In Mexico, the Dinosaurs return

Pub date July 14, 2009
WriterTim Redmond
SectionPolitics Blog

By John Ross


MEXICO CITY (July 16th) — Nine years ago, on a sultry July morning, Mexicans woke up and discovered to their great amazement that the Dinosaur that had hunkered down at the foot of their beds for 71 years was gone. This July 6th, when Mexicans rose in the morning, the Dinosaur was back.

In the famous short poem by Augusto Monterroso, the Dinosaur is the PRI — the Institutional Revolutionary Party — once the longest-ruling political dynasty in the known universe that controlled the destiny of Mexicans from the cradle to the grave for seven interminable decades until it was dislodged from power by the right-wing PAN party in the July 2000 presidential elections. In its unslakable thirst for power, the PRI committed unspeakable crimes against the Mexican peoples, stealing elections from the most humble city hall to the presidential palace, jailing and torturing and executing those who stood in its way, and emptying out public treasuries in an unmatched kleptocracy that was a legend throughout Latin America, “the perfect dictatorship” Latin American novelist Mario Vargas Llosa once dubbed it (for which the PRI had him tossed out of the country).

“Have we Mexicans lost our memories and our minds?” asks Sylvia Insulza from behind the counter of her newspaper dispensary in the old quarter of the capital. Tears of frustration crystallize in the corners of her eyes.

The depth and breadth of the PRI victory July 5th is nothing short of stunning. From a distant third-place finish in the 2006 presidential fiasco in which the rightist PAN stole the election from Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and his left-wing PRD party by .57% of the popular vote, the PRI (“proven experience and a new attitude” is its current campaign slogan) took 37% of the total ballots cast, nearly doubling its votes three years back, and taking control of congress for the first time since 1997. The once-upon-a-time ruling party’s alliance with the so-called Mexican Green Environmental Party (PVEM – see sidebar below “The Green PRI”) will give it 259 seats out of 500 in the lower house, an absolute majority. In nine out of 31 states, the PRI won every office up for grabs — federal congressional representatives, local congresses, and municipal officials, a “carro completo” or “full car” in the Institutionals’ curious lexicon.

The Dinosaurs also proved triumphant in five out of six governors’ races, winning two statehouses in which the PAN had resided for 12 years. Only in the northern border state of Sonora, where the PRI governor was seen as complicit in the tragic incineration of 48 babies in a Hermosillo day care center a month before the election, was the PAN able to squeeze out a victory in an election in which the PAN and PRI candidates were cousins.

Moreover, the PRI won cities like Naucalpan, an upper middle class Mexico City suburb the right-wingers have controlled since the 1980s, and the nation’s second city, Guadalajara, which the PAN has owned since 1995. In alliance with the Mexican Green Environmental Party, the PRI won its first elected office in Mexico City since 1994. Although the left PRD maintains control of the nation’s capital, the Party of the Aztec Sun does so by a greatly reduced margin. Whereas the PRD registered 51% of the vote in Mexico City in 2006, three years later it weighs in with just 29%.

But Sylvia’s tears of frustration may soon dry. Whether the Dinosaurs are really back or just staying overnight (in Jurassic time) is not yet clear. Mid-term elections are referendums on the sitting president and his administration’s management of the country and July 5th represented a crushing vote of no confidence in Felipe Calderon on whose watch the economy has tumbled into freefall — “growth” in 2009 will measure a negative 8%, the worst slide since the Great Depression of 1929-32. Calderon, who campaigned as the “President of Employment,” has presided over the loss of 2,000,000 jobs. The president’s ill-advised war on the drug cartels has soaked the country in blood — more than 12,000 lives have been lost — and fueled corruption and human rights abuses on the part of the military and the police. Calderon’s panic-driven handling of this spring’s Swine Flu “PAN-demic” kicked the bricks out from under the tourist industry, the nation’s third-largest source of dollars, and his arrogant imposition of candidates in the July 5th vote-taking angered and turned many in his own party against him.