LACANDON JUNGLE, CHIAPAS, MEXICO: Word has been sent from Washington: Mexicoâ€™s leading presidential candidate must be stopped, at all costs, from mounting his candidacy.
A new kind of coup dâ€™etat has been hatched to strip Mexico Cityâ€™s activist governor AndrÃ©s Manuel LÃ³pez Obrador â€“ the countryâ€™s most popular political leader according to all national public opinion polls â€“ of his right to run for president in the July 2006 elections.
This attempted coup became official policy the week that Condoleeza Rice took the helm of the U.S. State Department last month, and Washingtonâ€™s reliable puppets in two of Mexicoâ€™s national political parties immediately jumped to implement the masterâ€™s orders.
LÃ³pez Obradorâ€™s opponents â€“ domestic and foreign â€“ fear that the leader of Mexicoâ€™s electoral left wing will be unstoppable at the ballot box sixteen months from now. And so forces accustomed to stealing and fixing elections for 75 years in this country have come to a last resort: A dirty plot to remove his name from the ballot.
But, as in Venezuela in April 2002, the Bush Administrationâ€™s anti-democracy plans may well backfire, provoking an unprecedented explosion of authentic democracy (that form of governance-from-below which is greater than the apathy known as â€œwaiting for the next election dayâ€) in the neighboring country to the south.
If the plan to remove LÃ³pez Obrador from the ballot succeeds, Mexicoâ€™s 2006 election will lack all legitimacy among much of the countryâ€™s 100 million strong populace, especially among the nationâ€™s youth. This, in turn, is likely to lead to massive civil resistance and disobedience, including effective blockades of highways and border commerce, similar to events of recent years in Bolivia. And that could end up paralyzing the country, sparking an international economic and political crisis.
At the center of Washingtonâ€™s strategy is an archaic doctrine of Mexican law known as the â€œfuero.â€ It has no counterpart in the laws of the United States, nor those of many other countries, and so it bears explainingâ€¦
A Loophole Big Enough for a Dictatorship
The â€œfueroâ€ â€“ a privilege given to all Mexican elected officials â€“ grants immunity from prosecution for any crime to political office holders. The fuero literally places a politician outside the reach of the law, but thatâ€™s only half the story.
The fuero is also double-edged sword that is suspended over every elected officialâ€™s neck (and so it is no wonder that so few stick their necks out against powerful interests). Congress (that is to say, other politicians) can take away any Mexican politicianâ€™s legal protection at whim, removing the right to run for elected office.
Further muddying up the situation is the ease by which, under Mexican law, an accused citizen awaiting trial can be held in prison without opportunity to remain free on bail. This could end up with the countryâ€™s leading presidential candidate being put in jail over what is, essentially, an administrative dispute.
Thus, the privilege of immunity becomes a mechanism of control. If the National Congress votes to remove an officialâ€™s fuero (a process that is called a desafuero) the official loses more than just his immunity from prosecution. He would also lose his right to hold or seek public office â€“ even if he has not been convicted of any crime.
The countryâ€™s attorney general â€“ Rafael Macedo, appointed by President Fox â€“ is thus about to abuse this arbitrary mechanism to strip the Mexican people of the right to vote for LÃ³pez Obrador for president in 2006. Macedoâ€™s office has asked Congress to remove Lopez Obradorâ€™s fuero, announcing his intent to make a federal case over a bureaucratic dispute by prosecuting, and possibly imprisoning, the Mexico City governor. The ruling could come any time after February 18, although most Congressional insiders predict that the earthshaking event will likely occur sometime in April.
The pretext to block LÃ³pez Obradorâ€™s candidacy is his 2003 defiance of a federal order regarding a relatively small road project in the El Encino neighborhood of the capital city that he governs. His alleged crime: trying to build a road to provide access to a hospital. Itâ€™s a common type of dispute in which the local government bickers with the feds over the exact size and shape of a tract of private property and whether that property overlaps where the local government wants to build a road. (An Associated Press report this weekend said the dispute is over a â€œland dealâ€ but it is really about the construction of a roadâ€¦ so that citizens can get toâ€¦ a hospital.) This kind of jurisdictional battle between national and state governments happens frequently in Mexico. But this is the first time ever that a national Attorney General has attempted to use such a conflict as an excuse to remove the fuero of a governor. That, in this case, the governor happens to be the countryâ€™s leading presidential candidate (and one with a long history of activism and revolt) makes for an explosive situation with potentially grave consequences for all sides.
