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Democracy now and then

5 December 2012

… considering democracy not only as a legal system and as a political regime but also as a way of life based on the permanent improvement of the people from an economic, social and cultural point of view.

(Mexican Constitution, Art. 3)

There are two “memes” being floated in the foreign and Mexican media on the recent violence that accompanied Peña Nieto’s inauguration.  First is the suggestion is that the vandals were integral to the protest and secondly, that the protesters themselves were anti-democratic in their outlook.


Several accounts  of paid provacateurs have surfaced.  There is some  evidence presented of police or military provocation (something that anyone familiar with the history of Mexican state action against dissidents — Tlatelolco, 1968 to give only one obvious example — would consider a possibility),  but usually police agents would not be “day laborers”.  Given the association made in the media between the leftist parties and the anti-Peña Nieto protests, I have speculated that the “autor intellectual” of the agentes provocateurs might be found within the PRI.  I raised this possibility with Dutch journalist Jan-Albert Hootsen on his “facebook” page, but he is skeptical of PRI involvement, responding:

I’ve been talking to some of the guys in YoSoy132, and they insist these kids were from the ´radical wing´ of the movement and they are incredulous of any PRI-involvement. I wouldn’t immediately discard the possibility, but it seems a little far-fetched to me.

It could very well be that vandalism was committed by the “radical wing” of the non-party movement — and in the days leading up to the First of December, there were on-line posts from the more militant sources that strongly suggested that participants in the demonstrations should come prepared for violent reactions by the police.  Nor does it mean those in the “radical wing” weren’t paid to commit vandalism.  But, if there was a commitment to vandalism (and given the targets — banks, corporate chain outlets, and state or political party facilities… but NOT small merchants or non-political facilities — there very well could have been an ideological rationale to the vandalism) presumably one wouldn’t need to pay for it.

Not that “voluntary” rioters weren’t there, but it doesn’t mean that paid vandals couldn’t have also been involved, nor that police or military personnel weren’t looking to “kick-start” a riot.

It should be noted that Hoosten and I had our exchange over his posing of a link to an article by PRI central-committee member Federico Berrueto on the Madrid-based, Spanish-corporate financed (Repsol, Movistar, BBVA, etc.) website.  Unsuprisingly, Berrueto argues that the violent protests to Peña Nieto’s presidential installation discredit the left in general,  Andrés Manuel López Obrador specifically.

It’s not suprising that a PRI party leader would make this sort of argument, and it is one that might sell well to the foreign media (and foreign observers in Mexico, even the snarky ones) make the assumption that election results are the same thing as democracy.  From Burro Hall (the snarky guy):

Look, amigos, we share your unhappiness at the outcome, and we know that the Powers That Be were all behind the man, and Televisa, too; and we’ve heard all the stories of gift-giving and petty fraud – but then the Mexican people went out and voted and EPN got almost 3.5 million more votes than his nearest competitor.  That’s a lot of Soriana cards.  You can say whatever you like about him – most of it negative and probably correct – but he wasn’t “imposed.”  Dude won by seven points in a four-person race.

While López Obrador may have been the preference of many of the protesters, to criticize “yosoy132” for not being united behind that one candidate  is half-way to buying Berrueto’s spin on the protests… that they were meant to impose one politician into the existing political regime over another.

Imprecise as the definition of “democracy” is in Article 3 (which happens to deal with education), it is less a matter of what “dude won” than that the dude won in an election marked by what many say were manipulations and frauds in the legal system and is seen as perpetuating a political regime that is not bringing perpetual economic, social and cultural improvement.   Certainly, there was anger over the method by which Enrique Peña Nieto was elected, and the unfair advantage he was said to have over other candidates.  And, anger over a political regime that has allowed itself to launch a war against its citizens for the benefit of a foreign power… and over economic decisions taken by the existing regime that haven’t benefited the protesters economically or socially or culturally.

The Constitution presumes that people will “struggle” for their rights (including the democratic ones) and that among those rights is the right of the people to change the form of government (or, if you prefer, the “political regime”) should mean that the protests were a democratic exercise, not a display of petulance.  While I suppose some Trotskyites might have welcomed violence from the protesters as a means of forcing the “political regime” to discredit itself by engaging in more overt repression, frankly it looks as if the violence was meant not to discredit any particular individual (although, thanks to people like Central Committeeman Berrueto and the “mainstream” press and some foreign observers that is an added benefit), but to prevent the people from exercising that messiest of political activities… the practice of democracy.

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