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Mexico’s Crisis in Context of Latin America’s Challenge to Imperialism

“Mexico’s Crisis in Context of Latin America’s Challenge to Imperialism” by James D. Cockcroft* [copyrite 2006 by James D. Cockcroft] [paper for presentation for The World Meeting of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity being held in Rome, Italy, October 11-13, 2006]

In the context of a growing challenge to US imperialism from Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as other parts of the world, Mexico has been experiencing an electoral coup d’état engineered or supported by right-wing, pro-big business, pro-narco, and pro-clerical forces and their allies in the mass media, the US Embassy, and Washington. This represents a critical new phase in what I have been calling the “introduction of dictatorship by stages” in both Mexico and the United States. The consequent crisis has more to do with the 25-year reign of economic neoliberalism and the responses by Mexico’s social movements than it does with electoral politics as such.

Economic neoliberalism in Latin America has undermined the region’s local industry, small farms, and employment opportunities, as well as any credibility or legitimacy in the limited “bourgeois democracies” won by popular struggles against the brutal military dictatorships of 1964-1982. Neoliberalism’s gradual economic genocide against the people has caused countless premature deaths and generated humiliating poverty for three-fourths of the region’s population, downward mobility for shrinking intermediate classes, last-ditch fight-backs by dwindling ranks of organized labor, and waves of internal and external migration. It has also resulted in the multiplication of social movements and leftward electoral swings that, in the Mexican case, include the stolen 1988 and 2006 presidential elections.

US imperialism has responded violently in an ever more military and paramilitary manner: construction of new military bases; threats and terrorist acts against the peoples of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and those of so-called “failed states” throughout the region; military intervention to topple democratically elected governments, as in Haiti; destabilization of center/left or populist/nationalist governments; the spread of parallel governments of organized crime; more state repression and paramilitary terrorism; CIA-style plots and mass-media stimulated counterrevolutionary mobilizations; the re-emergence of death squads; the criminalization of acts of protest; an accelerating violence against women, gays, transsexuals, ethnic minorities, nonconformist youth, journalists, and progressive organizations; and of course, threats and interventions in national election campaigns like those of 2006 in Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela -- and Mexico.

The Mexican electoral coup was prepared and implemented both before and after the fraudulent July 2, 2006 presidential vote. Illegal and criminal participation by the office of President Vicente Fox against the future campaign of left-of-center candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador included the 2003 “videoescándolos” that attempted to link López Obrador to accepting bribes and the 2004 “desafuero” attempt to strip him of his immunity as an elected official, which failed when 1.3 million people streamed down Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma in the historic “March of Silence.”

Then, during the campaign itself, Fox’s presidency used public funds and the private and monopolistic mass media to demonize López Obrador, echoing over and over the charge of US Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte that López Obrador was “a danger” for Mexico. This was part of a broader “dirty war” electoral campaign conducted by the candidate of Fox’s conservative Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), Felipe Calderón Hinojosa.

Available evidence suggests that López Obrador received from half a million to two million more votes than Calderón, the “official” winner by a bare margin of 0.58 percent, and that the Mexican bourgeoisie and US imperialism will continue to try to prevent a Mexico governed by López Obrador or those who think like him. There are now plans to burn all the ballots, as was done in 1988, instead of recount them!

Consequently, incipient forms of “dual power” have emerged. A peaceful and disciplined civic resistance movement has sought to avoid a repeat of the notorious 1988 stolen presidential election by defending the legitimate new presidency of López Obrador, whom the movement plans to inaugurate on the “Day of the Revolution,” November 20, the historic starting date for the 1910 Mexican Revolution. This new movement, smeared or ignored by the deceitful mass media, also vows to protest and block the “official” presidential inauguration of Calderón on December 1 and other public appearances of the illegitimate “president” of Mexico. Just as in the 1910 Mexican Revolution when Francisco I. Madero’s slogan was “Effective Suffrage, No Re-election,” so this movement’s slogan is “Effective Suffrage, No Imposition.” Citing Article 39 of the 1917 Constitution that assigns to the people the nation’s sovereignty and the inalienable right to change the form of government, it calls for the founding of a new republic and full national sovereignty.

Mexico’s movement for a new republic is a product of more than two decades of social protests against neoliberalism and the delivery of much of the nation’s economy to foreign banking and corporate interests, especially after the implementation of NAFTA (TLC) and the Zapatista uprising of January 1, 1994. Since July 2, 2006, there have occurred three mega-marches, the last of which on July 30 drew at least 2.5 million, or 1 out of every 40 Mexicans. There also has taken place a seven-week-long, around-the-clock “popular assembly and vigil” of 47 encampments in 7 miles of downtown streets of the world’s largest metropolis, Mexico City, joined by López Obrador himself, whose political party PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática) governs the city. Countless other peaceful encampments and protests have occurred nationwide, including the “conservative” North where the PRD increased its percentage of the vote while predictably losing to the PAN. The protestors’ main demand of a recount of all the ballots was refused by the corrupted national Electoral Court (Tribunal Electoral) and Supreme Court.

