Mexican Elections: Oaxaca and Territory in Play – by Luis A. Gómez, Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar and Cesol-Oaxaca

By  |  21 / July / 2010

This post is also available in: Spanish

The elections of Sunday, July 4th, in fourteen Mexican states can be seen as a struggle for Mexican territories by diverse power groups, including the drug cartels.  And in the case of Oaxaca, it is, furthermore, the exercise of its citizenship by an aggrieved population whose movement was defeated in 2006, and which has subsequently turned to voting as a manifestation of their rejection of Ulises Ruiz and the political group that he represents.

Because of the influence they have in territorial, political and economic control, the twelve governorships up for election have been at the center of the fight and of media coverage.  The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) apparently triumphed in nine of these contests, ratifying its control over some states (in Tamaulipas it has governed for more than 60 years) and regaining others (Zacatecas and Aguascalientes).  The official party, the National Action Party (PAN), allied in various Mexican states with the left represented by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and other less influential parties, gained victories in Sinaloa, Puebla and Oaxaca, thanks to this alliance.

Of the elections for governor, whether challenged (as in Hidalgo and perhaps in Durango and Veracruz) or not, the murkiest appears to be in Quintana Roo.  In this state, the imprisonment of the original PRD candidate, the ex-Mayor of Cancún, Greg Sanchéz, an evangelical pastor accused of narcotrafficking and connections with the slave trade and disappearance of persons—appears to have affected the scene.  Although it is impossible to quantify such change, the PRI candidate won the election with more votes than his two closest opponents combined. Strange, in any case, is that during the elections on Sunday, and until late in the day on Monday, there was almost no coverage in the popular media of the elections in Quintana Roo.  The standard bearer for Mexican tourism, with the largest population growth in the country and one of the highest per capita incomes, did not exist in the “democratic contest.”

Finally, in the two states in which the electoral struggle was for control of cities, the fight was not insignificant, although it was less represented.  In the case of Chiapas, of the 118 municipalities which elected mayors, 62 appeared to have chosen the PAN-PRD alliance as the winner.

In Baja California, in an important turn of events, the PRI not only retook mayoralties, but also gained four important municipalities (important by virtue of their politics and economy) including those at the moment in the hands of Pan mayors: Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali, the capital of the State.  The governor of Baja California, the Panista José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, will spend the final three years of his term working among PRI mayors and a Congress in which 13 of the 16 deputies are also PRI.

On the other hand, abstention in general was high.  According to official figures, it can be said that almost half the voters in every state did not go to the polls.  In the northern states, the rate of voting was even lower with Tamaulipas at 39.8% and Chihuahua at 35.98% turnout.  The first explanation offered is the extensive violence in these regions thanks to the war declared by Felipe Calderon against the narcos.

In Tijuana the percentage of “citizen participation” is less, at 31%.  But we can´t  stop thinking of the obvious weakening that the Mexican political system has been suffering for some time. If less than 40% of the voters decide the destiny of a country, of a state, of whatever population, the representation and legitimacy of the political class are very poor.

Now, who won, or who benefits from these results?  It is difficult to know: from the July 5th headlines of the Mexican periodicals with large circulations, the news of so-called “Super Sunday” in reality is a resounding defeat or triumph for the PRI.

In general, analysts and journalists agree that it is a test for next year’s elections, and most of all, for the federal elections of 2012. Perhaps so, but to focus on a concrete fact regarding  the political class from the perspective of “the future” masks without doubt a good part of what happened.

The “Unnatural” Alliance Advances

When in September, 2009 Jesús Ortega, president of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) announced the possibility of competing in various elections in an alliance with the National Action Party (PAN), many commentators (Ricardo Alemán is an example, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/columnas/84682.html) characterized the possible pact between the leftist and rightist parties as an aberration.  Among the PRI, what was foreseen as a threat ended up regarded as a joke.

But the presentation of the coalition of the two parties in Oaxaca last February 11 was the beginning of a political operation undertaken by various groups which, as the director Carlos Pérez Cuevas (PAN) and the deputy [NOTE: I’m not sure about how to do this since deputy and director are plural]Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo (PRD) announced on the afternoon of July 5th would be able to reach a climax in 2011 when the successor to Enrique Peña Nieto is elected in the government of the State of México.  And further, as was already announced, people of both parties can forge as many as five alliances in the upcoming year, although for now they rule out uniting for the presidential election.

