The month of July saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets of Mexico City to protest the electoral fraud that has, for the second time, deprived the left-wing candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known as Amlo) of victory in the presidential election.
Following the 1 July election, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was declared the winner with 38.2 percent of the vote. Amlo, who was the candidate of his Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Mexico’s largest left-wing party, along with a broad coalition of party and non-party progressive forces including the Party of Labour (PT), a Marxist-Leninist party, was said to have polled 31.6 percent. Trailing badly in third place, with 25.4 percent, was the National Action Party (PAN), the most right-wing and pro-American force in mainstream Mexican politics, which had held power for the last 12 years, following its 2000 ousting of the PRI from 71 years in unbroken office.
In the 2006 election, widespread ballot fraud led to a declaration of a wafer-thin victory of just 0.58 percent for the PAN over Amlo. But as Mark Weisbrot noted in a 9 July Guardian article, there were massive irregularities:
“The most prominent, which was largely ignored in the international press, was the ‘adding-up’ problem at the majority of polling places. According to Mexico’s electoral procedures, each polling station gets a fixed number of blank ballots. After the vote, the number of remaining blank ballots plus the number of ballots cast are supposed to add up to the original blank ballots. For nearly half of polling places, this did not happen.
“But it got worse than that: because of public pressure, the Mexican electoral authorities did two partial recounts of the vote. The second one was done for a huge sample: they recounted 9 percent of the ballots. But without offering any explanation, the electoral authorities refused to release the results of the recount to the public.
“From 9-13 August 2006, the Mexican electoral authorities posted thousands of pages of results on the web, which included the recounted ballot totals. It was then possible, with hundreds of hours of work, to piece together what happened in the recount and compare it to the previous results. At the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), we did this for a large random sample (14.4 percent) of the recounted ballots. Among these ballots, Calderón’s [the ‘victorious’ PAN candidate] margin of victory disappeared.
“This may explain why the electoral authorities never told the public what the recount showed, and why the authorities refused to do a full recount – which would have been appropriate for such a close election with so many irregularities. A full recount could easily have reversed the result, or found the election to be completely indeterminate.” (‘Irregularities reveal Mexico’s election far from fair’)
This time around, besides the same types of ballot-box fraud, vote buying played a major role. For example, the PRI distributed massive numbers of voucher cards to poor voters, redeemable for goods at the Soriana chain of grocery and department stores.
Another part of the PRI strategy was the buying of votes in the poorest regions of the country through the intervention of PRI state governors, who promised cash, redeemable cards, construction materials, fertiliser and so on in exchange for votes.
Outrageous media bias also played a key role. Just two companies, Televisa and Azteca, both of which are hostile to the PRD and the left, control 95 percent of broadcast TV.
In all, at a 12 July press conference, called to present the evidence on which he is basing his demand for the election results to be annulled, Amlo stated that five million votes had been bought by the PRI.
Even the Washington Post reported:
“ ‘It was neither a clean nor fair election,’ said Eduardo Huchim of the Civic Alliance, a Mexican watchdog group funded by the United Nations Development Programme.
“ ‘This was bribery on a vast scale,’ said Huchim, a former [Federal Electoral Institute] official. ‘It was perhaps the biggest operation of vote buying and coercion in the country’s history.’ ” (Quoted in Weisbrot, ibid)
With the presidential inauguration not scheduled until December, new and wider social forces, with working people to the fore, are increasingly joining the struggle, potentially pushing it in a more radical direction.
For example, the militant Mexican electricians’ union, SME, was a key mover in the 14-15 July National Convention Against the Imposition, which met under the slogan “To surrender is forbidden”. Some 800 delegates attended from 250 organisations, mostly representing workers, peasants and students, from 25 of Mexico’s states.
While the struggle is currently being played out between the PRI, largely representing vested interests, on the one hand and the left-wing and the popular masses on the other, as noted, the biggest loser was the right-wing PAN.
The PAN broke more than seven decades of PRI one-party rule in 2000, with the election of its candidate Vicente Fox, the former chief executive of Coca-Cola in Mexico, as president. Having been signed four years previously, the Nafta free-trade accord between the United States, Canada and Mexico had come into force on 1 January that year.
PAN’s rise to power was a major victory for the US strategy of pushing neo-liberalism and privatisation, including of education. Moreover, under Fox’s successor, PAN’s now outgoing president Felipe Calderón, more than 60,000 people lost their lives in a vicious ‘war against drugs’, whose primary target has in fact been the poor.
With eager enforcers in PAN, Nafta’s main impact on Mexico has been to turn the country into a market for US government-subsidised corn, leading to the ruination of a great mass of peasants, who had previously worked communal land for generations. With a growing income gap worsening social conditions, millions of Mexicans have found themselves forced north to work in the United States, often ‘illegally’, where they are the victims of superexploitation, racism and brutality at the hands of the police – and even far-right militia.
Mexico, therefore, has been far from fulfilling its economic potential and has failed to match the impressive rates of growth that have characterised many emerging economies in recent years. Specifically, by pursuing neo-liberalism at home and alignment with the USA abroad, whether through its submission to Nafta or through its meek compliance with the imperial demand for a ‘war on drugs’, Mexico has failed to see either the economic growth or the reduction in poverty that countries such as Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina have experienced, to varying degrees, owing to their adoption of policies favourable to working people and the national interest, the promotion of regional integration and solidarity, and the development of close relations with China.
