Mexico Elections 2010: Upping the Ante in Oaxaca

The election in eleven Mexican states for governors, mayors and state representatives on July 4 assumes a special importance in Oaxaca because this state is said to be key for re-positioning the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in its bid to retake the presidency of Mexico in 2012.

The election in eleven Mexican states for governors, mayors and state representatives on July 4 assumes a special importance in Oaxaca because this state is said to be key for re-positioning the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in its bid to retake the presidency of Mexico in 2012. For that, say party leaders, the machinery must be well-oiled. Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) whose term ends this year, has expressed his desire to become a national leader of the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), a post more available to him if the PRI wins Oaxaca in July.

Oaxaca has been ruled by the PRI for more than 80 years. No separation of powers exists, there is no rendition of accounts, and impunity for crimes committed by the PRI is total. The government of URO leads in shame, nationally as well as in Oaxaca’s history, with a tally of about 70 deaths for various political reasons, 500 arrests of social activists, many tortured, and more than ten disappeared. In the pre-election weeks URO also impeded the arrival of a humanitarian caravans to the indigenous community of San Juan Copala where families are surviving in subhuman conditions. Faced with shooters funded by the PRI itself, URO and his friend Felipe Calderón assured the public they could not control the paramilitary group Ubisort. URO’s clear message reads that in Oaxaca he can do what he wants, with no repercussions. Stealing an election looks like child’s play.

In a sideshow almost laughable were it not so sad, the candidate for governor for the Coalition for Peace and Progress (CUPP), Gabino Cué, took a lie detector test, revealed his family wealth, and challenged PRI candidate Eviel Pérez Magaña to four debates, which Pérez has not accepted. Cué didn’t lie; one of the questions was did he belong to the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO)? No. Indeed, Cué, who comes from a wealthy family has center-right ideology, but as the polygraph revealed, he’s honest. Cué ran for governor in 2004 for his Convergencia party aided by a very similar coalition. Many believe fraud perpetrated at that time by URO brought URO to power. Cué says, in regard to the prevalence of fraud and theft, “no more six-year millionaires”. But the main thrust of the effort to dislodge the PRI rests on civil society.

The strategies and forms to achieve a PRI vote are well established, and thus Oaxaca becomes a demonstration for “how to win”. At barely three weeks from election, some opinions suggest that the PRI will retain power with all-out dirty tricks on their part; the reluctance of disillusioned Oaxacans to bother to vote and intimidation against voting; and the possible sell-out of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) to the PRI. In the week of June 8 the PRI began to distribute house to house in the city of Oaxaca flyers “Be Careful of Danger to Oaxaca”. Cué is pictured with Flavio Sosa, Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Senator Salomón Jara. “Gabino Cue and Flavio Sosa, the real alliance”, reads the photo title. Cué himself has said that he favored the APPO (but neither gave money nor belonged to it) and welcomes votes from APPO supporters.

Sosa is now the candidate for the Workers Party (PT) but is well known as a self-appointed and ongoing spokesperson for the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO). Sosa was arrested and imprisoned during the 2006 repression. He has participated in several different parties at one time or another, including the PRI, Nueva Alianza (PANAL), and the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD). Disinformation making Flavio Sosa out be a criminal responsible for APPO actions in 2006 may boomerang, since most people know that the criminal acts except for spray painting graffiti were committed only by PRI thugs and death squads.

Regarding the coalition’s participants, the PRD statewide (as well as nationally) lies in shambles, so corrupted that in many places like Juchitán de Zaragoza it’s nearly non-functional. URO, according to one column in Noticias on April 21, finds it’s easier to bribe PRD members than to maintain control of his own rebellious PRI. Certain PRD thugs took to smashing heads at the PRD State Electoral Convention on April 20, 2010; three men were hospitalized after the fracas. Flavio Sosa, present as a PRD convention participant, demanded the immediate expulsion of leaders responsible. Sosa stated in a press conference that the PRD state leadership, headed by Amador Jara Cruz and Rosendo Serrano Toledo, as well as the local deputy Jesús Romero López and the ex-senator Oscar Cruz López, gave the orders to beat up fellow delegates opposing the imposition of family members onto the list of plurinominal candidates.

