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Syntax in the Revolution


Mexico City

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The seven-judge panel known as the TRIFE, charged with deciding the
legitimacy of Mexico's murky July 2 election and confirming the new
president, is the nation?s court of last resort. What the judges
decree is literally the last word, the end of the line; there is no

On September 5, the last day the Constitution mandated the TRIFE to
rule on the most hotly contested balloting in Mexico's checkered
electoral history, the judges pronounced their verdict: Outgoing
President Vicente Fox's unconstitutional intervention in the electoral
process on behalf of his handpicked successor, Felipe Calderón, had
put the election "at risk." Moreover, the financing of months of
commercial spots that labeled leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador
(AMLO) "a danger for Mexico" by transnational and national
corporations was patently illegal and influenced voters.

The electoral tribunal also noted that Calderón, the PAN candidate who
had been declared the winner by the much-criticized Federal Electoral
Institute (IFE) by a razor-thin .55 percent of 41.6 million votes
cast, had been awarded tens of thousands of votes that could not be
substantiated. The TRIFE, in a partial recount of less than 10 percent
of the 130,000 precincts held two weeks before the final decision, had
annulled 237,000 votes, more than Calderón's supposed margin of victory.

And the winner was? Calderón, a 44-year-old former energy minister and
the scion of a founding PAN family. The party was birthed by Catholic
bankers to beat back "Bolshevik" President Lazaro Cardenas during the
Great Depression.

The illogic of the TRIFE verdict inflamed several thousand AMLO
supporters gathered outside the tribunal's bunker in southern Mexico
City. "Fraude!" "Rateros!" (Fraud! Thieves!) they screamed, as the
judges were escorted by military police to their expensive vehicles.
López Obrador had long accused the seven judges of bowing to Fox
government pressures in exchange for personal benefit--three of the
TRIFE members are expected to be promoted tothe Supreme Court in the
coming Calderón administration.

López Obrador points to the tribunal as a glaring example of Mexico's
corrupted judiciary and calls for a "radical renovation" of the
nation's institutions.

For López Obrador, the confirmation of Calderón's disputed victory
signals the end of the line in a grueling, three-year struggle for the
presidency during which Fox and his attorney general repeatedly tried
to keep him off the ballot, even threatening to jail him on a
trumped-up contempt-of-court citation--and the beginning of a new
stage of resistance to what the leftist characterizes as the
imposition of Calderón upon the nation.

That resistance was graphically illustrated on September 1, when 155
senators and Congressional representatives of AMLO's three-party
"Coalition for the Good of All" seized the podium of the Mexican
Congress to prevent Fox from pronouncing his final State of the Union
address. The takeover was seen as a dress rehearsal for Calderón's
December 1 inauguration as Mexico's new president.

The confrontation took place in an ambiance of high tension, with the
Congress surrounded by thousands of federal police and members of
Fox's presidential military guard. Ten-foot metal barricades and army
sharpshooters posted on nearby rooftops kept López Obrador's
supporters from gathering within shouting distance of the
Congressional compound.

The military is soon expected to evict tens of thousands of AMLO
diehards who have been encamped since July 30 on Mexico City's most
traveled thoroughfares and in the great Zócalo plaza, protesting the
manipulated election. In a prerecorded speech to the nation on the
night of the TRIFE's confirmation, Calderón went out of his way to
praise the Mexican military as one of the nation's most cherished
institutions--López Obrador has often called upon the generals not to
allow the army to be utilized in a political conflict against his people.

On September 15, the eve of Mexican Independence Day, President Fox
intends to deliver the traditional "grito" of "Viva Mexico!" from the
balcony of the National Palace overlooking the Zócalo. AMLO's
supporters have vowed not to yield the plaza and to proclaim their own
grito to the nation on that day.

Another flashpoint will come September 16, when a major military
parade will be staged to commemorate the 196th anniversary of Mexico's
liberation from Spain. López Obrador has summoned as many as 1 million
delegates from all over the country to converge on the Zócalo that day
for a "National Democratic Convention" that is expected to declare a
"government in resistance" and formulate strategies to prevent
Calderón from ruling for the next six years.

For the new president, the task of governance will not be an easy one.
The country is divided in half geographically (Calderón won the
industrial north, López Obrador the highly indigenous, resource-rich
south) and by critical issues of class and race. The breach between
the brown underclass and the tiny white elite that Calderón represents
will limit his ability to institute the free-market neoliberal
policies that his campaign championed.

The president-elect will no doubt seek to split AMLO's forces,
offering members of López Obrador's Congressional delegation minor
Cabinet posts and canonazos ("cannonades" of pesos) to neutralize the
coalition's strength in the new legislature, where it is now the
second-largest political force.Calderón cannot pass proposed
constitutional changes such as the promised privatization of the
national petroleum monopoly PEMEX without a two-thirds majority in
both houses.

Calderón is also expected to pump windfall profits from $70-a-barrel
oil into social programs to undercut López Obrador's deep support
among the underclass, an obligatory strophe for unpopular Mexican

As was the case with Carlos Salinas after the long-ruling (seventy-one
years) PRI party stole the presidency for him back in 1988 from López
Obrador's onetime mentor and now archrival, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas,
Calderón will have more support outside Mexico than inside. Both
George Bush and US Ambassador Tony Garza were quick to congratulate
Calderón following the July 2 balloting. Now that the TRIFE has
confirmed his "victory," Washington and European Union members--like
Spain's prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero--are eager to get
in on the ground floor of the PEMEX fire sale and will seek to
legitimize Calderón's presidency beyond Mexico's borders.

But within the boundaries of this distant neighbor nation, diminishing
AMLO's immense popularity and isolating him from his political base
may not be all that simple. Whenever challenged by the Fox
administration, López Obrador has been able to mobilize millions.
Following the disputed July 2 election he has organized the largest
political demonstrations in the history of the republic. Calderón's
only option may be mano dura, the "hard hand."

Fox's attorney general, Carlos Abascal, has already warned that should
López Obrador form a parallel government, he could be tried for
usurpation of powers, a crime that carries a hefty prison sentence.
López Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution is being threatened
with the loss of its electoral registration for preventing Fox from
delivering his State of the Union address. But in the past, such
threats have succeeded only in boosting AMLO's numbers.

Indeed, López Obrador's commitment to resisting the Calderón
presidency could well come down to eliminating his physical presence
altogether. Such a development has ample historical precedent in
Mexican power politics. In 1994 PRI presidential candidate Luis
Donaldo Colosio was gunned down after he turned against his
predecessor, Salinas. Agrarian martyr Emiliano Zapata met a similar
fate in 1919 when he proved too troublesome for the Carranza
government. One of López Obrador's role models, Francisco Madero, was
assassinated soon after the stolen 1910 election that triggered the
Mexican revolution and eventually installed him as Mexico's first
democratically elected president.