Jul 10, 2006
Four days after Mexico’s presidential election, Felipe Calderón, the candidate of the ruling party, the PAN, was officially declared the winner by less than a one% difference. The opposition candidate, Manuel Andrés López Obrador, accused the PAN of fraud and promised to challenge the election result in the courts. He also called for a mass protest on Saturday, July 8, to which more than 100,000 people showed up.
Media reports indicate that the two leading candidates got their votes from different layers of the population – Calderón from the middle class and well-to-do, López Obrador from the working class and poor.
Conditions for Mexican workers and poor have certainly continued to deteriorate during the last six years under the current president, Vicente Fox, of the PAN. Today, 51 million people – that is, almost half the population of Mexico – live in households with a daily income of $4 or less per person, according to a study done by UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). Sixteen million of these are children, three million of whom are undernourished. Another study shows that, of the 30 million Mexicans between the ages of 15 and 29, half are unemployed.
Worsening conditions in Mexico are reflected in the increasing immigration to the U.S., which has depleted Mexico of nearly 10% of its population over the last 15 to 20 years. But millions of working-age people are not the only thing Mexico is drained of – so is much of its wealth. Many industries in Mexico are dominated by U.S. corporations, which take advantage of the low wages there and make enormous profits. Attached to the U.S. corporations is Mexico’s wealthy elite, which has also enriched itself handsomely in the past few decades.
While the gap between the rich and poor has been widening, López Obrador has nurtured his image as a “friend of the poor” throughout his career. At his last post as mayor of Mexico City, the capital and largest city of Mexico, for example, he made a public point of extending some financial aid to the elderly. And he regularly employs a populist rhetoric.
For the little crumbs he has thrown to the poor to maintain his populist image, however, López Obrador has certainly served big slices of the cake to the wealthy. As mayor, for example, he gave large tax breaks to construction companies and eased zoning regulations in Mexico City. The resulting construction boom included the “gentrification” of parts of the old city, for which López Obrador struck a partnership with billionaire businessman Carlos Slim, known as the richest man in Mexico.
If all this sounds familiar to what’s going on in big U.S. cities, here’s more: López Obrador hired former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani to devise a “zero-tolerance policy” against crime in Mexico City, with the “private sector,” that is, López Obrador’s corporate buddies, paying Giuliani’s salary.
The U.S. ruling class may still prefer Calderón as the next president of Mexico, since this would basically be a continuation of the current Fox administration. But the U.S. can certainly use López Obrador also to keep the population under control. Because what really worries the U.S. ruling class is the possibility of a lengthy election standoff giving way to open public discontent, possibly even a popular revolt. A New York Times editorial on July 7 clearly expressed this concern: “While election officials need to do everything to assure voters the count was fair, the candidates must behave responsibly as well. Mr. López Obrador has occasionally furthered his political career by inviting supporters to take to the streets. He has called for a rally Saturday, but he should resist inciting mass protests, which would harm Mexico’s stability and add to his image as a less-than-committed democrat. Mr. Calderón, for his part, should not oppose a recount. If the result favors him, he should be able to govern more effectively.”
The question for Mexican workers and poor is, do they see the possibility of a popular revolt as well? Not as a way to get López Obrador, another politician tied to the Mexican ruling class, into office, but to take matters into their own hands and defend their own interests. Recent labor struggles in Mexico, for example a countrywide miners’ strike following a mine explosion in February and a 1½-month strike by steel workers last summer, which won concessions from the bosses, show that this is not a far-fetched idea.
In any event, that’s the only way the tide will turn in Mexico and at least some of the wealth produced by Mexican workers be used to improve the conditions for the workers and poor, not to make a handful of billionaires in Mexico and the U.S. even richer.