Mexico: Coalition Takes on the PRI in Oaxaca’s Crucial 2010 Elections

As Mexico continues to be plagued by organized crime, governmental corruption and high unemployment, citizens look forward to the 2012 presidential elections. Due to it’s position as a recipient of  federal funds never accounted for, but assumed diverted to the governor’s pocket, the poor state of Oaxaca emerges in a position to have a powerful financial effect on deciding who will be Mexico’s next president.

As Mexico continues to be plagued by organized crime, governmental corruption and high unemployment, citizens look forward to the 2012 presidential elections. Due to it’s position as a recipient of  federal funds never accounted for, but assumed diverted to the governor’s pocket, the poor state of Oaxaca emerges in a position to have a powerful financial effect on deciding who will be Mexico’s next president. On the other hand, if Oaxaca wrests fiscal control from corrupt PRI party incumbents and candidates in  the July 4, 2010 elections, a greater chance emerges that Mexicans will find a level playing field in the 2012  elections.

The current president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon has been labeled a failure, both for the wretched drug war which has now cost close to 20,000 lives, and for his equally inadequate economic “program”. The National Action Party (PAN) has set itself up for defeat by the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) in 2012. Election analysts assume Ulises Ruiz (URO), the governor of Oaxaca, will throw all his state’s funds to re-elect the PRI in exchange for a national PRI position for himself, perhaps as party head.

On both local and national levels, 2012 elections loom large on the minds of Mexicans. Concerns include whether the USA will “invade” Mexico over the escalating drug war, or President Felipe Calderón will implement military rule, or repression will spread, or narco-wars will infest every state, resulting in an ever-increasing US military presence. The present political and social climate in Oaxaca exemplifies that of Mexico at large: fear of organized crime, exhaustion from pervasive corruption, unresponsive government officials, high unemployment, and sadly, increased suicides among youngsters in the under-thirty age group, or their murders.

When Hilary Clinton arrived in Mexico with Barack Obama on March 20, 2010, accusations of a “failed state” had already been making the rounds. Calderón hasn’t planned or exercised any policy beyond deploying the army in a failed war on drugs. Meanwhile a 2008 backroom alliance of convenience between the neoliberal National Action Party (PAN) and the PRI crashed in March of 2010 with a public scandal of intrigue and betrayals. Allegedly the PRI agreed to uphold Calderón’s fraudulent 2006 election results for certain pay-offs. According to the Mexican weekly Proceso (No.1742), deals also included large additional infusions of cash for the PRI states of Mexico, Veracruz, Durango and Oaxaca, whose state governments then marched off with 2,302,000 pesos requiring no accounting. During 2009, the PRI-dominated national congress pledged to vote for higher taxes on products like food and medicines. In exchange for this financial friendship, national PAN politicians pledged to not permit alliances between the PAN and other parties such as the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) in future state elections. In 2010, the PAN broke its word; a bitter confrontation in Congress resulted as each party challenged the other to submit to lie detectors.  The state by state alliances became as convoluted as a snakes in love among the eleven states which elect a governor this year. Unsurprisingly, corruption in Mexico reached fifth in global ranking in 2010.

The PRI eyes a return to the presidency of Mexico in 2012. Previous to the win by PAN’s Vicente Fox in 2000, the PRI controlled its governors with an iron hand. Without presidential control, state robber-barons declared themselves autonomous, stealing local funds, forming alliances with narcotraffickers, and holding fire sales of state properties to transnational interests.

The PRI in Oaxaxca

The PRI has ruled Oaxaca for more than 80 years. The governorships Jose Murat and then Ulises Ruiz employed increasing authoritarianism, since those were the years when the federal PRI iron hand vanished.  The revolution of 1910 never loosened the grip of big landholders in Oaxaca, and the transition to politically-controlled caciques, from wealthy landholder-caciques, has been seamless.  More than 60% of Oaxaca’s population is indigenous. Until this decade they remained largely isolated (no roads) and ignorant due to non-existent or poor bilingual education; indeed education levels among all populations are low by national standards. The PRI government routinely fights community radio and rural electrification, and encourages shoot-em-up rural border disputes.

95% of Oaxaca’s funds come from the federal government. Historically, governors like Ulises Ruiz Ortiz made huge contributions to each governor’s favorite candidate by siphoning off these federal funds, supposedly earmarked for municipal needs. Ruiz Ortiz diverted millions of pesos to PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo’s presidential campaign in 2006. Madrazo lost, but then, so did the municipalities whose schools, roads and sewage remain the same decade after decade. The election of 2010 is all about wresting that booty away from the PRI before they begin their 2012 campaign spending spree.

