29 August 2006


Mexican Politics: Power vs. Virtue

It seems that I've managed to land in Mexico City amidst a hairy political situation, much like the time I ended up in Quito, Ecuador in April 2005. Unlike the QuiteƱos, however, who expressed their discontent with an ineffective president by protesting and overthrowing him, many Mexican people have begun to follow a man who is determined to undermine the democratic process and create a new institutional framework that fits his agenda.

On July 2 of this year, about 60% of the Mexican population showed up to vote and throughout the evening, as the votes were counted, the presumed winner flip-flopped between PAN's (the current president, Vicente Fox's party) Felipe Calderon and PRD's (more leftist) Lopez Obrador. In the end, Calderon was declared the winner with a difference of a mere 244,000 votes, and instead of conceding Obrador decided to resist and demand a recount, claiming fraudulent electoral procedures. A few weeks ago Obrador said that if the recount showed Calderon as the winner, he would neither concede nor recognize the presidency, and attempt to set up a new type of government that would incorporate him and his party. Obrador claims that he is fighting for the poor and the working class, and spouts anti-Americanism to provoke people to follow him.

Of course, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. But Obrador's actions totally contradict his words and paint him as an extremist hypocrite. For starters, Obrador used to be a member of the PRI party, which ruled Mexico for over 70 years while pretending to hold free and fair elections. The PRI was largely conservative and quite pro-American. Obrador left the PRI and joined the PRD, a more leftist and worker-oriented party, which is part of the Socialist International Movement. Obrador became mayor of Mexico City 6 years ago and has been dubbed 'Lopez el ladron' (Lopez the theif) by some of the people here. An example of his actions: a friend of mine who lives here own some property with a house that she rents out. As mayor, Obrador began taxing her to the point where she was handing over 95% of her earnings to the local government. She took the case to court and won, meaning Obrador had to give back the extra 55% that he taxed her. She has yet to receive payment. Obrador also took land from the people who refused to pay these exorbitant taxes and is giving this land to those who support his cause.

What is his cause? Well, he says he's helping the poor and oppressed, but this is hard to believe: in his protest against the electoral results, he paid for and set up tents along one of the major bulevards in the historic district, where many people work, threatening their businesses and causing some to close for the 2.5 months that he's occupying the space. In exchange, he pays his supporters about 250 pesos (just over $20) a day to stay out there and block the roads. Just yesterday, it was announced that much of his financial support is tied to the drug traffickers and that he is behind the armed revolts in the southern state of Oaxaca. Even a very leftist newspaper here has started to denounce him and say that he is destabilizing the country. Many authoritative figures, such as the Archbishop, the current President, and numerous political analysts, have started saying that while Obrador is entitled to his disgruntled opinion, he cannot and should not undermine the institutions of the government and society for his own use. It can be argued that Obrador is going to extreme measures to get into office, and then may turn around and do the good that is needed. But it's hard to imagine such a self-involved guy becoming selfless once in office with the power he wants.

Now many of you know me as having rather politically liberal, even slightly left-leaning (!!), tendencies so you may wonder why I speak against someone who seems to be standing for some of the causes I support (workers' rights, protection of the poor, etc., not drug trafficking!). I support honest politicians (is that an oxy-moron?!) who don't usurp power for their own grandstanding. I support authorities who use their power to help those in need and not their careers or themselves.

Being a leader of a country needs to stop being looked at as a career.

interesting anecdote from your local friend.
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