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Oaxaca: come together, right now

7 January 2010

Although I’d read a few excerpts and briefly skimmed Mexican Messiah, George Grayson’s 2006 biography Andres Manuel López Obrador, I picked up the Spanish-language edition at the supermarket (marked down to 30 pesos) and am now engrossed in that. While extensively researched and footnoted, the premise is ridiculous and more than slightly forced: Grayson believes AMLO is modeling his career on Jesus Christ,  Jesus had some loyal female followers, AMLO’s police security detail were “las gazelas” — female officers with martial arts training — ergo…

Still, the book is worthwhile not just for the biographical information, but as a look at how practical politics is done in Mexico. Or anywhere, for that matter, especially when a politico is looking to challenge the entrenched status quo. That requires building coalitions, even fractious ones. I thought of that when I read last week about the upcoming Oaxaca elections.  The [Mexico City] News (30 December 2009):

State leaders of the PAN, PRD, Convergence Party and PT confirmed their alliance for the 2010 local elections.

Meeting at a restaurant in the north of the city, they presented the candidates who will contend for the state government led by Convergence Party Senator Gabino Cue Monteagudo.

Also present were the remaining candidates: Federal Deputy for the New Alliance Party, Irma Piñeyro Arias; former Treasury Under-Secretary during President Ernesto Zedillo’s term, Carlos Altamirano Toledo; and local PAN Deputy Gerardo Garcia Henestroza.

Carlos Moreno Alcantara, local leader of PAN, stated that the presentation of these candidates is confirmation of the progress of this great opposition alliance for next year’s elections. In which “we will have to face the whole state apparatus that wants to maintain control of the power in Oaxaca.”

At first glance this looks nutty — PAN and the PT, Papists and Maoists (er, Carlos Salinasists that claim to be Maoists), together in perfect harmony? Of course not, but that’s the way Mexican politics has always worked.  Independence back in 1824 was achieved when Iturbide and Guerrero put together the “Three Guarantees” somehow yoking together the Church, the propertied classes and the masses; Obregón’s “barrage of gold pesos” — uniting anarchists, proto-fascists, Communists and agrarians into an unbeatable force effectively ended the Revolution and kick-started the modern Mexican state.  López Obrador built an effective political machine in Mexico City by not just appealing to the “pure” left as his predecessor, Cuautémoc Cardenás did, but by roping in every unclaimed organized group around (everything from prostitute’s union to semi-criminal pirate taxi owners clubs to neighborhood merchant’s associations)  and effectively creating group identities for people like “third age citizens” (what we call “senior citizens”) and indigenous workers.

Others — notably Patricia Mercado — have tried to sell their own ideology to several “unclaimed” potential voter blocs, but the successful politicians — like Obregón and López Obrador — have been those who let the ideology grow out of balancing the goals of those blocs.

In Oaxaca, Gabino Cué has been a candidate for an anti-PRI coalition ticket before.  That effort failed partially because of dubious electorial processes to be sure, but also because it seemed to follow the unsuccessful Mercado model rather than the Obregón-AMLO one.  Cué was a united opposition candidate for PAN, PRD and his own Convergencia party in 1994.  Dissident PRD members complained that Cué (then Presidente Municipal of Oaxaca city) was too closely tied to some of the smellier PRI officials, and backed the Social Democratic (then “Social Democratic Alternative and Campesinos Party) candidate.  That party was, of course, the successor party to Mercado’s failed “Women, Protestant, Gay and Lesbian, Indigenous” Mexico Posible Party and suffered from the same “purity” problem that has kept the opposition out of power in Oaxaca.

While there is no sense that Cué is “pure”, and radical social change in Oaxaca is still a goal with significant numbers of people (many of whom have given up on electoral politics),  there is a better chance in the 2010 gubernatorial election of finally breaking PRI control over the state IF that is the only goal.

Bringing the small PT into the coalition is something of a coup.  The PRI can count on the usual subservience of the Greens, but Esther Elba’s Nueva Alianza party (PANAL) which is basically  SNTE — the main teacher’s union — at the ballot box could become vitally important.  Oaxaca’s social uprising in 2006 began with a strike by dissident teachers and a fight within the unions, and it was thanks to PANAL draining support from the united dissident Presidential candidate (AMLO) and giving Oaxaca’s always questionable voter count to Felipe Calderón, of PAN.

Calderón has been bending over backwards ever since to keep Esther happy.  But, with the state PAN itching to gain at least some power, as the national party loses ground, and with PANAL and PT both seen as the right and left wings of Carlos Salinas’ personal machine, which means the Salinas clients have some cover to defect to the opposition by voting PT.  And, the Oaxaca PRI is something of an embarrassment to the national party, which may be willing to sacrifice the governorship in that state with the goal of electing another Salinas protegé (Mexico governor, Enrique Peña Nieto) to the Presidency in 2012.  PANAL, sensing that PAN is losing clout, simply sit this one out and try for a better deal with the national PRI.

Oaxaca being Oaxaca, dubious voter counts are expected, but those dubious counts may just count out the PRI this time around.  No one will be completely satisfied with the results, and no one will be able to claim a complete victory, but in Mexican politics victory, is seldom pure and never simple.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Charles Downes permalink
    21 January 2010 6:47 am

    On the same subject,
    Nancy Davies’ commentary from Oaxaca

    UPDATE OAXACA January 20, 2010: Political winds

    While Juan Manuel Martinez in Ixcotel prison hollers for help, SNTE Section 22 already has him logged onto their agenda, Secretary General Chepi said on Monday at a meeting in Juchitán where a burro festival also livened the atmosphere. The problem, of course, is that the teachers also must deal with the assassination of professor Eleazar Martinez Almaraz in San Augustin Loxicha, the recent attempted homicide against Jaime Rosas Chavez in Huahuapan de Leon, plus the April 2009 assassination of a PRD woman, along with all the rest of the murders still unpunished.

