AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mexico: On the Verge of Collapse?

Apocalyptic predictions about everything from dimes to donuts abound on the internet, and are often worth about a handful of the former or a dozen of the latter. But if the country in question is Mexico, and the year in question 2009, the only risk involved in making forecasts would be to understate the case. Things are, indeed, dire. How dire? Let's take a look.
  • The peso has tumbled to 15.30 pesos to the dollar, a 50% devaluation in six months. The Mexican Central Bank continues to auction off dollars in an attempt to halt the slide that has so far done nothing more than, arguably, slow it down somewhat, and - no argument needed - make a fistful of currency speculators even richer. At the moment, the Central Bank is sitting on reserves of 80 billion dollars. At the current rate of hemmorhage - about a billion a week - that's 80 weeks before Mexico becomes another Argentina. And the worst is yet to come, economically speaking, for the second half of 2009.
  • Narco-violence increases and disseminates itself, unabated, making a mockery of the idea that the state "holds the legitimate monopoly on violence." The Mexican government has effectively lost control of large swathes of territory - and not only on the northern border - where the drug cartels run the show, charge taxes, and operate their own mechanisms of justice (the death penalty being the preferred form of punishment).
  • And even if the government had the monopoly on violence, it would still not be "legitimate." Half of Mexico - and growing - considers Calderon to be an illegitmate imposter in office, installed via electoral fraud and maintained there through the mass media and the propogation of fear in the form of "his" drug war (L'État, c'est moi.). Over 8,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in this "war" since Calderon took office - doublt the amount of American soldiers killed in Iraq in six years. The result? To turn the drug cartels - bad enough as they already were - into para-military organizations, armed to the teeth with the American weaponry that inevitably finds its way into their hands.
  • The Mexican government is top-heavy in the extreme, with a non-existent separation of powers. In 2009, more than half the budget is going to paying the disproportionate salaries of the bureaucracy. Just to give an example, the members of the Supreme Court have just raised their salaries to 347,647 pesos base salary per month, plus bi-weekly bonuses, vacation bonuses (50% of ten days of their salary for each vacation period), a Christmas bonus of 40-days salary, two vehicles at their disposal, free cell phone and wireless internet use, a food budget, life insurance, retirement pension and health insurance. The President of the Court, Ortiz Mayagoitia, and Mariano Azuela, the Senior Member (he who plotted the desafuero of López Obrador with Vicente Fox), also receive special other perks, including three, tri-monthly bonuses of an extra month's worth of salary each. The collective cost of all of this is practically 10 million pesos per Justice per year; at 11 Justices on the Court, that's 110 million pesos annually. This is the same Court, mind, that ruled that the journalist Lydia Cacho was not tortured, threw out the case for abuses in Atenco, and refused to hear the appeal of the 2006 election, despite being constitutionally empowered to do so. This same week, the Federal Electoral Institute had to reverse course and cancel its planned 45% salary increase for its councilors in the face of bristling popular opposition.
  • Meanwhile, according to INEGI, 890 Mexicans are currently losing their jobs every 24 hours. Mexican exports are down 30% this year, falling to a historic low, despite the weak peso making the goods half as cheap. Inflation, meanwhile, continues to rise due to consequently more-expensive imports and the increases in electricity, natural gas, gasoline and diesel, the last of which has transport workers demonstrating and striking across the country.
  • The Pentagon comes out with a report putting Mexico in the same category as Pakistan in terms of potential failed states, a State Department report this past week lamented the country's excreable human-rights record, troop reinforcements are sent to Texas to protect the border, and, as of this week, the number one shareholder in the National Bank of Mexico is now...Uncle Sam!

Put all of this together and stir, then add a pinch of the legislative elections set for this July, elections which Calderon & Co. have been trying to interfere in and rig in any way possible over the last three years and which nobody except the candidates themselves seem to have any faith in as a mechanism of democratic governance, and you see why the odds of imminent collapse in Mexico, unless drastic action is taken (but by whom?), is an ever more-real possibility.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Commented Version of NY Times Piece: "Economic Decline Lifts the Prospects of a Vocal Populist"

Last week, The New York Times realized that López Obrador, and the movement he represents, is still a key force in Mexican politics. "Deconstructing Mexico" has decided to celebrate this belated realization by providing a running commentary in italics below on Elisabeth Malkin's perceptive and judicious piece.

