Tuesday, June 12, 2012

am I lying – or have my lips stopped moving?

The New York Times has stirred up a bit of controversy in Mexico’s presidential election.

On 10 June, the newspaper ran an article with the headline: “Candidates in Mexico Signal a New Tack in Drug War.”  But it was not the headline that has stirred up the Mexicans.

My neighbors will elect a new president on 1 July, and he (or she – because there is a major party woman candidate) will take office on 1 January.

There are three leading contenders representing competing ideologies.  But, more important for most Mexicans, none of them are the incumbent, Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa.  President Calderón’s war against the drug lords is extremely unpopular.  And that unpopularity is setting part of the pace in this year's election.

And that is where our cast of characters come in.

All the polls show
Enrique Peña Nieto as the leading candidate.  He is the charisma candidate.  And “leading” is almost a euphemism.  He is about fifteen points ahead of his nearest contender.

All of that is a bit surprising because he is the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that held almost dictatorial power for 71 years.  Until the voters booted it out in 2000.

And that breakup was not just a small lover’s spat.  In the next presidential election (2006), Mexican voters relegated PRI to third place with its votes.

The man who came in second in 2006 was Andrés Manuel López Obrador.  And he is back again as the candidate of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), founded by a group of former PRI politicians who wanted a party with a bit more leftist ideology and, hopefully, less corruption.

AMLO, the acronym by which he is popularly known, was the Al Gore of the 2006 election.  But, unlike Al. AMLO decided to play the sore loser.  He believed he was the winner of the 2006 election and spent an entire year leading protests in Mexico City to that effect.

Not surprisingly, he is the populist candidate in this race -- and the favorite candidate of Pravda.

But he is far behind Peña Nieto in the opinion polls.  Sometimes, in second place.  Sometimes, in third.

And the candidate who is regularly in third place is Josefina Vázquez Mota, standard bearer for the National Action Party (PAN).  The party of the last two presidents:  Vicente Fox and, of course, the unlamented Calderón.

None of the candidates has offered any support for the current war on and between the drug lords.  Even Josefina has attempted to distance herself from the current policy.

AMLO is the candidate who usually creates headlines.  Not this time.  It was Peña Nieto’s turn.

One thing you need to know about Peña Nieto.  He is a very slick candidate.  He chooses his words very carefully and stays on message.  Just as any effective candidate should.

He sat down with a reporter for The New York Times, and walked very carefully through the drug war question.  But, let me turn you over to the reporter.
Lately he has suggested that while Mexico should continue to work with the United States government against organized crime, it should not “subordinate to the strategies of other countries.”

“The task of the state, what should be its priority from my point of view, and what I have called for in this campaign, is to reduce the levels of violence,” he said in an interview. 
It sounds rather innocuous.  Mexico is in charge of what happens in Mexico, and Mexican interests will not be subordinated to the interests of the United States.  Even in prosecuting the drug war.

And none of the other candidates has said anything different.

The usual political suspects up north went into a bit of a frenzy.  With little exercises in reductionism: “Will there be a situation where the next president just turns a blind eye to the cartels, ceding Mexico to the cartels, or will they be a willing partner with the United States to combat them?”

That surprised no one in Mexico.  After all, that is the sheen on the drug lord war has down here.  It is America refusing to deal with its own problem by asking Mexico to do the heavy lifting. 

That is not news.  It is simply a policy disagreement.

What was news came from the White House.  Indirectly.

When reporters ask the administration about elections in another country, the standard response should be some variation on: “The United States honors the sovereignty of other nations an has no intention of attempting to influence the democratic actions of a free people.”

And I am willing to bet that "One senior Obama administration official" wishes that is what he had spun out, instead of what he said:
One senior Obama administration official said on Friday that Mr. Peña Nieto’s demand that the United States respect Mexican priorities “is a sound bite he is using for obvious political purposes.” In private meetings, the official said, “what we basically get is that he fully appreciates and understands that if/when he wins, he is going to keep working with us.”
So, the official word from the White is: Peña Nieto is just a politician.  He is saying what he needs to say just to get elected.  But, after he is elected, he will follow our policy.  Sounding very similar to President Obama’s stage whisper to then-Russian President Medvedev.

And that is what is causing the grumbling down here. 

Now, it very well may be true.  Candidates do lie to their constituents.  But the White House is usually not the source for such revelations.

The comment has at least bruised the Peña Nieto campaign.  Nothing can be more damaging to a Mexican politician than being sketched as an American stooge.  After all, PRI has its roots in the revolution that sent Porfirio Diaz, the quintessential patsy, packing.

Will the SNAFU affect the outcome of the election?  Most likely, not.  Peña Nieto’s lead is probably insurmountable.

