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<nettime> A Fox in Mexico's Halls of Power?

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From: Chiapas95 <owner-chiapas95@eco.utexas.edu
To: chiapas95@eco.utexas.edu <chiapas95@eco.utexas.edu
Date: Sunday, July 09, 2000 2:48 PM
Subject: En;LAWeekly/John Ross,A Fox in Mexico's halls of poweer?Jul 08

A Fox in Mexico's Halls of Power
He's no saint, but Vicente Fox pulled off a victory that was both
unthinkable and necessary

by John Ross

MEXICO CITY, JULY 4 As preliminary results from Mexico's most hotly
contested presidential election ever began to roll in Sunday evening, July
2, thousands of railroad workers and their families gathered in the giant
parking lot of the long-ruling (71 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party
(PRI) bunker in northern Mexico City. With rank-and-file PRIstas, one never
knows how much of an outburst of support is sincere, and how much bought
and paid for, but those gathered were clearly poised to cheer home yet
another victory. Instead, they gradually fell into a sullen silence, their
noisemakers clacked to a dead stop, and the truculent trumpet blasts were

By 9 p.m., a dark rain cloud blotted out the sky over this teeming capital
and a chill, dank wind raked the PRI compound, presaging electoral doom. By
11, the exit polls and the quick counts salient features of the most
U.S.-like election in Mexican history signaled that it was all over. With a
double-digit lead, rightist Vicente Fox had become the first opposition
candidate to win the presidency of Mexico since the birth of the PRI seven
decades ago.

Inside an auditorium named for the stern general who founded the state
party in 1928, PRI leaders wept openly as outgoing president Ernesto
Zedillo (on the big screen) and his hand-picked successor Francisco
Labastida conceded the death of one of the longest-lived political
dynasties in the known universe.

In the parking lot, the sullen railroad men and the lottery-ticket hawkers
and the PRI ambulantes (street venders) folded up their banners and trudged
off into the uncertain night. The mariachis packed away their instruments,
the stage was torn apart, and the sound system that was to have brought the
PRI's "Fiesta of Triumph" to the nation was dismantled. After midnight,
only the garbage flapping in the wind remained the garbage, and a strobe
light someone had forgotten to unplug, sweeping the abandoned parking lot
from one dark corner to the next, searching for survivors.

The July 2 Mexican election was supposed to have been a dead heat between
Labastida and Fox virtually every poll, an infant science here, indicated
that the race was headed into the twilight zone. But those Mexicans who
went to bed Sunday night, or early Monday morning in some cases, did so
with Fox holding a seemingly insurmountable lead. Of course, a
fraud-tainted PRI resurgence when no one was watching was Fox's worst
nightmare, but by mid-morning Monday, the historic victory was holding
fast. Preliminary results give Fox 43 percent, with Labastida trailing at
36 percent. The third-place finisher was Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, longtime
leader of the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), with 17

Experts scurried to explain their errant prognostications, which had
asserted that the race would be too close to call. In the end, it became
clear that the pollsters had failed to take into account how cautious 71
years of authoritarian, one-party tyranny had made Mexico's electorate.
Many had just lied to their inquisitors, and those 10 percent to 19 percent
of voters designated "undecided" were very decided all the time they just
didn't want to say it out loud.

Fox's victory was confected from a potpourri of constituencies, all of
which portend a shift to the right at the top of the Mexican ladder. Warm
support from big-business circles swelled Fox's campaign coffers, and he
will gladly reciprocate the one-time head of Coca-Cola in Mexico and
Central America is as committed a globalizer as his predecessor Zedillo.
Fox and his National Action Party (PAN) will enthusiastically spur the
dog-eat-dog, neo-liberal bent of an economy that has made a few Mexicans
very rich and cast 26 million more into extreme poverty.

In addition to the bankers and the industrialists, Vicente Fox appears to
have overwhelmingly captured Mexico's Catholic vote. Wrapping himself in
the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the nation's most holy icon, and
condemning abortion as "murder," the PANista earned the sub rosa support of
the conservative hierarchy.

On the other side of the political ledger, Fox attracted several prominent
associates of the PRD and, most probably, a measure of support from
rank-and- file PRDistas themselves, who, in the alleged privacy of the
voting booth, marked their ballots for the PANista. Despite political
beliefs directly at odds with those espoused by Fox, they were apparently
willing to do almost anything to dump the PRI.