In any case, it is obvious that César Nava, president of PAN, can boast about the good results that the general strategy resulted in, in spite of the analyses arising within the cabinet of Felipe Calderón and the silence manifested by the president himself.  The advance of the PRI in retaking the State, which in 2009 permitted it to once again take control of legislative power , appears to have come to a halt at least for now.  The PAN-PRD coalition participated in 6 of the 12 elections for governor on the 4th of July, gaining three, a good starting average.

For Jesús Ortega, president of the PRD, the result is a needed boost, not only for his party (which, for example in the municipality of Mexicali had fewer votes than the number of votes annulled).  The current PRD policy of Ortega, known as Los Chuchos, has strengthened his position as an opponent of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, candidate and chief of a good part of the Mexican electoral left, who openly opposed this type of alliance.

Thus at this first moment, without “big benefactors” it can be said that the two precandidates to the presidency, Enrique Peña Nieta, current governor of the State of Mexico, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, head of the left  already defeated in a presidential election in 2006, as well as the groups they represent, may perhaps be the first victims of the elections of July 4th.  This fact opens the playing field to other actors, in addition to Nava y Ortega, such as Marcelo Ebrard, Manalio Fabio Beltrones y Manuel Camacho, apparent candidates to the seat in the National Palace.

Routes and Corridors… of Narcos?

If we could superimpose a pair of maps of Mexico, it would be interesting to see not only the changes of color in the state governments, mayors’ offices and local congresses, but also the contrast that this implies in two major routes for the transit of people, merchandise and drugs to the United States–the northwest route and the Gulf of Mexico route.

At the top and to the left of both maps we find two of the most important and violent exit points of our time.  The first is Tijuana, and in general the northern edge of Baja California, which the PRI has now regained from the PAN.  There, investigations indicates links between the works and deeds of known PRI members and narco businesses, especially those of the brothers Hank Rohn .

In Ciudad Juárez, the PRI won without a shadow of a doubt and continues controlling a city which has been militarized for two years by its present governor, José Reyes Ferriz, hand in hand with the federal government.  In the same manor, the entire northwest frontier is going to fall under the management of the PRI and their peculiar style of government, and it will be they who negotiate or confront various narco groups, private businesses (especially maquiladoras) and the general insecurity of the region.

In Sinaloa, the same thing is not happening.  The mecca of Mexican narco=business and the principal agricultural producer of the country haz survived an incompatible election.  The advantage of the PAN-PRD candidate, Mario López Valdez, “Malova,” appears insurmountable for the PRIista Jesús Vizcarra.  But the division went further and had a peculiar manifestation: the state where the Beltran Levyas, Mayo Zambada, the Chapo Guzmán and so many legends of narcotraffic and their songs were born appears to have been divided in half by the municipal elections.

In the Sinaloan municipalities towards the north like Guasave, Navolato, Culiacán and Badiraguato, the advantage was through Monday for the PRI and their allies.  In the south (Rosario, Escuinapa, Mazatlán and others) the PAN-PRD had the advantage, as did those on the ticket with them.  It appears to have started a new rivalry among Sinaloans, with both candidates for governor being of PRI extraction and both being accused of ties with narcotrafficking (Vizcarra apparently is the compadre of Mayo Zambada, and Malova, who  was accused of protecting the retail narco business when he was mayor of Ahome.

In this version, did the assassination of the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipus, Rodolfo Torre Cantú have some influence on the voters?  It appears not.  The votes obtained by his substitute in the elections this past Sunday, his brother Egidio, amounted to more than 60%, almost 2 to 1 against the PAN candidate.  The warning, the blow, that this death represented did not seek to alter the results at the polls.

What appears to have been modified is the possibility of controlling the aforementioned routes.  In the case of the route through the Gulf of Mexico, the triumph of the PAN and PRD in Oaxaca and Puebla severed a long route that comes from South and Central America and passes through the disputed Veracruz to Reynosa and Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas.  Along this route, cocaine, migrants (many on the feared railroad known as The Beast) and of course the textiles produced in the maquiladoras in Puebla travel frequently.  The effect of the results of Election Day in these centers of Mexican life has only just begun to be seen.

