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Sticking It to El Hombre

ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR held another massive rally at Mexico City’s Zocalo main square on Sunday, the third such event he has led in the ancient heart of Mexico’s capital since the night of the July 2 presidential election. As he has before, López Obrador told supporters that they were fighting more than simply a flawed election. They were standing up to Mexico’s version of The Man: an elite class that controls Mexico’s governmental institutions, which López Obrador sees as the oppressors of tens of millions of poor Mexicans.

López Obrador has declared that he was robbed of the presidency by a conspiracy between Felipe Calderón’s conservative National Action Party (PAN), outgoing PAN President Vicente Fox and Mexico’s electoral institutions.

“We cannot accept that with illegality, money and tricks, a privileged group would impose [upon Mexico] an illegitimate president,” he said. “We cannot accept that they remove our right to hope. That is why, I repeat, the general objective of this movement is the defense of democracy.”

At Sunday’s rally, López Obrador called for acts of “peaceful civil resistance” to pressure Mexico’s electoral tribunal to seek a vote-by-vote recount. The tribunal must hear López Obrador’s fraud claims and decide on an outcome by September 6.

López Obrador’s announcement put many of Mexico’s talking heads, media observers, bloggers and political centrists on edge, as fears rose that the leftist’s movement could careen out of his control and lead to violence and social unrest. López Obrador has specifically told his supporters that they will not fall for “provocations” or block highways.

The rally drew people from across Mexico, and López Obrador made it a point to emphasize the support he has from members of privileged society and from Mexicans in the country’s industrial north, a Calderón stronghold. He told Mexican media last week that he was utterly convinced that he was the true winner of the July 2 election, and that he would never concede defeat.

This sort of response to the results makes political sense for López Obrador. His party, the PRD, or Democratic Revolution Party, was formed out of the infamous presidential election of 1988. A surging leftist alternative candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, was expected to win that race, until the vote-counting computer system “crashed.” When it came back online, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) strongman Carlos Salinas de Gortari was miraculously ahead. He was declared the winner. Though Cárdenas went on to form the PRD, he did not aggressively challenge Salinas over the election results.

“In 1988, many people feel that the election results were not challenged, and that was seen as a mistake. López Obrador is regarded as somebody who will challenge and provides real leadership for that,” says Dan Lund, a Mexico City–based pollster.

Since then, it had been the PRD’s calling to unseat the Mexican oligarchy. But the conservative PAN beat the PRD to the task of ousting the PRI, in 2000 with Fox’s election. To maintain PAN’s hold on power after Fox was termed out this year, dedicated party man Calderón wielded an effective (and typically rightist Latin American) fear-based campaign against López Obrador, backed by unprecedented campaigning on the part of the outgoing president and by ads funded by large Mexican companies. Since the recount of July 6 that gave him victory, Calderón has been acting presidential: planning a victory tour of the country, forming a transition team and taking congratulatory phone calls from foreign leaders.

Calderón has said he opposes a full recount, to which López Obrador and the PRD have responded: What is he afraid of?

Ultimately, López Obrador has a legitimate case for a recount, analysts say, but the fiery populist’s rigid stance regarding the results has alienated some supporters, including some of his party’s own electoral representatives.

“After seeing this behavior this week, he’s becoming the portrait of himself that his enemies were painting” during the campaign, says Juan Pardinas, a researcher at CIDAC, a prominent Mexican think tank. “Not because of the judicial fight, but because of the tone of his discourse.”

That may or may not be true, but what is clear is that López Obrador’s fight has given hope to millions of Mexicans who had previously felt neglected and ignored by the political system, especially the rural poor. Because of López Obrador’s ability to electrify millions of supporters, the PRD is now one of two dominant political forces in the country, a remarkable achievement for a party that’s been around for only two decades. On July 2, the party substantially increased its presence in Congress and won the politically powerful position of mayor of Mexico City for the third time in a row, with candidate Marcelo Ebrard, a bespectacled PRD loyalist and self-proclaimed “chilango.” It was a position López Obrador held between 2000 and 2005.

On the Zocalo these days, a retaining wall guarding a ditch project before the centuries-old Metropolitan Cathedral is covered with messages supporting López Obrador. “The pueblo has awakened!” reads one note. Another says, “AMLO, Everyone in my family supports you and my mama loves you. She wants to marry you.”


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