On September 1, members of the PRD, the second largest party in the newly elected Congress, together with various leftists also elected to the new Congress, successfully prevented President Vicente Fox from delivering his annual state-of-the-union message to Congress. On September 16, a National Democratic Convention (abbreviated CND in Spanish) of more than 1 million delegates approved proposals for revolutionary changes through the “Broad Progressive Front” -- Frente Amplia Progresista, López Obrador’s electoral coalition “For the Good of All” expanded to include various labor unions, social movements, groups and individuals. The CND voted to back the future López Obrador presidency and to schedule another national convention in 2007 and regular meetings of its newly named national political commission, civic resistance commission, and constitutional reform commission. Finally, the CND decided to conduct a plebiscite in 2007 to convoke a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution (or modifications of the old one of 1917) in order to incorporate the demands of “los de abajo” – the majority of Mexicans, including Indians, living and working in conditions of abject poverty. In the words of López Obrador:

"Queremos vivir en una patria diferente, ya no queremos que hay mexicanos de primera y de segunda, no queremos que hay 50 millones de pobres que carecen hasta de lo más indispensable cuando México ocupa el cuarto lugar en multimillonarios en el mundo, ya no queremos vivir en un mar, en un océano de desigualdades. ¡Arriba los de abajo!"

"We want to live in a different fatherland, we don’t want a situation of first and second class citizens, we don’t want 50 million poor people lacking even the most basic of necessities when globally México occupies fourth place in the number of multimillionaires, we don’t want to live in a sea, in an ocean of inequalities. To the top those of below!"

Little wonder that countless Mexicans are participating in this nationwide movement led by López Obrador and the CND to defend their incipient but violated democracy and their multi-generational social movements. They are defying the “official” State of President Fox, a lapdog of US imperialism, and his successor Calderón, who campaigned on a populist “economic reform” platform that also promised completion of the privatizations taking place in the energy, education, and health sectors and approval of a new labor law that would have the effect of breaking independent trade unions and even most of those led by “los charros” (corrupted labor bosses). Few Mexicans have any trust in State institutions, which during neoliberalism’s reign have become more corrupted than ever before and therefore lack legitimacy in the eyes of the general public.

As importantly, an amazing four-month-long united, peaceful movement of teachers, students, farmers, workers, small businesspeople and even some policemen in the heavily Indian state of Oaxaca, where the PRD won the July 2 elections, has created the “commune of Oaxaca” and a form of dual power under the auspices of the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO). The people themselves, united in the APPO and independent of any political party, are running the state through direct action. They are demanding the removal of the state’s corrupt governor, Ulises Ruiz, a member of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party, which finished third in the presidential and congressional election). They have expanded their movement in the face of an escalating repression by the hired thugs of Ulises Ruiz, as well as by the Federal Preventative Police (PFP, known for its acts of rape and violence against the community of San Salvador Atenco in May 2006). Ulises Ruiz has the backing of the Fox presidency, the PAN, and most of the PRI. There have occurred countless human rights violations in Oaxaca and other southern states, including murders, kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, tortures, shootings, and violent destruction of alternative radio stations.

Even as I finish writing this (October 2, 2006), more units of the PFP and Mexico’s Armed Forces are taking up positions in Oaxaca. At the same time, APPO’s “Marcha-Caravana de Dignidad” (March-Convoy of Dignity) is arriving at the national Senate in México City to demand that it remove Ulises Ruiz from the governorship. The Senate has the constitutional power to do just that, and in fact some years ago acted to remove a different unpopular Oaxaca governor. Now, however, the Senate is controlled by the “PRIAN” (PAN and PRI). President Fox has warned that if a negotiated settlement is not reached by the end of October 4, “the infringement of the law must be improper and must be punished”(“la transgresión de la ley debe ser indebida y debe ser castigada") – threatening words from the great law breaker himself!

Self-organized movements toward unification sparked by the Indian peoples, women and youth, most of whom are peasants, teachers, students, shopkeepers, street vendors, unemployed, and trade unionists, are creating “communes” in other states, such as Guerrero. Meanwhile, the autonomous municipalities of the Zapatistas in Chiapas continue to govern and defend themselves against the government’s paramilitary forces and death squads.

Mexico’s political and business elites fear the spread of these well organized, highly disciplined, direct action “people’s power” examples. Moreover, there is increasing talk on the Mexican left, both in the new anti-capitalist coalition forged during the Zapatistas’ year-long non-electoral “Other Campaign” and inside the multi-class, diverse pro-López Obrador movement now joined by many groups and individuals who supported the “Other Campaign,” of the need to hold a national “Constituent Assembly” to create a new constitution inscribing a genuine economic and political democracy “from below.”