Who Won What in Oaxaca

The state of Oaxaca was considered the strategic node in the electoral struggle.  After the voting, Gabino Cué obtained 50.1% of the votes, putting an end to 80 years of PRI governments with his victory. All the reports collected at the voting booths speak of the great expectations that the population had invested in these elections, including with remarkable civic actions in poll watching.

In the state that has the largest concentration of indigenous population and legendary poverty, as reported in national statistics, winning isn’t everything.  The governor-elect, Gabino Cué, former functionary of Ernesto Zedillo, former mayor of the state capital and senator on leave, can govern a turbulent and multicolor region, but not necessarily control it or succeed in dominating it with his victory.

In Oaxaca today there are a number of the biggest and most environmentally dangerous mining projects in Mexico.  One important example is the Cuscatlán mine, property of Fortuna Silver, Inc. and other companies, located in the Valley of Ocotlán in San Jose del Progreso.  It has provoked the mobilization of opposition among the communities of the zone.  But there are various other mining developments of the same kind, and many Canadian, United States and European transnationals involved in the extraction of precious minerals and in the hunt for wealth.

The giant energy producers, more than anyone else Spaniards such as Iberrola and Endesa have investments in Oaxaca that affect the lives of the people, such as the so-called Corredor Eólico which sits among the pueblos of the isthmus in the zone of Juchitán,, and which have provoked opposition and denunciations on the part of large social organizations.

It is in Oaxaca where the Plan Puebla Panamá has one of its most notable focal points of development, the highway, for example, and it is there where biodiversity, as it is in Chiapas, is also an objective of businesses, laboratories and some research institutions tied to projects of commercial exploitation or “biopiracy”.

For now, there remains a resistant layer made up of the greatest ethnic and community diversity there is in Mexico consolidated between the national and international capital and the many natural resources. Against them, the forces of the federal government  have been lined up for some time, as have the repressive bodies of the stat commanded by Ulises Ruiz which have operated brutally.  Facing the necessity of guaranteeing peace for the plundering which the Oaxaqueños denounce daily, it is not clear at this point what the government of Gabiñe Cué, openly supported by Felipe Calerón from Mexico City, will do.

Neither is it clear what will happen with conflicts such as those mentioned before, including Central American migration and narcotraffic, or the impunity of the assassinations of social warriors and indigenous leaders or other crimes related to state repression of the citizen movement of 2006.  Not to mention, since the reconciliation proposed by Cué – “We are promoters of peace and for that we are always going to call for reconciliation”–, it is possible to [admire] if there are political lines to confront the largest and deepest problems, such as those which affect the Triqui region.  Perhaps because it is too early to know, but also because [something more has to happen in Oaxaca]…

Vote and Be Vigilant

On the night of July 4th there were celebrations (and on Monday the 5th as well) in the three states where the PAN-PRD coalition triumphed.  In Sinaloa Malova’s supporters celebrated at their headquarters and those of Rafael Moreno Valle did the same in Puebla.  The people in the city of Oaxaca went out into the streets to the Fountain of Seven Regions to listen to the winner, but also to celebrate the successor and his defeat of Ulises Ruiz as one of their own, in popular words, remembering at the same time one of the most popular slogans of the APPO movement in 2006: “Ya cayó! (Ulises has already fallen).

Previously, two days before the election, and as an example of the atmosphere developing in the state, a man stopped his car at the corner of Las Casas and 20 de Noviembre in the middle of the Oaxaca capital.  At the light red, the man got out of his car and rallied the people around him, looking towards the site where the teachers of Section 22’s sit-in of took place.  no-one paid him to do it, it was not something planned: he was there asking people to vote responsibly, pleading the need for change, and in his opinion, he emphasized that it was time defeat Ulises Ruiz,at the ballot box.

It did not matter that the light changed and the cars backed up behind him, the man delivered message and only then, as spontaneously as he had begun, he disappeared in his car.

During the weeks preceding the vote the discussion of the significance of these elections in Oaxaca took place daily.  In trucks and in meeting places at every opportunity people debated and discussed Cué, Ulises Ruiz, Eviel Pérez Magaña (the losing candidate) and the necessity for change in local politics.

Perhaps as a result of an adequate reading of the moment, the propaganda of the final phase of the political campaign in opposition to the PRI stopped mentioning names.  Flyers and stickers appeared that evoked change and appealed to the widespread rejection of the ruiz administration among the general population.