It should be noted that LÃ³pez Obrador has not been accused of any form of corruption, nor of enriching himself with government or private funds (practically a national pastime for politicians here). He is known for Spartan living, for shunning bodyguards, for making himself available for daily questioning at 6:30 a.m. by the press corps (also in contrast to all other national leaders). That frugality, and his plain-talking demeanor, are part of what makes for his massive public popularity. As Scott Johnson reported today in Newsweek: â€œHe keeps a humble apartment in Mexico City and is driven around in a beat-up old sedan. He maintains a heavy schedule of events, including a daily 6:30 a.m. rendez-vous with the Mexican press corps at which he keeps up a joking banter even in difficult circumstances.â€
â€œHave a tropical heartâ€¦ and a cold headâ€ has long been the credo of this politician from the southeastern state of Tabasco, who grew up in Palenque, Chiapas, where his family ran a restaurant by the old rail station. As a teenager, LÃ³pez Obrador edited a newspaper, El Chol, named for an indigenous ethnic group with roots in the famous Maya ruins of the region. That passion remains to this day through his frequent admonitions to members of his Democratic Revolution Party to â€œnever betray the indigenous movement.â€ Along the same theme, LÃ³pez Obradorâ€™s presidential platform, recently released as a book, A Nationâ€™s Alternative Political Project (2004, Grijalbo), stresses the need for the Mexican state to comply with the 1996 San AndrÃ©s Peace Accords it signed with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation to enact a new era of political autonomy for Mexicoâ€™s 62 indigenous ethnic groups.
When the 1994 governorâ€™s race of Tabasco was robbed from him by election fraud, LÃ³pez Obrador led a walking exodus of hundreds of kilometers from the state capital of Villahermosa to the national capital, and wrote a book about it: Between History and Hope: Corruption and the Democratic Struggle in Tabasco. And it was LÃ³pez Obrador who exposed the massive bank fraud known in Mexico as the FOBAPROA scandal, publishing the secret files that documented the theft of hundreds of billions of dollars from the Mexican people, the most expensive crime in Mexicoâ€™s history.
History is thus presented with one of those rare political figures who is as much social fighter as politician. In 2000, when LÃ³pez Obrador moved from Tabasco to Mexico City to run for governor, his opponents went to court to try and remove him from the ballot, claiming that he was not a resident of the capital city largely made of emigrants from the impoverished provinces. He won that legal battle and was elected governor, a post from which he has governed under the slogan â€œFirst, the poor,â€ creating new social programs â€“ while also drawing unprecedented national and international investment in the hemisphereâ€™s largest metropolis â€“ and overhauling the traditionally corrupt police agencies, resulting in a dramatic drop in the cityâ€™s crime rate.
His political battles on the local level have become the daily bread of Mexicoâ€™s national mass media. As senior citizens, displaced farmers, unemployed youths, and other sectors of Mexicoâ€™s impoverished majority have watched what LÃ³pez Obrador has done for their counterparts in the Bigger Apple, they have grown to covet and desire the same reforms on the national level. Thatâ€™s why his enemies perceive him as invincible in an election. And thatâ€™s why he may even prove invincible in the pending dirty war to remove him from the 2006 presidential race.
The Condoleeza Factor
A few months ago, the Bush Administration seemed ready to accept an electoral victory by the Mexican left and a President LÃ³pez Obrador.
During a November 9, 2004 visit to Mexico City, then-U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told the press that Washington would welcome any victor in the 2006 Mexican presidential contest, saying: â€œ…independently of the philosophy of the victorious candidate, if it is a democratically elected government we will continue with this process and we will honor it, because it is a process we have already begun in this administration without it mattering with whom we are working.â€
During the same November visit by U.S. officials to Mexico City, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell said, according to this news report: â€œPresident Bush would receive [a left-wing] Mexican leader as warmly as he would receive any other leader of Mexico.â€
But all that changed in January 2005 when Condoleeza Rice replaced Powell. The first State Department â€œtravel advisoryâ€ issued under her command was against Mexico. The â€œtravel advisoryâ€ and the Commercial Media campaign to buttress it â€“ rebutted by Narco News on January 27 â€“ painted a shrieking portrait of a country ravaged by what U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza called â€œa rising wave of crime.â€ U.S. officials and their house journalists further insisted that the so-called Mexican disorder was caused by narco-traffickers.
