At midnight, as Sept. 15 becomes Sept. 16, Mexicans traditionally look to their president as he ritually rings a bell and swings the flag in commemoration of the Mexican war for independence. Usually, it is a night of celebration. This year, however, the event will be marked by political struggle as two factions continue to compete for the people’s acceptance as a legitimate government: conservative President Vicente Fox and his protege, Felipe Calderon of the Partido Accion Nacional, and on the other side, Lopez Obrador of the left-leaning Partido de la Revolucion Democratica.
After two months of protests and serious allegations of fraud, the electoral court in Mexico has nonchalantly appointed Calderon president-elect. In spite of the ruling, Lopez Obrador has refused to concede and recognize Calderon. Instead, he has vowed to create a parallel government. Tonight, Obrador will symbolically challenge President Fox by giving the traditional cry of independence.
The conservative PAN went for broke during the race for the presidency in order to derail Obrador’s impending victory. In their eyes, the end justified the means, and throughout the presidential race they demonized Obrador as a communist revolution waiting to happen. They stoked latent class fear, especially in one of the world’s most unequal societies. Faced with Obrador’s threat to the hegemony of a parasitical political class, Calderon and the PAN hired New York-based ad agency Ogilvy & Mather and Dick Morris, the man who engineered President Clinton’s re-election, to oversee Mexico’s dirtiest campaign ever. Here, Mexico took a page from Bush’s “War on Terror” and presented Obrador as a “threat to democracy and security” within Mexican borders.
The PAN succeeded in deforming a choice between two political agendas into a struggle for the survival of the status quo over the apocalyptic threat the Obrador and the PRD posed. The media campaign had no tie to reality and felt no responsibility to keep attacks grounded in the truth. For months, Obrador was branded “a danger to Mexico” on TV, until the electoral authority had the nerve to enforce the law and order these spots off the air. Now it seems this strategy has eked out a win for the conservatives. But these dirty tactics will prove to have long-lasting detriment if the Mexican government continues to turn a blind eye to growing popular discontent and misery.
Popular outrage and discontent as institutions sweep dirt beneath the rug have reached into institutions themselves. Such political tension in Mexico was clear Sept. 1 of this year as 155 senators and congressmen of the PRD stood up in support of Obrador and would not allow President Fox to deliver his scheduled speech to the Mexican nation. This is the first time in Mexico’s history that such presidential speech has been thwarted. Furthermore, Alejandro Encinas, the head of Mexico City’s government, declared that he will not accept Felipe Calderon as the future president of Mexico, providing city resources and backing to Lopez Obrador and his many supporters.
These two institutional examples, along with Obrador’s popular support, set the stage for further turmoil against a government that has been unwilling to let itself be taken by the people’s will. It has long been able to remain impervious to the nation’s hunger for food and dignity, relying on illegal immigration into the United States to alleviate the pressure of an unsustainable system. Illegal immigration is required by Mexico’s government to maintain a pretense of prosperity, for it reduces unemployment in a nearly stagnant economy and brings in huge foreign income.
Now Mexico’s failure to provide livelihood and opportunity for millions of citizens has finally brought U.S. backlash in the form of unilateral legislation on immigration and the building of a fence across part of the border. Ironically, American corporations backed Calderon’s campaign heavily as he promised “incentives for foreign investment.” Blinded by greed for easy profits to be made in Mexico, they set the stage for increased migration into the United States. In addition, the Bush administration, rather than leveraging pressure for a recount, has backed the illusion of democracy and praised President Fox for the “strength of Mexico’s institutions.” Perhaps the man believes that war is the only tool of democracy.
The institutions that Bush praises are designed to launder the extreme inequality in Mexico into a pretense of democracy, and are responsible for the increased strain on America. For if you are born to a family from the wrong side of the tracks, you must cross the border into the United States to have any chance of improving your situation. In fact, in more than 20 years, average wages in Mexico have not so much as budged. And despite the incessant propaganda that these elections are just, many people rightfully see through the smoke and mirrors. Hunger will not be appeased by television coverage. But the immigrants I’ve asked in New Haven have never been fooled. Every time I asked them if they would vote in Mexico’s elections, they smiled wryly, saying, “We know who the government is for, and it’s not for us.” This situation is unsustainable, and will deteriorate if it is not changed. Obrador is justified in pressing the cracks in the system to achieve a more democratic society.
Jordan Trevino is a senior in Trumbull College.