Mexico: Mexican Civil Resistance in Five Acts

John Ross Aug 11, 2006


MEXICO CITY—Tens of thousands of people the color of the earth are encamped in the massive Zocalo square and a series of 47 encampments throughout the city. They have become communities overnight, feeding themselves, holding meetings, passing out leaflets, standing in resistance to this unspeakable fraud upon the people. More are coming from the provinces every day.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) insists that he won the July 2 presidential election from National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderón to whom the nation’s tarnished electoral authority, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), awarded a razor-thin and much questioned “victory.”

AMLO, as López Obrador is known, spoke to those gathered in the Zocalo on Aug. 2. The rain poured down as he updated them on what’s to come. Invoking Gandhi, he said, “First they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then they beat us. Then we win.” “No estas solo” (You are not alone), the pueblo roared back.

Act 1


Jacinto Guzman, an 80-year-old retired oil worker from Veracruz State plants himself in front of the headquarters of the Halliburton corporation along the skyscraper-lined Paseo de Reforma. He recalls the great strikes of the 1930s that culminated in the expropriation and nationalization of Mexico’s petroleum reserves.

Dressed in a wrinkled suit and a hard hat, the old worker laments the creeping privatization of PEMEX, the national oil corporation, by non-Mexican subcontractors like Halliburton, which is installing natural-gas infrastructure in Chiapas. The sign he holds reads “No A Pinche Fraude” (No to Fucking Fraud!) referring to Halliburton’s membership in a business confederation that financed a TV ad campaign against AMLO.

Guzman’s appearance at Halliburton on July 28 was one of myriad acts of civil resistance invoked by AMLO at a July 16 Mexico City “informative assembly” that drew more than a million participants. The campaign is designed to pressure a seven-judge panel (the “TRIFE”), which must determine a winner by the first week in September, into opening up the ballot boxes and counting the votes contained therein “voto por voto” (vote by vote).

Zeroing in on U.S. transnationals that purportedly backed Calderón, AMLO’s people have invaded Wal-Mart, picketed PepsiCo, Inc., rented rooms in big chain hotels and dropped banners from the windows decrying the “pinche fraude,” and blocking all 11 doors at the palatial headquarters of Banamex, once Mexico’s oldest bank and now a subsidiary of Citigroup.

Demonstrators also blocked the doors at the Mexican stock exchange and surrounded the studios of Televisa, the major head of the nation’s two-headed television monopoly, both heads of which shamelessly tilted to Calderón before, during, and after the ballots were cast.

Seated on a tiny folding chair outside of Banamex, Elena Poniatowska, one of Mexico’s most luminous writers and the recent winner of Spain’s Cervantes Prize, reflected on the civil resistance: “We have always seen the workers demonstrate here in the Zocalo but this is all very new for our middle class. The middle class protests too, but in the privacy of their own homes. Now we are out of the closet.”

Act 2


Hundreds of steaming AMLO supporters pack the cavernous Club de Periodistas in the old quarter of the capital where computer gurus will diagnose the complexities of the fraud AMLO is positive was perpetrated by IFE technicians in early July during both the preliminary count and the actual tally of 130,000 precincts in the nation’s 300 electoral districts.

The experts are as convinced as the audience that the vote was stolen on the IFE terminals but have many theories as to how. They speak of arcane algorithms and corrupted software. Juan Gurria, a computer programmer who has dropped in on his lunch hour to audit the experts, recalled the 1988 election which was stolen from leftist Cuauhtemoc Cardenas by the long-ruling

(71 years) PRI in the nation’s first cybernetic computer fraud.

Eighteen years ago, with computer fraud still in its infancy, the PRI had to resort to hitmen to carry out its larceny. Three nights before the election, Cardenas’s closest aide Francisco Xavier Ovando and his assistant Ramon Gil were executed blocks away from the Congress after reportedly obtaining the password to the PRI computer system upon which the results were being cooked in favor of its candidates, the now universally reviled Carlos Salinas de Gortari. So far, Computer Fraud 2006 has been less messy.

The PRD is trying to keep a lid on the bad gas seeping from down below. A few days after July 2, Felipe Calderón, whom AMLO’s people have derisively dubbed “Fe-Cal,” came to this same club to receive the adulation of a gaggle of union bosses. When he tried to leave, he was assailed by street venders howling “Voto por Voto!” Calderón was quickly hustled into a bullet-proof SUV by his military escort but the angry crowd kept pounding on the tinted windows.

