The NY Times’ editorials on Mexico’s election

The New York Times recent editorials on Mexico illustrate the noxious and treacherous institutional fetishism that plagues American liberalism and makes it so difficult for those in the U.S. who live off their work (as opposed to those who live off inheritance, wealth, power, or privilege) from becoming an independent and united political actor.  The means, institutional democracy and political stability, have been turned into ends in themselves, altars upon which large masses of people (usually the poor, the socially disadvantaged) are expected to indefinitely sacrifice their substantive interests.

On July 7, 2006, the New York Times called Mexico’s federal electoral tribunal (and thereby Mexico’s entire political establishment, to which the tribunal ultimately responds) to recount all the votes cast on July 2’s presidential election.  Clearly trying to influence those in Mexico most apprehensive about the prevailing opinion in U.S. elite circles and political establishment, the newspaper asked the tribunal to interpret the law “as expansively as possible” and trained a battery of reasonable arguments in support of its case.

To start with, the editorial stressed that the IFE’s count was a “near tie.” To bolster its argument, the Times reminded the readers that, rather recently, “Mexico used to be a global leader in election fraud.”  Finally, it alluded to reports of problems in “some polling stations” where “votes were misrecorded on tally sheets,” “discrepancies [that] appeared to largely favor Mr. Calderón, in at least one case mistakenly awarding him hundreds of extra votes” — altogether “enough problems to warrant a complete recount.”

The tribunal rejected the appeal made by López Obrador’s coalition (an argument backed up, partially at least, by the New York Times).  While the standard it set to challenge a particular tally sheet was a thorough casuistic argument, the tribunal itself did not bother to disclose any casuistic statement spelling out the detailed reasons why it decided to subtract 81,080 votes from Calderón and 76,897 to López Obrador.  It just said so.  Any objective legal observer would find their ruling lacking in substance.

Readers expecting the New York Times to react critically to the tribunal’s ruling got utterly disappointed.  In its latest editorial, on August 29, the Times changed its tune.  It called López Obrador to give it up and move on: “it is time […] to end the protests and pledge to respect the tribunal’s final decision.”  The daily’s logic is that the rejection of a full vote recount is fine, because the tribunal said so: “This vote was apparently well run, and there is a clear and thorough process in place to deal with challenges. The electoral tribunal is respected and independent.”  Just like that.

Fortunately, the Times’ wishful thinking won’t fly in Mexico.  The demand for a full recount was minimal and the tribunal failed to ensure the transparency, equity, and certainty that — according to Mexico’s constitution — are the attributes of a valid election.  The fraud was validated.  The institutions failed.  Within the confines of Mexico’s constitution (article 39 stipulates that the sovereignty of the nation lies in the people and that whole purpose of the country’s political institutions is to serve the people), large crowds will press on.

However, as meek as the latest editorial was, what I found most disturbing (“disgusting” is probably a better adjective) is this insidious remark: “If he [López Obrador] does not desist, his party, now the country’s second-largest, should decide that it is bigger than him and that its role is as opposition within, not outside, democratic processes.”  In plain words, the New York Times is inviting other leaders and members of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) to abandon their principles in the face of fraud and imposition and betray López Obrador and the mass movement that backs him up.  It’s a very slippery slope from fetishising political institutions and sanctifying political stability to dividing and betraying the people.

Luckily, for now, the leaders of the political coalition that supported López Obrador’s candidacy remain firmly united around the strategy and tactics chosen by the movement.  More importantly, as people shouts every day in the Zócalo plaza, López Obrador is not alone (“No estás solo” is one of the crowd’s favorite slogans).  As I have argued before, it is precisely this dynamic, by which López Obrador articulates the best instincts of his primary base of popular support, the working poor — reciprocated in turn by the working poor’s steady support of his leadership — that makes it possible for this historically victimized segment of Mexico’s population to advance in their struggle to improve their social condition.

Yesterday, in the Zócalo’s Informative Assembly, López Obrador answered the New York Times and other foreign media that have been asking him to accept the fraud.  His tone was respectful, but firm.  This is a loose transcription of his words (the video of his full speech is at www.amlo.org.mx):

“Regularly, in Mexico’s history, authoritarian regimes go abroad to look for legitimacy. What they don’t get here, with popular support, they try to make up for beseeching it abroad.  It’s a practice that spans from Victoriano Huerta to Carlos Salinas de Gortari.  And now, they want to do the same.  They claim that they are promoters of ‘modernity’ and ‘globalism’ — and follow the same script followed by every authoritarian and anti-democratic regime in Mexico’s history.  They think that if they get a stamp of approval, the ‘OK’, abroad, then they can become legitimate in Mexico.” 

Stressing his words for emphasis, he concluded: “But in Mexico… and let this be crystal clear… in Mexico, we do not accept — we do not accept an usurpation.  We do not accept a spurious president.  We do not accept that patsy — Calderón.  Let this be very clear!”

It is not at all clear that the readership of the New York Times would be best served by the Mexicans’ submission to electoral fraud and tolerance of institutional failure, all for the sake of some illusory “political stability.”  What is sufficiently clear is that Mexico’s working poor don’t think so.  They deem the acceptance of fraud as the riskiest of all courses of action.  To judge by their behavior and collective disposition, Mexico’s working poor are opting for the struggle to advance their interest.  They will continue with their strategy of peaceful, non-violent, civic resistance to the fraud and usurpation.  More power to them: Submission to rotten institutions and political abuse is not the way out.  No significant social progress in history has ever been achieved without a fight.