After campaigning on a moderate platform with hints of a social democratic modification of neoliberalism, López Obrador has displayed a shrewd understanding of the Mexican masses and Mexican history in moving steadily leftward since July 2. Championing revolutionary change and non-violence in the interests of “los de abajo,” he has been denouncing neoliberalism, promoting “cradle-to-grave” economic security for all, and warning against the dangers of cooptation. His main five points have been: protect the poor; defend national sovereignty and patrimony, including basic economic resources and diverse cultures; combat impunity for human rights violators and corrupt officials; make the right to information a reality; and reform the nation’s political institutions.

Other demands from the mass movement include approval of the San Andrés Larráinzar Agreements guaranteeing Indian rights to autonomy, which the CND and López Obrador endorsed on September 16; an end to trade-union bossism (charrismo); the release of all political prisoners; an end to the militarization of Mexico and to the criminalization of social movements; real equal rights for women and an end to violence against them; genuine democratic participation instead of top-down decision making characteristic of the PRD, despite López Obrador’s promise that his government will “insist constantly in the democratic transformation of the institutions” (“insistiría constantemente en la transformación democrática de las instituciones”); defense of the human and labor rights of the nearly one-third of Mexico’s labor force that is either unemployed or working in the United States where most were unable to exercise their newly won right to vote on July 2; rejection of NAFTA (TLC) and FTAA (ALCA); and specific economic programs that challenge not just neoliberalism but the capitalist system itself.

Mexico’s future is as unpredictable and uncertain as López Obrador’s move to the left. The role of the military remains a hotly debated question. Some believe the military showed its hand when it approved of the measures taken to prevent a rumored but non-existent threat of demonstrators to storm the Congress in September. Forty armored vehicles and some 8,000 riot police, including members of the unpopular PFP, surrounded the congress building.

But some analysts argue that the military may be hesitant to engage in direct repression against such an immense, non-violent, disciplined civic resistance movement. The Armed Forces have internal differences of opinion, including pro-PRD elements. Many police in Mexico City are beginning to sympathize with the movement. Moreover, López Obrador has declared that “una agresión de la Policía Federal Preventiva al pueblo la tomamos como una agresión del Ejército” -- “an aggression by the PFP against the people we will take as an aggression by the Army.” He claims to have no problem with the military since its underpaid troops consist mainly of relatives of people “en este movimiento” (“in this movement”) and the military is “una institución garante de la soberanía nacional” – “an institution guaranteeing national sovereignty.” Nevertheless, the military’s augmented presence in Oaxaca and President Fox’s threats are ominous.

Another question mark is the future role of the Zapatistas, whose four recent proclamations show a complete distrust of López Obrador, the PRD, and all politicians of “arriba” (“above”) yet respect for the new mass movement behind the CND because of its inclusion of so many from “abajo” and of sincere, honest elements. The Zapatistas are sticking to their road of the “Other Campaign,” that is:

"… organizando e inventando otra forma de hacer política... Porque algun@s de abajo... ya identificamos nuestro dolor y al enemigo que lo causa: el capitalismo... no buscamos quién nos dirija, ni a quién dirigir. Y no buscamos conseguir de arriba lo que se construye desde abajo."

"... organizing and inventing another form of doing politics… Because some of us of below ... now identify our pain and the enemy that causes it: capitalism… we don’t look for someone to direct us, nor whom to direct. And we don’t look for getting from above what is being constructed from below."

In their fifth statement the last day of September, however, the Zapatista high command issued a light self-criticism that concluded with a detailed plan for an internal debate among all those groups and individuals who signed the Sexta Declaración de la Selva Lacandona (2005) that launched the Other Campaign, including those who, after July 2, 2006, began participating in the huge pro-López Obrador and CND social movement. The Zapatista discussions will occur in October and November via Internet and local assemblies leading up to a “consulta” about all the submitted proposals December 4-10. The aim is finally to spell out the Other Campaign’s “characteristics, organizing structure, policy on alliances, roles of each group or individual, whom to include and whom not to, as well as common tasks.” Then, starting in February 2007, the Other Campaign plans to start a new phase of travel and consultations to spell out a “National Program.”

As right-wing forces try to impose an illegitimate president and consolidate a dictatorship and as events heat up to explosive levels throughout Mexico, there is an urgent need during the Zapatista consulta for those signers of the Sexta participating in the pro-CND Broad Progressive Front to urge serious steps by both the Zapatistas and López Obrador toward national unity and not just mere statements of “respect.” Without such unity, the chances for progress in Mexico will decrease, even as the chances for widespread violent repression will increase.

