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The geek in the machine

1 March 2012

I usually have some idea who the second-sting political players are in Mexico, or can at least look them up, but had never heard of Gabriel Quadri de la Torre until earlier this week, when his named popped up as PANAL’s presidential candidate.  There was little about him in the Mexican press, other than he was a civil engineer and environmentalist, most recently running a carbon credit exchange and working for a sustainable development think tank.

Perhaps a candidate for a Green Party and not one created to create a voting bloc beholden to a single union leader.  And there is a Green Party… Partido Verde Ecologico de Mexico (PVEM).  But then, this is Mexico, where politics seems designed to confound the experts, and make even less sense to the average voter.

Quadri (not Elba Esther, and not Jimmy Hoffa)

PANAL (Partido Nueva Alianza) is basically a creature of Elba Esther Gordilla.  Sometimes called Señora Hoffa not because she looks like the Teamster’s President of the 1960s, Jimmy Hoffa (though she does, depending on the results of her latest cosmetic surgery), but because she is a similarly powerful union leader (her union, SNTE, representing most of the country’s teachers) whose rise to power came through violence against dissident union organizers and through her skills as a political player.  When Gordilla was dumped from the PRI Central Committee in 2002, she took her faction in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate with her into an unofficial alliance with PAN, then seemingly made up with PRI, although by then having her own party, PANAL available to the highest bidder.

While PANAL has gone a faction within PRI to a junior partner of PAN, the Greens went the opposite direction, having provided perhaps the margin of victory in Vicente Fox’s victory over the Revolutionary parties that had run the country since the 1920s.  The Greens had joined with the conservatives in the expectation of receiving the Secretariat of the Environment, which instead went to a PAN political appointee, leading PVEM to go into coalition with PRI.  Not able to get much traction as a “green” Green party, they’re better known for pushing restoration of the death penalty (which hasn’t existed in Mexico since the mid-1960s) and mostly being a party for urban yuppies than for any environmentalist concerns.

Being a teachers’ union party, you’d think education would be a natural issue for PANAL, but like the environmentalism of the Greens, ideology is secondary to their real purpose of creating a voter bloc that can be swung to the major parties (in return for … ahem… considerations).  The Greens, by now, are  basically irrelevant to environmentalists, and while issues like climate change and environmental degradation are taken quite seriously by Mexican policy-makers and business leaders, the Greens aren’t taken seriously, and the environmental vote is up for grabs.

Gordilla, by now “toxic waste” as far as both PAN and PRI leaders are concerned — at least publicly — has to protect her own position, and while Calderón (to his credit) has been a world-leader on climate change issues, neither of the two largest parties are giving much attention to environmental concerns.  MORENA, the PRD-left coalition would seem to be the natural ally of the green (as opposed to the PVEM) voter.


Bring in the geek.  PANAL’s machine doesn’t have to sell their candidate to their regular voters, but it will need to bring in enough outsiders to at least maintain its party registration.  The 58 year old Gabriel Quadri de la Torre has some crediblity in the environmental field and could bring in at least enough to keep PANAL in existence.  His profile on the LEAD website  (an “international non-profit organisation focused on leadership and sustainable development”) lists several academic  and NGO positions, his only government position being as Director of Environmental Planning in the Federal District during the Lopez Obrador administration.  I also found articles in Letras Libres on issues like climate change, and mention of various articles for El Economista and one book on sustainable development.

From PANAL’s perspective, selecting this virtual unknown environmentalist may be to drain PVEM (which still has committed greens, who had nowhere else to go) of enough votes to make PANAL the likely junior partner in an expected PRI-led government, especially one weakened (as it will be) as its candidate’s obvious deficiencies become more and more apparent to the voters.  And, with no real political history there aren’t likely to be a lot of skeletons in Quadri’s closet to tie him directly to the corrupt and disgraced Gordilla, it creates an image for the party that it wouldn’t otherwise have.

Environmental concerns, as I’ve said, taken seriously by the power-elites, could get more emphasis than we’d otherwise have expected.  I don’t see where Quadri’s proposals (like shifting water resources away from agriculture towards urban use) are likely to resonate with green (or other) voters particularly, but Quadri’s candidacy might also shift the conversation to include these concerns.  I expect MORENA (and AMLO) has an edge here in speaking to these issues, although PAN may also be able to benefit.


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