Whilst these countries have profited from China’s rapid development, on a basis of equality and mutual benefit, Mexico, through its subordination to the USA, has been largely left on the sidelines, bleating that its notorious, Nafta-inspired maquiladora sweat shops, which supply clothing to the US market, are unable to compete with more efficient and productive Chinese light industry.
Having held uninterrupted power for over seven decades, the PRI obviously has an important place in Mexican life. In its early years it was associated with anti-feudal land reform, which was in turn, of necessity, associated with militant anti-clericalism, as the feudals and the clergy were closely aligned. This turbulent period of history was vividly brought to life in Graham Greene’s famous novel, The Power and the Glory.
Also, in the 1930s, the PRI nationalised the country’s oil industry out of the hands of US and European monopolies, creating Pemex as a national state-owned oil company, and a constitutional prohibition was enacted against privatisation of or foreign investment in the oil industry.
Mexico was the only country, besides the Soviet Union, to support the Spanish republic in its fight against fascism, and for decades remained the only country in the world to maintain recognition of the Spanish republican government-in-exile, refusing any relations with the Franco regime.
After the victory of the Cuban revolution, when reaction prevailed throughout the whole of Latin America, Mexico was the only country south of the Rio Grande not to sever relations with Cuba, but to maintain a cordial relationship with Fidel Castro.
But over decades in power, whatever progressive ethos the PRI may once have had was progressively lost. Indeed, many of the left-wing figures in the party, including the son of Lázaro Cárdenas, the 1930s president best remembered for the nationalisation of the oil industry, were among the 1989 founders of the PRD.
Whilst becoming bureaucratic and repressive, the PRI has maintained a powerful section of the Mexican trade-union movement under its control, but these unions have largely become machines to police the workers in the service of the Mexican bourgeoisie.
Particularly low points in the PRI’s history were the suppression of student-led protestors at the time of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, in which hundreds, if not thousands, died, and the bloody suppression of the Zapatista-led peasant uprising in the poor state of Chiapas, which erupted on 1 January 2004, coinciding with the coming into force of Nafta.
All this helped pave the way for the 2004 victory of the openly right-wing PAN, but the PRI remained entrenched in many states, where it continued to enforce its corrupt rule with an iron hand. One of the worst offenders was Nieto, the PRI’s ‘victor’ this time.
For example, on 3-4 May 2006, in his role as state governor, he sent more than 3,000 police and state security forces to suppress the people of San Salvador Atenco, who had gathered to defend the right of small vendors to sell flowers in front of the municipal market. The brute force they unleashed resulted in the deaths of two young men, the rape of 26 women, and the documented torture of 206 people.
Nieto has sought to send signals to Washington that he will continue to collaborate with the ‘war on drugs’ that has brought so much calamity to his nation. Prior to the election, he appointed General Óscar Naranjo, who, until recently, had headed Colombia’s national police, to be his security adviser. (Mexico’s constitution prevents foreigners from holding ministerial office.) Naranjo was coyly described by the Financial Times as “someone who was deeply involved in the US-sponsored Plan Colombia during the 1990s, and who has been close to Washington for decades”. (‘Mexico’s frontrunner Peña Nieto enlists Colombian anti-drugs fighter Óscar Naranjo’ by Adam Thomson, 14 June 2012)
Accompanied by massive military suppression and despoliation of the environment, Plan Colombia was central to the US establishing a permanent military presence in the country and to its becoming a counter-revolutionary gendarme against the progressive governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and other countries in the region.
Yet, despite this unmistakable signal of subservience to Washington, there are also signs that the US is not completely sanguine with regard to the end of PAN rule in its southern neighbour and the return of the PRI. Writing in the Guardian on 2 July, Rory Carroll noted:
“Enrique Peña Nieto’s victory in Mexico’s presidential election amid a raging drug war opens a new and uncertain chapter in relations with the US. Some in Washington fear the return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico until 2000, will turn the clock back to an era of cosy deals with drug cartels and fraught relations with the gringos.
“The new president, as is customary, will clean house, meaning replacing security officials from the outgoing administration of Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN) which had developed unusually close ties with US in terms of sharing intelligence and military cooperation. Peña Nieto is also expected to change Mexico’s focus from combating drug trafficking to curbing violent crime, kidnapping, extortion and robbery, issues which matter more to Mexicans than the flow of cocaine, cannabis and other drugs north through a 2,000-mile border. ”
According to Carroll, there was worry among US lawmakers that “after six years of mayhem”, in which tens of thousands were killed, “Mexicans have turned to a party which bought relative peace in previous decades by letting the cartels get on with business. After all, say many Mexicans, why should they pay the price for a US drug habit? ” (‘US concerned Mexico’s new president may go easy on drug cartels’)
The coming period will, therefore, be one where solidarity is needed with the working class and people of Mexico – against electoral fraud and imperialist interference; and for people’s democracy, independence and sovereignty.