Act 3


Andrés Manuel López Obrador fervently believes he has won the presidency of the United States of Mexico. He says it often on television just to needle rival Calderón. The proof, he is convinced, is inside 130,000 ballot boxes that he wants recounted, voto por voto.

The ballot boxes are now stored in the Federal Electoral Institute’s 300 district offices under the protection of the Mexican Army. Nonetheless, in Veracruz, Tabasco, and Jalisco, among other states, IFE operators have broken into the ballot boxes under the pretext of recovering lost electoral documentation.

AMLO is suspicious that the officials are monkeying with the ballots, adding and subtracting the number of votes to make them conform to the IFE’s incredible computer count. Hundreds of ballot boxes contain more votes than voters on the registration lists and more ballots have been judged null and void than the 243,000-vote margin of Calderón’s as-yet unconfirmed victory.

López Obrador’s Party, the PRD, has submitted documentation of anomalies in 53,000 out of the nation’s 130,000 polling places to the TRIFE, the seven-judge panel that will have the ultimate word as to whether or not the votes are going to be counted one by one.

Act 4


The integrity of the Federal Electoral Commission is in the eye of Hurricane AMLO. AMLO accuses the IFE of fixing the election for Calderón and then defending his false victory. The PRD has filed criminal charges against the nine members of the IFE’s ruling council, most prominently its chairman, the gray-faced bureaucrat Luis Carlos Ugalde, for grievous acts of bias against AMLO, including refusing to halt Calderón’s hate spots in the run-up to July 2. The council is composed entirely of PRI and PAN nominees; the PRD is, of course, excluded.

Despite rumors that he had fled the country, Ugalde appeared July 27 at the first IFE meeting since the district tallies three weeks previous. During an acrimonious seven-hour public meeting, a score of protesters eventually pushed their way past the IFE guards at the auditorium’s portals.

They chanted “Voto por voto” and carried bouquets of yellow flowers, the color of the AMLO. A PRD deputy tried to hand one to Ugalde who turned away in horror. A bodyguard snatched up the blossoms as if they were a terrorist bomb, and disposed of them post-haste.

Act 5


The TRIFE must declare a new president by Sept. 5. The seven judges have just begun to dig their way into the slagheap of legal challenges, the ham-handed bias of the IFE prior to the election and the strange behavior of the Federal Electoral Institute’s computers on election day and thereafter.

López Obrador is obsessed with proving his triumph at the polls and is not going to sit on his hands waiting for the TRIFE to reach its learned conclusions. A gifted leader of street protest, he has summoned his people to the capitol’s Tianamen-sized Zocalo square three times since July 2, drawing 2.4 million on July 30 (police estimates) – the largest political demonstration in the nation’s history.

At the July 30 “informative assembly,” in a driving downpour, López Obrador suggested that all the demonstrators stay where they are in permanent assembly until the TRIFE renders a decision.

Then Gabino Palomares, a troublemaking troubadour who has been up there on the stage at every watershed event in recent Mexican history from the slaughter of striking students at Tlatelolco in 1968 to the Zapatistas’ “March of the Those the Color of the Earth” in 2001, took the mic to lead the mob in that old labor anthem, “We Shall Not Be Moved” and AMLO’s people thundered back in a roar that drowned out the weeping sky, “No Nos Moveran!”

John Ross’s ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible: Chronicles of Resistance 2000-

2006 will be published by Nation Books in October. This article was excerpted from


PRD- Party of the Democratic Revolution, formed in 1989 when Mexico was still a oneparty

state. The organization has evolved into a full-fledged political party from its base of hundreds

of locally formed committees.

PRI- Party of the Institutional Revolution, called “the perfect dictatorship” by one critic, the PRI governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000. They still control 25 percent of the Mexican Congress and could cut a deal to share power with PAN.

PAN- National Action Party, founded in 1939 by wealthy, conservative Catholics, this once obscure party won the presidency in 2000.

AMLO- The affectionate acronym for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the popular former mayor of Mexico City and PRD presidential candidate.

FELIPE CALDERÓN- The PAN (National Action Party) candidate, a Harvard-educated technocrat and party functionary since 1987.

IFE- A supposedly independent organization charged with policing federal elections, that voted unanimously to certify the election in favor of Calderón.

TEPJF(Previously TRIFE)- A special court within Mexico’s judiciary that settles disputed elections.

On Aug. 5 they ruled that 11,839, or 9 percent of the electoral packets should be opened due to irregularities. A decision the PRD calls “legalistic” and “9% democratic.”


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