In support of those 131 students from Ibero, Twitter users started two hashtags: #masde131 (more than 131) and #yosoy132 (I am 132), the last one became the name of an unprecedented civilian movement that demanded clarity in the elections. Intellectuals, artists, concerned citizens, farmers, students from all sorts of backgrounds joined #yosoy132 and used it as a symbol that showed they were against the comeback of PRI, they didn’t want Peña Nieto, they demanded free media, they wanted voters to be free and informed, they were against electoral fraud, they wanted a real democracy. Civil organization started and there were national street protests before and after the election.
The Perfect Dictatorship
The Mexican political system is chaotic and complex. Both superficially and officially, it appears to be a democracy, but once you scratch the surface, that veneer comes right off.
In 1990, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa called Mexico “the perfect dictatorship.” He was giving a talk alongside other intellectuals, and he made a remark on the tradition of military dictatorships throughout Latin America. In contrast, Mexico was never under a military regime but was governed solely by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). For almost 80 years it was unimaginable that there could be anyone in office that came from any other political party. During most of that time, all of the presidents, the majority of the congress, and all of the governors came from PRI (though there were rare exceptions: in 1989 the PAN won Baja California, the first Mexican state that had a governor that was not from PRI in 60 years).
The president of Mexico was omnipotent: all the laws he proposed passed automatically; it was he who decided who would be the next PRI presidential candidate and, thus, the next president. Popularly, the candidate was called the “tapado” (the one who’s covered) and the procedure by which he chose the next candidate was called the “dedazo” (the pointing of finger). Workers’ unions, mass media, and institutions were nothing but the PRI’s instruments of power. It was an oligarchy in disguise. The rest of the political parties were mainly budgetary leeches that provided validation to democracia à la Mexicana. The absolute domination of the PRI in Mexico produced a strong system of corruption and nepotism. The government was a huge máquina de la mordida (bribery machine) that would not give up political power under any circumstance. Fraud was a common practice and the vote was a mere formality to stay in line with the national constitution.
In 1986 a democratic fraction of the PRI parted and founded the National Democratic Front. In 1988, the FND ran Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (son of Lázaro Cárdenas, a former president of Mexico) as presidential candidate against Carlos Salinas De Gortari. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas won, but the PRI changed the results on the night of the election, making Salinas president. (The fraud was ultimately admitted to the New York Times by Miguel de la Madrid, who was president at the time.) After the election, the FDN became Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas ran for office two more times but was never able to repeat the 1988 achievement.
In the ensuing years, the PRD grew and gained seats in congress and several states and became the dominant political force in Mexico City. The PAN also grew, up to the point that in 2000, Vicente Fox became the first president of Mexico who did not come from the PRI. Six years after, the PAN’s Felipe Calderón ran against Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD) and Roberto Madrazo (PRI). Calderón and López Obrador were in a virtual tie but the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) declared Calderón winner (even though Calderón was barely 0.58 percent ahead of López Obrador) and no recount of the votes was allowed. Again, the word fraud floated in the air.
After losing two consecutive presidential elections and being relegated to third place in the last one, the PRI gathered all its forces and began to campaign for Enrique Peña Nieto years before the official campaign period started. The ex-governor was groomed and packaged until he became a mass-consumption product with moussed hair and a beautiful soap-opera-actress wife, La Gaviota (the seagull). Peña Nieto popped up in socialite magazines, tabloids; he had a fan club; he was Elvis, minus the talent but with screaming hordes of female fans. At conventions, the PRI gave away Peña Nieto dolls. He was green-washed and promoted as the Partido Verde candidate (the Verde formed an alliance with PRI).
But there were details that didn’t quite fit. Peña Nieto’s speech was superficial, there was no depth of thought, he used a teleprompter, and he got in trouble whenever he had to speak without help. There are colorful and infamous anecdotes about his verbal clumsiness, such as when Peña Nieto was at a book fair and he could not name three books he had read; and the time when he could not say how his first wife died.
But the most important and questionable feature of the candidate was that he belonged to the Grupo Atlacomulco, which is a deeply corrupt side of the PRI (the politicians that belong to this group are old-guard priístas, and popularly they are called dinosaurios). This stirred up suspicions of Peña Nieto being the puppet of the darkest and most retrograde elements of the PRI.
The Aftermath of a Controversial Election
The year 2012 is bringing forth watershed moments in the construction of democracy in Mexico. Before the eruption of the students in the political arena, the presidential election was dull. It was just the same sad story, with its share of intrigue and mass murder, suitcases full of cash, rampant poverty, and behind-the-scenes political warfare.
Thanks to the civilian movement, Mexican citizens observed this election. A huge number of irregularities were found. The PRI went back to its tradition of fraudulent practices. Before the election, two million duplicated ballots were found in Oaxaca. Low-income citizens were paid in food, cash, and store credit if they voted PRI (technology was used to prove how citizens voted: they had to show cell-phone photos of their ballot in order to receive payment). There were voting polls where 110 percent on the population voted. Even the dead voted. In PRI-ruled states, citizens were promised their taxes and fines would be pardoned if they voted PRI. PRI agents purchased voting cards from citizens. Strong-arm tactics were used so citizens would vote PRI. On the Preliminary Vote Electronic Reporting System (PREP), the votes for López Obrador disappeared or were reported “illegible,” but votes for the rest of the parties were fine. Electoral urns full of votes were stolen.
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