Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
Sharp Contention at the Top and Deep Discontent from Below
Mexico: Massive Protests Against Presidential Inauguration
The inauguration of Felipe Calderon as president of Mexico is set to take place on December 1. Forces grouped around the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and its candidate in the last election, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), have declared that they intend to prevent this inauguration through actions of peaceful resistance inside and outside the Chamber of Deputies. December 1 has become a focus of struggle throughout Mexico with the APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca) in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca calling for national protests against Calderon.
Millions of people in Mexico regard Calderon as an illegitimate usurper of the presidency. They believe that his victory occured through fraud and manipulations by powerful forces at the top including the U.S. The imposition of Calderon’s program is looked at as a wholesale selling off of Mexico to the U.S., and bowing down before the U.S. masters. And while AMLO, and the forces in the Mexican ruling circles he represents, do not stand for any basic break with imperialist domination, oppression, and exploitation, millions in Mexico sense that Calderon's inauguration will lead to intensified oppression and increased, dangerous repression—which it will.
The struggle among Mexico's rulers that is playing out through the post-election turmoil, has drawn millions of people in Mexico into political life and into the streets to debate and struggle over the direction that society should take. The result is a complex mix of two fundamentally different, but interpenetrating conflicts: infighting at the top of Mexican society, and widespread protest and rebellion from below. What will happen on December 1 and beyond is not clear, but there has not been such infighting in the ruling circles of Mexico focused on allowing a president to take power since the time of the 1910 revolution.
Weeks before his inauguration, Calderon set up a militarized zone around the area of the Chamber of Deputies, due to what he called the threat from the PRD. There are 1,200 Federal Preventive Police in riot gear and Police of the Presidential Guard manning checkpoints to demand identification from residents and passersby in the surrounding streets and from the legislators. Three-meter-high metal fences have been erected around the Chamber of Deputies building. An exposition of historic photographs donated by the family of Pancho Villa, scheduled to open on the Nov. 20 anniversary of the 1910 revolution was canceled on orders of the federal government.
These measures are not just defensive maneuvers due to the threat of mass mobilization. They are to set a tone and deliver an ominous message about the power of the state. Calderon made this clear when he spoke to some legislators on Nov. 20 (the same day AMLO declared himself the president—see below): “My government will make use of all of the force of the Mexican state, with the laws at hand and the power of the institutions. This is a war that we are going to win, with the backing of the Congress we will have to successfully wage the first battles.”
Calderon stated that in spite of the announced plans to prevent him from being sworn in, he will take hold of his presidency promptly at the proper time and in the proper place. The PAN senators were gathered and given instruction that while Calderon is being sworn in, the PAN senators cannot allow the PRD to take over the legislative chamber like they did when outgoing President Fox (of PAN) was about to give the State of the Union address in early September. The PAN declared plans to stand by Calderon “whatever it costs and whoever falls,” and they pledged to defend their president. The PRI also plans to stand by Calderon.
Calderon's First Decisions—Serving U.S. Interests
Calderon was the preferred presidential candidate of U.S. imperialism. He is praised and admired by the foreign investment community, the Christian right, George Bush, and Democratic Party luminaries such as Bill Clinton (who offered himself to Calderon as an economic adviser). He has met with Bill Richardson, the Democratic governor of New Mexico, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He promises to carry through with economic and political “reforms” that will make Mexico more exploitable--taking away all trade barriers to more intensified U.S. investment and exploitation of Mexico; continuing to get rid of labor unions; imposing taxes on food and medicine; and pushing other measures that will hurt the poor.
The Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported that, despite the battle shaping up and the political instability, Wall Street financial analysts think “social and economic stability are guaranteed in Mexico” due to Calderon's choices for his cabinet. Calderon's choices for top cabinet positions do reveal a lot about where he is headed: Mexico's incoming Secretary of State Agustin Carstens is the former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the institution that has dictated the measures to restructure governments to facilitate the interests of international capital. The incoming Secretary of Transportation is one of the orchestrators of the rewriting of Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which brought certain changes to the rural land ownership system, forcing more peasants off the land, and which was one of the grievances that led to the Zapatista (EZLN) rebellion in 1994. The incoming Secretary of Economy has stated that his goal is to make Mexico the country with the best conditions for foreign investment, which means the best conditions for exploiting the masses of people. The incoming Secretary of Energy is one of the ideologues of Plan-Puebla-Panama, the giant infrastructure project focused on opening up the resources of southern Mexico and Central America to international capital.
The post of Secretary of the Interior will go to Sergio Ramirez Acuña, governor of Jalisco, who in 2004 became internationally notorious for the mass arrests of anti-globalization protesters and their torture at the hands of the police. The arrest came soon after the release of the photos from Abu Ghraib, and the similarities were chilling. Prisoners recounted having plastic bags placed over their faces and being electro-shocked; there was also mass sexual humiliation of women. As the protesters were being tortured in police dungeons, the governor held a meeting with PAN members to ask Felipe Calderon to run for president. When the news of the torture came out there was great international outrage, and in the face of this the governor held a ceremony for the torturers and presented them with medals of gratitude for their service.
