As Mexico’s political campaigns wind down in preparation for the big election day on July 1, mixed moods of doubt, anger, tension, confusion, excitement, exhaustion, resignation and hope grip the body politic. For the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the recapture of the presidency is within reach. At a June 24 campaign rally in the southern state of Guerrero, former Governor Rene Juarez Cisneros declared that his party’s presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, was the virtual winner.
“It can’t be that millions of compatriots across the country are mistaken or that the polls are wrong,” Juarez said to thousands of people in the Pacific coast town of Zihuatanjeo. “Pena Nieto’s triumph is irreversible.”
Although the national discussion has largely focused on the upcoming federal, state and local elections, other significant developments have grabbed public attention in recent days.
Major stories include teacher strikes, the militarized Summit of the G-20 leaders in the posh resort of Los Cabos, the June 25 shoot-out at the Mexico City airport and the earlier arrest of the supposed son of fugitive crime boss Chapo Guzman, an event that proved to be false and left egg on the face of the Calderon administration, its Washington allies and presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota of President Calderon’s center-right National Action Party (PAN). Informed of the arrest of a young man who later turned out to have no relation to Guzman, Vazquez vowed to press ahead with President Calderon’s campaign against organized crime if elected to replace him.
Extreme weather has been a big story this month. While drought continues sucking life out of the north of the country, heavy rains pound the south in places like Oaxaca and Guerrero, where Hurricane Carlotta reaped a path of destruction.
The 2012 elections occur at a time when Mexico is increasingly hard-pressed by climate change. The country could be roughly divided into the ¨brown zone¨ of north-central states, where a parched landscape prevails, and a “green zone” farther south, where lush hillsides and green mountain tops exude a bonanza of rain.
The transition zone is visible in the Guanajuato-Michoacan borderlands, where dry specks of earth give way to the last surviving small corn farms of the NAFTA era, plowed by old tractors, and bursts of greenery sparkle a land nourished by the sprinklings of rolling clouds. Although farmers in the north might be on their knees praying for rain, some producers in the south say the rain can bring serious headaches.
On a recent day, fishermen in Zihuatanejo, laid out their daily catch at the bayside market. A lone octopus sat motionless alongside piles of small red snapper, rock fish and other species. A 30-year veteran of the sea, Jorge Oregon told Frontera NorteSur that the rain is a double-edged sword. Last week, he said, fishermen were confined to land for several days because of Carlotta, and unable make money. “We slept all day and watched television,” Oregon said.
Oregon said weather and climate patterns have changed recently, contributing to economic problems connected to rising fuel costs and competition from new fishermen who took up the trade as other job opportunities dwindled. “The cyclones have come closer to the coast. Carlotta hit the land very quickly,” Oregon added.
One thing in common the landscape of both the north and the south share these days is the swath of large candidate billboards that line the main thoroughfares and highways, temporarily replacing the typical marketing symbols of tequila, perfume and cell phones.
To snag the vote, the campaigns are employing many innovative strategies and tactics.
In the central city of Aguascalientes, for example, Vazquez Mota’s campaign recently advertised an event that promised raffle prizes and examinations of the old pooch by veterinarians. The Mexican Green Party, which supports Pena Nieto for president, is distributing a glossy brochure that promises four free songs in exchange for texting a number with the simple word “yes.” Texters who send in an environmental policy proposal along with the names of five friends then have a chance to enter the coveted “Green Circle” and win a 2012 Toyota Prius Hybrid.
On a more risque note, some political forces are reaching out to what was once considered the margins of proper society.
In Aguascalientes, a pair of tight-bodied male dancers scantily dressed in bikins and headdresses moved their hips to an enthralled crowd on a weekend evening, shaking a stage thumping with electronic music in front of a big rainbow banner and under the big stone statue of the Mexican eagle with a snake in its mouth. The 12th annual Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender March and Fiesta was sponsored by Pena Nieto.
Next evening, in the same spot, the rival Citizen Movement party sponsored a hard and metal rock concert geared to the head-banging crowd. The event included a photographic show displaying works with strong suggestions of bestiality and sadomasochistic sex, complete with pieces portraying gagged women, grotesque dolls and ghostly faces.
A last-minute media barrage on the airwaves, on the Internet and on the streets is climaxing the different races.
Frontera NorteSur received an e-mail that slammed the Progressive Movement’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as a dangerous threat to the Catholic religion. According to the message, Lopez Obrador vowed to close church parishes in comments made in Silao, Guanajuato.
“This attack joins a series of actions that assault our beliefs, our families and our values,” read the e-mail. “Remember that in the Federal District (Mexico City) the left represents the legalization of abortion, an abomination that goes against our defense of life, and approved marriage between persons of the same sex and the possibility that they could adopt children.”
Frontera NorteSur sent a reply to the author(s) of the e-mail requesting clarification of sources of information and the origins of the person or persons behind the message, but received no answer. To the best of this reporter’s knowledge, Lopez Obrador has never made statements like the ones attributed to him by the mysterious e-mail.
In Zihuatanejo, meanwhile, cars and trucks with loud sound systems blaring support for rival mayoral candidates Eric Fernandez (son of a previous mayor) and Gustavo Garcia constantly prowl the streets, adding to an audio ambience usually punctuated by yelping dogs, chatty parrots, Colombian salsa and newspaper vendors hawking the gore of the latest narco execution.
