ELECTION LOSSES AND DEFECTIONS ROCK PRI; MAJOR SHAKEUPS FOLLOW:

Heavy losses in the recent elections in the states of Guerrero, Mexico and Hidalgo have shaken the administration of president Ernesto Zedillo and his party, the PRI. Seen as a warmup for the upcoming 1997 election of a mayor in Mexico City– the first one: until now this office has been filled by presidential appointment — the victories of opposition PAN and PRD candidates at the municipal and state legislative levels are taken as the worst of signs for the PRI’s future.

While they still retain a solid majority of political offices at every level, the PRI faces the spectre of a newly revitalized PRD, who after their drubbing in the 1994 and early 1996 elections were looking pretty punchy. Now, under the direction of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who came from the ranks of the oil workers in Tabasco and is a militant leftist (as opposed to Muñoz Ledo, whom he succeeded, who was more of an apparatchik politician), the party appears to be gaining strength and credibility.

A significant but mostly unmentioned fact about the political opposition is that it comes from, and is sometimes financed by, the PRI. The PRD was originally a tendency in the PRI that was demanding more reform than the old guard was willing to supply. Recently, here in Oaxaca, the PRD has been suddenly riven by internal disputes, resulting in a split in which two PRD candidates were running, thus diluting the party’s strength. Each side of the PRD dispute accuses the other of being PRI agents. Both may be right. The amount of money the PRI pays under the table to its agents in other parties is a secret.

Meanwhile, on a national level, the PRD appears to be making significant gains despite the PRI’s destabilization efforts — and despite the year-old namecalling, hairpulling vendetta of two of its’ more prominent leaders, Muñoz Ledo and Miguel Aroche Parra. The two backed opposing candidates to be the PRD gubernatorial candidate in Michoacan. As it turns out, while perhaps having cost the party a win in that race, it has weakened both men, thus solidifying the positions of Lopez Obrador and his ally, party founder and philosophical leader Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. There is much talk in the air of alliances with other left formations, such as the PT (Workers’ Party).

Since the elections, three PRI deputies have defected, and two of them have moved their chairs to the PRD section — literally. That is how it is done in the chamber of deputies: you literally pick up your chair and move it.

PRI maverick deputy Sal las Rosas was purged by the central committee after refusing to shut up about corruption in the party and as part of the dismantling of the “Mexico 2000” movement for liberalization he led within the PRI. He is now in the “nonaffiliated” section and appears to be a staunch ally of “independent” Manuel Camacho Solís, ex-mayor of Mexico and the man many had thought would be chosen by Salinas to be the presidential candidate in the 1994 elections.

Deputy Layda Sansores of Campeche renounced her PRI membership and was immediately chosen as the PRD candidate for governor. She is very popular in Campeche and is expected to run a strong campaign.

Virgina Betanzos of Quintana Roo defected the following day. So far she has not been put up for higher office, but if she were no-one would be surprised.

Zedillo reacted by firing Santiago Oñate Laborde as head of the Party after little more than one year of service, and announcing that more cabinet shakeups would follow in the wake of his sacking Antonio Lozano Gracia, his token PAN member. Lozano had been serving as attorney general, and his bungling oversight of the Colosio, Ruiz Massieu and Posadas assassinations was an embarrasment.

Meanwhile, the PAN is trying to figure out what to do with revelations that their last presidential candidate, and the likely PAN candidate for mayor of Mexico City, Diego Fernandez Ceballo, took advantage of his position and contacts to make a small fortune from buying and selling beachfront property near Acapulco.

Stan’s Fearless Prediction: that if they can keep the dirty tricksters from putting a stick in their wheel, the PRD is likely to make significant gains in the 1997 bi-elections; and that Diego will be the next mayor of MexCity.

HUELGERA’S CARTOON IN THE DEC 11 ISSUE OF JORNADA:

A storekeeper is sitting behind his counter. The sign in the front says “Stationary Store Legal Forms Sold Here”. A well dressed gentleman stands in front of the counter asking the storekeeper “Do you have forms here for renouncing membership in the PRI?” The storekeeper responds, “No, young man, there has been a run on that one today”.

INTERNATIONAL PAPER MOVES IN ON THE TARAHUMARAS IN CHIHUAHUA:

International Paper Company, a multinational conglomerate, revealed plans this week to triple the amount of pulp wood it removes from the ejido areas controlled by the Tarahumara indian tribe in the highlands of Chihuahua.

In a plan presented recently on behalf of the company by Harry Archer, company spokesperson in Mexico City, roads, machinery and a “plan to preserve the ecology and the air quality” were outlined.

Advocates for the tribe and for various preservationist organizations applauded the plan — but not International Paper’s record. In fact, it was noted, there have been hundreds of violations of existing plans by International, and therefore serious doubts about International’s sincerity. Cited, were clear cutting in selective cutting areas, felling of exempted species of trees, cutting in areas off-limits to loggers, and pollution of springs, streams and ground water. Also mentioned was the extremely low price being paid for the timber being removed.

You may remember that it was a protest against the clear cutting of ejido owned land that resulted in the massacre at Aguas Blancas last year — and ultimately, the emergence of the EPR. In the earlier case, the governor of Guerrero, almost certainly culpable, owns a large trucking company which was in line to benefit greatly from increased logging. It remains to be seen where the grease is flowing in Chihuahua, but this is not the first fight the Tarahumaras have been forced into to preserve their homelands. Stay tuned.

FRANCISCO TOLEDO A BIG BUST:

Last Saturday, as promised, I attended what was supposed to be a big talk by Francisco Toledo, world-famous Mexican artist. Mr. Toledo was less than impressive. He’s a little guy with wild hair worn long, and was dressed in dirty trousers and collarless shirt, sandals, and a three day beard. He refused to talk directly to the crowd, preferring to address his remarks to a “translator” in a whisper. The translator, therefore, had to relay the great man’s words in both English and Spanish. Aside from this time-wasting pseudo modesty, he didn’t have much to say, preferring to answer questions with platitudes and generalities.

When asked specifically about the plans to terraform Monte Alban, he indicated that he and his friends in the opposition had the problem well in hand. When asked if he could use some help from the foreign community, he declined. Sorry I couldn’t do better, just wanted to follow up as promised.