MEXICO CITY—Utmost care had been exerted by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) to prepare the stage for the “impeccable” electoral process that culminated on July 1. For months, day in and day out, the media drummed the message that there would be no excuse for not voting: this time, all precautions had been taken to guarantee a clean election. With great fanfare, the four registered presidential candidates signed an agreement binding them to respect the results.
For a long time, however, it had been quite obvious that big money had already selected the next president. More specifically, it had infused enormous amounts of cash into the race in order to bring forth a near miracle—to revive the PRI (Revolutionary Institutional Party), the political machinery that had served the dictatorship centered on an all-powerful president and had oppressed Mexico for the last 70 years of the 20th century. A telegenic state governor, Enrique Peña Nieto, had been chosen, and no largesse was spared. The TV monopolies went as far as organizing Peña’s wedding with a soap-opera actress, including a trip to visit the Pope at the Vatican.
The backdrop to this cheap comedy was the widely felt perception that the whole country has been sinking under the presidency of Felipe Calderón, who had also been chosen by the owners of Mexico. Calderón had dutifully obeyed his master’s voice in Washington, and carried out a disastrous extension of the ineffectual and discredited 30-year-old “war of drugs.”
Nobody really knows how many people have died during the last five years and a half because of Calderon’s brute-force approach, but the number of victims most probably lies between 50,000 to 100,000 (most of them people who had nothing to do with trafficking, and much less with armed crime). When the Army and Navy were unleashed in a purported fight against the drug lords, the PAN government brought out a monster that preyed on society, as has been only too evident in the state of Chihuahua.
The world economic crisis hit Mexico’s economy really hard in 2009, and since then economic growth has been lackluster at best. The most evident problem is the huge youth unemployment rate.
A profound apathy towards elections and the registered political parties had set in, in great measure as a consequence of Calderon’s rigged election victory in 2006. Only a small proportion of potential voters seemed to be paying any attention to the boring campaigns of this year’s three main contenders: Peña Nieto, for the PRI; the PAN’s Josefina Vázquez Mota, who used every opportunity to promote herself as “different;” and the so-called candidate for the left, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was running under the slogan that he would preside over a “loving republic” (“la república amorosa”).
López Obrador retained only shreds (substantial shreds, but shreds nonetheless) of the popularity he had enjoyed in 2006. His party, the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), had been suffering serious defeats as a consequence of betrayal of the aspirations of its followers, and also because of the corruption and incompetence of many of its elected mayors and governors. In order to distance themselves from the PRD, many of López Obrador’s closest followers created a whole collection of groups and fronts as a way of promoting their candidate.
The “loving” candidate (“el amoroso”) had radically changed his rhetoric from emphasizing his worries for the poor and destitute in 2006 to an effort to create the most attractive image possible towards business people—going as far as publicly forgiving the media monopolies for the role they had played in the last election. His efforts were to no avail; all polls showed that his ratings were far behind Peña Nieto.
The YoSoy132 movement
At the end of May, a totally unexpected phenomenon changed the electoral climate. Students at a private university for the well-to-do, the Iberoamerican University (popularly known as La Ibero), carried out a loud and energetic protest against Peña Nieto, during a visit his campaign organizers had regarded as simply routine. At one point, the PRI’s candidate had to run in order to avoid the students, who reminded him that he had repressed the inhabitants of Atenco township near Mexico City (a repression that included serious human rights violations, including rapes and torture).
With the usual help by the TV monopolies, the PRI’s machine answered this affront with its usual slandering: those who protested were not real students, but provocateurs who had been planted by Peña’s opponents. This inflamed the protesting students even more, and they called on colleagues from nearby universities to join them in protesting in front of one of the main studios of the Televisa consortium, a dominating media corporation that they correctly perceived as being central in the huge operation to install Peña as president.
One hundred and thirty-one students put together a video on YouTube to show their Iberoamerican University ID cards. Many more had posted their own videos claiming “I am 132.” And so, the #YoSoy132 movement was born. The movement quickly spread to the main university in Mexico, UNAM.
The movement’s most visible feature is its repugnance toward the PRI and the TV monopolies, and it has inspired not only huge concentrations and demonstrations, but a widespread and enthusiastic monitoring of the electoral process as well.
López Obrador’s ratings began to climb rapidly, leaving PAN’s candidate far behind. The chance of stopping the PRI created a massive wave or electoral enthusiasm. “El amoroso” López Obrador proudly announced that he was going to win the elections.
