Summer of Rage in Mexico?

Mexico City.

If Mexican democracy means anything to you, then don’t look to the country’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) – the authority responsible for organizing fair and transparent elections – to defend it. For the second consecutive election, IFE has displayed its contempt for a fair vote by showing an enormous bias towards the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)/National Action Party (PAN) axis that will presumably always dominate Mexican politics.

The PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto is officially the president-elect. Despite evidence gathered by both defeated leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and the #YoSoy132 pro-democracy movement to show that vote-buying, threats and ballot-tampering were widespread on July 1, he will likely remain so – in large part thanks to IFE’s refusal to condemn what AMLO’s Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) has called “the dirtiest election in Mexico’s history.”

For the record, the official count (after the partial recount) by IFE goes like this: Enrique Peña Nieto with 38.21% (19.2 million votes), AMLO with 31.59% (15.9 million votes) and Josefina Vazquez Mota of the incumbent PAN with 25.41% (12.3 million votes).

IFE is trying to brush this whole nasty business under the carpet. International heavyweights from Barack Obama to the EU to Hugo Chavez have officially recognized the result. All that’s left is for the Mexican people to vent their frustration, and how.

Last weekend saw another anti-Peña Nieto march of approximately 70,000 people shake Mexico City and there’ll be yet another tomorrow. Rumors surfaced that the PRI was trying to infiltrate last Saturday’s protest in order to make trouble and discredit the pro-democracy movement, leading #YoSoy132 to distance itself from the march; thankfully, no such trouble emerged. Nor is there a great threat of police repression in Mexico City, which AMLO’s PRD has held for fifteen years and where peaceful protest is actually encouraged – unlike many other parts of the republic.

At the same time as the march took place, Televisa – the country’s largest television network and de facto PRI-TV – was broadcasting the fairytale wedding of soap actors Eugenio Derbez and Alessandra Rosaldo from a church in the capital’s wealthy Coyoacan district. Televisa has virtually ignored the pro-democracy demonstrations since they began in mid-May and has portrayed AMLO as a polarizing rabble-rouser – not to mention a “danger to Mexico” – for years.

Inevitably, a small group of protesters showed up at the church, occupying the quaint colonial streets as the telenovela glitterati pulled up in their Ferraris. Make no mistake; the pro-democracy protests in Mexico, as elsewhere in the world, are very much a case of the 1% versus the Rest.

The Resistance Gathers Steam

The same day, #YoSoy132 groups from around the country met in the state of Morelos to discuss how to move the struggle forward now that Peña Nieto’s victory is almost certain to stand. Initially, the movement was against what it called the “imposition” of the PRI candidate by the mainstream media; now, they want to prove to the world that the election was stolen.

Students from 25 universities around Mexico attended the meeting at the core of which was a proposal for a national student movement not only opposing the election result but also the neoliberal agenda that both the PRI and the right-wing PAN have been force-feeding Mexicans since the 1980s. In a sign o’ the times, the students discussed the experiences of the Occupy movement, Los Indignados of Spain, and the student movements in Canada and Chile as part of the debate.

Among its aims, #YoSoy132 is pushing the country’s Federal Commission on Competition (CFC) to allow it to oversee the bidding process for a third open television network to take place in November this year. Currently, Mexican television is dominated by Televisa and TV Azteca, networks owned by two of the richest men in the country and heavily-biased towards the PRI/PAN duopoly.

Yesterday AMLO gave his final word (for now) on the election result, presenting 500 pages’ worth of evidence including 300 videos and 400 citizen testimonies to the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary (TEPJF), along with a claim that the PRI spent some US$297 million on Peña Nieto’s campaign, vastly exceeding IFE’s official cap of $25 million.

AMLO cited a violation of Article 41 of the constitution relating to objective and fair elections, with accusations including the use of illegally obtained money by PRI governors, the use of opinion polls as propaganda, IFE’s inability (or unwillingness) to control campaign spending, and illegal expenditure on construction projects to sway voters in favor of Peña Nieto.