However, the PRD State Secretary held the victim Roberto López Rosado responsible for the violence at the Convention. Almost 700 delegates discussed the selection process before it erupted into a fight when López Rosado, an ex-municipal president of Juchitán, supposedly intruded into a group of sympathizers of the Coordinadora Democrática de Pueblos (CDP), and the organization Ocho Regiones, an organization directed by Hugo Jarquín who controls ambulant vendors in Oaxaca City, an activity riddled with pay-off and bribes. López Rosado and his companions were attacked and severely beaten by followers of the Rosendo brothers, Félix Serrano Toledo and Armando López Enríquez.

López Rosado founded the Worker Campesino Student Coalition of the Isthmus (COCEI), which thirty years ago elected the first in the nation non-PRI municipal president. López Rosado suffered three head wounds leading to a hematoma, fracture of the right arm, a damaged eye, and damaged kidneys. In serious condition in the hospital he said: “The dogs are loose and are going after the bonus that the governor has offered them to see who can finish off the PRD first. To see who can most readily obstruct Cué’s path, but neither they nor anyone else will succeed. Who doesn’t know that the top of the PRD in Oaxaca stands in service to the state government, and not just now but from times past, when it wasn’t the Serranos but the Jara group. “El Chuky” (Jorge Franco Vargas) bought favors starting three years ago, exclusively from this knifer named Hugo Jarquín who throws up a screen of being independent; if he could be independent it’s only from the objectives of the PRD and of the social movements, or how else did he get freed in three days after being grabbed in 2006? Of course by instructions from the “famous” one alluded to before [Franco Vargas]. Certainly afterward they offered him a chance to be candidate for municipal president of this long-suffering City of Oaxaca… There has to be a housecleaning.”

“We ask ourselves why the violence, why there were thugs and plain clothes police at a state convention if one supposedly goes there to debate and reach agreements and resolve differences,” Sosa remarked. PRD politics in Oaxaca has consisted of bribes and thugs since nationally the PRD wrested power from López Obrador and was co-opted by former PRI members Jesús Ortega, Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo and Héctor Bautista, supposed by Sosa to be giving orders in Oaxaca in an effort to fracture the coalition. A spokesperson for PRD state leadership, José Julio Antonio Aquino, denied that these state leaders wanted violence because “at all costs they want to maintain party unity and guarantee respect… “.

Then on May 23 the nomination of Flavio Sosa appeared on the plurinominal list for deputy from the PT. Immediately Amador Jara began to scream for Sosa to withdraw his candidacy. Continuous calls were issued from the PRD to the PT, demanding it dump Sosa, claiming on huge posters that a vote for Sosa is a vote for APPO “violence”. Jara’s calls for rejection of Sosa were followed by calls from other disguised PRI supporters “Flavio is a danger to the election”, even asking Cué to get Sosa off the ballot. Cué has no ability to do so; each party nominates its own candidates for legislators and municipal presidents. Nor is it so simple as separating the coalition from the APPO, because public allegiance to the movement remains, although PRI propaganda portrays the APPO as burning barricades and the PRI government as law-abiding. Jara tries to discredit Sosa by linking him to “danger”, i.e., the APPO, and the PRI-controlled media followed Jara’s lead.

The PRD meanwhile lodged a complaint on behalf of CUPP against incumbent governor URO, for using public funds to aid his chosen successor Eviel Perez Magaña. The governor sent out mobile units from the public Development (poverty) Program, with the PRI featured on the side of each vehicle. In the capital city of Oaxaca ads have gone up—and been torn down— within the historic center for the PRI candidate, an action forbidden by law.

