MEXICO CITY (July 19th) – The day before Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the peppery Mexican left leader who insists he is the winner of the fraud-marred July 2nd election, summoned more than a million Mexicans to the great central Zocalo plaza to lay out plans for mass civil resistance to prevent right-winger Felipe Calderon from stealing the presidency, this reporter marched down from the neighboring Morelos state with a group of weather-beaten campesinos the color of the earth.
Saul Franco and his companeros farmed plots in the village of Anenecuilco, the hometown of revolutionary martyr Emiliano Zapata who gave his life to defend the community’s land from the big hacienda owners. “It is our obligation to fix this fraud and kick the rich out of power,” Saul explained. “If Zapata was still alive he would be with us today,” the 52 year-old farmer insisted, echoing the sentiment on the hand-lettered cardboard sign he carried.
But although Saul and his companions admired and supported Lopez Obrador, they were not so happy with AMLO’s party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution or PRD. “We had a PRD mayor and things went badly and we lost the next time around,” remembered Pedro, Saul’s cousin. Indeed, many PRD candidates are simply made-over members of the once-ruling (71 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI who have climbed on Lopez Obrador’s coattails to win public office. In 57% of all elections the PRD has won, the party has failed to win reelection.
Yet the farmers drew a clear distinction between AMLO’s “Party of the Aztec Sun” and Lopez Obrador himself. “Andres Manuel will never surrender. He is decided. He will never double-cross us or sell us out.” Saul was adamant.
It is that aura of dedication and combativeness and the belief that, in contrast with other leaders that have risen from the Mexican left, that AMLO cannot be bought or co-opted, that helped draw 1.1 million (police estimates) or 1.5 million (PRD estimates) Mexicans to the Zocalo, the political heart of the nation, July 16th.
The numbers of those in attendance – the line of march extended for 13 kilometers and moved continuously for five hours – are integral to AMLO’s notion that these are historic moments for Mexico. Only if this understanding is impressed upon the seven-judge electoral tribunal (TRIFE) that must decide who won the fiercely-contested July 2nd election will the panel order the opening of all 130,000 ballot boxes and allow a vote-by-vote recount.
Lopez Obrador is convinced that he has won the presidency of Mexico from his right-wing rival, Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN), who was awarded a severely critiqued 243,000-vote margin by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) on the basis of what now appear to be manipulated computer tallies.
The July 16th outpouring may or may not have been the largest political demonstration in Mexican history. AMLO himself set the previous record back in April 2005, when he put 1.2 million citizens into the streets of Mexico City to protest efforts by President Vicente Fox, a PANista like Calderon, to exclude him from the ballot. But what is most important in this numbers game is not how many were turned out at each event but the exponential growth of the gatherings. Back in 2005, AMLO called a rally in the Zocalo that drew 325,000 supporters. Two weeks later, he tripled the size of the turnout, forcing Fox to drop his scheme to prevent Lopez Obrador from running for president.
Six days after the July 2nd election, AMLO summoned a half million to an “informative assembly” in the vast Tienanmen-Square-sized plaza, and once again, if the PRD figures are to be accepted, tripled participation last Sunday. He is now calling for a third “informative assembly” July 30th which, given the statistical trend, should settle the question of which is the largest mass demonstration in Mexican political history.
The PAN and its now-ex-candidate Calderon consider these enormous numbers to be “irrelevant.” That’s how PAN secretary Cesar Nava labeled them.
What AMLO’s enemies – Fox, Calderon, the PAN, the now dilapidated PRI, the Catholic Church, the Media, Mexico’s avaricious business class, and the Bushites in Washington – do not get yet is that every time they level a blow at the scrappy “Peje” (for Pejelagarto, a gar-like fish from the swamps of AMLO’s native Tabasco) his popularity grows by leaps and bounds. The perception that, despite the vicious attacks of his opponents, he will never sell out is Lopez Obrador’s strongest suit – and he is always at the peak of his game when leading massive street protests.