Virtually uncovered in the U.S. press and given secondary treatment in the Mexican national media, the local and state elections will have important consequences for the distribution of power during the next several years, especially considering the enhanced autonomy of municipal and state governments in relation to federal authority.
Early on the morning of June 24, workmen busily assembled a sound system and draped giant banners in the town’s beachside basketball court in anticipation of the arrival of a “mega march” promoting Pena Nieto, Eric Fernandez, city council candidates and local PRI hopefuls for the federal Congress, most of whom reflect an upward recycling of the political class.
As the event unfolded later in the day, hundreds of people mobbed two parked trucks for free cup covers, t-shirts, student notebooks and the bingo-like lottery game, all containing messages and symbols for Pena Nieto and the PRI. Free soft drinks and bottled water complemented the hand-outs.
Appearing on a stage of politicians with his daughter, Fernandez said he was grateful for a successful campaign that drew support from sectors of nominally rival political parties. “This isn’t only a project of the PRI,” Fernandez pledged. “We’ve agreed that together we will build a better Zihuatanejo.”
Former Governor Rene Juarez assumed a more combative stance, laying into opponents he did not name for raising the specter of an imminent election fraud and attempting to buy votes with construction materials, refrigerators and stoves. The goods are purchased in Mexico City, Juarez charged without offering specific proof. “If they have to do it, they should buy them here so the money stays in the municipality instead of going to Mexico,” he added.
in 1999 Juarez’s own gubernatorial victory was marred by widespread charges of vote-buying engineered by his own campaign, prompting a large protest march to Mexico City by followers of losing candidate Felix Salgado of the PRD.
Juarez’s discourse shifted to a more conciliatory tone when he expressed “solidarity” with the families of the 28 people killed and 30 injured when their bus plunged off a Guerrero cliff while headed to a rival campaign event on June 24.
The Zihuatenajo PRI event was light on political talk and heavy on cheering, applauding and dancing to the music of a large, brass-based band that belted out norteña and corrido music. The principal candidates made no mention of the precarious public safety situation locals complain about in conversations.
A Fernandez-Pena Nieto information sheet included a 2012 calendar, quotes from Winston Churchill and Octavio Paz and a recipe for a fruity, nutty dish called capirotada.
A poll taken by local barber Rigo Perez, whose hair-cutting political surveys have repeatedly exhibited an uncanny accuracy in previous elections, shows Fernandez burying rival Garcia by a landslide, and also hands the local seat of the federal Chamber of Deputies to former Zihuatanejo Mayor Alejandro Bravo of the PRI who is up against the PRD’S Silvano Blanco, another ex-mayor of the international tourist town.
Back on the boob tube, a last-minute saturation of candidate spots includes Pena Nieto jumping from scene-to-scene with superimposed pictures of polls that show him ahead, though none of the surveys surpasses a 50 percent majority.
On Corona beer’s Saturday night boxing spectacular in which upstart Josesito Lopez scored a technical knock-out against Victor Ortiz for a welterweight championship after a long and sometimes dirty slugfest, fans were treated to new ads that proclaimed Vazquez Mota as simply “the best” in between low-angle shots of chicas Corona.
With each passing day, talk of possible electoral fraud grows. A grab-bag of election tricks distilled during the 1929-2000 rule of the PRI has given birth to a colorful political vocabulary that describes fraudulent techniques of voter suppression, voter invention, vote-buying, ballot box stuffing and more.
Operation Tamale refers to the practice of gathering a large group of people together for breakfast and then transporting them en masse to the polls to vote in return for payments. A bit more complicated, Operation Carousel consists of having a voter deposit a blank piece of paper in the voting booth while exiting with a real ballot that is then ferried off site to be marked then dropped off in time for the count.
Last week, Lopez Obrador demanded that the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) prohibit cell phones in voting booths. In the 2006 presidential race that Lopez Obrador claims he was robbed of winning, the use of cell phones in vote buying was partially exposed. In this scheme, voters are asked to take a picture of their ballot and return it to a political operator in exchange for money.
In response to Lopez Obrador’s demand, the IFE determined that it did not have the power to ban cell phones from the polling stations or “search” voters, according to an official quoted in Proceso magazine.
In a June 21 communique, the IFE said it will “realize necessary actions to guarantee the free and secret suffrage of citizens.” The federal agency added that it will post the locations of public prosecutors on its website, as well as publicize a 1-800 number citizens can call to denounce election crimes.
There is little doubt among political observers that fraudulent practices already have or will happen in the 2012 elections. The big question is whether the illegalities will be widespread and numerous enough to affect outcomes.
Sergio Aguayo, longtime activist with the pioneering election observation organization Civic Alliance, contended on a Mexican television talk show that the special elections crime division of the federal attorney general’s office does not have the will or capacity to effectively combat fraud. In Aguayo’s view, the political parties in charge of the Mexican Congress, which all benefit to one degree or another from election trickery, likewise do not have the necessary commitment to clean up the political dust from the past and the present.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
- Tricks, Treats and Titillations: Mexico’s Elections in an Era of Climate and Culture Change (salem-news.com)
- Mexican media scandal: secretive Televisa unit promoted PRI candidate (guardian.co.uk)
- Mexico students lead mass rally against Pena Nieto (morningstaronline.co.uk)