NEWS AND ANALYSIS JULY 2 - 8, 2012

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1 - PRI STEALS ANOTHER ELECTION
2 - REMITTANCES INCREASE IN MAY
3 - CALDERON VETOES CRIME VICTIM COMPENSATION LAW

The PRI is back, suborning Mexico’s already limited democracy with a not so subtle mixture of the most up-to-date digital vote-buying techniques and well-worn old school practices to re-install last century’s “perfect dictatorship.”  Remember 1988, when a mysterious “computer malfunction” saved PRI candidate Carlos Salinas de Gotari from certain defeat?  Salinas became perhaps the most hated man in Mexico when, in 1994, he handed a bankrupt country and the pending “tequila crisis” to another PRI President, Ernesto Zedillo.  While that election may have been technically clean, the real contest was decided months earlier when populist PRI candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, in some ways the anti-Salinas, was assassinated during a campaign stop, almost certainly the result of internal party struggles, though the case was never solved.  In 2000, former Coco-Cola president Vicente Fox captured the “voto util” (useful vote), a popular response to 70 years of PRI corruption that was really a vote for “anyone else.”   Then in 2006, PAN candidate Felipe Calderon called on former PRI operator extraordinaire Elba Esther Gordillo and a stacked Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) to manipulate returns and guarantee a presidency marked by six years of death – 55,000 and counting – in a failed “war on drugs.”  Reload to 2012, and another parody of democracy that will likely give the PRI’s Enrique Pena Nieto, a cute but largely vacuous “new face of the party,” yet another perverted presidential victory. 

The July 1 elections were sullied by excessive PRI spending, perhaps as much as five times the legal limit for presidential campaigns, enabling distribution of millions of pre-paid gift cards from Soriana, a popular department store with close links to the PRI, in exchange for votes.  Recipients reportedly exchanged cell phone photos of their PRI votes for plastic worth up to $1,000 pesos (US$71), though some expectant shoppers showed up at Soriana to find their cards contained much less, or even no funds.  Apparently, some PRI operators were only too happy to pocket the bribes while still guaranteeing the votes. This amounts to an early, though utterly predictable, manifestation of the Ley de Herodes (Herod’s Law), both a popular anti-PRI movie from 1988 and an expression of the cynicism that passes for modern politics – “if you’re not screwed, then you’re fucked.”  In the first few days following the election, Soriana stores in the Mexico City metro area, which includes Mexico State where Pena Nieto was governor, were inundated with clients trying to cash their booty as rumors spread the cards would be canceled.

Soriana cards were not the only electoral lingua franca.  In Oaxaca, a local PRI cacique traded a new public toilet for 526 votes for Pena Nieto, versus three for opposition candidates.  Other local power-brokers used the carrot AND the stick.  “Halconcitos” (children, often eight years old or less, who unexpectedly popped into voting booths to confirm how ballots were marked) reported to PRI bosses outside polling stations.  Voters with the temerity to vote for the opposition suffered the consequences – sometimes no cash bribe, sometimes blacklisting for future PRI goodies, and occasionally a beating.  Some voters were convinced by threats of physical violence, a practice that has a long history in some historic PRI enclaves.  Some gave up their voting cards days in advance of the election, in exchange for “dispensas” (baskets with basic food or small kitchen appliances).  In indigenous communities in Chiapas, votes were reportedly as cheap as 15 pesos (US$1.10).  The fraud was massive, funded by illegal donations from wealthy supporters who will most assuredly be repaid if Pena Nieto’s victory is confirmed.

The table was set before July 1.  Televisa, the larger half of a television duopoly that controls nationwide programming, anointed Pena Nieto’s candidacy at least two years ago, then virtually banned other candidates from appearing in their news programs.  Pena Nieto’s wife, known as La Gaviota for her role in a Televisa soap opera, added to the monopoly by dominating the softer morning and afternoon shows.  Combined with a series of manipulated polls by private companies, it almost appeared as if Pena Nieto was running without serious opposition. 

The IFE and other electoral institutions are going through the necessary legal motions, though without any sense that the results as they stand will change.  IFE recounted about half the ballots, increasing Pena Nieto’s lead by a few votes, while the Special Investigator for Electoral Crimes (Fepade) predicted it would take at least three months to investigate accusations of excessive spending, well beyond the September 6 deadline when the IFE anoints the final results.  Barack Obama was quick to congratulate Pena Nieto on his victory, followed by dozens of world leaders, including Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Raul Castro of Cuba.   

But the “victory” may be a hollow one.  While powerful figures, inside Mexico and out, coalesce around the PRI, tens of thousands of mainly young people took to the streets in 16 states on Saturday with loud claims of fraud and demands of “no imposition of Pena Nieto.”  The march in Mexico City lasted 5 hours and included tens of thousands of irate youth.  The 20,000 strong march in Guadalajara was the largest in at least two decades.  All around the country young people are calling for genuine democracy, without explicitly supporting any of the current candidates or their parties.  Originally organized under the umbrella of “YoSoy132” (I Am 132), a reference to the 131 students who presented their student IDs on YouTube after protesting Pena Nieto’s campaign stop at an upscale campus some six weeks before the election, this weekend’s actions appeared to include much new blood.  No group or leaders claimed to convoke the demonstrations, and the main actors in YoSoy132 could be found at a retreat in the state of Morelos, doing an analysis of their movement so far.  This was truly a spontaneous outpouring of anger from a population fed up with corruption, unemployment and politics as usual. 

It’s hard to say where the movement is headed.  The PRD, which placed second in presidential polling and is mounting most of the institutional challenges to the election, will most likely try to take charge, or at least exert influence, for their own political ends.  So far, this has been effective only at the margins, if even there.  A savvy group with ready access to social media, the youth focused their ire as much on Televisa and its corporate influence as on the government institutions that stage-manage elections. 

One thing is crystal clear.  They do not want Pena Nieto as their next president.  The most popular chant during the marches was “Fraud! Fraud! No imposition!,” interspersed with more pointed threats of “If there is imposition, there will be revolution!”  The durability and ultimate trajectory of the movement remains to be seen, but the energy is palpable and the demands resonate among the general population.

2 - REMITTANCES INCREASE IN MAY
Family remittances from Mexicans living in the US totaled US$2.34 billion in May, up 7.8% from the previous May.  Remittances are often a leading economic indicator, demonstrating both increased employment prospects at the low end of the job market, particularly in construction, and increasing peso/dollar exchange rates.  Remittances are the second most important source of foreign currency in Mexico, exceeded only by petroleum exports.

3 - CALDERON VETOES CRIME VICTIM COMPENSATION LAW
President Felipe Calderon waited until after the July 1 presidential election to veto a bill that would have provided compensation for innocent victims of his “war on drugs.”  Calderon promised to support such a bill months earlier during highly publicized meetings with Javier Sicilia, a poet whose son was among the many thousands of victims murdered by organized crime.  “A man who doesn’t keep his word is worthless,” said an angry Sicilia.

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