According to a note from the Oaxaca writer Roberto Joe Stout: “URO has built up a huge war chest–millions of pesos. He is an instrumental force in the PRI nationally and manipulated the distribution of the federal monies apportioned to the states to give those with upcoming governor elections big extras. He has the national party’s support; in addition, Peña Nieto in the State of Mexico also has a lot of “discretionary” funds he’ll shift to Oaxaca if URO needs them. The headline in Noticias on June 6 reads: Eviel will win, says Peña Nieto. Bad timing. Peña Nieto is widely viewed as being responsible for getting off the hook the parents of the child Paulette who died from suffocation in May in a bizarre case. The child vanished; her corpse was found ten days later under a mattress although the house had been thoroughly searched by police and dogs when her parents reported her missing. Peña was implicated in protecting the parents.

The PRI will have poll watchers at every polling place in the state, something the coalition will find tough to match. (Polling places with only PRI poll watchers in the past have reported as high as 95 percent votes for the PRI). Stout also points out that owners of the transportation companies support the PRI and will make buses available throughout the state to haul voters to the polls, especially in the rural areas of the Valley and the Isthmus. (Afterwards voters may receive a 200 pesos or more stipend, plus a meal and probably mezcal.) In the past the PRI handed out pre-marked ballots, which the voters cast instead of the blank ones given them at the polls. On returning the blanks they received their payment. This was possible because the ruling PRI had extra ballots printed, as it has done again this year. Contracts are not publicly bid for printing ballots. Thousands of extra ballots were ordered.

Stout remarks that the PRI has a solid statewide organization, from the state government through the municipal and city governments. Although most municipal and city mayors and presidents are PRIistas (including usos y costumbres communities), lack of unity among the PRI intruded in this election. Several municipalities went into open rebellion and refused to support the governor’s choice in the time-honored tradition of dedazo, pointing the royal finger to indicate his choice of successor. Serious rifts appeared in towns like Zaachila (a town long in contention between the APPO and the PRI.), Huatulco, Salina Cruz, Juchitán, and Ocotlán where a brother-in-law of Lenin Lopez Nelio (PRD) was thrust into contention by the governor. In each, PRIistas refused to accept plurinominal or city president candidates designated by URO. They wanted to choose their own. The situation was replicated for the capital city of Oaxaca.

A total of 420 candidates for mayors will be chosen statewide, but only 152 municipal presidents are selected by political party, the remainder are chosen by uses and customs. For CUPP, 102 candidates will come from the PRD, as the coalition jockeys for who gets what. 37 candidates will represent the PAN, 11 Convergencia, and two others the PT. The PRI will postcandidates for all 152 places. To represent the CUPP, Luis Ugartechea Begué has been physically very visible at citizen forums and city meetings, but he’s a colorless man. To undermine the coalition, the New Alliance Party (PANAL) has thrown into play its candidate as well as in the largest 64 of the 152 political cities. The PRI coalition nominated Beatriz Rodríguez Casanovas, the first woman nominated as mayor of Oaxaca and a draw for other women. In reality, the governor controls the capital city.

For governor the PRI’s 2,552 delegates “unanimously” chose Eviel Pérez Magaña as their candidate for governor in the “Coalition for the Transformation of Oaxaca” which includes the PRI and the Green Party (PVEM). Pérez offers the correct phrases also, such as “ we don’t accept the present injustice, originating in the inexperience of the federal government”, i.e. he doesn’t admire President Calderon of the PAN, who is hugely unpopular. He says nothing of the violence and authoritarianism of the present governor, nor precisely how after more than eighty years the PRI can transform itself. Pérez was chosen by URO with little popular base, (eighth place in polls for pre-candidates) precisely because Pérez commands no following and will obey URO. Several other aspirants became dissatisfied; they claim they will loyally support Pérez, but how energetically is not known. People know that Pérez represents continuation, not transformation or change. The three living retired governors of Oaxaca simply declined to support Pérez, an unheard of rupture of party unity; others wait in line for party rewards. And the three previous governors hate URO.

