The building that houses the Congress in this city’s grand Zócalo Plaza is ringed by two-meter-tall grilled metal barriers soldered together apparently to thwart a suicide car bomb attack. Behind this metal wall, 3,000 visored robocops–the Federal Preventive Police (PFP, a police force drawn from the army)–and members of the elite Estado Mayor, or presidential military command, form a second line of defense. Armed with tear gas launchers, water cannons and reportedly light tanks, this force has been assigned to protect law and order and the institutions of the republic against left-wing mobs that threaten to storm the Legislative Palace–or so the president informs his fellow citizens in repeated messages on national television.
No, the president’s name is not Pinochet, and this military tableau is not being mounted in a banana republic or some African satrapy. This is Mexico, paragon of democracy (dixit George Bush), Washington’s third-largest trading partner and the eighth-leading petroleum producer on the planet. Seven weeks after the flawed July 2 presidential election, no winner has been officially declared. One of the elite military units assigned to seal off Congress is indeed titled the July 2nd Brigade.
The US media seem to have forgotten about the imbroglio just south of its border. Nonetheless, the phone rings and it’s New York telling me they just got a call from their man on the border who said Homeland Security is beefing up its forces around Laredo in anticipation of upheaval further south. The phone rings again and it’s California telling me they just heard on Air America radio that US Navy patrols were being dispatched to safeguard Mexican oil platforms in the Gulf. The left-wing daily La Jornada runs a citizen-snapped photo of army convoys carrying soldiers disguised as farmers and young toughs. Rumors race through the seven-mile encampment installed three weeks ago by supporters of leftist presidential challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who have tied up big-city traffic and enraged the motorist class here, that PFP robocops will attack before dawn. The campers stay up all night huddled around bum fires, prepared to defend their tent cities.
The moment reminds many Mexicans of the tense weeks in September and October 1968, just before the Olympic Games were to be begin, when President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz oversaw the massacre of striking students in a downtown plaza not far from where AMLO’s people are now camped out. As many as 300 were killed in the Plaza of Three Cultures, their bodies incinerated at Military Camp Number 1 in western Mexico City. The Tlatelolco massacre was a watershed in social conflict here, and the similarities are sinister–in fact, López Obrador has taken to comparing outgoing President Vicente Fox with Díaz Ordaz.
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Fox will go to Congress September 1 to deliver his final State of the Union address–the new legislature will be convened the same day. The country may or may not have a new president by that day. In anticipation of this showdown, on August 14, newly elected senators and deputies from the three parties that make up AMLO’s Coalition for the Good of All attempted to camp on the sidewalk in front of the Legislative Palace, only to be rousted and clobbered bloody by the president’s security forces.
With 160 representatives, the Coalition forms just one-quarter of the 628 members of the new Congress, but they will be a loud minority during Fox’s address. Ever since the 1988 presidenciales were stolen from Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, founder of AMLO’s Party of the Democratic Revolution, PRD legislators have routinely interrupted the president during this authoritarian ritual with orchestrated outbursts that have sometimes degenerated into partisan fisticuffs.
The first to challenge the imperial presidency was Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, a hoary political warhorse, who in 1988 thrust a finger at President Miguel De la Madrid, accusing him of overseeing the theft of the election from Cardenas. Muñoz Ledo’s j’accuse stunned the political class–he was attacked by members of De la Madrid’s long-ruling PRI when he tried to escape the chamber. Muñoz Ledo now stands at AMLO’s side.
On September 1, if martial law is not declared and the new Congress is dissolved before it is even installed, the PRD delegation–which will no doubt be strip-searched by the Estado Mayor for incriminating banners–has sworn to create a monumental ruckus, shredding the tarnished decorum of this once-solemn event to protest Fox’s endorsement of electoral larceny. Some solons say they may go naked.
But no matter what kind of uproar develops, it will probably not be shown on national television as the cameras of Mexico’s two-headed television monstrosity–Televisa and TV Azteca–will stay trained on the president as he mouths the stereotypical cliché expected at such an event. The images of the chaos on the floor of Congress will not be passed along to the Great Unwashed.
There is a reptilian feel to Mexico seven weeks after a discredited Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) cemented López Obrador into a second- place coffin by awarding the presidency to right-winger Felipe Calderón by a mere 243,000 votes out of a total 42 million cast. Both Calderón and IFE czar Luis Carlos Ugalde (Calderón was best man at Ugalde’s wedding) make numerous appearances on national television.
