By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
MEXICO CITY - City Hall was literally going to pieces: Carpets were rolled back, floorboards pried up, portraits of Mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas pulled down, and the walls stripped back. A nest of wiretap devices and hidden cameras had just been discovered in the offices of Cardenas' second-in-command, and now investigators were dismantling the old colonial edifice to ferret out new bugs.
Insiders insist that the devices found in the office of Secretary of Government Rosario Robles on February 28 were not the first planted to eavesdrop on the activities of the incoming Cardenas government. One hundred days ago, when the first elected mayor of the city (actually, Cardenas' title is "chief of government") moved into the offices formerly occupied by his predecessor, Oscar Espinosa Villareal, so many bugging devices were discovered that Cardenas immediately vacated the premises and set up camp in a separate building.
The story of the first 100 days of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas' crucial experiment in the democratic governance of this, the largest urban entity in the Western Hemisphere, can best be described as the story of a 100-day siege, jointly laid by his many enemies in the long-ruling (69 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and his own left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
Throughout the 16 delegations, or boroughs, that jigsaw together this megalopolis, city employees organized by the PRI have declared a series of work stoppages guaranteed to make life miserable for the neighborhoods. In one incident, Pablo Moctezuma Barragan, a much-respected leftist who is Cardenas' chief in the Azcapotzalco delegation, was pelted with overripe tomatoes.
And downtown at City Hall, even as the bugs whirred away inside, demonstrators have daily swarmed on the esplanade of the great zocalo plaza just below the ornate old building - mostly PRI-istas but sometimes disaffected PRD-istas. On March 6, the protests breached the gates when a PRI strong-arm squad that operates under the name of the "Territorial Movement" invaded City Hall. Their beef: the allegation by the Cardenas brain trust that the office wiretaps were planted by another former mayor, Manuel Aguilera, the PRI's Mexico City leader.
It was the first violent clash between the new government and the new opposition, and just as under the PRI governors, the riot squad forcibly ejected the demonstrators and arrested their leaders. The skirmish testified to the role reversal that Mexico City politics have undergone in the past 100 days - it used to be the Cardenas supporters who were on the butt end of the police batons.
PRD control of City Hall has created surreal transformations. During the campaign, which Cardenas won by an unprecedented 2-1 landslide, the normally stone-faced candidate suddenly acquired a broad smile. But the tall, dewlapped mayor, the son of one of Mexico's most beloved presidents, does not smile much these days as he dourly elbows his way through the demonstrators who always seem to be milling about in front of City Hall whenever Cardenas goes out to lunch.
For other longtime leftists, the reversal has been more extreme. One January afternoon, Arnaldo Martinez Verdugo, once head of the Mexican Communist Party and Cardenas' chief in the Coyoacan delegation, sent the police to evict poor squatters from a site reserved for an exclusive shopping mall to be constructed by the French commercial giant Auchan.
One of the more uncomfortable obligations of the new government has been to enforce laws against ambulantes - the capital's ubiquitous street vendors. Thousands were licensed for the Christmas season, but tradition holds, and established merchants insist that the ambulantesretreat once the holidays are over. Driving them off the street in January proved a painful process - the riot squad has sometimes been called out to clear the public way.
But the Cardenas administration cannot really crack down on the popular economy, the only source of income for tens of thousands of poor families. The new mayor is leftist in conviction, and owes much of his political strength to the urban popular movement, a coalition of the disenfranchised dating back to the 1985 earthquake that proved pivotal in the 1988 presidential election, and again in 1997. Indeed, Cardenas has been much more permissive than his predecessor in allowing the street vendors to work - the underground economy is particularly visible in the subway, where sometimes three ambulantes at a time invade the cars.
Not all in the new leadership are finding their jobs so distasteful. Salvador Martinez Della Rocca, a.k.a. El Pino, legendary leader of the 1968 student movement and now chief delegate in Tlalpan, has exercised his authority with relish - against the PRI. Della Rocca ordered the Institutional Party's National Confederation of Popular Organizations (CNOP) to vacate a building it has occupied rent-free for the past 10 years - the delegate wants to install a street kids' shelter on the site. The CNOP immediately launched an angry march to the zocalo. The PRI has rent-free use of at least 10 additional city buildings - while the Cardenas administration is forced to rent office space to house city workers.
The sabotage of the new government began long before Cardenas took over December 5. Naked subterfuge by the outgoing Espinosa regime stripped offices of computers, typewriters and furniture, reports popular detective writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II, who is chronicling the Cardenas administration. Whole fleets of cars are missing or disabled - Taibo discovered several city vehicles whose motors had apparently been sold off. More critically, key computer files seem to have been erased by the former administration. "They even took the toilet paper," despairs the writer.