Oaxaca, Veracruz and Chihuahua all remain PRI dominated, for eight continuous decades. However, the miserably poor state of Oaxaca has become a key player in the 2012 presidential elections because of Ruiz’ ambitions. How could Oaxaca become so important? Mexico’s fifth largest state, Oaxaca, contains a disproportionate number of municipalities, 570. The state of Chihuahua has eleven; Durango, the fourth largest state in the nation has 39.  Federal laws, called ramos, numbers 28 and 33 to be precise, remit monies to municipalities proportionally. Thus if Chihuahua receives funds for eleven municipalities, Oaxaca receives funds for 570.

The Law of Fiscal Coordination in its article 6 states that municipalities should receive their allotments via state governments within five days after the state receives them. The funds cannot be given in the form of public works or non-cash payments. If state government tries to retain the money, municipalities can appeal to the Supreme Court. In practice, Ulises Ruiz accesses this money first; the Law of Fiscal Coordination became a dead letter; the governor diverts the funds. Fiscal Coordination could be implemented by the Oaxaca congress if the governor didn’t also control the legislative branch, which votes, as in all things, to suit him. Oaxaca presently observes no separation of powers.

A new party in power, if it also took a congressional majority, could revive the fiscal  law. The lawyer litigant, Amado López Hernández, also ex-president of the municipality of San Jacinto Amilpas, explains that deputies in the legislature won’t do so now because it was they who approved a reform to the Fiscal Law in 2009 to permit this retention of municipal funds in response to the governor’s demands.

In the face of statewide economic hardship, only three elected deputies in the 60th State Legislature, Ángel Benjamín Robles Montoya (Convergencia), Zénen Bravo Castellanos (Frente Popular Revolucionario) and Gustavo Velásquez Lavariega (Convergencia), objected to passage of the state fiscal budget in December of 2009. According to them, Ulises Ruiz can spend approximately 8,770,000 pesos daily at his personal discretion, taking monies from state and municipal operations. Thousands of Oaxacans live on less than minimum wage of 50.4 pesos daily. The governor offers no aid to the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca, nor to commercial establishments, despite federal funds being the largest in history. No provision was made in state law for the population in need. Oaxaca stands last among Mexico’s states in health, education and human development—and this governor has not released municipal  funds because they were diverted to political campaigns, as well as to public works in benefit to his cronies, such as repaving streets and decorating parks.

Optimists claim the present coalition candidate for governor, Gabino Cue Monteaguda, would not steal, but would restore municipal money. Oaxacan municipal “presidents,” or mayors,  are not now all PRI members, and after the 2010 election, perhaps even more PRI towns will have abandoned the party, believing the handwriting is on the wall. All present and future non-PRI municipalities — part of Cue’s alliance — will demand their monies. Cue could send an initiative to congress, if it’s not PRI dominated after this election, to restore the pre-2009 law. In the lead-up to 2012, it’s urgent to get that money away from PRI control before it’s siphoned off to support a PRI presidential candidate.

Who are the Oaxaca election 2010 players?

Since June 14, 2006, Oaxacans have teetered on the edge of a renewed uprising. The 2006 social movement was sparked by the National Education Workers Union strike. While teachers and their families slept in the city zócalo, the state government attacked them. The Oaxaca population responded with fury, and 5,000 police retreated, leaving the city between manned barricades of the social movement. Federal police forces entered in November, 2006, at the command of PAN president Vicente Fox, followed by military occupation for the first half of 2007.  Ulises Ruiz asked for and received PAN support.

During the famous five months of the Oaxaca rebellion, the PRI government murdered about 26 people, imprisoned more than 350, and violated human and civil rights. The cry during the movement occupation of the city was, “Ulises out!” The fact that Ulises Ruiz was not deposed for non-governability of his state was due to Fox and Calderon being blackmailed by the PRI-dominated national congress. Thus the PAN-PRI maneuvers continue to have repercussions. That the national PAN allowed the state PAN to join state opposition coalitions speaks to the confusions of the present struggle.

In a personal poll of a range of Oaxacans, I asked what would happen if the PRI won the governorship again (after 82 years of control!) in July, and I received a100% response: trouble. Whether the waiter and the lawyer mean the same thing by “trouble,” I don’t know, and they might not either. Nobody believes the social movement of 2006 died, nor forgives the repression of that time. The principal problems which must be resolved at this political moment in Oaxaca include the prevalence of authoritarianism, lack of citizen input, conservatism, poverty, social insensitivity, corruption — and the PRI.

The sectors involved in this struggle include: the entrenched PRI and its elite cadre of untouchable militants, the coalition United for Peace and Progress and its unlikely alliance of politicians, and Civil Society, which has launched an attempt to create even the tiniest space for democracy based on the demands of 2006.  Civil society includes the rural populations whose networking skills sustained coordination in 2006, urban organized civil activists, and all Oaxacans who feel that “this is the year. . . or else.”