But, I suspect he is now calculating just how far he wants to trust the White House.  Or, if he will even need to worry about that eventuality.

After all, it is possible there will be two new presidents next January.  And headlines like these may be a contributing factor.


Felipe Zapata said...

Peña NIeto is the "charisma candidate"? I would not say that. He's the slick and handsome candidate is who he is, and he's married to an actress. Such stuff attracts people.

You read Pravda?! I did not know it was available in English, but it makes sense now that I think on it. I read part of the Pravda piece till I bogged down in its factual errors and utter silliness.

I voted for the PAN last presidential election, and Calderón won in part due to my firm support. Josefina is so incredibly wooden I cannot believe the PAN nominated her this time. What were they thinking? She hasn't a prayer. She is hopeless.

So, to give Mr. Handsome a leg up on the pathetic AMLO, a demagogue, I'm gonna vote with the PRI on July 1.

Now I'm going to report you to Los Pinos for talking about our politics. You will be summarily deported, Gringo.

jennifer rose said...

Yay! Felipe Zapata's come to his senses and is voting the way every decent Mexican should.

Enrique Peña NIeto is going to inaugurated on December 1, 2012 -- not in January.  

Steve, the heat is affecting your mind. You can't believe anything coming out of the Obama administration. 

Steve Cotton said...

I ain't got no dog in this fight.  I am simply an objective reporter sitting on my shady veranda.  ;-}

Even so, it is a darn good show.

Steve Cotton said...

I am far more concerned that someone in the White House could have said something so inept.  If Mexico wants to declare victory and withdraw from the drug wars, it is A-OK with me. 

John Calypso said...

Peña Nieto has been the front candidate for the last two years - He will win.  It is not even a contest. The new first lady will come to the head from many years of Mexican novella stardom.  Not expecting much from the power couple - we shall see.

Steve Cotton said...

 Sarkozy with personality?

norm said...

Do we vote for the failed policies of the last group in power or do we vote for the current failed policies of the current group in power? The choice is always bad and one must hold their nose when voting but if you want to complain later, you have to vote. 

The Yo-134 attacks on the mainstream news outlets in Mexico has been interesting this election cycle. We will see how that plays out.

Steve Cotton said...

This may be the first presidential election since 1968 where I will not cast a ballot.  I need to figure out how to get registered in Nevada.

Pinkpanther111 said...

As a decent Mexican citizen, I really hope AMLO wins. He’s the best alternative and our opportunity to a real change in Mexico. After 70 years of corruption of PRI and 12 years of the continuation of the same with PAN, plus almost 90000 of deaths as collateral damage of a failed war and a failed state, I think we all deserve better.
As a person who had family involved in the 68 movement, we don’t  want to go back to repression and media control. Mexico is the most dangerous place in the world for journalism. I suggest you get informed about what happened in Atenco, and all the corruption around Pena (Montiel, Moreira, Salinas, etc.) AMLO may be pathetic for you but the good news is that there are many Mexicans that are informed, we know our history and don’t want to repeat it.  

Steve Cotton said...

You might want to re-read the post.  I clearly have no stated preference for any of the candidates.  And I certainly did not call  AMLO "pathetic."  I have my opinion of him and the others.  But those opinions are my own. 

I don't get to vote.  And I will live here with whatever the outcome is -- as I have during the past four years.

The post is about the ham-fisted comment by the "senior Obama administration official."  Who I trust has received a rather severe lecture on how the White House is supposed to respond to such queries.

Kim G said...

While it's almost certain that the war on the drug lords could have been better managed, it's also almost equally certain that there's really no going back. Peña Nieto's tacit suggestion that somehow the violence can all easily be ended is just a fond hope.

First, the drug gangs are now all incredibly well-armed, and perfectly happy to use those armaments. How exactly do you peaceably disarm them? Bounties on weapons?  I don't think so.

Second, the sad truth is that the violence is to some extent evidence that Calderón's strategy is working. As capos get taken out, others seek to exploit the newly-created weakness. Thus you have drug gangs going to war with each other in attempts to gain market share. This is not going to change easily.

Third, with so many drug "lords" now dead, the battle between the gangs has now taken on the character of a blood feud; it's not simply going to stop. Vengeance will be wreaked and gangs are going after each other for revenge as well as market share.

Finally, any attempt to back down now would only give the gangs further opportunity to deepen their webs of corruption and intimidation. You can't simply stop and hope they go away.

The only solution is to legalize drugs and work to minimize the social harms they may create. But voting for the PRI because you are tired of the drug wars will only leave you disappointed in the longer run.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we equate this thinking with that of Greeks who have "austerity fatigue" and believe they can simply vote it away.

Steve Cotton said...

 It will be fascinating to watch.  I wonder if PRI will legalize?  We shall see.