The Mexican Political Volcano
Elections & Mass Movements
By Esteban González Arteaga
“To all those who only see dark clouds and storms on the horizon, to those who are unwilling to confront the rough seas of destiny, I ask to go towards the door and to leave the ship.” - Admiral Mariano Francisco Saynez Secretary of the Navy addressing the future tasks of the Mexican military, shortly after the inauguration of President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa.
Admiral Francisco Saynez, President Felipe Calderon, and their Party of National Action (PAN) are making it clear that they are charting a new bloody course for the Mexican ruling class. The Mexican ruling class has shown in recent months it is willing to openly trample on the laws it has written for itself and it is not afraid or shy of showing its repressive intentions.
In Atenco, in Oaxaca, in Mexico City, they are sending a message that is as clear as the banging of a riot shield. They have chosen this course because they know that Mexico is in crisis; they are aware that the injustices of neo-liberalism can no longer be disguised with myths of “peace, prosperity, and economic growth.” The reality present in statistics as well as in the empty stomachs of Mexicans is unjustifiable. Today working class people in Mexico take their first united steps to confront the corrupt and unjust practices of the country’s ruling class.
The Twilight of Neo-liberalism
The catastrophe of neo-liberalism in Mexico is reflected in all of Latin America, implemented during the last quarter century at the request of imperialists and their World Bank, and zealously carried out by the local ruling class. These policies have meant misery, hunger, and death.
In Mexico the sector that has suffered most from liberalization has been the campesino, poor self-sufficiency farmers using backwards agricultural technology. The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) flooded Mexico’s market with cheap foodstuffs. Campesinos were unable to compete with the influx of products, and many abandoned their homes in search of jobs, leading them primarily in two directions: cities in Mexico and the United States. Neo-liberalism has pushed much of the poor into maquiladoras, sweatshops which constitute 17% of Mexican employment, and where super-exploited workers- mostly women- work long hours, many times facing abuse from management, and receive little more than a dollar an hour.
In the US today, there are 25 million Mexican immigrants, 5 million are undocumented workers risking daily deportation. Mexicans in the US, documented or not, represent one of the largest oppressed groups within the US and have been at the forefront of the struggle for immigrant rights. The Mexican flag has emerged as a symbol of resistance to the racist anti-immigrant policy of the US government, on May 1st 2006 millions marched in the US demanding respect for the rights of immigrants. The US ruling class is coming face to face with the victims of the imperialist policy it has carried out through Latin America for decades.
The weight of poverty, decades of deceit and humiliation, has grown unbearable for Mexicans. 500,000 continue to cross the border every year. Half of Mexico’s 100 million people live in poverty, 20% of the population is so poor that they are, “unable to meet basic food needs,” while the country’s richest 20% live in opulence earning 50% of the national income. The working-class in Mexico has begun to make important conjectures in the past years; they have seen the colossal inequalities in Mexican society and have gained a decided mistrust of neo-liberalism and its defenders.
The Elections Have Become a Political Battleground for the Masses
The result of the Mexican presidential elections on July 2nd 2006 meant, more than the triumph of any particular candidate, the verdict of the Mexican people on the trial of neo-liberalism. What made this election so critical? The frustration of the masses and their active organized mobilization in defense of their candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, before and after the elections.
Lopez Obrador was the progressive mayor of Mexico City. He became popular inside and outside of Mexico City for his government programs, which included assistance programs for the elderly, single mothers, and school-aged children. In 2005, Mexico’s ruling class feared losing their hegemony over the country if this man became president, and made a scandalous move to put democratically elected Lopez Obrador in jail, accusing him of having illegally expropriated land for the purpose of building a road to a hospital. The people of Mexico understood that the ‘Desafuero’ (impeachment) was of political nature and not judicial. A million people came out to the streets, many who had not voted for Lopez Obrador, demanding that the will of the masses be respected and that Lopez Obrador be allowed to carry out his mandate. The case became a huge political liability for President Fox who was forced to fire the attorney general, and declare that the case had no legal basis. This was a huge victory for the Mexican masses; it emboldened them, and made Lopez Obrador a rallying point for the poor to express their discontent with neo-liberalism and their resistance to the ruling class. In fact, Obrador was pushed by poor and working people into a major leadership position that perhaps he had never dreamed of or expected.
