Most of us in the U.S. have spent our patience for electoral politics on the escalating gaffes by the Republican Party presidential contenders who, in their own ways, have demonstrated to the public how unsuitable they are to run the country. However, our southern neighbors have a much more decisive election at hand.
Due to the political malleability of its legal system and the centralized power of its executive office, Mexico has a long history of bloodshed during presidential elections—candidates are assassinated, entire indigenous and peasant communities are invaded, tortured and sexually abused by the military, votes (and voters) disappear, political protest movements and worker organizations are brutally crushed by police and military troops, and political extortion and subordination, judicial repression of opposition parties and other forms of violence are expected and prevalent.
Mexico’s presidential and 14 gubernatorial elections this coming July could mark an escalation of violence or a turning point for one of the U.S.’s largest trading partners. Exacerbating the current electoral period’s propensity to result in bloodshed is the $30 billion business of international drug trade, which passes through hands of Wall Street investors and bankers, U.S. arms manufacturers, and government officials at every level before $23 billion reach the pockets of Mexican cartels annually.
As a result of U.S. drug interdiction programs in the Andean region and later in Colombia, which slowly broke the influence of South and Central American cartels, Mexican producers filled the vacuum created by the ongoing and untreated U.S. consumer demand for narcotics. Mexico produces the majority of the marijuana and methamphetamine, and between 70 and 90 percent of the cocaine that enters the country. A Mexican government report estimated that the country’s economy would contract by 63 percent, and the U.S. economy would contract 19 to 22 percent, if drug trades were entirely curtailed.
Polls show Mexicans currently favor Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which ruled the country with monopoly capitalism for 71 years until 2000. Last December, when invited to speak at the International Book Fair—in order to promote a book he claims to have written—Peña Nieto was unable to answer an audience question about which three books had influenced him most.
After minutes of hesitation, Peña Nieto said he had read “parts of” the Bible. He then proceeded to mistake book titles and authors—including Mexico’s greatest literary figure, Carlos Fuentes—before helplessly apologizing, stating: “I have read a number of books … I have a hard time recalling the titles.” This slip, which caused Carlos Fuentes to publicly state that Peña is a “very ignorant man,” is not his first. In a 2009 interview, he could not remember the cause of his wife’s death two years earlier.
In second place, polls show Josefina Vazquez Mota, from President Calderon’s Catholic-conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). She was Felipe Calderon’s secretary of public education before joining the lower chamber of the Mexican congress. She faces widespread discontent about the state of everyday violence to which the country has descended in the last six years. In a distant third is the center-left Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD), under candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who was declared “Legitimate President of Mexico” by an assembly of protestors in downtown Mexico City on November of 2006.
It has been only five years since the 2006 elections, largely regarded as fraudulent. A year before the election, the polls placed then Mexico City Mayor Lopez Obrador ahead of the other two parties, despite months of a corporate-sponsored media campaign that ensured an economic recession and other social maladies if he were to be elected. The rhetoric from the PRD was to pry the nation from the super-rich, while the PAN and PRI parties equated class consciousness with fascism and dictatorship.
The election was originally too close to call, as announced on election night by the electoral commission, the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE). Both Calderon and Lopez Obrador declared victory.
In the coming days, reports of voter intimidation and vote buying, ballot boxes found in a dump in Netzahualcoyotl and in sewage drains in Mexico City, ballot stuffing and illegal campaigning, surfaced. However, these and other rising issues of electoral fraud were drowned out in the media (dominated by the network conglomerates Televisa and TV Azteca), which, according to an IFE report to the Organization of American States, served as a base for the candidates with the most corporate funding. Five days after election day, IFE declared Calderon the winner.
Lopez Obrador, a long-time protest organizer, failed at attempts to legally dispute the IFE’s decision and called for a massive protest in Mexico City when the federal electoral court refused to authorize a full recount. The demonstrations lasted months, during which one to two million of his supporters occupied vital avenues in the largest metropolis in the hemisphere.
In December, days after taking office, President Calderon opened a bloody pathway for U.S. intervention through the Merida Initiative, a $1.7 billion military security agreement to fight narcotic producers in Mexico and Central America. In the first six months of his presidency, cartels executed an average of eight people each day.
The ‘war on drugs’ has resulted in the deaths of over 50,000, the disappearance of over 100,000 Mexicans and the displacement of over 700,000 peasants in five years. Mexico’s displaced, who ambulate in absolute poverty before either becoming the fodder of war or joining organized crime, cause a major economic strain on the country—i.e., they are a nuisance. Although crime runs at each level of society, with different levels of acceptability at different income levels, in Mexico, police and military forces are responsible or directly tied to the majority of the everyday violations of human rights reported.
The casualties and targets of Mexico’s intensifying conflict are, by a grossly disproportionate margin, the poor, peasants, indigenous people, women, migrants and disaffected urban populations. There is little tolerance for a free press, and it has taken the title as the country with the greatest journalists murdered, surpassing countries such as Colombia and Iraq.
Left commentators agree that labor and energy reforms are prescient, and the PRI and PAN candidates have already announced they seek privatization of Pemex, the parastatal oil company. In 2008, escalating issues with Luz y Fuerza, the electrical workers’ union, led to the nepotistic privatization of electricity, and the firing of 44,000 workers. The PRI-created national workers’ union, which has always excluded peasants from its organization, is also quavering and in need of dismantling.
The national education workers’ union, SNTE, notoriously corrupt and drenched in controversy, has a history of manipulating elections. In 2006, its PAN-affiliated president, Elba Gordillo used her position to influence the highest levels of the electoral commission, IFE, causing the replacement of poll workers in 22,000 sites across the country just before that year’s election.
The July elections will determine more than the course of the pressing demand for energy, fiscal and labor reforms in Mexico—they will either lead to an increase in the repression of social forces calling for justice and feed the military- and prison-industrial complex, or set a path towards economic redistribution and justice for the poor, who join organized crime largely because they find no prospects in Mexico’s current subservient position in the international division of labor. Thus, what is at stake in the coming presidential and gubernatorial elections in Mexico is no-less-than hemispheric security and economic recovery.
Mexico, which is already being referred to as a failed state due to the impunity, violence, and insecurity that characterizes its plutocratic system of governance, is an example of why politics matter most where they seem degraded and futile. In a country whose politics are reduced to the legacy of different forms of competing plutocratic hegemonies, the exceeding reports of violations of human rights against its poor, indigenous, peasant, female, and leftwing populations are too close to home—it is at our peril that we turn a blind eye to them, as we do daily to the tragedies occurring globally.
For those of us whose tax dollars are funding this ‘international security’ and ‘development’ charade as well as the demand for exceedingly criminalized substances, it’s about time to notice.