With that advisory, the message was sent to the executive branch of President Vicente Fox, of the National Action Party (PAN, in its Spanish initials) and a congress dominated by the PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party), which had ruled Mexico for 70 years prior to Foxâ€™s 2000 electoral victory. The word from above: Washington is going to be much more involved in Mexicoâ€™s sovereign affairs than it has been during the past four years, and if Mexico doesnâ€™t obey, the drug war will be the spear by which U.S. officials can accuse and prosecute Mexican politicians at will.
An honest public official has much less to fear from such U.S. saber rattling than those who indeed are messed up in narco-corruption. But the members of the historically corrupt PRI, and the PAN of Fox (who, it was recently revealed, counted with an alleged narco-trafficker as the presidential trip director), got the message loud and clear. Within days those two rival partys joined together in a Congressional committee to speed forward the desafuero against LÃ³pez Obrador that had, until then, languished lazily in cobwebs. Condoleeza, with a mere â€œtravel advisory,â€ got them jumping to her whip, and the coup dâ€™etat began to emerge for real.
â€œVivimos el nacimiento de la verdadera democraciaâ€ said Fox in his weekly radio show on February 12: â€œWe are experiencing the birth of true democracy.â€
Oh, the irony. Fox is technically correct â€“ Mexico is about to experience a kind of authentic democracy that has lain dormant for decades. But itâ€™s not coming from the anti-democratic maneuvers of Foxâ€™s PAN and the still-formidable PRI, nor from Condoleeza Rice, or their attempts to remove a candidate from the presidential race. Authentic democracy is coming, rather, from the speedy popular reaction against the desafuero maneuver, bringing a veritable explosion in the coming weeks and months, of the kind of democracy that the false democracy of Washington fears most, bubbling up from the casa next doorâ€¦
The Cavalry from Below
A youth movement was launched this weekend here in Mexico, building itself largely through the Internet, and declaring its independence from all political parties, including LÃ³pez Obradorâ€™s own Democratic Revolution Party (PRD, in its Spanish initials). It vows to organize horizontally and autonomously in every corner of the Mexican Republic to save its fledgling democracy.
So that English-language readers can fully grasp the sweep of this grassroots movement in opposition to the desafuero of LÃ³pez Obrador, Narco News today translates, in its entirety, Saturdayâ€™s La Jornada column by Jaime AvilÃ©s, the national political columnist who is historically closest to LÃ³pez Obradorâ€™s political project (he wrote the introduction to the book Between History and Hope). The column also includes AvilÃ©sâ€™ three-point plan to turn back this attempted coup dâ€™etat and ensure its defeat.
Various national youth organizations, labor unions, and other networks recently met in Mexico City and launched a non-hierarchical, horizontal network of autonomous local groups. Much in the style of Howard Deanâ€™s presidential campaign last year (and of the civil resistance in Venezuela that overturned, in 2002, a coup dâ€™etat), it utilizes the Internet and cell phones as its weapons of communication. Add to that mix that this movement will be independent of the LÃ³pez Obradorâ€™s PRD party, thus uncontrollable by any political force, and a potent political recipe is brewing from South of the Border.
A full translation of the call to action and the eleven key tactics to be implemented by this largely youthful movement appears below in the translation of AvilÃ©sâ€™ text. But to summarize, they are:
1. Form brigades and establish meeting points in towns and neighborhoods, especially in Mexico City.
2. Install encampments in town squares and parks in the cities and towns throughout Mexico.
3. Form similar solidarity committees among Mexicans residing in the United States and the rest of the world to protest outside of the Mexican Embassies and Consulates that dot the planet.
4. Develop instant communications mechanisms through the Internet and cell phone messages.
5. Hold artistic festivals, auctions, collections and garage sales to obtain economic resources, as each group will be financially autonomous.
