Welcome to the Adventure

Living in Mexico is often indescribable...you just have to live here. I have been journaling experiences for a while, and I hope you can get a feel for stupid-ass gringos trying to get it. But I am still here, and that says a lot for those of us sticking it out, as the payback is what makes life so good here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Elections in Oaxaca

"The showing against the PRI in Oaxaca, a heavily indigenous state where the party was in power for eight decades, was highly symbolic. A five-month uprising erupted in 2006 over allegations that outgoing Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who was not seeking re-election, stole his election victory. Critics accused Ruiz of strong-arm politics that exemplified the coercion and corruption that the PRI used to govern Mexico for seven decades.
"These are historic victories," National Action president Cesar Nava said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Sinaloa has a fundamental significance when it comes to Mexico's security. In Puebla and Oaxaca, the victory means a significant break with entrenched strongman politics."

The official count had alliance candidate Gabino Cue leading with 50 percent of the votes, compared with 42 percent for PRI candidate Eviel Perez, with 17 percent of the vote counted early Monday." AP July 5, 2010

Elections in Mexico are not so different from the the United States, unless you count the 4 bodies hanging from a bridge, and assasination of a governor candidate, and armed military presence at most major polling places as slightly irregular, then not so different. For world watchers, most get that Mexico is an emerging democracy. It is being born as we watch and live here. For Oaxacans, a change was in the wind. The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party ) the ruling party here for over 70 years, and the ruling party in Mexico until Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon won presidential elections, is seemingly in a fight for their strangle-hold on Mexico to continue. Enough so, that even here in Huatulco there were rumors of voter fraud, with the PRI buying votes.

Gabino Cue, the most likely winner here in Oaxaca for governor, represented a coalition of various political groups, including leftist, centrists and rightist in a strategy that seemed to have worked. Teachers have taken over the Zocalo in Oaxaca, in protest to the PRI and the present governor, Ulises Ruiz, who for these teachers represented the worst of the government when they went on strike in 2006, and have been protesting his governance since. With their strong voice, they have provided an impetus for change here. The city of Oaxaca was held hostage for a significant number of months, due to violence, from both sides (government and teachers and others) in the protests of 2006. That experience still lingers in Oaxaca as demonstrated by both the strike in the zocalo, the number of groups we saw on the streeets protesting, and not least of all the graffiti that is still prevalent in Oaxaca.

For all of us, citizens and expats, in Mexico, it has been an agonizing election year. The narcotraffickers have instilled so much fear in parts of Mexico, that as the gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre in Tamaulipas was assassinated, many of the voters from this state stayed away from the polls in fear for their lives. Can you imagine how that must feel? To vote could be a death warrant here, with ample evidence with the four hanging bodies on a bridge, in modern times, were we all expect some semblance of an orderly democratic process. Instead the candidates are wearing bullet proof vests, and are guarded by the federal police. It is hard to imagine, say an election in San Francisco, bodies hanging from the Golden Gate Bridge, to warn us we better not vote if we value our lives. It is a scary time for many citizens, especially in the northern part of Mexico.

The PRI is undoubtedly still the party of the times though, and has maintained significant power in most other elections in Mexico. But the election of an alliance candidate in Oaxaca is huge. The country itself had been controlled for many years by the PRI, and the elections were forgone conclusions, at least for 70+ years. The PRI controlled the country. But there are inroads to this one party rule, and alliances of other political parties seems effective, at least in the case of Gabino Cue.

For me, it has been a real learning curve, regarding politics of Mexico. The country is in the throes of celebrating 2010, two hundred years of independence, 100 years since THE revolution. We all received Viaje Por La Historia de Mexico, a book of Mexico's revolutionary history in the mail last week, detailing first the struggles for independence, and then the revolution which changed everything in Mexico: giving land back to poor people, setting up a "democracy-like" government system, and dragging Mexico into "modern" times are some of the reforms. Well known heroes like Zapata, Villa, Molina and Carranza worked hard to reform the government, help the poor of this country with agricultural reform, and create a constitutional government. But for the most part, up until maybe 15 years ago, Mexico was no democracy. It is turning though, towards something nearing a democracy.

We gringos keep our opinions to ourselves. For good reason. We haven't experienced anything like the politics of Mexico, and to express an opinion to Mexicans almost seems sacrilegious. We haven't walked in their shoes. Voting here July 4, there were long lines of people waiting to vote. In a country where a significant number of the population cannot read, they still check voters by photos, and a thumbprint, as their signature. They know the initials of political parties, and certainly have some knowledge of political positions. But the campaigning is akin to a high school class president election. Lots of visual clues, pictures, initials, music, airplanes with banners over the communidades, and party representatives, walking dirt roads, into impossibly located villages, to spread the word. But as I sit here now, I hear the radios of the workers, turned to election results, and hear the cheers, chants and shouts of the people of Oaxaca, and they have changed the course of history here, and they know it.

We are fortunate to live in the peaceful part of Mexico. Here among the mainly indigenous population, the bottom line is still "will the government change our lives for the better?" This does not mean one may be able afford a bigger house, a second or third car, or a trip every year to Europe. Change here is about basic human needs and rights. Change here is a school in their area...at least to 4th grade, if not 8th. Change is a road into their communities; electricity into their communities, water, food. I think about all we have in the US, and take for granted, basic things, that are not even a whisper of possibility here in Oaxaca yet.

This is not the sly, sniding, snipping politics of the US. These people are not whining like the teapartiers of the north who are more worried about changing demographics in their neighborhood than basic human rights. But here in Mexico voting is about the dignity of life itself, a chance to come into the modern world, to honestly change people's lives for the better. It has been an eye-opening experience, and has made me much more aware of the gifts one receives by just being born in the USA (thanks Bruce Springsteen for reminding me again of how special that is still).

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