In Mexico, history never comes through a ballot box
As the summer approaches, students in the U.S. will descend into working longer hours and take a break from the stress of the spring semester. This can be a depoliticizing time as it pushes students’ focuses inward.
However, for students in Mexico, political tensions will rise as presidential elections take center-stage. Students in the U.S. need to be aware of how the Mexican elections could potentially affect politics in their own country.
From the founding of the Institutional Party of the Revolution’s predecessor in 1929 to 2000, Mexico was effectively a one-party dictatorship. Power was passed on to a different influential party leader every six years. Despite controlling the state, the party lacked official ideology and maintained its reputation as the vanguard of the Mexican Revolution.
From 1934 to 1940, President Lázaro Cárdenas instilled a deep pride in Mexicans by bringing the revolution to life with major land distributions, nationalization of the oil companies and railroads, aiding the Spanish Republic against the fascist Francisco Franco, pushed for massive unionization and backed workers when they went on strike.
In short, he brought into fruition the revolutionary politics of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.
Cárdenas’ ghost haunts the Mexican elections as left-wing presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador is leading the polls by a wide margin. Former mayor of Mexico City Obrador is a popular figure who strikes a nationalist tone when condemning Trump’s comments about Mexico. He stands up for Mexican autonomy in the face of U.S. bullying and has proposed strong social-democratic measures to help the poor in Mexican society.
Some media pundits in Mexico have accused Obrador of being another Hugo Chavez, which is a misleading comparison. Venezuela’s revolution was the result of mass-pressure stemming from civil-society through the Caracazo, while Mexico’s popular candidate is responding to social demands that have not taken the form of mass riots.
Other media pundits have gone so far of accusing him of being a “Moscow stooge” as the conspiracy theory of Russia meddling in U.S. elections has slithered its way into Mexico. This laughable idea has been picked up for rhetoric by the PRI and other opposition parties, but no evidence has surfaced.
U.S. politics have greatly impacted the election in Mexico, especially with the trash-talk from President Trump about building a wall along the shared border. Obrador proved his nationalism and opposition to xenophobia when giving a speech in Ciudad Juarez, answering Trump, “Mexico and its people will not be the piñata of any foreign government.”
The borderlands of northern Mexico are a highly-politicized area that Americans view as inherently violent and prone to narco-trafficking. But the borderlands are also an important sanctuary for wildlife that do not recognize borders and face becoming endangered by the proposed wall.
The wall separates families that live on both sides of the border and feeds into the United States’ long history of settler-colonialism and xenophobia. It is in response to these popular feelings and their material situation that Mexicans are rallying around the one candidate who genuinely stands against the U.S.
“For the first time in modern history, the U.S. has a relevant role in electoral campaigns in Mexico due to the context of Donald Trump,” said Anthony Cantu, assistant professor of political science at UH.
The other candidates are less inspiring. The PRI is running another technocrat in José Antonio Meade Kuribreña. The National Action Party (PAN), a right-wing party set up in opposition to Cárdenas in 1939, is running Ricardo Anaya Cortés, who represents more of the status-quo but through right-wing populism and rhetoric.
The most interesting candidate to put her name forward is María de Jesús Patricio, an indigenous candidate of Nahua ancestry who was backed by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), better known as the Zapatistas. Historically, indigenous people of Mexico, who make up 21.5 percent of the population, have been distrustful of the political process, especially of the corruption that overtook several recent elections.
Standing for indigenous and women’s rights, Patricio represents the real spirit and values of the Mexican Revolution. While it is unfortunate that she was unable to gather enough signatures to be put on the ballot, her presence and performance when facing the media should remind Mexico that indigenous women are still fighting incredible struggles.
In Mexico, history has never been made through the ballet box. It has always come from the people themselves.
The violence that has engulfed many parts of Mexico has not spared those running for other positions this year. At least 30 candidates were murdered during their campaigns; no party has been spared from the violence. No matter who wins the elections in July, if the people are not satisfied with effects to curb the violence, they will not win a re-election.
Mexicans are still recovering from last year’s earthquake, battling against NAFTA-imposed exploitation, narco-trafficking, climate change and defending themselves from corrupt state officials.
Only Obrador has plans to deal with these problems and to bring Mexico back to a state of equilibrium. However, if Mexicans want real change and balance to be placed back into their favor, they will have to either push him further or push beyond him.
Opinion columnist Brant Roberts is a history senior and can be reached at [email protected].