This week, one of the largest cities in Latin America is almost at a standstill as tensions rise over what many are calling a fraudulent election. Yet with notable exceptions, the international press have ignored the crisis.
Since the 2 July Mexican presidential election, which was won by National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderón under controversial circumstances, the historical Zócalo Plaza and other prominent areas of Mexico City have been occupied by hundreds of thousands of supporters of rival candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PDR).
Obrador’s supporters claim that he was robbed of electoral victory through fraud, while Obrador himself has declared he will set up a parallel government if votes are not recounted in full.
Statistician Dr Victor Romero from the National University told SBS Dateline on 30 August that ‘there is a possibility statistically speaking, very strong that there was an interference with the computer system of the [Federal Electoral Institute].’
According to Romero, ‘the PDR was winning and suddenly, at about 70 per cent [of the vote count], they started losing.’ Romero said that as the last 30 per cent of the results came in, the PDR’s share never increased which is a statistical impossibility.
Investigative journalist Greg Palast wrote in The Guardian on 7 August that, as expected, Obrador was ahead of Calderón until midnight on election night when ‘precincts began reporting wins for Calderón of five to one, then 10 to one, then as polling nearly ended, of 100 to one.’
‘The ruling party would have us believe that a million voters waited in line, took a ballot, made no mark, then deliberately folded the ballot and placed it in the ballot box, pretending they’d voted,’ wrote Palast.
According to Laura Carlsen, Director of the International Relations Centre in Mexico City:
Reports in the streets and letters to the press testify to the thousands of voters who waited in line for hours, only to be told that their polling place had run out of ballots. Thousands more were informed that their names had disappeared from the rolls.
However, on 5 September the seven-judge Federal Judicial Electoral Tribunal ruled in favour of Felipe Calderón.
This is not the first time vast numbers of Mexicans have been slightly upset with the status quo.
On 1 January 1994 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. That same day in the southern Mexican State of Chiapas, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) declared war on the Mexican Government.
The indigenous communities represented by the EZLN viewed the NAFTA agreement as a ‘death sentence’ as it heralded an end to the country’s system of land distribution and collective ownership, which was established in the early 1930s under the Government of Lázaro Cárdenas.
An important background to the current crisis is the fact that in recent years, many Mexicans have been badly affected by NAFTA. In 2003, a major study commissioned by the Food First Institute into the effects of NAFTA on Mexican farmers found that, ‘While the price farmers get for their crops has fallen over the last 20 years, the retail price has risen steadily, along with the cost of farming, squeezing farmer’s income and draining consumer’s wallets.’
Although the maquiladoras (export assembly plants for the United States) developed rapidly in the 1990s (the collateral damage was tens of thousands of US auto workers), the wages they offer Mexicans are a pittance. Many women in these factories still have to moonlight as prostitutes to feed their children.
Despite these appalling labour standards, article 1110 of NAFTA allows corporations to seek compensation against any government actions, or changes in regulations, that might reduce corporate profits.
In 1996, two years into NAFTA, Mexico entered its worst recession since the 1930s. Over a million jobs were lost. The crisis was eventually resolved by a $US20 billion rescue package from the Clinton Administration Mexico basically mortgaged its future oil revenues to the US Treasury Department.
After 70 years of corrupt rule, the loss of power by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the 2000 elections should therefore have been another clear sign that the country’s political and economic system needed serious reform in favour of the vast numbers of poor.
Unfortunately, the new President, the PAN’s Vicente Fox a former supervisor of Coca-Cola’s operations in Mexico and all of Latin America deviated little from the standard economic philosophy.
During the 2000 election campaign, Fox claimed that if he were elected, a million jobs would be created every year, the armed conflict with the Zapatistas would be solved in ‘ 15 minutes,’ and economic growth would increase by 7 per cent a year.
Throughout his term, Fox not only failed to create work but, according to a 2005 United Nations Human Development report, 180,000 jobs were lost from 2000 to 2005 with unemployment figures similar to those of the early 1990s. While extreme poverty did decrease, wages in the country stagnated, with general social inequality on the rise.
Mexicans did not stand idly by as their living standards declined.
One vehicle for change in Mexico in the past few years have been the Zapatistas. Their ‘other campaign’ in the past months calling for people to organise politically at a grassroots level has drawn enormous crowds, while their leadership has continually called for restraint by other armed groups.
Because the EZLN have abstained from electoral politics, however, most poor Mexicans have turned towards the policies of López Obrador.
Although much can be said about Obrador, the New York Times’s editorial on 19 June this year summarised his policies well. ‘No ambitions to foment revolution’ were noted, with the Centre-Left candidate stressing the ‘importance of good relations with Washington,’ accepting ‘a market economy’ but wanting to ‘make it fairer to Mexico’s poor.’
Obrador is clearly a man Mexico’s economic and political elites could do business with. But the country’s ruling clique have once again demonstrated their colossal stupidity by robbing Obrador like Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in 1988 of victory in the presidential elections.
Protesters in Oaxaca
The current protests in Mexico along with 40,000 teachers who have occupied the central plaza in the town of Oaxaca since May demanding better pay have largely been ignored by the international press.
But as tensions continue to rise, there are real fears that the present stand-off can only be resolved through significant bloodshed.
US President George W Bush and Chile’s Michelle Bachelet may recognise Calderón as President, but the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets think otherwise, as did the 155 members of Congress who recently blocked Fox from delivering his final State of the Union address.
With protesters refusing to move just two days out from Mexican Independence Day celebrations on 15 September, and a large military parade planned for 16 September, it remains to be seen if the military will join the people in the traditional Independence Day cry of ‘ ¡Viva Mexico!‘ or support Fox and a fraudulent President who is due to take office at the end of the year.
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