Election Time: Call Out the Army!

Posted on January 23, 2016

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From HIDDEN DANGERS, http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Dangers-Mexico-Brink-Disaster/dp/162006488X/ref=sr

Loyalty has always been more important in Mexican politics than either intelligence or competence. Government positions go to the best mapaches (raccoons, as operatives who make sure that candidates win local and state elections). Since legislators cannot be reelected but depend on their political organizations and political bosses for appointments to administrative posts or candidatures for other elective offices, they seldom bite the hand that feeds them. In 2010, when it became obvious to the PRI governor of the state of Puebla, Mario Morín, that an opposition coalition was going to dominate the formerly heavily PRI legislature, he engineered changes to Puebla’s state constitution that transferred responsibility for approving expenditures, many of them controversial, during Morín’s final year in office. This maneuver cancelled possible efforts by the newly elected legislature to determine the legitimacy of Morín’s financial dealings.

It also demonstrated how shrewdly politicians could manipulate laws and procedures to their financial advantage. The no-reelection reform included in Mexico’s constitution of 1917 was designed to prevent elected officials from establishing long-term bases for corruption but in twenty-first-century practice it encouraged “get-rich-quick” obedience to caciques and governors. But the 1917 reform did not substantially strengthen the legislative structure; consequently, the latter lacked much of its ability to provide checks and balances against the executive and executive-controlled judiciary. Under both PRI and PAN, non-cooperative legislators were shunted into the background while party loyalists occupied chairmanships and important committee posts.

For over half a century, the PRI manipulated election returns, now and then ceding a few benefits to opposition parties from the left and the National Action Party, which was strongly pro-Catholic, on the right. An anti-PRI coalition headed by Cuauhtémoc Cardenas almost toppled the PRI regime in 1988 in an election that Cardenas seemed to have won but that was awarded to the PRI thanks to computer tampering and destroyed ballots. The PAN’s candidate, Manuel Clothier, reacted publicly to the results before Cárdenas did. Four days after the election, Clothier called for a national civil disobedience movement that included blocking the international bridges between Mexico and the United States as well as many of the principal highways and boycotting Televisa, the major television outlet, whose very own Jacobo Zabludovsky had broadcast Salinas de Gortari’s victory before it became official.

Six days after Clothier called for a national protest, Cárdenas led a Mexico City demonstration. PAN and Cárdenas’s National Democratic Front (FND for its initials in Spanish) tried to force a recount, but the Mexican army, apparently under orders from lame duck President Miguel de la Madrid, restricted access to the millions of marked ballots. The PRI-dominated House of Deputies later ordered to have them burned, thus eliminating any chance for future inspection of the disputed results.

Cardenas refused to challenge the House of Deputies’ decision, and the newly elected Carlos Salinas de Gortari named several prominent members of PAN to cabinet and administrative posts in exchange for the conservative party’s cooperation with his plans to push the North American Free Trade Agreement and other pet projects through Mexico’s Congress.

Salinas de Gortari’s questionable election wasn’t the first in Mexico’s post-revolution history. In 1929, outgoing president Plutarco Elìas Calles tapped Mexico’s ambassador to Brazil, Pascual Ortiz Rubio, as his successor, knowing that he could manipulate Ortiz Rubio and effectively retain control of the country’s politics. When popular and charismatic José Vasconcelos, the “Maestro de América” who founded Mexico’s public education system, mounted a campaign in opposition and garnered enthusiastic support, Callas called out the army.

Armed soldiers presided over ballot boxes and vote counting and Callas’s government declared Ortiz Rubio the winner. On the day of his inauguration, Ortiz Rubio survived an assassination attempt that crippled his left arm. Soldiers and police rounded up twenty-three of Vasconcelos’s supporters and executed them near Cuernavaca, Morelos.

The dye had been struck; the one-party “democracy” retained political control for the next seventy years.

When change finally occurred in 2000, it scarcely altered the federal government’s overall functions but ruptured the tight vertical system of state and municipal governments that the PRI had developed. Even PAN senator Diodoro Carrasco acknowledged in 2010 that presidents Fox and Calderón failed to “invent new ways of doing things”; consequently, corruption continued unchecked and failed anti-drug corporation policies resulted in the loss of over 50,000 lives during 2000-2010.

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