Calderon and Acuña are also reported to be members of the Catholic fascist organization El Yunque. Articles in Proceso and other Mexican papers have reported that El Yunque gave significant funds to Calderon and his presidential campaign.
The staggering injustice of the U.S. construction of a wall on the border with Mexico has brought into stark relief the unequal relationship between the two countries and the interests that Calderon serves. Calderon has denounced the wall in the press, but when he met with Bush recently he never even brought the subject up.
Sharp Conflict Among the Rulers, Openings for the People
On the other side of the conflict at the top are the forces grouped around AMLO and the PRD, and they have called millions of people into the streets in protest against the election result. On November 20, AMLO conducted a ceremony to be sworn in as the “legitimate president” in the main plaza in Mexico City, the Zocalo, in front of 300,000 people. They stood in the bitter cold, many having brought with them tattered photographs and taped together banners, relics from the 48-day occupation of the government center of Mexico City that AMLO carried out when he was demanding a vote recount in July and August and in which participated millions of people. Once again busloads of supporters came from all over the country. When interviewed, several commented that they had come to find out what to do next. A representative of AMLO’s cabinet stood before them and asked for a show of hands of those who would pledge to come back at 7 a.m. on December 1 to prevent Calderon from assuming power. AMLO said to the thousands who attended his “symbolic swearing in” as the “legitimate president” of Mexico: “You are now the representatives of the government.” And he laid out 20 measures which he described as key programmatic differences with Calderon, such as preventing the privatization of the energy sector.
On the day of AMLO’s ceremony many forces among the Mexican rulers and internationally attacked AMLO for his actions. The Wall Street Journal in particular blamed Fox for letting things get to this point, accused AMLO of “emboldening the extremists” in Oaxaca, and exhorted Calderon to “draw his line in the sand.”
At stake for U.S. imperialism is the stability of their “backyard” and fighting through on the economic course they need to forge to restructure Latin America in their interests. Mexico is a cornerstone of their empire, and it must play the role of “an important stabilizing element in its effort to continue and remake its domination of Latin America. One element of this is the U.S. attempt to integrate the Western Hemisphere into one trade zone, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). But the FTAA has been the object of ferocious protest and even many governments in Latin America are opposed to it.” [see “Mexico: The Political Volcano Rumbles,” Revolution #60] There is another pole, another agenda, in operation in South America grouped around ruling class forces like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that—while not fundamentally rupturing with imperialist global relations—are seeking to gain more autonomy within that setup and cut different deals with outside powers, including with powers other than the U.S. Calderon sees the ruling class interests of Mexico as tightly allied with the larger imperialist interests of the U.S. This is what makes Calderon the preferred candidate of U.S. imperialism.
But while AMLO publicly calls Calderon a “neofascist” and a “puppet” of the U.S., his program, like Calderon’s, is based on attracting foreign investment and increasing the exploitation of people. At bottom all he is really seeking is for the same master to cut a better deal. One sharp example of these differences, in the sphere of economic relations, is their different plans for Mexico's state-run oil industry, PEMEX. PEMEX supplies 60% of the revenues for the Mexican state. In addition, there are differences between PAN and PRD over the role of religion and education and traditional morality, the role of the unions and social welfare measures, and other questions concerning the character of the institutions and broader social relations of society. And there is the question of what posture the Mexican government will take in relation to the international panorama, and in particular how this will impact the U.S. agenda. All of these are involved in a complex multifaceted way in the current crisis that has emerged in relation to and in the wake of the Presidential elections. Even with the current high oil prices, it is heavily in debt and badly in need of a huge influx of capitalist investment. Production at the main oil field has begun to drop, and without massive new investments to develop other wells, PEMEX's oil production will drop. Calderon’s plan will ultimately give control over this development to foreign investors. In contrast, AMLO wants foreign investment to continue to go through the Mexican state. Through his mobilization of the people, he seeks to fight for his program while keeping the struggle within the bounds of these kinds of terms, despite his rhetoric.
Contradictions among the rulers in Mexico have given openings to the discontent of the people boiling over from below. In the poor southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, what started out as a teachers' strike developed into a people’s rebellion—by one of the poorest sections of people in Mexico—focused on driving out the state governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, from power. Not confined to the margins of acceptable protest within the accepted political framework, the protests in Oaxaca have inspired people throughout Mexico and the world.
The clash of social forces reaches deep into the foundations of Mexican society and interpenetrates with Mexico's profound connection with the U.S. In one way or another such shifting of tectonic plates in this strategic area of the world is bound to have big implications for both imperialism, and for the people. It remains extremely important to continue to push forward in this current, politically volatile situation: to find the ways to politically support the masses' struggle and help it to break out of the bounds of one ruling class faction against another and, as this is going on, to expose the oppressive economic, political, and social relations at the root of Mexican society and its problems, and to call them into fundamental question.
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