Friday, September 15, 2006

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Mexico returns to normality

James C. McKinley reports in the New York Times that after an interesting period of protest, Mexico is now returning to normal:

Supporters of a leftist candidate who narrowly lost the presidential election this summer were tearing down five miles of tents on Thursday that have blockaded this capital’s central avenues for six weeks.

“It’s an emotional situation,” Juan Gutiérrez Calva, 45, a street vendor, said as he packed up his tent. “I’m calm. I’m not sad or happy. It was always clear that we were not going to advance much toward a real democracy in this country.”

The move signaled a shift by their leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, who says he was robbed of an election victory.

Having lost a legal battle for a full recount, and facing a steady defection of supporters, Mr. López Obrador is now striving to find a way to remain a political force over the coming six years, while Felipe Calderón, a conservative, serves as president.

It is an interesting irony that one of the reasons for this is Mr. López Obrador's self-defeating strategy -- by alienating so many of his supporters, he created a consensus for Calderón that did not exist at the time of the election:
Now even Mr. López Obrador’s aides acknowledge that he is losing some support among middle-class liberals and influential leftist politicians and intellectuals, as Mexicans seem prepared to move on from the election dispute, even if Mr. López Obrador is not.

The founder of his party, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, for instance, published a letter on Thursday accusing Mr. López Obrador and his inner circle of being intolerant of dissent.

“It worries me profoundly, the intolerance and demonization, the dogmatic attitude that prevails around Andrés Manuel for those of us who do not accept unconditionally his proposals and who question his points of view and decisions,” he wrote.

And Carlos Fuentes, the giant of Mexican letters, also assailed Mr. López Obrador this week for continuing to insist there was widespread fraud in the election, while he never challenged the elections of his party’s members to the Legislature.

“There could have been fraud in the Chamber of Deputies, there could have been fraud in the Senate, but there wasn’t,” he said. “There was only fraud for the presidency of the republic. How strange, no? I don’t believe it.”

There have been other signs of weakening support. Mr. López Obrador’s party voted down a slate of his closest allies for leadership positions in Congress, choosing the leaders of other factions. Two prominent governors from his party have also recognized Mr. Calderón’s victory.

The questioning extends to the voters. Several said in interviews that the prolonged blockade of the city’s central avenues and main square, as well as Mr. López Obrador’s refusal to concede defeat, only confirmed the accusations of his political enemies that he was autocratic and had little regard for courts or the law.

posted by Dan on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM


The argument here hinges on two propositions:
(1) If one believes that the July 2006 election was not fraudulent, of course AMLO's supporters should have conceded, packed it in, and vowed to fight another day. But the evidence of fraud in the 2006 elections, as compiled by Luis Mochan, and summarized by James Galbraith, is extensive.
(2) If one accepts that there is substantial evidence of fraud, then the question becomes, what should AMLO have done. I see four options:
(a) Quietly concede the election.
(b) Petition the electoral tribunal and hope they do the right thing.
(c) Petition the electoral tribunal and call for massive peaceful protest to help convince them to do the right thing.
(d) Recognize the futility of petitioning the electoral tribunal, and develop an extra-electoral strategy for gaining power.

My $.02: Options a values order more than democracy. In Mexico, with a politically stacked electoral tribunal, option b would also have conceded that order matters more than democracy. Option c was the most democratic of the options available, though there was never any guarantee it would work. Those happy to smear AMLO after the failure of option c can now contemplate the prospect of option d.

posted by: Michael McIntyre on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]


I think AMLO needs to look at the fate of Al Gore and his party, before proceeding with (d). Gore faced the same phenomenon as AMLO -- plunge in support -- during his quest to be recognized as the winner in Florida, and Democrats who brought to the nation their tales of stolen elections in 2002 were defeated pretty badly.

By the way Galbraith's article refers to indications (rather than evidence) that the mexican election was lifted. A refutation is here.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]


I don't think that AMLO is likely to go down the road of option d. (Unfortunately, my links failed to embed). I was thinking of the ongoing rebellion in Oaxaca.

Galbraith's point, as I read him, is that we have substantial evidence of fraud, i.e., electoral tampering. We can't know whether that tampering changed the outcome without a recount (which we will now never have).

I looked at the refutation. It's spectacularly weak. Anyone who wants to refute these charges, in any serious sense, is going to have to engage Mochán's analysis. I have yet to see anyone do that.


posted by: Michael McIntyre on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]


Now doubt this is a typo, but it certainly seems and sounds like it could be a useful word.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]

The Oaxaca rebellion is amazingly underreported. (Looks like the state government has been replaced in a genuine revolution.) I only know about it because I was researching a possible vacation down there! That plan was scratched.

