By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
A New Cynicism
From the moment you disembark your plane at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport, your body must begin adjusting to the new atmosphere. It is thin, as the city sits in an enormous valley at an elevation of 7,300 feet, and also famously polluted. More striking is the smell. The air here tastes like charred corn. The history of the country’s conquest bears down upon the Valley of Mexico with the fury of the rain clouds that drown away the smog nearly every summer afternoon.
In the months leading up to the July 2 election, political propaganda was plastered across the cityscape: on billboards, on pedestrian bridges, in windows, on the metro’s platforms and inside the cars, over government buildings, on cabs. It was billed as a battle between the leftist populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the conservative Felipe Calderón, a less exciting version of outgoing conservative President Vicente Fox. Also at stake was Mexico’s democratic maturity. It was only the second election since the 2000 toppling of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. For seven repressive and bloody decades, the party was the government, and the government was the party. Elections were mere formalities, characterized by fraud and aggression against dissent. Now, Mexico had a real choice, and everyone was wondering if the country’s still-youthful electoral institutions and political parties would deliver a trustworthy election.
Turnout at the polls was high. But to everyone’s great disgruntlement, the election did not end on Election Day. Calderón won by less than 1 percent of the vote. López Obrador, leading the polls for much of the campaign, has been fighting those results ever since, suggesting that a conservative-led conspiracy cheated him of the presidency. Enough evidence of poll irregularities and the peculiar interconnectedness of the political power elite of Mexico make his case strong. López Obrador has led massive marches through the city, calling for a vote-by-vote recount. AMLO, as he is known, for his initials, has mobilized his supporters effectively. But his rallies do not reflect the overall mood of the capital, where the surest sign that Mexico is a “democracy in transition” is the rise of a new cynicism.
On Election Day morning, Gloria de la Cruz, a 20-year-old waitress, wanders about the Zócalo, the vast public square in the center of the capital’s colonial core. Voters are lining up around the block at a “special polling place,” but de la Cruz will not be joining them.
“Unfortunately, I don’t believe in politics,” she says. “Instead of making proposals that are really worth something, the politicians spend their time fighting with each other. You’re a thief, you’re this, you’re that.”
The Zócalo is ancient earth. It sits directly on top of the ruins of the Aztec Empire’s capital city, Tenochtitlán, and is surrounded by the centuries-old Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace, and the exposed ruins of the Aztecs’ Templo Mayor, accidentally unearthed in modern times during a public-works dig. The area is teeming with vendors, demonstrators, and neo-Aztec dancers pounding on drums and burning sage. It is the hard-shelled seed of the Mexican soul.
De la Cruz, of Sonora, is dressed in a black velvet cape and black lace-up boots, and has black dyed hair and black lipstick. She calls herself an “oscura,” a darkie, part of a popular youth subculture in Mexico, similar to the goth-punk kids of Hollywood. De la Cruz says her favorite band is a group called Apocalyptica.
“They don’t know the reality of the people,” she continues. “And those who do offer something somewhat good, simply speaking, once they get to the top, they forget.”
Who is she referring to?
“Why name names? I don’t mean Fox. Fox had good proposals. I liked them. But the Congress never approved his reforms. What does that mean? The majority of politicians don’t care much about the country, but simply for their well-being.
“In any case,” she adds, “even if I voted, it wouldn’t mean anything. Votes are always changed.”
She ambles away, and I descend into the metro station under the hot ground of the Zócalo.
The Nader Ghetto
By Election Day, the cultural tastemakers in the Condesa district — home to most of Mexico’s prominent writers, artists, musicians, architects, intellectuals, and, more recently, scenester rich kids and real estate investors — had heard enough. They express no desire to obsessively follow the news or attend one of the many mass demonstrations for López Obrador — and certainly none of the rallies for Felipe Calderón. People who go to such things are only the most hardcore of political militants, I was told, those who linger on the fringes — racists, old lefties, conspiracy theorists, exhibitionists, closet fascists, the mentally ill, student Communists. Besides, the capital offers too many distractions; there are parties to attend, art to see, strangers to make eye contact with — and be dismissed by.
Sure, they were all going to vote for AMLO, but only halfheartedly. Many really wanted to cast a vote for the minor leftist candidate Patricia Mercado, a socialist feminist who would legalize marijuana and increase rights for Mexico’s gays and indigenous Indians. And enough of them apparently did: When the ballots were counted, Mercado snagged more than 2 million votes from López Obrador, who lost the race by less than 244,000 votes.