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7 Responses to “The NY Times’ editorials on Mexico’s election”

  1. Colin Brayton Says:

    I wrote the Times a letter to the editor about that op-ed myself.

    I have followed the election controversy closely as well, in the Mexican press and television and through the blogs, and no longer have any doubt:

    The election presented so many anomalies, including those pointed out by a group of UNAM professors who analysed the PREP results on July 2, that the failure of the TRIFE to investigate and explain them fully means that no reasonable and impartial person can consider the result legitimate.

    Those videos of ballot boxes whose seals had been violated while in IFE’s custody especially need explaining. And the privately funded Swift Boat-style ad campaign defending the integrity of IFE was jaw-droppingly inappropriate and slimy.

    I would bet that Calderon’s tenure will be plagued by the emerging evidence of that illegitimacy, too, as it arrives in dribs and drabs.

    AMLO has taken a lot of heat for making strong assertions about fraud in the election, but I have to say I found the Coalition has a much better track record than PAN as far as providing concrete evidence of its allegations.

    It’s an insane situation. I hope at the end of it all that Mexico manages to put the presidentialism — the same kind of “unitary executive” we’re trying to prevent coming about here — that motivates this kind of political death struggle behind it.

    I mean, come on: A president with 37% of the popular vote, properly constrained by a legislature where the opposition controls the largest number of seats? Theoretically, that’s a recipe for compromise and moderation.

    That’s how democracy is supposed to work. Right? Negotiation? Compromise? A balancing act among competing interests?

  2. Charles Says:

    I am not at all surprised that the NYT (and the FT and other newspapers that show some empathy with the problems of developing nations).

    The PRD failed to develop an effective communications strategy to reach foreign media, especially using English language postings.

    Meanwhile, in Mexico, almost every media outlet was putting out PAN’s story. Only La Jornada reported *any* of the specific allegations and examined them independently. That left the PRD claims in the realm of vague, unsubstantiated claims.

    The most famous claim, the man in the blue shirt apparently stuffing a ballot box, was simply withdrawn from the site without explanation. I haven’t seen anything to convince me that the guy was or was not doing anything illegal, but there is simply no doubt that the ballot handling procedures in that precinct were awful.

    That means that any foreign reporter had to work hard to figure out what was going on. Reporters nowadays aren’t up to the task. Palast, one of the few who does get around, has been promoting his book.

    I am not blaming the PRD. They didn’t have the resources to do it, I am sure. But looking at it from the fuzzy, cataract-filled eyes of The Gray Lady, no one told them they had to read La Jornada to figure out what was going on.

    So, they just don’t know, and until something happens in Mexico that makes it impossible for them to ignore it, they’ll continue not to know.

    Unless, of course, readers give them specific allegations with the suggestion that they answer them.

  3. panchovilla Says:

    … Well, maybe that “something that makes it impossible for them to ignore it” is happening in Mexico as we write:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060902/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/mexico_elections

  4. Charles Says:

    Naah.

    Mexico stops exporting oil, *that* they can’t ignore.

  5. panchovilla Says:

    Say López Obrador is Mexico’s president. Why would he want to stop selling oil to the U.S.? You’re thinking of a scenario that, for the time being, would hurt Mexicans more than it’d hurt people in the U.S.  (When the U.S. sneezes, Mexico catches a cold.)  And with or without López Obrador, a government of the left in Mexico would have no reason whatever to want to hurt the U.S. people.

    More generally, the U.S. working people can and must change the U.S. It’s their responsibility. Mexicans cannot change the U.S. via oil trade embargoes or stuff like that. It’s not up to the Mexicans to change U.S. society.

  6. Colin Brayton Says:

    I think Charles’ point is well-taken; that occurred to me, too. But I get the sense that Lopez O. has done this by design, preferring to focus on a Mexican audience rather than appealing to foreign audiences. Time will tell whether that was a wise strategy or not, I guess.

  7. Charles Says:

    I agree with you entirely. But I think you’re missing the point.

    The golpe is not primarily about money. It’s about power. It’s about keeping the “pinche indios” terrified and in their place. From this, certain people will enrich themselves, notably through the privatization of Pemex. But they will also pay an enormous price, as well. It’s a well-known fact– so well-known that Merrill Lynch circulated it to their investors– that moderate left of center governments produce more growth and higher stock market returns. Right-wing governments inevitably drown in a geyser of corruption and blood.

    Now, what sort of personality does it take to be willing to pay good money just to keep people down? It takes someone completely deaf, dumb, and blind. Of course Lopez Obrador would sell oil to the US. His constituents work in those fields, lay pipeline to carry the oil, work in refineries, drive gasoline tankers, etc. And, yes, for things to be that screwed up would hurt Mexico, especially the poor, way more than it would hurt the US.

    But the US will not notice that anything is amiss until things are so screwed up that the people who work the fields, pay pipeline, refine, and truck are in the streets fighting for a more just society.

    I hope I am wrong. I am waiting for the editorial that says, “Wait, now that we see that all of the opposition deputies are willing to get clubbed to protest this fraud, now we see that it’s more than just one messianic Mexican.”

    But I have corresponded with a number of journalists and editors. They do not get it. They don’t even understand the nature of the allegations.

    Deaf, dumb, blind.

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