Mexico: on the volcano

Sergio Aguayo Quezada
24 November 2006

Those of us who live in Mexico have had the feeling, for quite some time, of walking on a volcano of political and social conflict that might become active at any moment. The causes of this atmosphere are personified in the three presidents who will share the stage until 1 December 2006 (afterwards, only two will remain).

Andrés Manuel, the agitator, López Obrador was sworn in as "legitimate president" on 20 November in Mexico City's main square (Zócalo). The enthusiasm of his followers is counteracted by the passion of those who disbar him through resounding and hurtful criticisms, some of which are justified, some a mere expression of atavistic fears.

Andrés Manuel irritates because he voices scathing and harsh phrases from the square: the election? "fraudulent"; Fox? "a traitor to democracy"; Calderón? a "puppet" of the true powers that exploit Mexicans. It is jagged language, but representative of that part of Mexico which is resentful of extreme economic disparity and the election's terrible quality.

Sergio Aguayo Quezada is professor at Mexico's Colegio de Mexico

Also by Sergio Aguayo Quezada in openDemocracy:

"Mexican democracy in peril" (April 2005)

"America's protean left: José Miguel Insulza and the OAS" (July 2005)

"Washington vs Latin American democracy" (November 2005)

"The Americas' new independence"
(March 2006)

"Mexico: a banana republic?"
(19 April 2006)

"Mexico's turbulent election ride"
(May 2006)

" Fraud in Mexico?"
(July 2006)

"Mexico's democratic lifeline"
(12 September 2006)

The language scares because it summons Juan Rulfo's immortal El llano en llamas (The Burning Plain, 1953) to the collective memory; in urban Mexico there are fears that the agitator will burn a street that belongs only to a few. In Mexico public spaces are not suitable even for citizens to take a walk; they are owned by criminals, informal vendors and those who protest in a country with an absent state. But if one wishes to understand the origin and the future of leftist anger, one must carry out a dialectical exercise and think too of the right.

Vicente, the frivolous, Fox Quezada will cease to be president on 30 November. In the democratic field he renders poor accounts, and what began as a party ends as a wake. He arrived in power in 2000 on account of an understanding reached in the 1980s between the right and the left to promote clean and reliable elections; the latter included an obligation on the president to abstain from using his power to influence the election of his successor.

With a chilling flippancy, just months after taking office, Fox surrendered to the old regime and the renovating impulse was exhausted. In 2006 the right and the president broke the consensus; when faced with the choice between democratic principles and the preservation of power, they chose the latter. I am not amongst those who cry "fraud", but neither am I blind to the multiple irregularities that muddied this election and created a sense of aggravation that feeds the protest.

In the five months since the election on 1 July 2006, Fox and the right have been dead set on denying the aggravation. They insist on talking about the future, in condemning the agitator and in using other countries' lefts as an example; they wish that the recent past would transform itself into an inert tapestry, hung in some dark corridor of history. This attitude is shared by the elected president.

Felipe, the discreet, Calderón Hinojosa will become president on 1 December... but no one knows where or how the procedural ritual will take place, given that the leftist parties have decided to prevent the ceremony from taking place. If he maintains his commitment to attend congress he will have to do so protected by the military and the federal police; if he decides to be sworn in at a different location he will be seen as a weak ruler ... in a country where machos abound. In either case, he will form a government, and then the discretion upheld during the last months will end. What will he do and say?

The challenges that Calderón faces are enormous. Political pragmatism and elemental justice would require him to give priority to poverty and to combat offensive monopolies; two banners waved by his competitor in the streets and squares. It is possible that Calderón understands this; but will he want to - will he be able to - confront the powerful ones who supported him? Regarding the political fracture, the still elected president has kept a hermetic silence, perhaps confident of the effects of time in spreading oblivion; but this will not stop the "legitimate president" traveling across Mexico and reminding people of everything that is wrong in this country.

Also on Mexico's turbulent election in openDemocracy:

Yadira Hidalgo, "Atenco's agony: Mexico's other campaign"
(13 June 2006)

Bernardine Coverley, "Meeting Marcos at Huixquilucan "
(13 June 2006)

The lava flow

Mexico is a wonderful country for some, and an unfair one to others. Poverty is as brutal as the systematic exploitation practised by monopolies and oligopolies that act with as much impunity as the organised crime cartels. We are a country with a weak state, one of those "every man for himself" republics.

In Mexico, regime changes have been bloody and destructive. Independence, the Reform, and the Revolution left a mess of death and destruction; in this light, the relative peacefulness of the transition to democracy that began four decades ago has been anomalous. It is desirable that tranquillity remains, and it is still likely that it will.

However, if Mexican democracy's future is uncertain, it is due to the rupture of the understanding between left and right, and the fact that a third of the population still thinks that elections have ceased to be reliable. All our contradictions and limitations gush from that triangle formed by our presidents - the agitator, the frivolous and the discreet - each of whom contributes, in his own way, to an uncertainty that transcends people and becomes systemic. We are living on the volcano.

This article was translated from Spanish by Alfonsina Peñaloza


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