Violence or diversion?

This morning, Mexico’s press was almost unanimous in giving great prominence to the heckling of Felipe Calderón by a small group of people, one of whom banged the windows of his SUV and made an obscene sign with his hand. The bodyguards from the “estado mayor presidencial” (the equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service) rushed Calderón away from the place.

The PRD has denied organizing this particular protest. Alejandro Encinas, Mexico City’s interim mayor and PRD leader condemned the action in strong terms. But the press is using this particular instance of heckling as the kind of mob actions that López Obrador is unleashing by not giving up. A lot of noise is being created.

I work at an office in a building located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in New York City (yes, envy me — or not, since this is one of the areas most exposed to a future terrorist attack in the U.S.). Some mornings I stop at a Korean deli on 35th and buy coffee or something. Some of the employees there are Mexican and they get their information about Mexico via Univisión and Telemundo. One of them told me, “Hey, I support López Obrador, but I don’t think he should be threatening Calderón and his family.” “What do you mean?” — I asked. “Well, it was on TV last night.”

The basis of this smear is López Obrador’s remarks in his Zócalo speech last Saturday. Except that there was no threat. You can read the speech here (and Google language tools should help you translate if your Spanish is rusty). There’s no threat anywhere in the speech. He did mention to Calderón that, in deciding what to do next, he should think of his family and those who love him most, because the damage caused to his personal reputation by a fraudulent presidency “cannot be washed off with all the waters in the oceans.”

Clearly, the point of all this trickery is to distract the public from the main issue in dispute: the recount — vote by vote, polling place by polling place. (This is, by the way, what the PAN used to demand when it was in the opposition.) The decision is in the hands of the TRIFE. Yesterday, the president of the TRIFE (the electoral federal court), Leonel Castillo, was assigned the legal case presented by the Coalición por el Bien de Todos (López Obrador ‘s coalition) to have the votes recounted. There’s a lot of speculation about the course of the case in the court, but there’s very little substantive that can be said at this point.

But yes, that is the main issue. López Obrador is staying on message, pressing the point wherever he can. Yesterday, he was interviewed by Televisa’s Carlos Loret de Mola — a smart, a bit arrogant, good-looking yuppie, the son of an old political pundit and writer from Yucatán. Loret de Mola is confrontational in his interviews and he can get under people’s skins. But López Obrador is an experienced debater. Considering his rather understated style, he was pretty snappy in his replies.

“Do you condemn yesterday’s attack on Calderón by your supporters?” López Obrador answered, “no, I condemn the fraud.” Right — fraud big, heckling small. López Obrador made it clear that he doesn’t approve or encourage this type of protests, but he said there are millions who feel betrayed by the electoral system. He said he’d do his best to channel that anger in peaceful ways (it’s in the record), but that he’s not going to condemn it when people heckle Calderón. He’ll save his condemnation and rigtheous indignation for bigger sins.

Loret de Mola pressed on, “So, are things getting out of control? Can’t you control your people?” And “If you don’t condemn people who attack Calderón, how can you avoid being seen as a violent leader?” Instead of playing defense, López Obrador launched a counter-attack and challenged Loret de Mola and Televisa to look at the big political crime that the PAN and its backers are trying to commit at the expense of the popular will.

López Obrador showed a couple of polling place tallies (new ones I hadn’t heard about) where the figures were completely out of whack with the ballots in the packages. (He promised he’d return to the show with boxes of documents showing similar discrepancies, if Loret de Mola cared to look at them.) Just in those two cases, Calderón had one thousand — one thousand! — votes added to him by “arithmetic error.” López Obrador asked Loret de Mola and Televisa to get morally outraged, not only by the heckling of Calderón, but also by these discrepancies — and dig deeper.

Another important point López Obrador made was in answer to a question regarding the mass protests and civil disobedience campaign he’s calling his supporters to wage. “Aren’t you trying to pressure the TRIFE?” López Obrador’s answer could be loosely translated as, “Yeah… sooo? Isn’t the PAN pressuring the TRIFE as well, with the help of the mass media and a few rich people with special interests?” So, he defended the right of the people to pressure the TRIFE . It’s legal, it’s in the Constitution. It’s the right to protest, which is meant to exercise pressure on authorities. What’s the point of a protest if it doesn’t pressure an authority?



3 Responses to “Violence or diversion?”

  1. James Galbraith Says:

    Thank you. I started reading your blog before publishing my piece in The Guardian, and find your commentary very valuable, both this and previous ones.


  2. Skjellifetti Says:

    If the ballots are in the care of the TRIFE, how does Obrador know that “the figures were completely out of whack with the ballots in the packages?” My understanding is that current Mexican election law does not require TRIFE to recount all of the ballots. That law was agreed to by all of the parties before the campaign began. The Europeans and other neutral observors seem to think that the election was fairly clean. By asking for a change in the recount rule now, Obrador looks more and more like a sore loser.

    Having said that, a recount of such a close election is not an unreasonable request in a democracy. But it would also not surprise me if Obrador lost the recount, too. Sometimes things are done cleanly, there are no conspiracies, and you discover that there really are more of them than there are of you.

  3. Al Grimstad Says:

    An English translation of AMLO’s Zocalo speech is available at ZNet:

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