Friday, December 01, 2006

Poor Mexico. So far from God. So Close to the U.S.

Felipe Calderon has taken over as Mexico's president amid accusations of voter fraud in his election over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, by less than a percentage point. Obrador has responded by launching a “parallel government” in Mexico City last week.

This follows the disappointment of Vincente Fox’s administration following his victory over the corrupt PRI that held power for over six decades.

There is a sentiment among some Americans to just build a fence around Mexico. You know – out of sight, out of mind. The problem with that thinking is our histories are intertwined, as are our peoples. The turbulence in Mexico has the potential to impact upon the United States. The U.S. needs a sensible and humane immigration policy and it needs to move consideration for support for a healthy democracy and economy in Mexico from the back burner to the front burner.

This is Marc Cooper’s assessment:
By the time you read this on Friday, Mexico's new president, Felipe Calderon, will or will not have successfully been sworn in on the floor of the national congress. The governing PAN party and the opposition left-of-center PRD party maintain literal rival campouts on the floor of the legislative chamber. The PRD has vowed to physically block Calderon from taking the oath. And the PAN promises to block the PRD's blocking maneuver. Two days this stand-off came to juvenile fisticuffs.

There's not much to laugh about in this tragi-comic opera. And it's a shame that Mexican politics and the immediate future of the Mexican people might hang in the balance of this lucha libre.

The PRD -- and about half the Mexican population according to recent polls-- believe that Calderon stole last July's election. Since then, defeated leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has been leading a campaign to render Mexico ungovernable. AMLO had requested a recount of the votes, having lost to Calderon by a half-point in a three-way election. The national election council, after conducting a sample of contested precincts, said such a recount wasn't necessary.

No doubt that most Mexicans live in a world of shortened horizons and heightened frustrations. The initial promise of reform heralded six years ago by the election of Vicente Fox has dead-ended into continued corruption and crony capitalism. Promised structural reform hasn't materialized, economic growth is anemic, the poorest half of the country has only gotten poorer, and entire cities of the country have devolved into drug-driven chaos and gang warfare. All that and little reason to believe that pro-business, conservative Calderon will make any dent in the mess.

Meanwhile, a mini-insurrection still rocks the volatile, southern state of Oaxaca. Months of protests have been quashed by security forces. But discontent still simmers.

That said, I think any honest observer has to seriously question the strategy and tactics of the AMLO and the PRD. Lopez Obrador recently proclaimed himself president, appointed a shadow government and, as noted above, is now trying to disrupt the swearing-in of Calderon. This is rather reckless and dangerous brinksmanship that threatens the already fragile institutionality of the Mexican state. The PRD is not a revolutionary party that could, for better or for worse, lead an armed revolt. And yet it is contributing to an atmosphere that creates the impression that peaceful change is impossible. That's almost a text book definition of demagogy -- demagogy of the sort that usually ends in a bloodbath of those sucked into a movement that has no plausible exit.

AMLO's extreme strategy would be more credible, more responsible, and more effective if he himself had a bigger mandate. But both he and Calderon barely captured 35% of the vote each. So even if Calderon's count was inflated enough to push him over the line, AMLO's claim on being the legitimate president of Mexico is just as tenuous.

Beyond Friday's antics on the congressional floor, Mexico now enters a period of dangerous and extended turbulence. Who, by the way, in Washington is paying any attention to this? Poor Mexico. So far from God. So Close to the U.S.

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