Economic Decline Lifts the Prospects of a Vocal Populist
by Elisabeth Malkin
Published in The New York Times, February 3, 2009

MEXICO CITY — As the year began, the dominant political figure of Mexico’s left appeared to be heading swiftly toward irrelevance.
But Andrés Manuel López Obrador is not dead yet.
Only two years ago, Amlo, as he is known, was the driving force in Mexico’s polarized politics. After he narrowly lost the presidency and led months of street protests charging that it had been stolen from him, politics boiled down to one issue: who was for him and who was against.
Last year, his hold on public attention began to falter. The public, the news media and many of his supporters had simply moved on, letting the turmoil of the 2006 election fade into history.

Funny that the Mexican Secret Service, the CISEN, has been following Lopez Obrador to all of his rallies since 2006. As for the news media, especially the TV, I wouldn't call systemically shutting him out of their coverage in collusion with the higher-ups the same thing as "moving on," exactly.

But there are signs that the efforts of Mr. López Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor, to revive his political career may be gaining traction, as a deepening recession creates opportunities for his brand of economic populism.

"Populism," "vocal populist," as the title of the article has it. In my experience, all politicians are vocal - it's practically a job requirement. Why don't you just call him a "shrill agitator," Liz, and get it over with?

The question now is whether he can capitalize on that momentum to remake and expand the coalition that brought him to within a hair’s breadth of the presidency.

Funny how little of the direct evidence of fraud in 2006 made its way into the pages of the everything-that's-fit-to-print Times. Must have been a simple editorial oversight.

At a rally last week in Mexico City’s immense central square, the Zócalo, Mr. López Obrador, 55, drew tens of thousands of supporters. Though the crowd paled beside the hundreds of thousands who attended his rallies at the peak of the 2006 presidential campaign, it was significantly larger than that at any of his rallies in the previous year.
Unlike his campaign events, it was conducted without the benefit of his party’s machinery, which used to truck in supporters from around the country, demonstrating a substantial base of hard-core support.

A key point: people are participating in this out of their own volition, not for a boxed lunch and a T-shirt.

Saying that the economy will only get worse, Mr. López Obrador announced a campaign to press the government to cut wasteful spending, lower consumer prices and taxes, and do more for the poor.
“Our movement must continue demanding a change in economic policy, which has demonstrated its failure,” he said. “The model must be changed. You cannot put new wine in old bottles.”
The words clearly resonated with his poor and working-class base.
“We think he really can change things, so that people have the right to decide,” said Aide Florentino, 27, a member of a small garment cooperative in the rural southern part of Mexico City.
“It’s not important if López Obrador is the president,” said Víctor Baltasar, 49, who traveled to the rally from Guadalajara, where he is a supervisor for the city’s train system. “What’s important is that things change.”

This is a remarkably insightful opinion on the part of Mr. Baltasar that the press would do well to pick up on. The goal of this movement is to transform the country, not simply to install one person, or a series of people, in office so that they, too, can be co-opted.

But rising anxiety over the economy may be broadening his appeal. Despite government measures aimed at stimulating the economy and buffering households against the worst effects of the crisis, there is a widespread clamor to do more, from constituencies as varied as business groups and poor peasants and fishermen. That demand could alter the political calculus.

What government measures are you referring to exactly, Liz? The IETU tax? Higher electricity prices? Gas prices that were going up every week until public clamor put a stop to it? The diesel that keeps going up and has the fishermen out on strike? The pathetic two-peso minimum wage increase while the price of milk, tortillas and other staple items are going through the roof? The Afore retirement accounts that have been eviscerated by bad investments and ridiculous bank commisions? If you know something we don't, please come down to Oaxaca and tell us - I've got some neighbors who are pretty desperate to hear some good news.

“Mexico is fundamentally a conservative country,” said Federico Estévez, a political analyst at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. “But in 2009, the cards are different.”
Referring to the left, he said, “I think they’re holding a wild card or a couple of aces.”

Hello, sweeping generalization. Mexico has one of the world's most progressive constitutions, has been through two revolutions, succeeded in nationalizing its oil right on the eve of the second world war, has the most-powerful empire in the history of humanity to the north aiding and abetting the country's right-wing and whose major media are in the control of two conglomerates who thumb their noses at the government and the rule of law. If the playing field were even close to level, such a comment might be even close to relevant.

With the next presidential election three years off, Mr. López Obrador’s precise ambitions are unclear. He calls his new campaign a social movement and clearly aims to be a force to be reckoned with.
But his relationship with his own party remains fraught. Last year he lost a battle with a rival faction over the presidency of the party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or P.R.D., and he no longer holds any official position in the party or in government.
The low point came last fall, when most of the senators from his party broke with him to approve an important energy bill, as his supporters scuffled with police officers in an attempt to block the vote.
To many who had backed his presidential bid, Mr. López Obrador's street-brawling political style had become a liability.

