The closing circle:
When I came to Mexico to live, there was only one political party with any real power: the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the longest-serving (almost 70 years) one-party system in the world. The basic political structure of the party (and therefore of the country) was state-socialist (fascist). Enshrined in the Constitution and in the practices of the PRI was the idea that fractious opposition parties were bad for the country; that the fairest and most efficient way to govern was to give each and every “interest” a place under the PRI umbrella. Thus there was a seat at the table for the Central Workers’ Council (headed for decades by PRI stalwart Fidel Velazquez: almost all unions were, and remain, PRI affiliated) as well as the Chamber of Commerce; the Army as well as civilian law enforcement; etc. The various groups did not always agree, and there were some bitter fights within the Party — but that was o.k. since it was kept within the Party.
[Around one of the fountains in El Llano, a quite different style of music was attracting a different crowd.]
Of course this was all a polite fiction. People were killing each other; getting imprisoned for corruption and other crimes (real or invented); and in some cases fleeing the country because they had said something that offended someone with power and impunity. Still, through a system of “plata or plomo” (silver, or lead; payoff or assassination), the PRI managed to keep control. Presidents selected their successors (a custom called “el dedazo”; the finger). Transition was kept smooth and the daily realities remained fairly stable.
Depending on whom you listen to, there are around 35 families that own just about everything. They often disagree on tactics, but they are solidly unified over the goal: more for them, less for everyone else. They control the Catholic Church (through “donations” and membership in secret organizations such as “El Yunque” and “Opus Dei”), the Army (by “patronizing” the general staff), the police (through patronage and also by sending their sons (almost always, sons) to run the Interior Ministry), and so forth. The results of their careful husbandry can be seen: they now own a larger share of the wealth than ever, while the bottom 20% own less.
Like all dictatorships, however cleverly disguised, disunity has raised its ugly head from time to time. “Leaders” passed over for key promotions; special interests becoming disgruntled at perceived insults; genuine disagreements about public policy (in descending order of importance), have actually caused defections from the PRI, and even a legitimate opposition party now and then (many “minority” parties are actually paid for by the PRI to give the illusion of democracy and to dilute the opposition).
[In the very center of the Zocalo, as they have done for decades, the poor people have gathered to discuss their situation and to deliberate ways to bring their complaints to the (mostly uninterested) authorities.]
Originally a small-farmer and small-business party, the presently “ruling” Partido Accion Nacional (National Action Party: PAN) was founded in 1939. In the present day it is still pretty much obedient to the Catholic Church’s most conservative elements. In states such as Guanajuato and Jalisco, where the PAN is strong, laws have been passed restricting “nudity” on billboards; and the movement to ban abortion – which now (with recent passage in Oaxaca) has resulted in criminalization in a majority of Mexico’s states — in spite of the fact that such laws may well be unconstitutional.
For the last 15 years, it has been easy to observe how the PAN / PRI alliance works to advance the interests of the mighty, no matter who is “in power”. The “third party”, the PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democratico: the Democratic Revolutionary Party), while it clearly had presidential elections stolen from it in 1988 and 2006, has never held a majority in the House of Deputies or the Senate; nor has it controlled more than a few isolated States, usually by unprincipled alliances with the PAN or the PRI, on the (mainly failed) theory that it’s more important to get rid of “them” than to make meaningful change. The exception to this rule has been the “governorship” of Mexico City, under first Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and then Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO).
Before 2000, the PAN acted as the left arm of the PRI in the Congress. Lots of oration about principles, but when it came down to the final vote, just enough PAN “defectors” voted with the PRI to get bills passed.
When the PAN came to prominence in 2000, with the election of Vicente Fox, thus breaking the smooth transference of the presidency from one PRIista to another, the power to say “no” to the President resided in a loose and often treacherous alliance of PRD and PRI legislators. However, certain lessons were not lost on the PRI, particularly the realization that the slowing of the legislative process not only defeated Fox’s agenda, it also cut into the flow of patronage: no new federal programs, no new money to skim…
[Clearly, this young fellow is studying to be a leader…]
Calderon has been a disaster for the country and for the PAN, but not for the Familes. Under his (illegitimately won) presidency, the gross national product has dropped by at least 10 percent; agricultural output has been cut in half; tourism has nearly collapsed; and the losing “war on drugs” has turned Mexico into a police state of almost historical levels. His presidency is so unpopular that most of the gains the PAN had made at the state and local levels were swept away in elections held in 2008 and 2009; and eveyone predicts that the PRI will sweep the elections in 2012 – including the Presidency. While some predict that the PRI will win absolute majorities in the Congress, others point out that with “enemies” like the PAN, the PRI can smoothly segue back to the pre-2000 arrangements. Even better, it will be able to blame Calderon for everything it doesn’t like, while continuing to provide exemplary service to the ruling families.
A bright note in a (not really) unlikely place:
I call your attention to a new Occasional Paper from Michele Gibbs, posted to our website . Just home from Detroit, a place she returns to often, her analysis of the scene is surprisingly (for those of us who think only of the “negatives” of Motor City) upbeat.