Autonomy and Abstention

On April 8, 2010 a four-day event launched itself in Oaxaca City under the name “Encuentro por una vida Autónoma”, Meeting for an Autonomous life. In a coincidental echo of the desire for autonomy by the Triquis; the event tripled in size since last year. It focused on living without the government and neoliberalism: no consumer products, careful consumption of water, protection of the environment. Many mountain towns have neither water nor drainage systems — and neither do many urban neighborhoods. (Of Oaxaca City’s 600,000 people, according to national government statistics one-third live in poverty, without water, electricity, or hard floors.) The encuentro promoted urban and rural home gardens, dry toilets, rain water collection, solar cooking and heating, construction, transportation, community service and economic self-sufficiency. Astonished visitors waiting for fruit drinks watched while women pedaled bicycle-powered liquefiers. At its most basic, the meeting advocated self-reliance, walking away from the government. At its most militant, it espoused preventing neoliberal exploitation such as the commodification of water.

The three-day event offered no mention of elections or the government, except for the indigenous presence on Saturday the 10th, when several indigenous townspeople stepped to the podium to protest government heavy-handedness in appropriating farm lands for projects which damage campesino communities and communal life. Overall, the message reflected the belief that the government does only harm; it both corrupts and menaces. In the words of Gustavo Esteva, one of Oaxaca’s well-known voices:

“I don’t know what I will do in July. I am accustomed to making political decisions in a group and we still haven’t decided what to do.

“In Oaxaca we are fed up…and conscious. Six years ago the opposition (PRI) coalition won and even the Federal Electoral Tribunal admitted there was fraud. A couple of months later the municipal president of Oaxaca was elected with 11% of the votes: people think this game is useless. In 2006 we thought we wouldn’t participate in the dirty business, but two days before the election it was agreed in APPO to cast a punishment vote against Ulises Ruiz…It was a spectacular success: Ulises lost almost all the electoral districts for federal deputies and his candidate (Roberto Madrazo) came out a distant third place…

“Mere abstention will not automatically hand a triumph to the backers of Ulises. The so-call “hard vote” of the PRI approximately equals that of the opposition coalition. I think that the coalition will win, because many people are convinced that it’s necessary to get rid of the PRI, but I am not sure that the fraud being newly prepared can be avoided.

“I don’t want to discredit whomever has put all his attention on the elections nor do I want to deprecate the so-called electoral trenches. … what seems important to me is not that people on voting day show their clear rage against Ulises and everything that means. The important point is that they take the (voting) decision with awareness that they cannot place their hope in this process, independent of results. They need to remain aware that hope for real change in Oaxaca can only be in themselves…

“ What’s important is that people not wait for Gabino or whoever to be the solution. What’s important is that we continue to strengthen ourselves in our action at the social base. That we not permit the election to move us off this path .”

Abstention emanates from disbelief, apathy, despair and hopelessness in the face of a government so deeply corrupt that abstainers point out —perhaps correctly— that whomever wins will bring more of the same. Hence Esteva’s point: the people must make the changes. But abstention hands a win to the well-organized PRI.

These factors will affect the outcomes:

1. Fraud.

In a strange coincidence both Oaxaca and Veracruz hired the same printer of ballots. Extra ballots, whether it’s 30,000 or 100,000 (numbers depend on source) offers an easy way to introduce “winning” ballots because the General Committee of the State Electoral Institute places representatives of the coalition parties —PAN, PRD, and PT as well as PRI— as observers without any power to question the legality of rules violations or the attitude toward counting votes. Bribery of observers pales alongside bribery of vote counters. The control of computer counts was an issue in 2004 when the computers “crashed” and re-emerged with URO the winner. Often dead people vote, or local citizens are required to photocopy the voting credentials of people in their towns to prove that their votes will be forthcoming in the numbers asserted, or collect the credentials so that others can vote using them.

