tens of thousands of throats never tired of taunting Felipe Calderon’s own feeble powers of convocation: “These are the people of Lopez Obrador/ Where are yours, fucking Calderon?”

Attendance at the huge rally was not confined to Mexico City where Andres Manuel continues to have a deep base. Many thousands of supporters traveled the length and breadth of the country to be on hand for the campaign opener. Since early 2007, Lopez Obrador has visited all 2400 municipalities or county seats throughout Mexico, relentlessly working his way from border to border and sea to sea “to keep the flame of hope alive” (AMLO) and learn what the “pueblo” is thinking.

Traveling through heartland and outback from Thursdays to Sundays of each week, he held three to five meetings daily, drawing dozens or thousands depending on the size of the venue, signing up 2.2 million citizens as representatives of his legitimate government, and building a network that now includes 9000 territorial committees stretching from Chihuahua to Chiapas. At the July 25th rally in the Zocalo, delegates from all 31 states, half of them women, presented an accounting of their achievements, among them the distribution of 35 million copies of the movement’s monthly newspaper “Regeneration”, named for a broadsheet edited by Ricardo Flores Magon that sparked the Mexican Revolution, the centennial of which is being celebrated this year.

Lopez Obrador’s protracted journey through Mexico clocked 150,000 kilometers on paved highways and another 25,000 on dirt roads, mostly during 2009 when he visited 570 municipalities in the state of Oaxaca, 418 of them autonomous indigenous counties that have rarely if ever hosted a presidential candidate. No Mexican politician has embarked upon such an odyssey since Lazaro Cardenas in 1933 before assuming the presidency of the country. Cardenas’s extended travels sensitized him to the devastation of the underclass and infused his administration with a dedication to social justice.

Like Cardenas, Lopez Obrador took copious notes while on the road that have become the core of his ninth book, “The Mafia That Has Taken Over Mexico – & 2012.” Since his presentation of the new book that had thousands hanging from the rafters at the Metropolitan Theater in downtown Mexico City – the literary event of the year – Lopez Obrador has taken the book tour on the road in the provinces to spread the word.

“The Mafia That Has Taken Over Mexico” is a who’s who of who holds power, listing 30 “potentates” as AMLO labels them as if Mexicans were living in Ali Baba land – 16 oligarchs, including Carlos Slim, the world’s richest tycoon, and “El Chapo” Guzman, reportedly Calderon’s preferred narco-lord; a dozen politicos, leaders of the PAN and the once-ruling PRI (but no Chuchus); and a pair of bankers. At the top of the Mafia pyramid is the Capo de Tutti Capos ex-president Carlos Salinas who El Peje is convinced is responsible for the neo-liberal mutilation of Mexico.

AMLO’s journey through what sociologist Guillermo Bonfils once termed “Mexico Profundo” shocked him. The ecological destruction of the country weighed heavily on Lopez Obrador as he traveled through this mosaic of poverty: “In Chihuahua, we traveled for five hours through the mountains on terrible dirt roads to reach the gold mine at Tayotita – the Canadian transnational that now runs the mine takes the gold out by air. All over Mexico, these foreign corporations are ripping up the land and stealing the wealth of our country…”

How Calderon’s futile drug war has impacted Mexico also stunned AMLO: “so many have died and yet the worst is the corruption of Mexican values. Materialism is degrading the nation. In Sinaloa, the cradle of narco culture, consumerism contaminates daily life: big trucks (“La Troca”) Hummers, gold jewelry, designer clothes, expensive homes, cheap luxuries and runaway individualism while others live in shacks made of cardboard…”

In Cochoapa in the Montana de Guerrero, the most impoverished region in Mexico, “I was startled by the silence of the Indians. They received me with a traditional band but the music was so sad that I couldn’t stop crying…”

“I still have inscribed on my memory the image of an old woman in San Miguel Huautla in the Mixteca of Oaxaca. She showed me her painfully arthritic hands and with the scrupulous serenity of those who live in profound poverty told me they were dead because she had spent her whole life weaving sombreros for five pesos a day.”

AMLO’s travels give him an advantage in building a national movement from the grassroots that his rival for the left nomination for president Marcelo Ebrard, cooped up as he is in Mexico City City Hall juggling the megalopolis’s multiple problems, does not enjoy. Although, like Lopez Obrador, Marcelo has initiated Pharonic public infrastructure projects that put people to work (jobs are votes), he is not universally worshipped by his constituents, as Andres Manuel was when he was mayor. The “Supervia”, a luxury toll road running from upscale Santa Fe in the west of the city angers an underclass whose homes and colonies have been expropriated and bulldozed for the project as does Metro subway construction in Tlahuac, one of the few rural delegations (boroughs) left in the city.

Yet despite his gaffes, Ebrard should split the capital vote with Lopez Obrador if there is a run-off between the two for the left nomination – Mexico City accounts for a fifth of the nation’s voters. But judging by AMLO’s growing support outside of the city, Camacho Solis and the Chuchus will once again have to resort to fraud to wrest the countryside from El Peje.

Ebrard and Lopez Obrador profess to be friends and claim they have reached a gentleman’s agreement that whoever is “better positioned” to run for the presidency at the end of 2011 will get the nod. How this will be determined verges on vagueness. A party primary run by the Chuchus will not be acceptable to Lopez Obrador. “Will they have a wrestling match in the Zocalo?” jabs Carlos Diaz, proprietor of the La Blanca Café in the city’s old quarter, “and if so, who will get to wear the mask?”

AMLO’s ties to the PRD are shaky at best. He broadcasts weekly on television utilizing time allocated to the Party of Labor or PT, a party instigated by Lopez Obrador’s personal Moriarity, Carlos Salinas, to siphon votes from the PRD in the 1994 presidential elections, and if Marcelo is successful in stealing the PRD nomination, AMLO is liable to channel his campaign through the PT, a strategy that will surely bury the electoral Left in 2012. Some supporters suggest that El Peje should abandon the party system altogether and fight for a constitutional reform that will allow him to run as a candidate of a social movement.

Should the prognosis for his candidacy look bright at the end of next year, Ebrard will no doubt take a leave of absence as mayor of the capitol to campaign nationally. His likely replacement will be Dr. Juan Ramon de la Fuente, a former health secretary under Ernesto Zedillo but not a member of the PRI. De la Fuente, who has a strong base at the National Autonomous University (UNAM), is also mentioned as a compromise left candidate if Lopez Obrador and Marcelo Ebrard cannot sort out their differences.

Meanwhile, Mayor Marcelo uses City Hall as a bully pulpit to enhance his political fortunes. The Mayor, who has excellent posture but little charisma, has taken to promulgating emergency proclamations of late. With a mammoth rainstorm brewing over the city on the weekend of AMLO’s July 25th love-in, the Mayor admonished his constituents not to make unnecessary trips – at least not to the Zocalo for El Peje’s campaign opener.





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