Even with the monumental victory (43 percent of 38 million votes cast with
95 percent of the precincts counted), Fox's triumph is not exactly
unconditional. During the boisterous post-election rally under the gilded
Angel of Independence on a downtown boulevard here, Fox was warned by the
huge throng of celebrants "not to fail us."

 "We will obligate him to govern well," growled Alfonso Munoz, an
inner-city newspaper vendor.

The dimensions of the Fox victory are even more impressive because he beat
the most egregious and well-oiled PRI vote-buying machine this reporter has
experienced in four presidential elections in Mexico. Reports of
shenanigans emerged right up until the eve of the balloting, which was when
the PRI governor of Michoaca'n was audited on tape, purportedly plotting
the distribution of US$80 million in budgeted state moneys to potential
voters. This scene and various reports of coercion and bribery, all of it
attributed to the no-longer-ruling party, made headlines every day.

Election Day unfolded in relative tranquillity with only scattered
incidents of violence reported around the country. The autonomous Federal
Electoral Institute (IFE) provided a measure of integrity to the election
that previous campaigns had never had. But although the IFE helped insure
fraud-free voting at the ballot box itself, it had no control over the
wholesale buying of votes by the PRI in advance of the election.

Still, Vicente Fox obliterated the PRI. His big numbers also seem to spell
the end of the electoral line for longtime left-leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas,
whose PRD captured just 17 percent of the popular vote, about the same as
what Cardenas took home in his failed 1994 bid for the presidency. Cardenas
supporters and many observers will always believe that, in 1988, Cardenas
outpolled the PRI presidential candidate, but was denied victory because of
the PRI-controlled vote count.

A three-time reject for the top job, Cardenas will be 73 by the time the
next presidential race comes around in 2006. Waiting in the wings is his
much younger prote'ge' Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who handily won the
Mexico City mayoralty on July 2. Lopez Obrador's victory renewed the PRD
mandate in the Western Hemisphere's largest city, a mandate that began in
1997 with a Cardenas mayoral landslide.

At the congressional level, Fox's coattails were broad enough to win the
new president a short legislative majority. Preliminary results give the
PAN a slight (224-209) advantage over the PRI in the lower house, with the
PRD garnering just 60 seats. Over on the senate side, at this writing, the
PRI holds a six-vote edge over the PAN, a balance which will give the PRD,
with its 16 votes, some needed bargaining power.

An alliance between the PRI and Cardenas' party against what Cardenas
labels the "fascist" Fox cannot be discounted. On election night, in the
desolate PRI parking lot, disaffected Institutional militants argued for a
return to the social left-center roots of the once-ruling party, a Cardenas
goal when he was still a member of the PRI.

Although the Mexican government's economic policies will not budge from PRI
standards, Fox's band of victory will allow him to move on widespread
corruption. The indictment of high-profile PRI officials is a seemingly
inevitable scenario despite the new president's election-night promise that
he will not conduct a witch-hunt. Of course, Fox is keenly aware that
corruption is so ingrained in the fabric of Mexican political life that
trying to clean house could bring down the house itself, and that a sort of
unstated amnesty could prevail.

Mexico's first opposition president also will have a golden opportunity to
fix other long-standing social problems, such as the still-simmering
conflict with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Chiapas.
Like all Mexicans, the Zapatistas have only known PRI governments, and
their disposition toward a Fox presidency is uncharted ground several years
ago, the EZLN's charismatic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos characterized
Fox as "a consequent politician."

One scenario being discussed here would have Vicente Fox appoint Cardenas
as a peace ambassador to Chiapas the former left candidate supports
military withdrawal from the conflict zone and congressional passage of a
law that would grant Mexico's 56 indigenous peoples limited autonomy.
Another scenario, however, has the military, to which Fox has no ties,
seeking to define its influence in the new regime by flexing its muscle in

Perhaps the most exhilarating feature of the Fox victory is that it offers
an unprecedented panoply of scenarios for a Mexico that changed irrevocably
on July 2, a change that did not end Sunday but rather opens the door to
the possibility of much deeper change ahead.

"When I woke up this morning," testified waiter Armando Penalosa, serving
morning-after coffee at La Blanca restaurant in the city's old quarter, "I
felt like a big weight had been lifted from my chest."

Copyright CR 2000, L.A. Weekly Media, Inc

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