One thing is very important to note. The two largest social movements of the last nine months in the Americas are both dominated by Mexicans: the immigrant rights movement in the United States and the pro-democracy, anti-neoliberalism movement in Mexico. The immigrants’ movement has begun to link up with the US antiwar movement and the rest of organized labor, as well as with the Indian and other social movements in Canada, the United States, Mexico, the rest of Latin America, and the immigrant rights’ movements of Europe. All economists agree that without the labor of some 12 million “undocumented” Mexican immigrants the US economy would enter a crisis.

Yet at the end of September the US Congress voted to construct a 1,125-kilometer (700-mile) wall along the border with Mexico, where the Bush administration already has stationed 6,000 troops in an implicit threat against not just immigrants but Mexico itself. The Congress also passed the fascistic Military Commission Act of 2006, a serious escalation in the “Guantánamo-izing” of the United States and of the attacks against immigrants. It authorized the President to designate any individual (citizen or non-citizen) an “unlawful enemy combatant” and to subject them to unlimited detention without charge or trial, thereby eliminating the basic democratic right of habeas corpus. Additionally, the Act protected all government officials from being prosecuted for torture or war crimes.

The more that the two huge movements on the two sides of the US-Mexico border can link up, and the more that the social movements of all the Americas and Europe and the rest of the world can join forces with them, the greater will be the challenge to US imperialism and the hopes of humanity. Mexico, as I argued in my free pre-election book “México Momento Histórico Decisiones 2006” [México: Jorale Editores & Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México, junio de 2006, www.jamescockcroft.com], is a central pivot in US imperialism’s plans to dominate all Latin America and the rest of the world.

Critical to the future of Mexico, now in a state of semi-insurgency, and of the entire planet as well, may well be the speed with which transitions away from neoliberal capitalism occur and the frequency of breaks, or ruptures, with capitalism and imperialism. Ultimately, there can be no saving of humanity without a swiftly expanded practice of internationalism, already given new vigor by recent developments in Latin America, the alter-globalization movement, and international meetings like this one.

Internationalism is a process of human solidarity and exchange of experiences, learning from “the other.” People at this and similar international assemblies around the world have a chance to make a critical difference.

Permit me here to focus on what this world meeting of intellectuals and artists can do for Mexico. In my opinion, we must proclaim here and through the growing number of chapters in our “Red de redes” (Network of networks) In Defense of Humanity our solidarity with the peoples of Mexico who are resisting an electoral coup d’état that has broken their constitutional order, while also resisting imperialism and an international economic system that they suffer not only in Mexico but also in the United States, Canada, and Europe. We must call for the non-recognition of the fraudulently elected government of Calderón, recognition of the legitimate López Obrador presidency, and support for the incipient democratic CND process and the ongoing Zapatista struggle. We must support the commune of Oaxaca’s APPO. We must also support the comuneros of San Salvador Atenco, so brutally attacked last May, and the freeing of all Mexico’s political prisoners and an accounting for the hundreds of “disappeared.”

Finally, we must defend the right of habeas corpus and support an immediate end to all detentions without charge or with false charges by the US authorities, as in the case of the “Cuban Five,” whom I call veritable “heroes of humanity,” and countless Arab, Mexican, and Latin American immigrants. We must demand an end to impunity for the world’s torturers and war criminals of the past six decades and declare our support for the world’s immigrants. In condemning once more US imperialism and the Bush administration, we must be sure to express our support for the peoples of the United States facing the “coming home of torture and fascism.”

All will depend on how much unity and internationalism can be built among the social movements and different progressive governments in the face of imperialism’s stepped-up pressures, a unity and internationalism that are not only possible but also absolutely necessary. Debates about Latin American socialisms are generally based on the principle of creating ecologically responsible states of “people’s power,” where the people (or in Zapatista language and increasingly that of López Obrador, los de abajo) are, in the words of Venezuela’s Constitution, the “protagonists.” All agree on the overarching goal: to liberate humanity, celebrate life, honor death, and save the planet.

* An award-winning author and a life-long human rights activist, DR. JAMES D. COCKCROFT (Ph.D., Stanford University) is a State University of New York Internet professor and Vice-president of the Benito Juárez Tribunal. Author of 40 books on Latin America, Mexico, human rights, labor migration, multiculturalism, the Middle East, and public policy, he is also a poet, a three-time Fulbright Scholar, an honorary editor of Latin American Perspectives, and on the international editorial board of the Swedish journal Tidsignal. His recent books include: Latin America; Mexico's Hope; Latino Visions; México Momento Histórico Decisiones 2006; and Historia de Un Pueblo Migrante Los Trabajadores de Michoacán. A Canadian immigrant, he is a member of the Coalition Venezuela Nous Sommes Avec Toi, Table de Concertacion de Solidarité Cuba-Québec, Comité Fabio Di Celmo pour les 5, World Council of the José Martí Project of World Solidarity, and International Coordinating Committee in Defense of Humanity. His bilingual blog is www.jamescockcroft.com.