    At the same time, the former secretary of Teacher Training Formation of Section 59, Alejandro Osorio Solórzano announced that he has initiated talks with the directors of Section 22 to eventually rejoin 22— a huge bargaining unit in any comparison. The catch is that Osorio wants it to be optional for teachers to attend political marches and rallies, a policy which would soon lessen the clout of Section 22, but which would help resolve the split in loyalties among parents, while kicking Dragon Lady for Life Elba Esther Gordillo in her political butt. If the return is not negotiated, Osorio noted, he would push for the creation of a state union of education workers, bringing along about 100 teachers who resigned from Section 59, which, not surprisingly, now is another corrupted organization.

    In other words, it’s a busy time for Section 22. Chepi states that “the politics of deaf ears” and the upcoming July 4 election for governor, will put the teachers into massive actions on several fronts starting on January 18 in Miahuatlan, (see photo) followed by various state-wide assemblies. The teachers’ presence in the gubernatorial election is now a foregone conclusion.

    So what about the elections? For novices in the baroque routines of Oaxaca politics, the first step involved getting the “opposition coalition” in order. This means that the non-PRI (the decades-long ruling party, Partido Institucional ) parties, with no regard whatsoever for ideologies, and no presently fixed candidates, had to receive from their state party headquarters respective permission to go ahead and join an opposition coalition. Thus while the state PRD, and state Convergencia were asked for permissions, they also had to consult their national parties. The national result, where 11 governors are coming up for re-election, is a hodge-podge: in one state an alliance of PAN and PT (neoliberal PAN and Workers Party) formed, while in another state the coalition is not aimed at ousting the PRI as in Oaxaca, but at ousting the incumbent PAN, so you see a coalition of PRI and PT. Whew! In Oaxaca, the voter weakness of all the coalition parties is revealed, particularly the PAN and the PRD. The PRD was hijacked nationally by “the chuchos”, (guys with the first name of Jesus), leaving presidential candidate Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador strolling the Oaxaca hinterland with baby drool on his shirtfront. Oaxaca, of all the states, had a large functioning PRD, especially on the Isthmus. But if the PAN forms a coalition with its arch nemesis PRD, which refused to recognize Felipe Calderon and refers to Lopez Obrador as the “legitimate” president, we can guess how weak those two parties feel. The PAN suffers from the piss-poor image of President Calderon, and the PRD has been decimated. To note how the wind blows, Convergencia (and who knows what their politics are, certainly not Left) hopeful Gabino Cué went off to visit Calderon to make nice, i.e., assure Calderon that Cué would not undermine him, as the PRD has done. With all that, in many states as well as in Oaxaca, the PRI by itself outnumbers any opposition coalition.

    An exception to that might be caused by a rupture in the PRI. Here in Oaxaca, the fight for the PRI nomination is underway, and the worse they fight the better I like it. The revelation that Jorge Franco Vargas was signing with a false “licenciado”, meaning he signed public documents with a false law degree title, was well-publicized by Noticias. El Chucky, as we like to call him, is fading, but those moving into the front ranks are numerous, and either dull or scandalous. One suggestion made is that the teachers take on the roll of monitoring the election in July; I’m uncertain how that would be legalized. Poll watchers are just for decoration, they can not say or do anything.

    The opposition alliance is not as incredible as it sounds, as long as you keep in mind that the only goal is to win, and political positions have nothing to do with it. Not only the parties, but civil society organizations like EDUCA and “Reforemos Oaxaca” (Let’s Reform Oaxaca), are working to ready a platform because it is assumed that whichever party fields the coalition candidate, the entire coalition will sign on to the platform. What, you ask, implement the platform? No, just sign on. It will certainly include citizen participation, referendum, recall, and maybe a second ballot in case of no majority. When evoking the mythic 2010 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, the slogan for Oaxaca is: Fish or cut bait. Now or never.

    In Oaxaca it’s no surprise that the PRI refers to the opposition alliance as something like a two-headed calf, a critter that was never meant to be and cannot survive. In addition, Franco Vargas has already started to undermine, bribe and co-opt coalition workers. Going beyond Oaxaca, PRI governments in other states stand determined to prevent alliances in Puebla, Durango and Hidalgo, declaring such coalitions illegal and throwing up a variety of legal blocks. Lopez Obrador insists that voters look at the candidate, not the candidate’s party. Well may he say so, since without the PRD, Lopez Obrador promotes Worker Party candidates, and incidentally, Gabino Cué.

    The people? Well, I don’t suppose they will win much, but on the cheery side, in Oaxaca there’s nothing left to lose. Fracturing the PRI, after umpteen decades of their cement-and-death grip throughout the state’s twelve regions, has become the only, the most important goal.

    The regions for electoral purposes: Cañada, Mazateca, Mixteca Baja, Mixteca Alta, Chinantla, Sierra Zapoteca, Región Mixe, Valle de Oaxaca, Mixteca de la Costa, Sierra del Sur, Istmo y Chimalapas. Oaxaca contains 570 municipalities (Chiapas has 118). Of the 570 “municipios”, 418 contain populations badly reduced by emigration, but predominantly indigenous. And therein they connect both the bad and the good: the marginalization of an extremely neglected and undereducated population, and the retention of local uses and customs based on mutual aid. The PRI caciques who in past elections collected voter credentials to photocopy, and assured the local voters that there was no such thing as a secret ballot, once again are packing food-boxes ahead of the elections. Maybe this time it will not work; Section 22 is going all-out for statewide rural education

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