Revolution #56, August 13, 2006


Aftermath of Election

Turmoil and Upheaval in Mexico

The struggle over the presidential election in Mexico has become an explosive political crisis that could potentially leap out of electoral bounds and challenge the governability and legitimacy of the rulers of Mexico and cause huge reverberations in the U.S. as well. Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN) was declared the winner of the election by a very thin margin of 245,000 votes, or just over half a percentage point over Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the Coalition “For the Good of All—The Poor First.” AMLO is demanding a recount of the votes. He maintains that the declaration of Calderón as the winner of the election by the Federal Election Institute was illegal because this body does not have the authority to declare a winner, and that the Institute was instrumental in carrying out widespread vote fraud at the ballot boxes and cybernetically through its computer system. He also charges interference by the president in favor of Calderón, that there was an illegal media campaign against him and that government programs to benefit the poor were used to pressure voters to vote for Calderón. The election will be decided by the Federal Election Tribunal, which has, as we go to press, announced that there will be a partial recount of the votes. It remains to be seen how AMLO will respond and what he will call for. It also remains to be seen what impact this will have on the struggle of the masses.

In the aftermath of the elections, millions of masses responded to the demand for a full vote recount in weekly demonstrations in Mexico City in their tens of thousands, one on July 18 of over a million people and on Sunday, July 30, over two million people from all over the country flooded into the central plaza of Mexico City, the Zócalo, and the surrounding streets of Mexico City in the largest demonstration in the history of the country. In front of that crowd in the Zócalo, AMLO exhorted the crowd to stay in the Zócalo day and night and blockade the streets to pressure the court to agree to a vote recount. AMLO has also impressed on his supporters that if the votes are recounted and Calderón is still declared the winner then he will respect this decision.

At this moment, the political center and major streets of Distrito Federal in Mexico City (DF) have been blockaded with 47 encampments, called for by AMLO together with his political advisors, most of whom were high-level operatives within the PRI (Party of the Institutional Revolution that governed Mexico for 70 years) senators and diputados from the PRD from all the different states in Mexico, and community organizations to be maintained until the Federal Election Tribunal agrees to recount the votes of the presidential election. There have also been blockade actions at various ports of entry into Mexico.

With the installation of the blockade, for the first time since the elections, a negative response was felt in the Mexican stock market—and the peso lost value in relation to the dollar. The decline was said to be due to the “increasing uncertainty around the election and the more “radical” measures being taken by the “For the Good of All” coalition as well as the delay in a decision being communicated by the Federal Electoral Tribunal. Market handlers said that the volatility is expected to continue as long as the street protests continue. Until this time, the Mexican government had been emphasizing the macroeconomic stability of Mexico, no matter what political storms might ensue, which is very important since the whole Mexican economy is geared to attracting and maintaining imperialist investment.

But on August 2, President Fox’s spokesperson stated that the blockade is putting the economy of the country at risk. Fox spoke to the press in reference to the actions that AMLO is taking: “you shouldn’t play with fire, you shouldn’t take these risks, because the stability and economic discipline of the country should be maintained, and this is achieved when there is a country at peace.” And the business community has called for an investigation to find out if city funds are being used to finance the blockade. They claim business is suffering a loss of $23 million per day, that the blockade is putting 3,000 businesses and 15,000 to 32,000 jobs at risk and the cancellation of 3,400 hotel rooms. They are threatening a tax strike to recoup losses. The Federation of the Bar and College of Attorneys (Federación de la Barra y Colegio de Abogados) are offering free legal consultation for the commercial and tourist sectors to sue AMLO for the economic losses they are suffering as a result of the blockade and for criminal charges to be brought for illegal use of electricity.

The city government of DF are members of the PRD, including the Mayor, Alejandro Encinas, and the head of the police force. Organizations in support of the PAN are mobilizing also, and it has been reported that 93 community organizations are calling for the mayor of DF to resign and for the Federal Election Tribunal to respect their vote and declare Calderón the winner. The Bishops’ Conference of Mexico compared the aggression against free transit in DF to the terrorist attacks occurring around the world and the bombing of innocents in Lebanon. They praised Felipe Calderon’s “political maturity.” In the past week, they had invoked Catholics to carry out a week of prayer for “reconciliation and peace in our country.”

What’s Behind the Current Turmoil?

Mexico is a polarized society in turmoil, with a mix of contradictions which are all moving and developing—and influencing each other and intersecting as well with the massive struggle that has been developing in the U.S. among immigrants against the attacks on immigrants in this country.