Those screens have been the scenes of some of the slimiest and most sordid political intrigue of late. One of the lizard kings who is fleetingly featured on Televisa primetime is an imprisoned Argentine construction tycoon, Carlos Ahumada, who in 2004 conspired with Fox, Calderón ‘s PAN and Televisa to frame AMLO on corruption charges and take him out of the presidential election–“El Peje” (for a fish from the swamps of López Obrador’s native Tabasco) was then leading the pack by sixteen points.
Charged by López Obrador, then the mayor of this megalopolis, with defrauding Mexico City out of millions, Ahumada had taken his revenge by filming PRD honchos when they came to his office to pick up boodles of political cash for his lover, Rosario Robles, who aspired to be queen of the PRD. Although the money was perfectly legal under Mexico’s milquetoast campaign financing laws, the pick-ups looked awful on national television–AMLO’s former personal secretary was caught stuffing wads of low denomination bills into his suit coat pockets as if he were on Saturday Night Live.
Some here believe Ahumada turned the tapes over to the cigar-chomping leader of Fox’s PAN party in the Senate, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos (“El Jefe Diego”), who in turn had them delivered to a green- haired clown named Brozo, who was then reading the morning news on Televisa. Then the Argentine blackmailer fled to Cuba in a private plane. Televisa aired the incriminating videos day and night for months.
The construction tycoon has been imprisoned in Mexico City ever since he was booted out of Cuba and was last heard from when was last heard from when [his family’s SUV was shot up, an apparently staged attack that both Fox and Televisa tried to pin on AMLO. Ahumada had suggested he was about to release two more incriminating videos. These dubious events took place on June 6, the day of a crucial presidential debate between AMLO and Felipe Calderón.
Then last week, Ahumada abruptly resurfaced–or at least his videotaped confession to Cuban authorities did. Filmed through prison bars, he lays out the plot step by step. Yes, he affirms, the deal was fixed up to cut AMLO’s legs out from under him and advance the fortunes of the right-wing candidate who turned out to be Felipe Calderón and not the bumbling Creel. The conspiracy backfired badly as his supporters rallied around him and López Obrador’s ratings soared.
The origin of the confession tape, leaked to top-rung reporter Carmen Aristegui, was obscure. Had Fidel dispatched it from his sick bed to bolster López Obrador’s claims of victory as the PAN and the snake-eyed Televisa evening anchor Joaquín López-Dóriga hissed? The air grew thick with serpentine theories. There was even one school that speculated Calderón himself had been the source in a scheme to distance himself from Fox (there had always been mala leche between them) and Creel, now the leader of the PAN faction in Congress.
AMLO advanced a variant of this explanation–the specter of Ahumada had been resuscitated to divert attention from the evidence of generalized fraud the Coalition had submitted to the TRIFE and the panel’s impending verdict that Calderón had won the election.
Awaiting a Messiah
Perhaps the most nagging question in this snakepit of uncertainty is what happened during the partial recount of less than 10 percent of the 130,000 ballot boxes ordered by the TRIFE to test the legitimacy of the IFE’s results. Although the recount concluded on August 13, the judges have released no numbers and are not obligated to do so: Their only responsibility is to certify the validity of the election.
Although AMLO’s reps in the counting rooms came up with gobs of evidence–violated ballot boxes, stolen or stuffed ballots, altered tally sheets and other bizarre anomalies–only La Jornada saw fit to mention them. The silence of the Mexican media and their accomplices in the international press in respect to the Great Fraud is deafening–although they manage to fill their rags with ample attacks on López Obrador for tying up Mexico City traffic.
According to AMLO’s people, 119,000 ballots in the sample recount cannot be substantiated–in about 3,500 casillas, 58,000 more votes were cast than the number of voters on the voting list. In nearly 4,000 other casillas, 61,000 ballots allocated to election officials cannot be accounted for. The annulment of the casillas in which these alterations occurred would put López Obrador in striking distance of Calderón and, in a better world, would obligate the TRIFE to order a total recount. But given the state of the Mexican judiciary, this is not apt to happen.
Meanwhile, thousands continue to camp out in a hard rain for a third week on the streets of Mexico City awaiting the court’s decision. They have taken to erecting shrines and altars and are praying for divine intervention. Hundreds have made pilgrimages out to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, some crawling on their knees, to ask the Brown Madonna to work her mojo. “God doesn’t belong to the PAN!” they chant as they trudge up the great avenue that leads to the basilica. “AMLO deserves a miracle,” Esther Ortiz, a 70-year-old great-grandmother comments to a reporter as she kneels to pray before the gilded altar.
