The Historic End to the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s Rule in Oaxaca

On Dec. 1 Gabino Cue Monteagudo became the first non-PRI governor of the state in eight decades. Local and national guests witnessed his oath in the legislative chamber, while outside, protesters began to express what Cue can look forward to. His first challenge will be in convincing innumerable combative groups that it’s now worthwhile to try dialogue.

On Dec. 1 Gabino Cue Monteagudo became the first non-PRI governor of the state in eight decades. Local and national guests witnessed his oath in the legislative chamber, while outside, protesters began to express what Cue can look forward to. His first challenge will be in convincing innumerable combative groups that it’s now worthwhile to try dialogue.


“I know what I have to do …and I will do it…Governing Oaxaca implies a great responsibility, and more so in the conditions we have arrived at after eighty-one years of trying to achieve a change of governance. I understand perfectly the huge expectations for this government, and the desire that things begin to change,” said Cue Monteagudo of the Coalition United for Peace and Progress, prior to assuming office. “That implies a big responsibility because we have to meet these expectations with a lot of work, a lot of talent, a lot of creativity… we understand this responsibility:” 

“Govern by obeying! That’s the command I received from this land and from its peoples; to obey its demands for a real and lasting peace to make its development and promote it,” Cué affirmed on taking the oath as Constitutional Governor of the Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca. “I will not permit impunity and there will be no protection for those whose acts betray the confidence and the will of the people by destroying the social fabric of the people of Oaxaca.”
In the afternoon ceremony in the former government palace, Cue introduced his cabinet; indigenous groups offered a symbolic cleansing (which might apply to the building as well, since Cue has declared he will re-open it for Executive business); conch shells called fifteen ethnic groups of Oaxaca to give and receive symbolic batons of office; marches and street parties enlivened Oaxaca City. Rigoberto Menchú attended the event to sign an agreement between Oaxaca and Menchú’s environmental foundation. The Teachers Social Movement and the APPO (Asamblea Popular Pueblo de Oaxaca) mobilized 60,000 teachers who jammed the zócalo. Azael Santiago Chepi, Secretary General of the Education Workers union Section 22 stated: “Ruiz practiced the politics of terror and persecution and will go down in history as an incompetent who refused to hear the people…the teachers union is prepared to work with the new administration on all issues….” Punishment of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) was demanded, again.

Cue is seen as different: educated, a “gentleman”, and not a thug. He often appears wearing a necktie. He speaks about justice, law, transparency, the separation of judicial, legislative and executive power, local autonomy, revocation of office in case of official’s crimes, and above all, cooperation and development.

The final month before the change of governors was a tempest of murders: two drug cartel-related deaths in the city’s most important tourist venue, two social activists slain, and the severed head of a taxi driver left in the gift box on top of Fortin Hill overlooking the capital. Lights went off in the zócalo and surrounding streets; the electric bill had not been paid. As a parting salute, PRI taxi drivers blockaded city highways and the Civil Hospital on the last days in office of their patron, Ulises Ruiz.

Cue, for his part, met with the federal government, with the federal Congress, with international organizations, with the Development Bank, with investment sectors, all with the aim of bringing funds to Oaxaca. Dozens of meetings included a call for cooperation between the governors of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero: the three poorest southernmost states, each with large indigenous populations. He also met with businesses and investors. In addition he met with Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City, who may be the Revolutionary Democratic party candidate for president in 2012. Cue has made allies of both Ebrard and Ebrard’s chief rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), no small feat. The new governor insists he won’t know for at least two weeks what calamities he inherits from URO, who declined to hand over official information. Cue knows there is no simple solution to poverty in Oaxaca; it’s a complex structural problem. Cue is a capitalist and a pragmatist; sensitive to the needs of the poor and indigenous, but seeking development.