Throw in the use of $170 million on thousands of prepaid gift cards from supermarket chain Soriana and another $29 million on phone cards carrying Peña Nieto’s image to buy votes. In a reassuring display of karma, Soriana reportedly lost $414 million of business in just nine days as people boycotted the chain.

Tellingly, there was no talk of the kind of mobilization of AMLO’s support base that came in 2006 after the disputed election defeat to President Felipe Calderon. The Occupy-style protests by his supporters that summer led to much internal strife within the PRD, and Marcelo Ebrard, current Mexico City mayor, has already announced his intention to seek the party’s candidacy for 2018.

Yet as #YoSoy132 is showing through video and photographic evidence it has uploaded to its website, vote-buying was not the only cause for concern. Voters were turned away at booths around the country on the grounds that they had run out of ballots, while police in PRI-governed states were filmed harassing people who tried to denounce vote-buying and other kinds of fraud.

This is what IFE calls the “most transparent election in Mexican history” and a “fraud-proof electoral system” in which, according to IFE president Leonardo Valdes Zurita, the only mistakes were “human errors.”

The PRD has naturally requested support from the right-wing PAN, whose candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota came third, in denouncing the fraud and pushing for a thorough investigation. The PAN was decidedly coy at first, but in an effort to appear vaguely relevant – the party was trounced at the polls – has since come out to (timidly) condemn the evidence of vote-buying. In a radio interview on Monday, Felipe Calderon – AMLO’s nemesis in 2006 – called the foul play “unacceptable” but questioned whether it would be enough to annul the election.

The “International Community” Calls It 

Despite the overwhelming evidence, the likelihood of anyone stopping Peña Nieto from taking office on December 1 is slim. Part of the blame must surely go to the “international community”, which moved fast to recognize the PRI candidate’s victory. In the past week, Peña Nieto has given a slew of interviews to the US media where he spoke of strong co-operation with Washington while maintaining the integrity of Mexican sovereignty (i.e. no US troops on Mexican soil) – basically the spiel of every Mexican government since the Revolution.

In fairness, Raul Castro also congratulated Peña Nieto, although that has been a standard tradition of the Cuban government since the 1960s given Mexico’s historical tolerance of Havana. There was greater surprise when Hugo Chavez officially recognized the victory on Saturday. At least that should dispel the myth propagated by the Mexican Right that Chavez funded AMLO’s campaign in 2006…

As for asking Washington to stand up for democracy in Latin America, forget about it. Besides supporting coups d’etat against the Left in Honduras and Paraguay – along with a close-run thing in Ecuador – the Barack Obama administration’s policy in the region has been to thwart progressive, independent governments at every turn.

Let’s recall, for example, how the Obama administration greeted the news of Vladimir Putin’s election in Russia in December: “Russian voters deserve a full investigation of all credible reports of electoral fraud and manipulation and we hope in particular that then Russian authorities will take action,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the time.

Likewise, Daniel Ortega’s re-election victory in Nicaragua in October was described by Clinton as a “setback to democracy”, together with a vow of “aggressive scrutiny” of the future of US aid and loans to the country.

Compare this to Mexico. After Obama personally called Peña Nieto to congratulate him, a White House statement confirmed: “The President reiterated his commitment to working in partnership with Mexico [including] promoting democracy, economic prosperity, and security in the region and around the globe.” Peña good; Putin, Chavez, Ortega and Lugo bad.

$500 billion of trade (not including the drugs), the flow of oil, defense sales, the Merida Initiative security agreement – which is about far more than just the drugs – and Mexico’s support for the neoliberal model all ensure it will remain a close US ally under Peña Nieto.

What’s next? Nobody knows. The pro-democracy and anti-fraud protests look set to rage all summer along. If this were Nicaragua, Russia or Iran, you’d face a barrage of TV coverage and outright sympathy for the protesters “bravely” opposing an “illegitimate” regime. As it happens, you can expect the protesters in Mexico to receive as much love from the western media as those in Bahrain, Paraguay, Spain, or New York.

Paul Imison lives in Mexico. He can be reached at