6. Organize car caravans to travel throughout the nationâ€™s cities, inviting more people each day to join the fight.
7. Cover the Republic â€“ its houses, parks, and statues â€“ with banners repudiating the desafuero.
8. Cover, also, cars, taxis, buses, trucks, public bathrooms, telephone booths, and â€œall available spacesâ€ with similar signs and stickers.
9. Begin sit-ins â€œin front of the houses of those public officials involved in the coup dâ€™etat plot for the desafueroâ€ and haunt them anywhere and everywhere they appear in public.
10. Organize â€œsecurity commissions to neutralize those paid provocateurs of the federal government that might try to disorganize and discredit us in the eyes of the public, distracting from the peaceful character of this movement.â€
Organize a national assembly of all these committees and networks to air proposals to deepen the struggle.
11. Prepare, immediately, a Congress of United Citizens, â€œbecause after this stage of the struggle,â€ which according to organizers â€œwill be brief, intense and victorious, [they] will have to then debate the alternative program of LÃ³pez Obrador and enrich it with [their] own proposals.â€
Got it? The energy of youth in a nonviolent revolt with car caravans, cell phones, banners, and the Internet as weapons with the potential to sweep not just Mexican territory but everywhere in the world where Mexicans live (now, where could those places be?)â€¦ An authentic political movement without central structure or hierarchy. In sum, a network (as described in the book, We Are Everywhere, serialized on Narco News)â€¦ A pro-democracy swarm to stop a coup dâ€™etatâ€¦
This high tech youth revolt counts, already, with some sympathizers of national convocatory power, including, here in the Lacandon jungle, the voice of the indigenous Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials). In a communiquÃ© last September, Zapatista subcomandante Marcos wrote about the plot to take LÃ³pez Obrador out of the presidential race, and the Zapatistasâ€™ opposition to it:
â€œIn todayâ€™s Mexico, all the politicians, even those who ride high in the polls, on the newspaper front pages, or in the numbers of demonstrators who support them, without regard to the color of the rhetoric that they spout or the symbol of their party organization, will count with the stubborn distrust of we, the Zapatistas, with our skepticism and incredulityâ€¦
â€œHoweverâ€¦ we cannot endorse with our silence the dirty legal tricks with which they are trying to stop the person who heads the Mexico City government from presenting himself in 2006 as a presidential candidate. It seems to us that this is an illegitimate action, poorly clothed in legal falsehoods, that attacks the right of the Mexican people to decide whether or not someone can be the government. The concretion of a felony of this type means no more or less than the invalidation of Article 39 of the Mexican Constitution that consecrates the right of the people to decide its form of government. It would be, putting it in clearer terms, a â€˜softâ€™ coup dâ€™etat.â€
In this newspaper we have reported on and broken the information blockades during the 2002 coup in Venezuela and the uprisings by civil society in Bolivia. Suddenly, in Mexico, both kinds of stories are emerging at once: an attempted coup dâ€™etat, and a citizen resistance that â€“ no matter which forces triumph â€“ will inalterably change the history, not only of Mexico, but of the entire hemisphere.
Mexico now finds itself at an historic crossroads: Between a Washington-imposed two-party dictatorship wrought by a coup dâ€™etat called a desafueroâ€¦ Or a definitive break with that kinds of imposition from above, one that would restore Mexicoâ€™s birthright as a member of the community of Latin American nations that are increasingly moving together toward authentic democracy.
But donâ€™t just take our word for it. If you read in Spanish, keep watch on its progress (and participate if you like) via the Internet:
And for those of our readers so far limited to English, we publish, as a public service, a translation, below, of Avilesâ€™ column of yesterday, describing, in detail, this historic pro-democracy movement now underway in Mexicoâ€¦
The â€œLeft Side Opponentâ€ is Born
The Coup dâ€™Etat Now Points Toward the IFE; Pro-Disobedience Manifestos and Slogans
By Jaime AvilÃ©s La Jordada
February 12, 2005
The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE, in its Spanish initials) is studying a draft rule regarding the very likely candidacy of AndrÃ©s Manuel LÃ³pez Obrador for the Presidency of the Republic. According to the lawyers who wrote it, if el Peje  is registered by his party as a presidential hopeful while in prison, he will still be able to participate in the electoral contest, because he will not lose his political rights if the judges do not declare him guilty in the Encino matter . Nevertheless, when the news reached the ears of Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) chief Roberto Madrazo, he began to mobilize his people in the two houses of Congress, and, supported by the NiÃ±o Verde [â€œGreenboy,â€ as young Green Party President Jorge Emilio GonzÃ¡lez MartÃnez is universally known] is creating pressure to demand the dismissal of the IFEâ€™s citizen councilors, including IFE President Carlos Ugalde.
