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Swiftboating a la Mexicana

20 April 2008

Under the Presidential system that prevailed in Mexico for most of the last two centuries, a “good” deputy was someone like 1960s president Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. He made his reputation as a deputy, not for any innovative legislation, or any particular skill in shepherding legislation through the Chamber, but for making sure opposition deputies dutifully applauded the President. During the First of September Informe, Diaz Ordaz would position himself behind whoever was the leader of the few opposition party legislators in the Chamber, and jam a pistol in their ribs when they needed to applaud. After the 1988 Presidential elections, “won” by Carlos Salinas, the trade-off that allowed that dubious election to stand was that the legislative election results were relatively honest… giving Mexico for the first time a strong multi-party legislature. A series of political reforms followed, giving Mexico a more balanced political system.

While Felipe Calderon may have won the 2006 election (which is an interesting historical question, but I’ll assume he did), PAN does not control the legislature. Under the proportional system used to select legislators, PAN has the most seats, but not the majority. Only by working with PRI, the PRI allied Greens and PANAL (Elba Esther’s party), do they have enough votes to push through Don Felipe’s proposals. But … even in PAN, PRI and among the Greens, there are deputies and senators who believe in the separation of powers… and — even if they support the President — are loathe to act as a rubber stamp congress.

With PRI more or less in agreement with PAN on certain issues, it fell to FAP — the PRD, Workers Party and Convergencia alliance — to form a credible opposition. FAP (Frente Amplio Progresist, or “Wide Progressive Front”) is an outgrowth of Lopez Obrador’s “Benefit of All” coalition, nominally, AMLO remains the head of the opposition, though not everyone in the coalition supports his “legitimate presidency”.

Felipe Calderon’s administration has, after making concessions to PRI senators who would not accept the original proposal, finally submitted an “energy reform” (reform in Spanish does not necessarily mean “better”… just new and different) bill to the Legislature. Calderon is demanding that the bill be passed as written — with no discussion — within fifty days. The opposition, and some PRI legislators, are chary of allowing the Presidential demands. While they lack the votes to send the bill back to the President, the opposition is seeking changes.

However, FAP (and Lopez Obrador) sees the presidential timetable ias unrealistic. So, FAP locked the rest of the legislature out of the Chamber and has been holding a sit-in for the last two weeks.

It is not, as USA Today reports, a “Congressional Coup” … nor is it “stalling urgent energy reforms”. It is the way a government with separation of power is supposed to work. In the U.S. Senate, a filibuster would be used to hold up the bill until the minority was satisfied. Not having a fillibuster in either the Chamber or the Senate, the Mexican legislature has taken the creative step of taking over the Chamber, preventing any bill from coming to the floor… and denying a quorum to the bill’s supporters.

As “Burro Hall” said, “These are not long-haired student protesters, remember, but the elected representatives of the people. Real-life consequences of all this aside, how fuckin’ cool is this country?” How cool is it that even 80-year old Senator Rosario Ibarra is living on take-out pizza and making do with a sleeping bag at night (though, I have it on good authority that the Senadora gets to sleep on a couch). Very cool.

The legislative sleep-over is a lot more theatrical than a fillibuster, but then Mexican politics, despite it’s theatrical qualities, isn’t that different from politics anywhere else. Nor is the response.

PAN — and PAN advisors like Rob Alyn and Dick Morris — introduced American-style campaigning to Mexico during Vicente Fox’s 2000 campaign. After the 2006 campaign, complaints from FAP and PRI led to legal changes in election laws, which supposedly did away with the personal smear campaigns that U.S. Republicans had introduced to the Mexican counterparts. It seems that the Mexican reactionaries — like their counterparts in the U.S. — have found a temporary loophole.

In the U.S. we had “astroturf” organizations … supposedly “grass roots” citizen’s organizations that turn out to be fronts for corporate interests. In Mexico, there is “Mejor Sociedad Mejor Gobierno”, trying to create the illusion of a citizens’ group supporting the President in this struggle. However, “Mejor Sociedad Mejor Gobierno” seems to be businessman Guillermo Velasco Arzac, and a few of his friends. Velasco Arzac, as you might suspect, is the hierophant (high mucky-muck) of the secretive, fascist-Catholic “Yunque”.

The hierophant of el Yunque hasn’t just taken up “astroturfing”, but has adopted a second American political technique, swiftboating. According to Source Watch:

The term swiftboating “comes from a 2004 television ad that undermined [John] Kerry‘s status as a decorated Vietnam War hero, making less stark the contrast between him and George Bush, a self-proclaimed ‘wartime leader’ who’d never heard a shot fired in anger,” William Triplet wrote in Variety, February 5, 2006.
“If you can construct believable stories with enough truth in them to smear somebody royally, boy, is there a pot of gold waiting for you in D.C.,” Triplet said. “Spin doctors are nothing new in politics, but a certain type — equal parts scriptwriter, opposition researcher and ruthless street fighter — is increasingly in demand, and for good reason.

What “Mejor Sociedad” has been doing is running commercials on television that compare Lopez Obrador in particular, and the FAP in general, to… Pinochet, Mussolini, Victoriano Huerta and Adolf Hitler. Which is a weird choice for a fascist front organization to do… but then, Velasco Arzac and company are smart enough to realize that their heros aren’t exactly near and dear to the Mexican heart. Nor, for that matter, are the two they don’t mention.

Carlos Montsivias notes that Yunque is rooted in Spanish Falangism… yet no mention is made of Francisco Franco. He isn’t the only one to call the campaign “abject, stupid and shameful”. Even PAN leaders are having a hard time defending this one.

Mexican political practice does have one huge difference from the U.S. These kinds of attack ads are illegal.  They are definitely illegal when done by political parties, but whether “swiftboating” by “astroturf organizations” are is still being determined.

Good propaganda?  That’s for you to decide:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 April 2008 7:06 pm

    “In the U.S. we had “astroturf” organizations … supposedly “grass roots” citizen’s organizations that turn out to be fronts for corporate interests. ”

    I have never heard of “astroturf organizations” before, but is an excellent term, and should be used more. I truly believe that corporations are destroying capitalism, and should be punished severly by someone.

    Steve Gallagher

  2. Jenny permalink
    22 April 2008 11:24 am

    That is good someone doing something to stop that crazy “Peje”.

  3. Derek permalink
    22 April 2008 7:39 pm

    That video clip is just outright scary!!!!

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