Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Mexican Standoff

By David G. Young

Morelia, Mexico, November 25, 2006 --  

New left-wing protest movements are intended to reform Mexico. Immature leadership will delay meaningful reform for the next six years.

The enormous paper mache devil that is splayed out on the plaza beside the grand cathedral here is meant to represent Mexico's President-Elect Felipe Calderon. The real-life version of this devil defeated his left-wing opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, in July elections by less than half a percentage point -- leading to a sharply divided electorate reminiscent of the 2000 elections in America.

But unlike America's hotly disputed election six years ago, the legal loser in Mexico has not backed down. Citing vague and unsubstantiated charges of fraud, Obrador has pledged to carry forward the left-wing populist movement he began as mayor of Mexico City. Last Monday, in a ceremony in Mexico City's main square, Obrador pre-empted the official inauguration by swearing himself in as the "legitimate president" of Mexico.

Throughout the country, Obrador's supporters in the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) and their lefty allies are backing him up -- the "legitimate president" title is used in left-wing newspapers around the country. In the Mexican congress, PRD party members, who are a minority, pay lip service to Obrador's claims to the presidency.

Further exacerbating Mexico's division is a 6-month-old standoff in the southern state of Oaxaca. What began as an annual teacher's strike has grown into a wide reaching movement of the poorer people of the state. The Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) long-occupied the central square of the once highly touristed Mexican state capital before being forced out by federal security forces earlier this month.

To this day, violent clashes continue between protesters and police in the city. Protesters are pressing for a laundry list of demands, including the ouster of the state governor.

These two leftist movements have become intertwined. In central squares in cities throughout Mexico, protest encampments proclaim both the demands of the APPO and the "legitimate president" Obrador.

The trouble is, little good can come of these protests. With no legal backing for Obrador's claims, there is no way Obrador can ever assume the presidency. His supporters are managing only to divide the country -- and with Obrador egging them on every step of the way, it is reasonable to expect that they will continue throughout the 6 years term of President-Elect Calderon.

Likewise, the protesters in Oaxaca have crippled the state's once lucrative tourism industry, with nothing to show for it. While they may ultimately succeed in pressing the resignation of the state's corrupt governor from the old-line Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the governor's self-appointed replacement will most certainly be just as unlikable to the movement, and will undoubtedly refuse the protesters' other demands.

But the leftist movements aren't just futile -- they are counterproductive. Mexico has plenty of reform to do after most of a century of rule by the corrupt PRI. Vicente Fox's historic 2000 victory has been squandered by fighting between Mexico's three main parties in congress -- Fox and Calderon's PAN, Obrador's PRD, and the PRI. Until Mexico's left can be replaced by more mature leadership that can work with the PAN to bring real reform to Mexico, the country's troubles are bound to deepen.