No matter how much López Obrador courted them, however, the owners of Mexico had planned otherwise, and the size of the humongous machinery they had set in motion was only too evident. On June 26, just a few days before the election, the London-based newspaper The Guardian claimed it had received information that proved Televisa had been using a secret unit to promote Peña and to “rubbish” his rivals.
More and more evidence
July 1 was the day of reckoning for all electoral illusions. As voters went to cast their votes, more and more disquieting evidence of the magnitude of the fraud began to appear in internet sites run by citizens’ groups who were monitoring the elections. Contamos.org.mx, for instance, was flooded with complaints about ballots being stolen in one place or another, all sorts of irregularities at voting stations (especially in PRI dominated districts), and most notoriously, the widespread buying of votes. The aforementioned contamos.org.mx has been exhibiting a video taken inside a PRI so-called “raccoon hideout”(an epithet that is very unfair to raccoons, of course) where people are shown receiving money in exchange for their electoral ID cards.
In the evening, when preliminary results were announced, with Peña pulling several points ahead of his rivals, López Obrador was stunned. He had no further messages other than he would wait until the counting was over, and that he would abide by his promise to respect the results.
On Monday, July 2, people who had received the PRI’s money in the form of pre-paid cards for the Soriana supermarket chain, went wild trying to spend their money as fast as possible, and clogged many of the chain’s stores. Two of these stores had to be closed by authorities, due to safety concerns. PRI spokespeople deny that these tumults had anything to do with the elections, claiming the pre-paid cards were legally given out by the State of Mexico’s Education Department as part of a stimulus program.
The Mexico City daily La jornada sent reporters to the stores, and they spoke to several people who had sold out their votes only to find out that that their cards had no funds (www.jornada.unam.mx, July 5). In several State of Mexico districts that are very close to Mexico City, the PRI operatives “offered cards with 1500 pesos [about 110 U.S. dollars], but only if we gave them our voter ID.” The operatives asked for a photo of the ballot, with the PRI symbol crossed out and, in exchange, they handed out the cards. All those interviewed claimed to have acted “out of necessity.”
There is no doubt that the U.S. State Department was very much aware of how Peña Nieto’s victory was being cooked (as evidenced by U.S. Embassy cables published in Wiki-leaks), and there is little doubt it was also aware of the scam unfolding on election day. So the only reason for Obama to rush to congratulate the PRI’s candidate shortly after the preliminary results were announced is that the U.S. government was complicit in the show.
While López Obrador is trying to channel discontent into a lengthy and tricky legal process, the #YoSoy132 movement has pledged to continue its protests, and to spread them far and wide.
The FIS: a new front is born
Socialist Action’s sister organization in Mexico, Liga de Unidad Socialista (LUS), had been waging an energetic campaign to create awareness that the election had already been set up, and called on potential allies to form a political front to explain that the poor, the exploited, and the oppressed of Mexico were not represented by any of the registered candidates. Four organizations answered our initial call: the Grupo de Acción Revolucionaria (GAR), a Trotskyist organization that was formed mainly by activists and leaders of the 1999-2000 student strike at UNAM; the network around Madera, a web-based newspaper led by former guerrilla fighters and political prisoners of the 1970s; the Partido Obrero Socialista-MAS (POS-MAS), another Trotskyist organization, who had launched the leader of a successful workers cooperative, Jesús Torres Nuño, as a non-registered presidential candidate; and a women’s rights organization, the Feministas Comunistas.
Preceded by several joint actions, on June 23, these four groups and the LUS announced the formation of the Frente de Izquierda Socialista (FIS) in a very enthusiastic ceremony attended by 150 people. The wide majority of those present were young, and many are active participants and leaders in the #YoSoy132 movement.
Also present at the founding of the FIS were participants of the Atenco township, one of the most important symbols or popular movements in Mexico. The leaders of this movement addressed the gathering in very enthusiastic terms, but explained that their organization could not join the FIS because it, by its very nature, was politically plural. Dozens of participants from several other movements and regions of Mexico addressed the meeting as well, which ended with the singing of “The Internationale.”
The participating organizations are considering not only joint actions but a deeper political discussion on how to effectively propel the demands included in their front’s proclamation, such as the need for truly democratic elections, a Constituent Assembly, the 35-hour week, an end to impunity (referring to the fact that human rights abuses by police and other officials rarely go to trial), and other crucial questions that affect the Mexican population. The FIS’s initial program culminates in the goal of forming a workers and peasants government. The foundation of this front has opened an opportunity to give wide visibility to a program that represent the interests of workers, the poor, the oppressed, and all those that were invisible for the rich and powerful that staged the electoral show.
> The article above was written by Jaime Gonzalez, and is reprinted from the July 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.