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Social struggles spread
Showdown looming over Mexico fraud

By Lee Sustar and Dave Schmidt | September 8, 2006 | Page 12

THE TURMOIL in Mexican politics is deepening.

As the country's top electoral authority was poised to issue a ruling September 7 on whether to uphold fraudulent results that gave conservative candidate Felipe Calderón a narrow victory in the July presidential election, his center-left rival Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known popularly as AMLO) called for a mass National Democratic Convention on September 16 to found new democratic institutions.

Meanwhile, underlying the standoff in official politics are social struggles and state repression that have bubbled up across the country in recent months--highlighted by the teachers' strike and mass mobilization in the state of Oaxaca.

It's unclear what will happen next in the struggle over the disputed election. The electoral court, known as the TEPJF by its Spanish initials, is expected to uphold the ruling of lower electoral bodies, which earlier ordered a review of just 9 percent of the ballots cast in the July 2 election, rather than the vote-by-vote recount demanded by AMLO and his supporters.

Throughout the controversy, AMLO has presided over a series of mass protests and the establishment of a tent city and blockade in the Zócalo, the enormous square at the heart of the capital of Mexico City.

AMLO had called for a march to the National Assembly on September 1 to disrupt the final State of the Union address by outgoing President Vicente Fox, but ultimately called off the protest in order to avoid what he called a "trap"--a possible crackdown by armed forces and police units that surrounded the assembly building.

Fox, however, was unable to give his speech when pro-AMLO legislators from the Mexican Workers Party (PT) took over the podium and refused to go. Humiliated, Fox retreated after seven minutes, and gave his address on television instead.

The episode symbolized what is widely seen as the failure of Fox's administration. After winning election in 2000 to break the 70-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Fox's National Action Party (PAN) pushed a pro-business agenda and used its control of government to engineer the victory of Calderón, the party's candidate in the July 2 vote.

Meanwhile, AMLO, as mayor of Mexico City, blended traditional Mexican populist appeals with can-do city management measures--like hiring former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as a consultant on fighting crime. Hardly the left-wing radical that Fox and Calderón accused him of being, AMLO has recruited apparatchiks from the PRI into top posts in his Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which broke from the PRI in the 1980s.

But the overwhelming evidence of fraud--and the refusal of Fox and Calderón to consider installing an interim president while the dispute is resolved, as provided for in the Mexican constitution--has ignited mass anger and de-legitimized Mexican institutions.

While AMLO stresses that the movement against electoral fraud is a peaceful civic resistance, provocative measures by Fox and various local authorities in recent months raised the specter of a crackdown and emergency rule.

In Oaxaca, striking teachers and their supporters successfully defended themselves from a police attack over the summer. Now, amid negotiations with the federal government and the fifth mega-march of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) on September 1, opponents of the nonviolent movement have renewed their efforts to aggravate the situation.

In the most recent attempt to militarize the conflict with the state teachers' union and sympathizers, a group of "armed guerrillas" mysteriously appeared in the Juarez Mountains in late August.

"Nobody has ever heard of a guerrilla group operating in the Sierra Juarez," stated one municipal authority from the community of San Mateo during an interview in downtown Oaxaca City. "How could such a well-polished militia appear overnight?" The armed group went public on August 31, one day before the 2 million-strong march in the Oaxacan capital.

A majority of residents from the Sierra Juarez, home to various indigenous communities, support the APPO in its efforts to depose Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, a PRI leader, and establish a more representative state government.

Occupied areas of the city, meanwhile, are the subject of constant aggression. Political prisoners from the APPO have sent reports of people being released from incarceration in exchange for attacking the protesters.

"The activists in neighborhoods farthest from downtown have it the hardest," said Antonio, a representative from a Zapotec Indian community. "People camped in [the Oaxaca City neighborhoods of] San Martin and Santa Cruz have been attacked by plainclothes police officers and hired paramilitary groups."

The coordinator of such provocative attacks, according to organizers from the Revolutionary Civic Alternative, is Jorge Franco Vargas--who is nicknamed "el Chucky" due to his reputation for brutality.

"People on all sides are trying to provoke us into reacting with violence," said Antonio. "If the authorities can turn this into an open confrontation, they will have the excuse they need to attack with unbridled force. And that's what they're best at."

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