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The tale of two "campaigns"
What's at stake in Mexico's election?

June 30, 2006 | Page 4

LANCE SELFA reports on the upcoming presidential elections in Mexico.

MEXICANS WILL go to the polls on July 2 to choose the successor of President Vicente Fox.

They will have three major choices: Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN), the candidate of the governing right, backed by his cohort Fox; Andres Manuel López Obrador, the populist candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and known by his initials "AMLO"; and Roberto Madrazo, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the party that governed Mexico for almost seven decades before Fox's election in 2000.

With the election a week away, AMLO and Calderón were in a virtual tie, with Madrazo a distant third, according to public opinion polls. This represents a drop in popularity for AMLO, who was leading in the presidential preference polls for more than a year.

One explanation for this is that AMLO has been attacked from both sides of the political spectrum.

From the right, with Fox's encouragement, Calderón has accused AMLO of being a radical whose election would lead to chaos and social disorder. This multimillion-dollar negative campaign has had the desired effect.

In April, Fox's government ordered troops to attack steelworkers occupying their plant in the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas on the Pacific coast, and to repress flower vendors in the town of San Salvador de Atenco near Mexico City. In each case, the government used military force against social protests in order to blame the left for the resulting disorder.

According to some experts, these attacks are part of a campaign to instill fear and create the public perception that if AMLO wins the presidency, the country will descend into chaos. The PRI used a similar strategy in 1994, which helped it to win elections after the assassination of its first presidential candidate, followed by the Zapatista uprising. Today, the PAN hopes that history will repeat itself.

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AT THE same time that he has become a target for the right, AMLO has faced a challenge from the left--from the "other campaign" spearheaded by the Zapatistas (the EZLN).

At the beginning of this year, the Zapatistas and their supporters within the social movements and the "non-institutional" left (essentially, the left not in government) have traveled the country holding meetings and discussions with activists.

The "other campaign" wants to help reconfigure the anti-capitalist left with the idea of convening a constituent assembly to reform the Mexican constitution and, possibly, to launch a different organization that can bring together the different social movements.

At these meetings, the main Zapatista spokesperson, Subcommander Marcos--who has renamed himself "Delegate Zero" of the constituent assembly--has repeatedly blasted AMLO for his compromises with neoliberal policies, and for the PRD's betrayal of indigenous rights. In 2001, PRD representatives in the National Assembly joined with the PRI and PAN to reject proposals granting autonomy to the indigenous people of Chiapas.

Throughout most of the "other campaign," AMLO has kept his distance from Marcos and his supporters. But when Marcos traveled to San Salvador de Atenco in May to lead protests against government repression and the imprisonment of community leaders, the right lashed out. PAN TV ads linked AMLO with the Zapatista radicals.

For their part, AMLO and his party stayed silent on the events in Atenco, because the mayor who called the police to remove the flower vendors from the town square is a PRD member. Moreover, AMLO wants to present himself as being "tough on crime" and social disorder.

Another big problem for AMLO--at least from the point of view of the left--is that AMLO has recruited many ex-members of the PRI, including some who were involved in the administration of the corrupt and right-wing President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) to run as PRD candidates.

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DESPITE HIS populist rhetoric, López Obrador is no radical. Among his chief advisers is Manuel Camacho Solis, a former ally of Salinas de Gortari. In 2000, he paid more than $4 million in city funds to the consulting firm of Republican Rudolph Giuliani to bring a U.S.-style "war on crime" to Mexico City.

His election manifesto is full of generalities, but it supports the idea of "taking advantage of globalization, and not just suffering from it." As China has developed by exporting its labor power, he argues, Mexico can develop by exporting its energy resources. He promises more social reform and completion of the San Andrés Accords with the Zapatistas, but none of his proposals challenge capitalism.

Left-wing commentator Alejandro Nadal, writing in La Jornada, worried that AMLO's election manifesto--and the presence of advisers like Camacho Solis--signals that a number of "corrupt politicians, opportunists and architects of national pacts" are already lining up to jump on López Obrador's bandwagon.

For these reasons, the respected activist and historian Adolfo Gilly, noting that AMLO's circle of advisers includes many architects of the PRI's neoliberal turn, wrote March 3 in La Jornada that "for reasons of morality, if you want to call it that, I will not vote for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, nor for any of [the PRD's] candidates: you can be sure of that."

Nevertheless, many activists want to vote for AMLO to strike a blow against the right in Mexico. Perhaps a vote for AMLO can be justified on these grounds. But it must be remembered that AMLO wants to revive the economic and social policies of the PRI of the 1970s, updated to the neoliberal era. Although the Mexican establishment doesn't like AMLO, neither do they fear him.

Whoever wins, what will take place after the elections will be most important. This year has seen several crucial developments on the left--the "other campaign," an all-but general strike that closed down the steel industry in April, and important political changes in Mexico's unions. Meanwhile, north of the U.S.-Mexico border, the massive immigrant rights movement has had a huge impact.

The future for Mexico's social movements and workers depends on the deepening of these developments, not on who sits in the presidential palace.

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