On July 29th 2005, Lopez Obrador announced that he would be running for president, his political platform included a stop to the privatization of national industries, an elimination of the NAFTA clause allowing the free importation of corn and beans into Mexico by 2008, and an increase in social spending. Business interests in Mexico represented by the Corporate Coordinating Counsel (CCE) saw the ideological challenge against neo-liberalism and cynically declared that, “To hope for something different, is to go backwards.” In a slanderous media blitz, guided by the campaign slogan of the National Action Party's (PAN) candidate, Calderon :“Lopez Obrador is a danger for Mexico.” Mexico’s poor where largely unperturbed by warnings that “economic stability” would be threatened if Lopez Obrador became President; they had nothing to lose. In reality the slogan referred to the danger that the masses behind Lopez Obrador represented to their Mexico, the Mexico of wealth and privilege. The poor and working people of Mexico faced the most vicious attacks, they where portrayed by the media and politicians as dangerous and ignorant mobs. Calderon called them the, “red and yellow tide which paralyses the country,” which he promised to “drown out”. Most of the middle class, fearing they had the something to lose, joined the chorus.
In general the ruling class used hate and ignorance as its main electoral tactic. Nonetheless Lopez Obrador continued rising in the public opinion polls, it appeared that the people of Mexico were decided. On May 3rd and 4th 2006 the Mexican ruling class decided that it was necessary to take drastic measures, and utilize the instruments that they were most familiar with—the bloody clubs of repression—against the people of San Salvador de Atenco, in order to send a message and a threat to all Mexican people.
The people of Atenco, a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City, had a history of organizing to defend their land against theft by the government. In 2002 they had successfully stopped the construction of an airport on their lands, marching defiantly on Mexico City, machetes in hand, and forming the People's Front in Defense of Land. Mexico’s ruling class could not help but complain about Mr. Fox’s ‘leniency’ towards the people of Atenco. So the attacks on the people of Atenco did not let up, in 2006 Mexico’s business interests decided they would turn a flower market in Atenco into a Wal-Mart, and that anyone who resisted would pay dearly. At 7 AM on Wednesday May 3rd hundreds of police entered Atenco, encountering a valiant resistance by the people of Atenco, the police responded brutally, detaining a 100 people and murdering a 14 year-old boy with a shot in the chest. On May 4th three thousand police entered Atenco again taking another 200 people prisoner in house to house raids, and occupying the town, both men and women were beaten brutally, and there were many cases of rape. The same day thousands of protestor responded, marching from Mexico City to Atenco, and holding a public meeting…
The government did not try to defer accusations of an undue use of violence; they publicly aired the images of the criminal attack. They made sure that the images of the repression would stay in the minds of oppressed Mexicans as a warning to those that dare unite to defend their livelihood. The Mexican ruling class was anticipating battles to come.
¡Voto por Voto! ¡Casilla por Casilla! The Anti-Fraud Movement
On July 2nd 2006 millions of Mexicans came out to vote. The early results showed that according to all indications Lopez Obrador was going to win. Then, as if a cruel joke, there was a reversal, Calderon began to rise, and the electoral committee, headed by one of Calderon’s close associates, hastily declared Calderon’s victory.
Even before ballots began to be found in dumpsters and thousands of voters began to complain of being “shaved” of the electoral lists and bribery, people in Mexico had a clear idea of what had happened.
The ruling class unable to win through fear and intimidation had resorted to massive electoral fraud. With this act the capitalist ruling class betrayed its own bourgeois law and civil society. They demonstrated that when it comes to the rule of capital and profit they easily disrespect their own rules and constitutions, and obviously have no problem throwing it all into garbage bins. In the Zocalo square of Mexico City the hundreds who had gathered to await the results began to shout angry slogans, some began to cry. Many had had their hopes stolen by electoral fraud before. Quickly the slogan of ¡Voto por Voto! ¡Casilla por Casilla! Vote by Vote! Booth by Booth! was taken up by masses who came out to the streets, this time they would hold the ruling class to account for its deceptive manipulation. Masses of working and poor people in Mexico were clearly frustrated by the inability of the ruling class to follow its own rules. They moved closer to the centre stage of politics stating ‘We will follow your rules better than you, the ruling class, can do. We will use your rules against you, count my vote according to your own rules otherwise we will count it ourselves and we will follow through with the results.’ This was clearly a sign of oppressed masses capable of moving to a political dual power against the USA-supported-capitalist-ruling-class of Mexico.