At the Metropolitan Cathedral on one flank of the Zocalo, a young worshiper interrupts Cardinal Norberto Rivera with loas to AMLO and is quickly hustled off the premises by the prelate’s bouncers. The following Sunday, the cathedral’s great doors are under heavy surveillance, and churchgoers are screened for telltale signs of devotion to López Obrador. Hundreds of AMLO’s supporters mill about in front of the ancient temple shouting “voto por voto!” and that Cardinal Rivera is a pederast.
AMLO as demigod is one motif of this religious pageant being played out at what was once the heart of the Aztec theocracy, the island of Tenochtitlan. The ruins of the twin temples of the fierce Aztec war god Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, the god of the rain, is adjacent to the National Palace against which AMLO’s stage is set. López Obrador sleeps each night in a tent close by.
Many hearts were ripped out smoking on these old stones and fed to such hungry gods before the Crusaders showed up bearing the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
AMLO is accused by right-wing “intellectuals” (Enrique Krauze and the gringo apologist George Grayson) of entertaining a messiah complex. Indeed, he is up there every day on the big screen, his craggy features, salt-and-pepper hair, raspy voice and defiantly jutted jaw bearing more of a passable resemblance to a younger George C. Scott rather than the Crucified One. AMLO’s devotees come every evening at 7, shoehorned between the big tents that fill the Zocalo, rain or shine. Last Monday I stood with a few thousand diehards in a biblical downpour, thunder and lightning shattering the heavens above. “Llueve y llueve y el pueblo no se mueve,” they chanted joyously (it rains and rains and the people do not move).
The evolution of these incantations is fascinating. At first, the standard slogan of “voto por voto, casilla por casilla!” was automatically invoked whenever López Obrador stepped to the microphone. “You are not alone!” and “Presidente!” had their moments. “Fraude!” is still popular, but in these last days, “¡No Pasarán!“–“they shall not pass,” the cry of the defenders of Madrid as Franco’s Fascist hordes banged on the doors of Madrid in 1936–has often been heard.
In this context, “¡No Pasarán!” means “we will not let Felipe Calderón pass to the presidency.” AMLO, who holds out little hope that the TRIFE will decide in his favor, devotes more time now to organizing the resistance to the imposition of Calderón upon the Aztec nation. Article 39 of the Mexican Constitution, he reminds partisans, grants the people the right to change their government if that government does not represent them. To this end, he is summoning a million delegates up to the Zocalo for a National Democratic Convention on Mexican Independence Day–September 16, a date usually reserved for a majoral military parade.
Aside from the logistical impossibility of putting a million citizens in this Tiananmen-sized plaza, how this gargantuan political extravaganza is going to be financed is cloudy. Right now, it seems as if small children donating their piggy banks is the main mode of fund-raising. Because AMLO’s people distrust the banks, all of which financed Calderón’s vicious TV ad campaign, a giant piggy bank has been raised in the Zocalo to receive the contributions of the faithful.
Dreaming is also a fundraiser. Ten thousand people raised their voices in song this past Sunday as part of a huge chorus assembled under the dome of the Monument to the Revolution to perform a cantata based on the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. This too is a form of civil resistance, López Obrador commended his followers.
The first National Democratic Convention took place behind rebel lines in the state of Aguascalientes in 1914 at the apogee of the Mexican Revolution, when the forces of Francisco Villa and his Army of the North first joined forces with Zapata’s Liberating Army (EZLN) of the Southern Revolution. The second National Democratic Revolution took place eighty years later in 1994, in a clearing in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, when the Zapatista Army of National Liberation wedded itself to the civil society in an uprising that rocked Mexico throughout the ’90s. Eclipsed by events, the EZLN and its quixotic spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos, have disappeared from the political map in the wake of the fraudulent election.
What this third National Democratic Convention is all about is now being debated in PRD ruling circles and down at the grassroots. Minimally, it will be a plan of organized resistance that will dog Felipe Calderón for the next six years, severely hampering his ability to rule. The declaration of a government in resistance headed by Andres Manuel López Obrador is one consideration. The National Democratic Convention could also result in the creation of a new party to replace a worn-out PRD, now thoroughly infiltrated by castoffs from the PRI.
The Party of the Democratic Revolution has always functioned best as an opposition party. With notable exceptions (AMLO was one), when the PRD becomes government, it collapses into corruption and internecine bickering, and behaves just as arrogantly as the PAN and the PRI.
Seven weeks after the July 2 electoral debacle, Mexico finds itself at a dangerously combustible conjunction in which the tiny white elite here is about to impose its will upon a largely brown and impoverished populace to whom the political parties and process grow more irrelevant each day. “¡No Pasarán!” the people cry out. But to whom and what they are alluding to remains to be defined.