Michele’s observations of and conversations with a community in the process of organizing itself leads one to ask, if they can do this in Detroit, why not in my home town? If, like me, you need an occasional boost from outside the gloom and doom of the box, take the time to read “As Detroit Goes”.
[Our neighbor Luz Daniela is about 20 months old, and for a time she decided to help Diana sweep up the bougainvilla that fall from the tree outside our apartment every day. Lately, she seems to have lost interest.]
Big-time union busting 103:
After getting a failing grade in U.B. 101 (the miners in Cananea are still in defiant struggle after decades of government attempts to quash them) and U.B. 102 (the privatization of the national oil monopoly PEMEX keeps stumbling over the roadblocks erected by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and the oil-workers’ union), our beloved Felipe has decided to double down on a bet that he can bust the 44,000-strong SME electrical workers’ union. If he wins, he not only gets to give out a lot of very lucrative concessions to his pals; he also guts the biggest single organized group on the streets of the national capital that daily confronts his plans.
Win, lose, or draw, things will never be the same again.
Last Saturday, at midnight, over 6,000 army and federal police elements invaded the independant public electric utility Luz y Fuerza del Centro (Central Light and Power: LFC). The official government Comision Federal de Electricidad (Federal Electric Commission: CFE) declared that it had absorbed the LFC; fired all the workers, offering them severance packages and a chance to return to work as members of the far less militant CFE untion, SUTERM. The ostensible reason for this was that the LFC was spending beyond its’ budget (which budget has been being continually squeezed by the government).
Today (Oct. 15) it was revealed that the CFE, unable to run the complex and highly automated grid which serves as much as 40% of Mexico’s population (LFC covers the central, and most populous states, including the Federal District) has been sending out troops to press-gang SME workers to return to their posts — as individual workers, shorn of union membership. Rumors – and expectations – of gigantic power outages are running high. The SME is saying that they are not on strike, or sabotaging the grid; but that they work for the LFC, and not the CFE. Things are getting very tense.
If there are serious prolonged failures on the grid, Mexico City could erupt. If that should happen, all bets are off.
John Ross, and others, have been warning that 2010, the 200th anniversary of independance from Spain, and the centenary of the beginning of the Revolution, might be the start of a new revolution. Perhaps they are just a little too conservative on their timeline…
[These flowers are growing in the Ethno-Botanical garden, which Diana visits with some regularity, to view the new installations.]
Bad boy, URO:
Finally, after more than 3 years, the Mexican Supreme Court has recognized something that eveyone else has known sinve day one: governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) bears direct responsibility for the killings and repression stemming from the uprising in the summer and fall of 2006 in Oaxaca state.
No punishment, rectification, release of political prisoners or any other remedy is suggested, such things being a “state matter” according to the judicial wisdom. However, with this ruling a door is opened: URO may now be sued or prosecuted, although it is highly unlikely – since he controls the Oaxaca legislature.
Furthermore, the Court went out of its way to exonerate then-president Vicente Fox of any and all wrongdoing, even though it was he that sent in the federal police to end the rebellion in the last months of 2006.
What he did on his sabbatical:
In 2006, weary of battling in the trenches of New York’s arts mill, seeking a place of tranquility in which to experience another culture and way of life, Peter Kuper packed up himself and his family and moved to Oaxaca. Talk about timing!
The cartoonist known best for his drawings of “Spy vs. Spy” in Mad Magazine, found himself smack dab in the middle of a sometimes bloody, always interesting and energizing rebellion, complete with barricaded streets, roaming death squads, and, eventually, occupation by the army and the militarized national police.
The rebellion also produced a flowering of literature and art, including a new space, La Curtiduria, to display the works of new graffitists and photographers (as well as more well-known folks like Antonio Turok).
I first saw Peter’s work (outside of Mad) at La Curtiduria. It was a show of work by him and other members of his U.S. artists co-op. I’ve followed his work ever since, so it’s a pleasure to announce that he has a new book out about his experiences during his (two year) stay. “Oaxaca Diary” is now available. Buy it. You won’t be disappointed.
* Mexico may have the world’s largest stash of Lithium, one of the world’s most sought after materials, the stuff with which the latest generation of electric storage batteries are made. Along with a major potassium deposit, it resides in Zacatecas. Previous to the discovery, Bolivia held the honor.
Geopolitically, this is hugely important to the “green revolution” in the U.S., which will be putting on a huge amount of pressure for favorable if not exclusive rights.
* There are almost 16,000 “ambulantes” currently ensconced in metal booths in front of storefronts along the main business streets south of the Zocalo according to a recent pronouncement by the city authority in charge of (and failing to) regulate them.
* The official government estimate of the unemployed has now topped 16%.
*ASUR, the private agency that operates most of the airports in southern Mexico reported that air traffic to Oaxaca over the summer dropped by a very significant 11%.