Heightening globalization has caused tremendous dislocation for many, many of the masses of Mexico. The economic development of the country is increasingly uneven and polarized. This goes hand in hand with an intensifying contradiction in society between those who support the PAN politically, many of whom have benefited from the PAN programs (of the current president, Fox), and those for whom the programs of the PAN have brought greater misery. NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) has caused the economy in some areas and regions of the country to expand and grow. Particularly in the northern part of the country, where much of the large-scale capitalist agriculture is concentrated, or in centers of commerce where there is a lot of infrastructure, there has been more influx of foreign investment and there is a growing middle class. But it should also be noted that this is not a uniform growth and expansion. The industrialized areas also include shantytowns filled with super-exploited maquiladora workers, and the export agriculture sector depends on migrant workers from the south.

Other vast sections of the people (especially in the southern part of Mexico) are lacking in basic services, roads, transportation, and schools, and for them, the economic changes in the past decade have been devastating. Millions have been forced to leave their homes in search of the means to survive. But these are not people who are being drawn into or integrated into a developing, articulated economy. Every year, 15 million people migrate within the borders of Mexico, and there are 18 million people living in shantytowns on the outskirts of the big cities with no running water, in what government officials have described as “belts of misery.” Still millions more—1 out of every 10 people—migrate to the U.S. in search of work to support themselves and their families. People are driven to the U.S., and the U.S. needs these workers for its industry and other jobs. And this immigration is at this point in time essential to the functioning of the Mexican economy as well, with remittances/money sent to Mexico from the U.S. being the second largest source of income for the country as a whole. And the ability of people to immigrate to the U.S. especially and find work has long been spoken of as a “safety valve” which relieves the pressure on Mexican society caused by their desperate conditions and inability to find work.

Rebellion…and Repression

Discontent and rebellion have been spilling out all over Mexico. One struggle which has had nationwide impact is a struggle in the southern state of Oaxaca to force the governor out of office. A teachers’ strike that took over the city center in May, demanding a living wage and better education, was attacked on June 14 by helicopters and an invasion of police. After this repression, the teachers’ movement was joined by indigenous communities who are striving to take over the government of their towns with popular assemblies. In 30 counties (municipios) of Oaxaca the people have taken over the municipal buildings to force out the government officials. The main demand of this struggle which has now spread throughout the whole state, has become that the PRI governor of Oaxaca must step down. The teachers and their supporters have declared a permanent occupation of the government center in Oaxaca, the government buildings of the legislature, the courts, and the executive offices and have set up an alternative government in Oaxaca. On August 2, a march of women took over the television station in the city center and began broadcasting.

Another part of what has been setting the stage for the crisis which is developing around this disputed election has been vicious government repression intended to terrorize people, but having the effect of strengthening the outrage of the people. On April 20, to break a strike of the Miners and Metalworkers Union at a giant steel complex in Michoacán, state and federal police were brought in by the Mexican Navy in a surprise attack. The workers defended themselves with slingshots and balls of iron. 1,000 police sent by the PRD governor Cardenas opened fire on the workers who built a barricade of flaming cars and used the heavy machinery to drive off the police. Two workers were killed and 73 were wounded. This intense struggle came soon after the February 19 explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine in Coahuila state, where 65 miners were buried alive. The labor secretary blamed the miners for their own deaths to cover up the lack of safety in the mine. Their bodies have still not been discovered. On May 3, the famous community of Atenco who in 2002 beat back the government plan to pave over their farmland to build a huge airport to facilitate free trade, was viciously attacked and punished for their rebellion. The leaders were arrested, a child was killed, and while being transported to prison the women and young men were raped by the police. And a UNAM student was left brain-dead and died one month later. The leaders of this struggle are still in prison. People across the country are outraged.

All this is the context for this outpouring around the results of the elections. The elections have become a focal point for all the discontent. Now, hundreds of thousands of people from the poorest and most oppressed are joining with many in the intelligentsia and other middle strata and are pinning their hopes for change on AMLO becoming the new president of Mexico and coming onto the streets determined to fight put AMLO in office. But the truth is that while AMLO has a somewhat different program for Mexico’s economy and may institute a few reforms and make a few concessions to the people, his program is not at bottom different than Calderón’s. AMLO too is a representative for the big national and international capitalists, especially the big U.S. capitalists and the landlords.