Because of the long interval between the July 4th election and the assumption of authority, Oaxaca spent almost five months waiting for Gabino Cue Monteagudo. The outgoing governor, the despised URO, spent most of that time, according to reports of the daily newspaper Noticias, destroying evidence and covering his trail. He did not meet with Cue until mid-November, and after five meetings, still had not presented accounts of the state’s debt, now said to be four times greater than what URO admitted to, and 500 million pesos more than when he took office. Other debts left to the new administration include last-minute negotiated bank loans, plus unpaid obligations to departments of health, literacy, public works and education. Unfinished are 51 hospitals, 4 universities and most highways undergoing renovations year after year. Indeed, were it not for obligatory reports to the new legislature, which began its first-ever bipartisan and independent sessions with the multi-party Coalition United for Peace and Progress outnumbering the PRI, the state’s financial and criminal history of the past six years would still be a mystery. The state’s secretary of finance faced the new legislature with unaccountable missing funds; in the names of family members properties had been purchased in Guadalajara, Jalisco, and in Valle de Bravo in the state of Mexico, while the sub-secretary of Finance acquired ranches in Chiapas, Puebla, Tlaxcala and Veracruz. Agents of the Attorney General of Mexico have detained Martha Ortega, sister of URO’s Secretary of Finance along with others, and charged them with money laundering because they were unable to explain the source of the 1,123,000,000 pesos they deposited in a bank.

In the same vein, the Secretary of Public Works in the Ruiz’ administration acknowledged that during the six years of URO’ rule, contractors close to the governor’s brother, Victor Hugo Ruiz Ortiz, as well as Eviel Perez Magana, the PRI’s candidate for governor against Gabino Cue, received substantial building contracts.
An additional scandal emerged regarding Ruiz’ direct gifts to friends as “payments for services rendered” or “favors received.” Receiving cash favors were Jose Luis Echeverria, President of the State Electoral Council, the former state Attorney General Lizbeth Caña Cadeza, and dozens of others to whom URO expressed his personal appreciation with state funds.
The present attorney general’s report to the legislature revealed under-reported deaths, thefts and disappearances and assaults. On the level of transportation, organizations of ambulant vendors, union bosses, mafia bureaucrats, landowners, organized crime, and corrupted media, one can expect a profound effort to maintain privileges during the new administration. Furthermore there are political, social and union groups which year after year since 1980 imposed their agendas, and done well in the climate of complete impunity.
At least 2,000 government officials were sanctioned during URO’s six year term for committing various irregularities in management of public funds. 458 legal procedures were initiated, 35 persons were disqualified from holding office. Around the state, finally emboldened people now confront these local officials with accusations of corruption. On November 17, 2010 the residents of Huautla, Oaxaca blocked the arrival of Governor Ulises Ruiz and PRI federal deputy Elpidio Concha Arellano from the inauguration of the town’s new market. Meanwhile URO employed his final weeks to offer propaganda and self-praise, neglecting to mention the more than 600 detentions, 502 in 2006 alone, when 380 cases of torture were documented. Nor did he mention nine forced disappearances, selective kidnapping of people linked to the social movement, or aggression against defenders of human rights, priests and reporters.

Cue brings hope, and a public willingness to suspend judgment during his first year in office. The national bureau of statistics indicates that more than 80% of the population live in poverty; Cue faces a daunting task. However, the usual character assassins denigrate Cue because he started his political career as a member of the PRI. They neglect to mention that when Cue served in the government of Diodoro Carrasco, and then became mayor of Oaxaca City, there was no other mainstream political party to join. Cue is not without ambition. He’s the kind of politician one foresees rising to the presidency, or at least attempting to, perhaps in 2018. He left the PRI when the Convergence for Democracy (Convergencia) Party began to function in 1999. Cue learned from former presidential candidate and governor of Mexico City, AMLO, that to be successful one must take care that the poor rise above the level of desperation— for no other reason than that desperation leads to revolution. Convergence’s strength has grown slowly in successful coalitions around the nation. On its second attempt, on July 4 of 2010, Convergence elected Gabino Cue governor with 718,224 votes in an alliance of opposites amid widespread public support.

Following Carrasco’s term, the next two governors, José Murat and Ulises Ruiz, were the worst ever in Oaxaca: authoritarian, willing to kill. On November 11, 2010 Noticias Voz y Imagen of Oaxaca headlined: Ruiz denies having assassinated anyone. On Thursday, November 25, 2010, thousands of men and women associated with the APPO, families of assassinated citizens, and the teachers union took to the streets to commemorate the 2006 repression. The human rights organization Protectorado Mexicano Para Los Derechos Humanos filed a criminal complaint, not the first. At least 100 denunciations against URO have been opened for criminal and moral crimes.

For the first time in its history Oaxaca witnessed a peaceful democratic transition to alternative political parties. The separation of powers has begun, and a clean state cabinet named. These changes take place in the national context of deadly drug wars, and a wobbly political transition still in process. An honest governor in Mexico is a rarity; eyes are on Oaxaca.