But we must not be fooled because this time–contrary to recent elections in Oaxaca–it doesn’t have to do with a simple swing in the electoral preference, a punishment vote (as in 2006) or the absence of fear, which in 2007 led barely 35% of the voters to go to the polls.

The 4th of July of 2010, the peoples participation in the voting achieved historical proportions even though barely 56% voted, because the object was not simply to vote.  It is very possible that arising from all the discussion in the past, discussion that gave birth to demonstrations and diverse forms of resistance including the barricades of 2006 resulted in fact in blocking the exercise of established power: a common sense that exceeded the mere election of the candidate may have been created.

More than punishing or rewarding the parties, the citizens of Oaxaca appear to have realized a hoped-for preventive action, that also places demands on the victor.  The unprecedented flow of the debates, widespread and with various points of view,  leave this impression, as well as the high level of participation.

That the conflicts don’t continue to be resolved “as before,” buying and subduing consciences with money and state resources; that the demands and demonstrations aren’t met with brutality as an answer. Neither stick nor carrot, the people of Oaxaca seemed to say on Sunday the 4th of July.  The voters were under the pressure of the need to express a demand for respect.  And the triumph is already beyond objection; we’ll have to wait some time to know if Gabino Cué and his team, supported by the federal government, will respect the voters’ decision or not.

Elections still pending and winners

Perhaps, because of everything that happened beforehand, with clear or mixed results, at times in open disparity, the election of Super Sunday had its epicenter in Oaxaca.  And the people won.  However, they were not the only beneficiaries of their votes, because together with Cué  the party that governs Mexico from the center also had results worth mentioning.

In the vote for the victorious alliance, the separation by parties on the electoral ballots (something which confused many voters but did not stop their outpouring), it is possible to see that the votes for the PRD and Convergencia (the party that sheltered Cué in first place with his exit from the PRI, have decayed a lot.  On the other hand, more than in any urban municipalities like Oaxaca and Tuxtepec, the PAN advanced enormously, to the degree that they challenged the flow of votes to the PRI without having to count on the votes of their allies.

Also, one can see a crossover vote in many regions.  In Tehuantepec, to cite one example, the deputy elected will be from the PRI, but Gabino Cué won the election for governor.  There, it seems, one can see the support given by two ex-PRI governors, José Murat and especially Diódoro Carrasco, was not simply  confined to a speech and some photos.

In this sense, it would be good to remember that the twelve governors elected on the 4th of July, as well as a good number of the deputies and mayors of all the parties in contention, surged and made their political careers within the PRI.  In the case of “Malova” we are speaking of some months between being a PRIista and becoming a PANista.  Rafael Moreno Valle and Gabino Cué left the PRI some years ago.  However, and as the crossover vote in Puebla and Oaxaca shows us, the connections with PRIismo are not dead.

In any event, for the Oaxacans and many other Mexicans who were inspired to vote under the attentive watch of soldiers, hit men and politicians, this recent election day was not a trial nor a landslide for anyone. Although the president announced that democracy was the winner, the fundamental political problem which has afflicted Mexico since Felipe Calderón took power supported by the PRI and the military continues.  It is impossible to say who exercises command in this country and who will have to govern it.

Translated by Esther Buddenhagen

For more information

Calderón Schmoozes, Mexico Loses

http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/2459

Mexico’s State of Impunity

http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/2349

Mexico’s New Dirty War

http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/2065

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3 comments

  1. “halt at leat for now”

    change to least

    and

    “Ulises as already fallen.”
    change to has

    also add the spanish, it sounds better

    “Ya Cayo!”
    Finally, why do you still have Adam Isaacson on staff? he has become a shill for the military and their allies…

    Comment by Jen on July 25, 2010 at 10:24 pm

  2. Jen, Thank you for the corrections. I will make them right away.
    As to your question, regardless of how one might feel about Adam isacson’s work, he is no longer working with the Center for international Policy. He now works with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Also the Americas Program is a fiscally sponsored project of the CIP so our staff consists only of me, the Program Associate/intern and our volunteer cyber-translators and research assistants in Mexico City and by internet.

    Comment by Laura Carlsen on August 5, 2010 at 8:14 am

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