We can see other pretexts for this in hindsight. The truth is that Madrazo has become a passionate defender of the Green Ecology Party of Mexico (PVEM) since the IFE rejected the â€œstatutesâ€ of that immoral arrangement that allowed part of the GonzÃ¡lez Torres family [founders of the PVEM] to pocket tens of millions of pesos annually. Given their silence, this all must seem perfectly fair and necessary to President Vicente Fox and Interior Secretary Santiago Creel, revealing that the coup dâ€™etat against the Mexico City government is, in fact, also against the countryâ€™s young democratic institutions, and as such, against every citizen.
More proof of the degradation generated by Foxâ€™s coup-mongering can be found in the adventure of Arturo Montiel, governor of the state of Mexico [surrounding Mexico City, which is an independent state ] from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who tried to remove popular National Action (PAN) candidate RubÃ©n Mendoza Ayala from that stateâ€™s gubernatorial race going through channels in the Mexico State Electoral Institute (IEEM). With a combination of skill and luck, Mendoza Ayala threatened to block the stateâ€™s main highways to protest the injustice. And he said this so seriously that Montiel had to order the IEEM â€“ that untrustworthy office that shares its name with a brand of antique stoves â€“ to annul his absurd order, assuming a position that the Chamber of Deputies [Mexicoâ€™s lower house of Congress] will hopefully take into account after the 18th of this month, when the countdown begins to determine whether or not to proceed with the attack on LopÃ©z Obrador.
El Peje, meanwhile, made several strategic plays this week. He accepted the resignation of MartÃ Batres, who will win the PRDâ€™s internal election in Mexico City, returned Marcelo Ebrard to his cabinet, placing the cityâ€™s ex-chief of police in charge of the Department of Social Development, whose former head, the brilliant and discreet teacher Raquel Sosa, moved to secretary of culture, replacing Dr. Enrique Semo, who history will remember as having instituted the best reading promotion program â€“ the Mexico City subway book lending system, created by Paloma Saiz and praised worldwide â€“ but having been unable to sustain it.
In more good news, the PRI was thrashed and humiliated in the state of Guerrero, where [new PRD Governor] Zeferino Torreblanca will now have to dismantle the bloody reign of the Figueroa family and the assassins who help them. And the Frey BartolomÃ© de Las Casas Human Rights Center, in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, has brought charges of genocide against former president Ernesto Zedillo before the OASâ€™s Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case against the abominable former president also accuses two other nefarious PRI men: Emilio Chuayffet and Francisco Labastida. They were by far the worst secretaries during the long night of PRI rule, but Chuayffet should be tried for genocide as well, as an accomplice in the slaughter at Acteal , who sat by quietly while dozens of people, many children among them, were shot and disemboweled with machetes.
That man, the scum of national politics, who now will receive a government sinecure to manage public health, tried to oust the constitutional government of Mexico City, destroy the IFE, decimate the political rights of all Mexicans, and impose, heheheh, a new dictatorship, but this time bipartisan in nature.
Macro and Micro
Last Saturday, the 88th anniversary of the Constitution of 1917, two important political events took place: one macro, the other micro. More than 200 labor unions, led by the Mexican Electricians Union, met in QuerÃ©taro and released a statement against the â€œstructural reformsâ€ that Fox is promoting, against the breaking of the social contract that Salinas began during his administration, and, no less importantly, in favor of their own Alternative National Project.