Different Programs…Serving the Ruling Interests

The charges of fraud in the elections are just, but the truth is that even the cleanest of elections, the choice is over which representative of the ruling class—and in this case U.S. imperialism—is going to preside over the running of the state and government for the next six years. AMLO and Calderón have different programs—and differences over how to deal with the difficult mix and range of contradictions facing both the U.S. imperialists and the rulers of Mexico, internally and in their relation to each other as oppressor and oppressed nation. But these candidates are both defenders and political representatives of the system dominated by U.S. imperialism and big national and international capitalists and landlords. They are acting within the framework of laws which serves these interests—and cannot step out of them.

Calderon has stated that he will push forward with the “structural reforms” and privatization of the economy which will allow more foreign investment and streamline the ability of foreign capital to superexploit the Mexican workers. He is considered the “more reliable” candidate by the U.S. and, to insure his victory, the electoral advisors Rob Allyn and Dick Morris were contracted. Rob Allyn’s company was involved in Bush’s “victory” in 2000 and 2004. Dick Morris wrote an article in the New York Post on April 3 about the supposed nexus between AMLO and Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and threw out these same accusations in the “spots” on TV for the PAN campaign. All with the object of building up the fear that the election of AMLO would cause instability, chaos, and loss for the middle classes. For example, one element of this smear campaign said that AMLO’s economic policies would cause middle class people to lose their homes and that he would attack the Catholic Church. When the government unleashed vicious repression on the struggling masses of Atenco—beating, raping and killing two of them—Calderón called the victims “barbarians” who deserve to be punished with severity.

And with regard to AMLO, no one should confuse what AMLO says in his speeches with the interests he actually defends. AMLO has a long history of working to protect the very laws and economic and social order that serve the interests of the big capitalist and landlord classes and the imperialists they serve. His game is to consistently speak against the system in order to rally his social base, which is the poorest and dispossessed of Mexico, to back a few reforms of the system that oppresses them. His closest advisors are those who were high-level officials in the PRI government at the very time when the neoliberal policies he claims to be against were put in place. He speaks against the effects of NAFTA, but is not in favor of breaking out of it. He plans to renegotiate it and he is in favor of “making globalization work” primarily through attracting more maquiladoras, which are based on low wage, highly exploitable labor, by giving tax breaks to foreign investors. When he was mayor of DF he contracted Rudolph Giuliani as an advisor to implement the draconian “zero tolerance” measures of criminalizing the poor, in a city of vast unemployment where millions live through the informal economy. He consistently sent the police to beat and imprison those who came to DF to protest.

And further, it is not possible inside of this electoral framework to even substantially change the conditions and lives of the masses. This is most fundamentally because the political system must serve the underlying economic system of capitalism in Mexico, and the country’s subordination to imperialism.

Turmoil, and Potential

The high expectations of change on the parts of those struggling around these elections, together with the explosive situation in the country, have the potential for things to get very out of control of the ruling class in ways the ruling class considers dangerous to the stability of their system. People are answering the call of AMLO to fight for a different outcome in the election, and thus far, the powers that be have been able to channel and confine the struggle into forms and demands which are acceptable to both the U.S. and Mexican rulers. The potential exists for the struggle to break out of these bounds.  And there must be sharp struggle to bring forward and unleash the independent historical actions of the masses, out from under the wing of the bourgeois ruling class forces—and all electoral candidates — in order to move towards the change that the people desperately want and need.

Through this turmoil and upheaval, the possibilities exist for the masses to advance their struggle. But not by relying on or putting their hopes in AMLO—or the Mexican elections and electoral process, nor by fighting to make it truly democratic. Work must be done and struggle waged to transform the anger and outrage people feel over the outcome of the election. And still more—the burning desire they have for a different world must be forged into a revolutionary movement which truly challenges the whole setup and gets to the root of the problem: who holds state power. And where the question becomes how to uproot all the economic and social relations that are oppressing the people today.

“It is quite possible to envision a scenario in which, on a qualitatively greater level than today, the development of the social situation and of revolutionary struggle in Mexico would interpenetrate with and have repercussions on the development of social contradictions and social struggles in the U.S. This could have a tremendous impact, this can influence native born people in positive ways towards a more internationalist view. It would hold the potential for further igniting and positively interacting with rebellion and with more conscious and organized revolutionary struggle in the U.S. itself.”

Revolution, “The ‘Border Crisis’ and Revolution: Stepping Back on Some Strategic Dimensions,” May 28, 2006

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