The potential candidates for governor 2010 jockeyed hard for their positions.  The tradition of dedazo, whereby the governor points to his successor, crashed and burned with Ulises Ruiz Ortiz’s unsavory reputation. In this state, Oaxacans scribble the word Assassin on their city walls, and accuse Ruiz Ortiz on the street, only to be arrested five minutes later. Foreigners are not immune: in 2010, three US citizens, and an Argentinean were targeted for criticizing Ruiz Ortiz, as well as one Mexican woman.  Hence a desperate opposition coalition formed, aligning the right-wing PAN with the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), a party once thought to be on the left,  and joined by minor parties of Convergencia, the Workers Party (PT), and the Communist Party. The coalition named itself United for Peace and Progress. Spoilers for the coalition, no doubt paid by the PRI to scrape off votes, are New Alliance (PANAL) and United People (PUP). The PRI ally is the Verde Party (Greens) who have little strength and less credibility. Nobody imagines ideology or even politics binds United for Peace and Progress; however its platform echoes the 2006 demands for participatory democracy and autonomy. The coalition caters to this at every campaign stop.

Both the coalition and the PRI went through pre-candidate selection. For the coalition, uniting political, social and civil sectors, Gabino Cue emerged as candidate for governor for several reasons. First, he’s the candidate from whom Ruiz Ortiz stole the election in 2004. Second, he’s neither PAN nor PRD. Third, while nobody accuses him of being on the left, at least he doesn’t seem to be in favor of massacring citizens the way Ruiz Ortiz has. Fourth, Cue comes from an established Oaxacan family, safe for elite voters. Wealthy families want peace to secure their property, and elite voters are confident that Cue would agree to that. Those undefined “troubles” if the PRI wins might include local uprisings in desperately poor towns where one family owns everything. In his March 21 appearance in Pinotepa Nacional, Cue told the crowd that social justice will be his priority. He used the Zapatista phrase “lead by obeying.”

The PRl initially faced more disruption, because Jorge Franco Vargas, known as El Chucky, believed that his closeness to Ruiz Ortiz as head of the 2006 repression and commander of death squads, assured that he, El Chucky, would be named successor. Ruiz Ortiz, however, was more politically savvy. Instead, he selected federal deputy Eviel Pérez Magaña, the perfect puppet.

Both Cue and Pérez, before their candidatures were even confirmed by the state election commission in March, sallied forth to lay flowers at the foot of the statues of Benito Juarez, native son, and first and only indigenous President of Mexico. Cue went to Guelatao, Juarez’ birthplace; Pérez went to Juarez’ statue on Oaxaca’s Fortin Hill. If prestige of statue locations and attendance of supporters indicates anything, Cue wins.

The PANAL candidate, Irma Piñeyro Arias, went instead through city and town markets. Why? Because that’s where women are, and she will try to draw the women’s vote. The PUP candidate is also a woman, María de los Angeles Abada; she rallied voters in the city of Tlaxiaco. This adds up to eight parties in the jockeying for gold on July 4.

The July 4 election encompasses more than the governorship; it includes the 157 municipalities which govern through a political party, as well as the state legislature. Oaxaca has no senate, only its Chamber of Deputies, which consists of 32 representatives for the entire state. Twenty-five are elected by the 25 state districts, while 17 are seated by proportional representation, according to their party’s lists.

The municipalities function under control by local caciques or with movements, often mini-parties, like the worker-campesino-student coalition of the Isthmus (COCEI) which in 1981 made Juchitán the first non-PRI city on the left in Mexico.  This was where Cue began his campaign. Never before has it seemed possible that a majority of PRI municipalities might not be of the governor’s party, the official state party.

The first campaign assassination has already occurred. Fifty year old Zótico Silvestre López Quiroz, a taxi-driver by trade, and a member of the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), was shot several times while riding in a car in San Andres Huaxpaltepec. López served as president of the municipal committee, was a militant of the Democratic Campesino Union, and president of the State Secretariat of the PRD. The car belonged to the municipal president of San Andres Huaxpaltepec, a man named Mario Magdaleno García Hernandez who happens to be a former director of Section 22 of National Education Workers Union (SNTE), the driving force behind the movement in 2006. The two men were heading home around 2:00 A.M. after a long meeting when García’s vehicle was attacked in the center of town by three men. They shot López several times, and he died early Wednesday, March 17 in the Regional Hospital of Pinotepa Nacional. García escaped unharmed. Amador Jara Cruz, a PRD senator, indicated that the dirty war by the PRI is now underway, and López has fallen as the first victim.

Jara seems to forget that a year ago, in another unsolved murder in this region, PRD activist Beatriz Lopez Leyva, was shot dead seated in her office on April 6, 2009. On Monday, March 29, PUP candidate, María de los Angeles Abada, who left the PAN to move to the PUP, filed a complaint for being threatened and blackmailed. She denies being an agent of the PRI, or acting to divert coalition votes.  Note that the PRI has never suffered any political murder victim in the state, not even in the violence of 2006 when the social movement listed 26 dead.