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Deja Vu? 1988 elections again?

22 June 2006

John Ross has been covering Mexico and Mexican politics forever, but isn’t much known outside the small world of alternative and “progressive” journals and websites like Counterpunch and the Texas Observer. This is a shame — he is a partisan reporter, but then, what foreigner isn’t? But, somehow, being a partisan for a corporate press makes you “legitimate”.

Ross has more credibility than most. He has lived for decades in Mexico City, is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction and the winner of the American Book Award in 1995 for Rebellion From the Roots, the first look at the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas.

Ross has published a novel of the Mexican cataclysm, Tonatiuh’s People, a political guidebook to Mexico( Mexico in Focus), an anthology of basketball writings, and eight chapbooks of poetry, and is the long-time Mexico correspondent for Noticias Aliadas (Lima, Peru), the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and the Texas Observer.

He takes exception to David Reiff’s pro-Calderón New York Times article (I’ve noted the New York Times’ pro-PAN biases before). Reiff is better known as Susan Sontag’s son and an academic expert on Bosnia than for any expertise or experience in Latin America), and he takes a dim view of the prospects for a fair win by the left.

The Ominous Shadow of 1988 Hovers

Over this July’s Mexican Presidential Election

MEXICO CITY (June 13th): Driving in from the airport, the U.S. reporter asked the usual dumb questions. In his New York Times Magazine hit piece, David Rieff had just reported that airport taxi drivers were being pressured not to vote for leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the July 2nd presidential election. Was this true?

“On our site, they threatened two drivers if they don’t vote for Calderón (Felipe Calderón, the rightwing National Action Party – PAN in its Spanish initials – candidate) but no one is going for it,” corroborated Hector S., a 36 year-old National University business grad who is forced to push a hack for a living, “How can they do that? Isn’t the ballot supposed to be secret?” the driver asked his passenger but didn’t wait for an answer. “To me, it’s a lot like 1988 when they stole the election from Cárdenas. Like I said, we’re not going for it this time.” Hector had been an 18 year-old student about to enter the university in 1988 and had joined the protests that followed the Great Fraud with his older brothers.

As the taxi glided to a stop at the light on the wide slum avenue, a ragged youth threw himself gracelessly on the cab’s hood and started soaping the windshield. Hector waved him off sadly and dropped a coin in his cupped hand. “How can a country so rich have so many poor people?” The cabbie answered himself again. “This is two countries, amigo. One up there for Calderón” – he pointed to a bank of skyscrapers in the distance – “and the rest of us down here with López Obrador.”

The July 2nd Mexican presidential election is the most pertinent one since the watershed year of 1988 when Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas, the son of Lázaro Cárdenas, the nation’s last leftist president (1932-38) squared off against a Harvard-trained neo-liberal technocrat named Carlos Salinas in a contest that pitted the Washington Consensus against the revolutionary nationalism of the Mexican left, an election that would decide the future of Mexico at least up until now.


As it turned out, Salinas and the then-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the longest ruling political dynasty in the known universe at the time, stole the election and NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) was next on the agenda. On July 2nd, Andrés Manuel López Obrador intends to change all that but in Mexico, history is a closed loop, the same boneheaded mistakes and miscalculations are made over and over again, and what happened back then is apt to repeat itself now.

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