At the same time, in the hall of the Union of Nuclear Industry Workers (SUTIN) local, four small independent collectives â€“ the Project Hope Citizens Group, the National Network of Youths for with Andres Manuel LÃ³pez Obrador, the Three Point Plan, and the Flower and Song Initiative â€“ decided to come together to form a new group that they named the Lado Izquierdo Opositor (ILO, â€œLeft Side Opponentâ€). They agreed to release a â€œladonistaâ€ (â€œsidepersonâ€™sâ€) manifesto, calling on all of LÃ³pez Obradorâ€™s sympathizers who do not believe in the PRD to organize themselves into â€œladosâ€ (â€œsidesâ€) â€“ made up of various cells, committees, groups, et cetera â€“ to organize actions of nonviolent resistance, following the five leading principles of civil disobedience: imagination, creativity, protest, firmness, and joy.
On Thursday night, the ILO distributed a bulletin to the media announcing that on Friday, at 12 oâ€™clock sharp, in front of the door of the Chamber of Deputies, the manifesto would be released, to call upon all Mexicans to begin, now, nonviolent civil resistance. Among other things, the LIO proposes hanging banners from the statues, bridges, buildings and houses of Mexico City, as well as placing signs and stickers on cars, buses, et cetera, beginning tomorrow, Sunday, to make the discontent of the citizenry visible for once. And, in what could be a coincidence â€“ or a sign of the Mexico City governmentâ€™s finely tuned public antenna â€“ on Friday, in his usual morning press conference, LÃ³pez Obrador instructed his supporters to, starting today, put ribbons in their windows along with signs reading â€œno al desafuero.â€ These three words will soon become a national clamor.
Moving Towards a Citizensâ€™ Congress
If you have trouble finding the manifesto online, here are the first actions of resistance agreed on for the initial phase of the struggle.
1. Form brigades and establish meeting points in the towns, neighborhoods and boroughs of Mexico City, so that the residents of the capital can get information and protest without having to go too far from their houses.
2. Install encampments in the plazas and parks of the main cities and towns of the countryâ€™s interior, so that the people know where to go to get informed of the situation.
3. We urge Mexican communities outside the country to form solidarity committees and organize protests in front of the Mexican embassies and consulates around the world.
4. Develop instant communications mechanisms through the Internet and cell phone messages.
5. Organize artistic festivals, auctions, fundraisers, and garage sales to obtain economic resources that will be invested in propaganda expenses. As there will be no centralized structure, every lado will have to manage its own finances.
6. Organize car caravans to tour the most populated areas and invite more people to join the struggle every day.
7. Cover all the statues in Mexico City and the cities and towns of Mexico, as well as residential buildings, houses, and businesses whose occupants support the movement, with banners against the desafuero.
8. Place signs and stickers against the desafuero on cars, taxis, buses, and trucks, as well as public bathrooms, telephone booths, movie theatre seatsâ€¦ all available spaces.
9. Stand in front of the houses of those public officials involved in the coup dâ€™etat plot for the desafuero and mock them anywhere they appear in public.
10. Organize security commissions to neutralize those paid provocateurs of the federal government that might try to disorganize and discredit us in the eyes of the public, distracting from the peaceful character of this movement.
11. Call an emergency meeting of all the lados, committees, networks, and other such groups, to discuss and coordinate far-reaching actions when political events demand it.
12. Beginning now, prepare for the Congress of United Citizens (CCU), because after this stage of struggle, which will be brief, intense, and victorious, we will have to move on to discuss the alternative program of LÃ³pez Obradorâ€™s and enrich it with our own proposals.
Today, like every Saturday, the member groups of the LIO will meet in the basement of the SUTIN local, at 139 Viaducto RÃo Becerra Street, the NÃ¡poles neighborhood, next to the Private Childrenâ€™s Hospital, from noon to seven. It is suggested that those attending bring banners, paint, cardboard, paintbrushes, twine, and something to eat.
 Short for pejelagarto, an edible fish with an alligator snout found in LÃ³pez Obradorâ€™s home state of Tabasco and his common nickname in the media.
 Federal officials accuse Lopez Obradorâ€™s Mexico City government of illegally seizing a plot of land to build a hospital road. The Attorney General now seeks to use this accusation to ban him as a presidential candidate.
 The Dec. 1997 massacre in the village of Acteal, Chiapas, where right-wing, PRI-backed paramilitaries killed at least fourty-five unarmed indegenous Zapatista supporters who were praying together in a church.