Two weeks after the election that Felipe Calderon continues to claim he won, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the pivotal figure in Mexican politics, dominating public discourse and even the media, which has so brutally excoriated and excluded him for years. Meanwhile, the PANista spends his days accepting congratulations from the world’s most prominent right-wingers including George Bush, an electoral pickpocket who is popularly thought to have stolen the U.S. presidency in 2000 and 2004, and Bush’s Senate majority leader Bill Frist, in addition to Bush poodle Tony Blair and Spain’s former Francisco-Franco-clone prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.
Calderon also enjoys the approbation of such U.S. right-wingers as Fox News commentator Dick Morris (a campaign consultant), the Miami Herald’s decrepit Latin America “expert” Andres Oppenheimer, and Ginger Thompson, the Condoleezza Rice of The New York Times whose estimates of crowd sizes missed the mark by a million marchers July 16th. Virtually every radio and television outlet in Mexico has endorsed Calderon’s purported victory – Televisa, the largest communication conglomerate in Latin America, which dominates the Mexican dial, refused to provide live coverage of the July 16th rally, perhaps the largest political demonstration in the nation’s history.
Although Felipe Calderon has announced his intentions of touring Mexico to thank voters for his disputed “triumph,” insiders report that the PAN brain trust has strongly advised against it, fearing that such a tour could trigger violent confrontations with AMLO supporters.
At this point, 16 days after the election, it is difficult to imagine how Calderon could govern Mexico if the TRIFE denies a recount and accepts the IFE numbers. A Calderon presidency would inherit a country divided in half geographically between north and south. Both the PAN and the PRD won 16 states a piece although AMLO’s turf contains 54% of the population and most of Mexico’s 70 million poor – an angry majority that will refuse to accept the legitimacy of a Calderon presidency for the next six years. Faced with a similar situation after he stole the 1988 election from leftist Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, Carlos Salinas had to call out the army.
Lopez Obrador has encouraged his supporters to reinforce encampments outside the nation’s 300 electoral districts to prevent the IFE from tampering with ballot boxes while the judges sort through the 53,000 allegations of polling place violations filed by AMLO’s legal team. The PRD charges that the IFE has already violated 40% of the boxes in a ploy to match ballot totals to its highly dubious computer count. The leftist’s call for peaceful mass civil resistance is bound to keep this nation’s teeth on edge until a judicial determination is reached in respect to a recount. A new president must be designated by September 6th.
Although tensions are running high, the country has been remarkably violence free since July 2nd — but a decision by the tribunal to uphold the IFE results could well be the point of combustion. Even should a recount be ordered, the question of who will do the counting — given the vehement distrust of the Federal Electoral Institute by AMLO’s supporters — is a potential flashpoint for trouble. Historically, when the electoral option has been canceled as a means of social change by vote fraud, the armed option gains adherents in Mexico.
Despite AMLO’s talents at exciting mass resistance and the number of times he can fill the Zocalo to bursting, the only numbers that really count are those inside the nation’s 130,000 ballot boxes. Will the justices satisfy Lopez Obrador’s demand for a vote-by-vote recount? All seven judges are in their final year on the TRIFE bench and at least three members are candidates to move up to the Supreme Court in the next administration. In the past, the judges, who decide by majority opinion, have been quite independent of political pressures, ordering annulments and recounts in two gubernatorial elections and in whole electoral districts – but have never done so in a presidential election. Forcing that historical precedent is what Lopez Obrador’s call for mass mobilizations is all about.
If AMLO’s foes are counting on a long, drawn-out legal tussle that will discourage the faithful and eventually reduce his support to a handful of diehard losers, they have grievously miscalculated the energy and breadth of the leftist’s crusade to clean up the 2006 election. This past weekend, as this senior citizen trudged the highway down from Zapata country to the big city, two police officers lounging outside the highway tollbooths gently patted me on the back and urged me on. “Animo!” they encouraged, “keep up the spirit!”
When even the cops are in solidarity with Lopez Obrador’s fight for electoral justice, the writing is on the wall for Calderon and his right-wing confederates. Indeed, the wall of the old stone convent around the corner from my rooms here in the old quarter says it quite clearly: “AMLO PRESIDENTE!”
John Ross’s “Zapatistas! Making Another World Possible – Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006” will be published by Nation Books this October.