You mean the energy bill that was approved only after Lopez Obrador and his movement succeeded in getting the most toxic provisions removed from it? And hey, love those terms "scuffled with police" and "street-brawling style": how many more ways can we make a non-violent movement sound menacing to the American readership?

His campaign to overturn the results of the 2006 election, which he lost by only six-tenths of 1 percent of the total vote to Felipe Calderón, consisted of mass rallies and a tent city that shut major avenues in the capital for weeks. Refusing to concede, even after the country’s highest electoral court ruled in favor of Mr. Calderón, he held a grand public ceremony in which he had himself sworn in as the “legitimate president” of Mexico, a title he continues to claim.

Boy, the Electoral Tribunal sure must be happy that the Times still takes them seriously, seeing as nobody else does.

Such antics have damaged the party’s reputation, officials say.

Two words stand out, here. First, "antics." It may be easy to sneer from the comfort of your bureau office, Liz, but for millions of Mexicans, the whole point of the legitimate government is to end the republic of simulation and to build a real republic in its stead. By extension, our Declaration of Independence, promulgated by a bunch of lawyers in Philadelphia who had less popular support at that time then Obrador does now and who were engaged in a war that appeared hopeless at the time, could (and probably was) just as easily have been labeled "antics." And then there is the great line, "officials say." By definition, "officials" would be people in Calderon's administration, who would say just that, wouldn't they? Or are we talking about PRD party officials nominated by Jesús Ortega? It might help readers ascertain what point of view these "officials" are coming from if they actually had names.

Jesús Ortega, the party president, who defeated Mr. López Obrador’s choice for the post, said the party’s polling showed that two-thirds of Mexicans identified the P.R.D. as disruptive.
Moreover, the polls put the party in third place for midterm elections in July, when voters will elect all 500 members of Mexico’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. The party is currently projected to win 18 percent of the vote, half its showing in 2006.

Recently, the illustrious Federal Electoral Tribunal (see above) stripped the victory away from the PRD in two municipal elections, under the argument that some priest had improperly gotten involved in the campaign. Conclusion: even when the PRD wins, they're not allowed to. Not much has changed since the days of Salinas.

While Mr. López Obrador’s popularity catapulted it in 2006 from the third largest to the second largest party in Congress, the party now stands to lose many of the seats it picked up then.
Mr. Ortega, while shying away from blaming Mr. López Obrador for the decline of the party, made it clear that he wanted to remake its image into that of a party closer to social democratic governing parties in Chile and Brazil, and that street blockades were not in the plans.
“Protests against injustice should not affect citizens’ rights,” Mr. Ortega said. “We have to learn to fight within the limits of the law.”

Which includes stuffing ballot boxes and playing ball with PRI governors in order to win your own party's presidency, right Chuy?

The party has begun running gauzy television spots asking voters for their forgiveness and declaring its willingness to work with other parties, a pointed contrast with Mr. López Obrador’s campaign of permanent harassment.

You say "harrassment," I say "resistance." Shall we call the whole thing off?

Publicly at least, Mr. López Obrador and his party say they have worked through their differences. Analysts say neither one can afford a split. “If the left as a whole doesn’t recoup before the elections on the basis of economic issues alone,” Mr. Estévez said, “then they really have no chance of ever ruling.”

True, and I think we're all coming to realize that, however much one may hate the co-oped, bought-and-sold PRD.

Mr. López Obrador needs the structure and resources a large party provides, analysts said. And the party cannot jettison its most charismatic politician.
“The P.R.D. realizes they can’t give him up,” said Daniel M. Lund, a pollster who has done work for Mr. López Obrador, but not since 2004. “If the P.R.D. breaks with López Obrador, they will go to single digits.”

Why was it so important to point out that he worked for Obrador, but "not since 2004?" I've been to the bathroom today, but not since ten o'clock.

Where that leaves Mr. López Obrador’s movement is uncertain. Although 2012 is a long way off, none of the party’s current leaders have anywhere near his larger-than-life stature as a potential presidential contender.
What is evident is that while talk of a comeback may be premature, so was writing him off.
“He’s a charismatic, intuitive politician,” said Joy Langston, an analyst with the CIDE, a Mexico City research institution. “He not only knows how to win over the masses but also to govern in a way that continues his popularity. Amlo will never be completely finished.”

You may be onto something there, Liz.