The month of July 2006 saw the rise of the largest mass movement in Mexico’s history. Enormous marches kilometers in length brought together campesinos, workers, state employees, students, and professionals from a broad range of organizations; caravans arrived from all over the country. The demonstrations grew gradually as the extent of the fraud became clear. By the end of the month on July 30th the largest rally was held with 2 million people. Lopez Obrador and his Party for a Democratic Revolution (PRD) proposed that that the demonstrators occupy the streets of the downtown district until the electoral court (TRIFE) ruled on whether it would allow a vote-by-vote recount, the crowed unanimously agreed. The government made veiled threats of removing the protesters by force, and set-up a military zone around the congress, ahead of President Fox’s annual address.
The court made its final ruling on the August 5th it would not allow a total recount of the ballots, only a partial recount of 12%. Only a total recount could have corrected the fraud. It appeared that all institutional means of struggle had been exhausted for the anti-fraud movement.
Today many in Mexico and around the world are looking towards another struggle that began in the spring of 2006 and that, determinedly, continues today in the state of Oaxaca.
Oaxaca: Revolutionary Stirrings in Southern Mexico
“If we don’t back him [Governor Ulises Ruiz] right now, like we did then, it would be very easy to mobilize against us, as it was done in Oaxaca, to take us, the governors, out and then the President of Mexico…It would be the wrong message to send the people of Mexico”- Silverio Cavazos Ceballos, Governor of the State of Colima, explaining his support of Ulises Ruiz, Governor of Oaxaca.
Oaxaca is one of the poorest states of Mexico; a majority of its population is made up of poor Indigenous farmers. Capitalists inside and outside of Mexico look at Oaxaca with avarice, the state is rich in resources, and is in a strategic location for trade, as well as having an ample ‘labor supply.’ For this reason the people of Oaxaca have faced increasing attacks by neo-liberalism.
On May 22nd 2006 the teachers of the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) of Oaxaca went on strike. They’re demands included higher wages, as well as social demands like the construction and repair of schools, infrastructure for poor Indigenous communities, as well as the release of all political prisoners. The poor and working people of Oaxaca quickly began to sympathize with the just demands of the teachers and joined them as they marched and occupied the Zocalo square of Oaxaca. Regional officials, business organizations, and federal politicians demanded, “the use of public force” in order to solve “the problem of the teachers’ union.” Ulises Ruiz Ortiz the Governor of Oaxaca, for the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), had a history of using repression against political movements and was another rotten fruit of electoral fraud. Under the cover of nightfall on June 14th he ordered over 1,000 riot police to brutally remove the teachers. The teachers re-organized themselves and with the aid of thousands of oaxaqueños overwhelmed the police. Assembled once again in the Zocalo they chanted, “The people united will never be defeated!”
This intense struggle forced them to put the slogan in practice and form an organization of working-class unity: the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO). The necessity of forming an organized front to confront an enemy who only grows more desperate united dozens of unions, peasant organizations, political movements, and civil organization. The people of Oaxaca decided that the conflict between poor and oppressed oaxaqueños and the government of Ulises Ruiz was irreconcilable and demanded the immediate exit of Ulises Ruiz.
Ulises Ruiz continues to govern Oaxaca “from a helicopter,” not daring to set foot in the state. The government of the state has only escalated the level of violence, arresting hundreds, killing and disappearing unknown dozens. The people of Oaxaca have made immense sacrifices in their struggle but they have emerged organized and united, today they continue marching and fighting, they have provided guidance to the people of Mexico through their actions.
The APPO, the CND, and the Struggle Against Neo-Liberalism in Mexico
The government of Felipe Calderon, after a little more than a month in power, already faces increasing resistance. On the 7th of December, five day after Calderon had taken office, thousands of workers led by the union of electrical workers marched demanding a fair wage, and thousands more marched when Calderon announced a 400 million dollar cut to education.
Calderon has powerful allies in imperialist countries that are demanding that he carry out “important reforms,” primarily the privatization of oil, electricity, and the agricultural sector. It is certain that they will try to assist him, in hopes that Mexico does not become another Venezuela, Bolivia or Cuba. Already Calderon has had a ‘secret meeting’ with such unsavory figures as Donald Rumsfeld, Rick Hillier (commander of the Canadian Armed Forces), and Gordon O’Connor (Canada’s minister of defense), as well as executives of Lockheed Martin and Chevron.
The APPO and the National Democratic Convention (CND), an organization that was born from the anti-fraud movement, represent formidable instruments for working class struggle, against Calderon’s government, and the imperialists supporting him.
Esteban González Arteaga is a high school student and an organizer with Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC).
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