I am curious exactly what's going on doen there. The only stuff in English that's easy to find is something called NarcoNews, which has a very definite point of view.

Problem is -- to have a revolution, you need real disaffection with the government and a populace willing to tolerate the revolutionaries. I think AMLO may have created conditions that would PREVENT a revolution. What may happen in the provinces, however, may be different.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]

Michael M,
I read Galbraith's argument and there is a simple explanation for the statistical 'anomolies' that all Americans should understand. Results reported early in the process have a different distribution than results reported late in the process because of demographic differences in the population. In the US, everyone knows that the two coasts are more liberal than the middle of the country. As the votes are counted, it's not unusual for the lead to flip`back and forth. Similarly, every Mexican knows that (apart from Mexico City) the cities tend to vote PAN, while the countryside tends to vote PRI or PRD. Apart from Mexico City, the cities counted and reported their tallies faster than the countryside. None of this is proof one way or the other. It's just to say that Galbraith's argument is pretty flimsy.

As I have written before, this is not the same IFE that rubberstamped PRI victories for 70 years. If there had been fraud, AMLO had ample opportunity to provide evidence and failed. His behavior since his loss only goes to show what a disaster Mexico narrowly avoided on July 2. Let's get on with the serious business of solving Mexico's formidable problems.

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]

This whole thing was a non-event from the beginning. The only one who suffered here was AMLO himself: he could have ended up with a cushy post within Calderon's administration, which could have made everyone look wise and good. But he overplayed his hand and screwed himself.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]

This was another shot over the bow of the ruling elite in Mexico. As is the Oaxaca rebellion.

Watching much of their population stream across our border and become our problem, it is harder and harder to see what "stability" is gaining us.

posted by: Babar on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]

Babar, I'm not sure that those coming across the border are such a "problem". They normally find jobs and economically speaking, the free(-ish) flow of labor is good.

And don't forget that more and more (and a whole bunch more starting in a few more years) retired Americans will be migrating to Mexico because its the only place they can afford to live.

Imperfect, perhaps, but not so bad in the balance.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]


I think you might be surprised by how much of the labor participation on this side of the border is resulting in cash flowing right back over it to maintain people in Mexico. Factor in the social costs in emergency healthcare and other public staples and its no longer so benign.

This is part of the reason why I believe the jury is still out on to what degree the free-flow of labor is beneficial and at what point it becomes harmful.

While Mazatlan sounds tempting, I am not sure that replacing a local land owning class with a "gringo" land owning class is going to go over any better with the locals.

The campaign slogan "Its the Feudalism stupid!" comes to mind.

posted by: Babar on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]

Babar, I'm with SJL on this one. In addition, the best solution to Mexico's poverty and class division problems is a growing healthy middle class. Many gringos seem to be unaware that, although progress is slow, this process has been underway for at least 6 years, since the demise of one-party rule. Some of the changes in the past 6 years are:

1. True competition between parties and ideas.
2. Opening up of large segments of the economy to competition, foreign and domestic.
3. Greater transparency. The transparency law requires all govt agencies and govt-owned businesses to make public all financial information, but old traditions die hard and there are violations.
4. A press that is freer (not totally free by any means).
5. Across the board opposition to the use of force to put down protesters, even when violent themselves.
6. Most importantly, a growing middle class with a life style fairly similar to that of the US. THEY ARE NOT THE LEAST BIT INTERESTED IN EMMIGRATING TO THE US.

It's true that by "allowing" their poor to move north, they are exporting their poverty problem. But how can you blame them? It's not as if either govt can stop the exodus.

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]

Babar, the US-Mexico-flow-of-labor-social-costs aspects are complicated and you're probably right that the jury is still out on that, although clearly there is demand: you don't see too many Mexican beggars in the US (interestingly, there are muchos in Mexico itself).

But one correction: the American senior citizens moving to Mexico aren't/won't be going there to become landlords and have peasants work the land for them. These are people moving to places like Ajijic or San Miguel where the weather is benign, they can but a little house and afford medical care. The American wealthy don't retire (full time) to Mexico.

And OpenBorder makes a good point: I lived in Mexico for almost six years and remember very well that middle class Mexicans (and especially upper class Mexicans) have absolutely no interest in emmigrating to the US: it's probably hard to see this point of view, but they consider America to be generally uncouth, violent and boring, whose saving grace is great shopping.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 09.15.06 at 09:02 AM [permalink]

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