2. Drug cartel and their funds.

Political control shifts with the underworld’s ability to threaten, buy or kill political players. Oaxaca’s vulnerable area has been the Isthmus of Tehuantepec where the Zetas have held sway for several years. Oaxaca is a small production zone for marijuana and poppies, and a medium-size cartel route from the Pacific to the north. 2010 is the first year Oaxaca has experienced multiple narco-style assassinations (in Tehuantepec).

3. The ability of PRI caciques and elites to maintain control of their populations.

Getting people to vote for the PRI may be more difficult. Even the faithful feel anger and frustration. But eighty years of caciques is hard to discount.

4. The ability of the coalition United for Peace and Progress to function together and get the disaffected out to vote.

The ability of the coalition to stay together is threatened by the infiltration of the PRD. The Flavio Sosa game is just one part of the efforts of PRD players to break the coalition. Other enmities remain, such as the teachers’ anger against the PAN for their role in the repression.

5. The election of 2010 as a test of the social movement.

In Oaxaca “democracy” cannot mimic representative democracy. Rather, creating democracy implies something closer to the Latin American model of participatory democracy, built upon the model of the peoples’ assembly. Many networks have sprung up to defend land and water; campesinos refuse access to international mining, highways across arable land, wind generators placed with no consultation, and dams and reservoirs such as the construction of Paso de la Reina which destroy communities. Another example is Juchitán, where wind generators have been and are being constructed. Towns demand that such construction accept local input and that profits be shared with the local population. No government official has ever sought input or opinion from those whose lives are most affected.


Several municipalities, and grouped small towns within one larger municipality resembling a county, demanded autonomy in 2006. Not even the tiny towns achieved it; physical battles ensued between the PRI and local people who wanted their independence. Two examples remain from 2006: San Juan Copala in the Triqui northwest area declared autonomy on January 1 of 2007 and pays dearly with ongoing warfare. The town of Zaachila, closer to Oaxaca, hung APPO banners on the municipal garbage trucks and buildings, and threw out the PRI mayor — only to have him re-installed by the governor despite a legal effort in the local congress.

7. Social organizations

The two strongest forces at work on behalf of the people remain Section 22 and Civil Society. Section 22 elected new militant leadership which supported local activist struggles of the peoples, but now some unexplained internal situation looms while the teachers annual strike is underway. Of 22’s 70,000 members perhaps 20,000 are PRI. In 2006 the Section 22 leader was bought by the PRI and then fled to Canada.

Civil Society has approached non-PRI political parties with local meeting after meeting, and local forums for the public. They helped forge the unlikely coalition United for Peace and Progress. The state democratic conventions listed a platform: citizen participation, recall, referendum, inclusion of the poor, the marginal, those excluded from all possibility for wellbeing and development in the polarized Oaxaca society. Civil organizations assume that people organized will continue to gain strength, naming their representatives and taking decisions in assemblies. Once again, there is the phrase mandar obedeciendo, lead by obeying, which Gabino Cué repeated in his campaign.

Reality check

The true reality is poverty. In the city of Oaxaca, the historic center stands as the jewel, filled with tourists whose money goes to restaurant owners, hotel chains and to some artisan shops. The churches and museums, the theater and endless street entertainment draw and keep visitors within ten square blocks. Stepping outside those streets, the poverty becomes more evident the further one walks. Behind walls lurk small dark rooms built of cinder block, prostitution, bars and drugs. In some colonias people live in shacks with no drainage or piped water, while in other colonias criminals, bureaucrats and politicians (often the same people) live in opulence behind gates.

Oaxaca resident define “development” in a different way than neoliberals do: “We don’t object to progress or development. What we object to is development that benefits the few while the rest of the townspeople lag behind with nothing.”