Saturday, September 30, 2006

Oaxaca, Mexico: The governor v some of the people all of the time.

Loyal reader James of England . . . well, loyal to the crown if not to Mark in Mexico, passes along a link to an article in, d'oh, The Economist. James says that he was "saddened" upon reading the article because it "seemed to suggest that APPO was genuinely reflective of the popular will." He asks for my input.

The writer(s) of the article (unidentified), suffer a spin, crash and then burn in turn no. 3 almost immediately. Their lede is "The governor v most of the people". The article then goes on to offer little or no support for this statement. The number af anarchists on the streets committing all of the spray painting, vandalism, thefts, assaults, manning the barricades and those still occupying the zócalo number about 2500, at most. The population of the city itself is 250,000. That's 1% of the population causing all of the current grief.

What the article fails to point out is that, since Governor Ruiz Ortiz won the election by 2% of the vote, at least 48% of the population believe him to be a thief, a liar and a usurper of authority. That's normal. If one travels around the United States or Great Britain, one will come into contact with some 48%, more or less, depending, of the population who also believe that their governors or "mandatarios" or however they are known are also thieves, liars and usurpers of authority. They are politicians. That's how they got to where they got and how they intend to stay there, be it in Honolulu, Miami, London, Paris or Oaxaca.

Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is a liar, a theif and a usurper of authority. He's a politician. George Bush is a liar, a theif and a usurper of authority. So are the Clintons. So are Reid, Pelosi, McCain, Blair, Livingstone, Merckel and Chirac (he's probably the worst). Thay are all politicians. They excel in telling one group at one time and place what that group wants to hear while knowing what they are telling is false or, at best, only partially true. They're politicians. They further excel at spinning around and telling yet another group at another time and place exactly the opposite of what they told the first group, also knowing full well that this telling is patently false, or, at best, only partially true. That's how they get votes. That's how they remain in power.

What the article fails to point out is that Ruiz Ortiz, as a member of the PRI political party, would be accused of lying, stealing, murdering and usurping authority if he were the second coming of Benito Juárez himself, and he's a long, long way from being that. The PRI held power in Mexico for more than 70 years through a combination of bribes, intimidation, theft and murder. They certainly didn't hold the reins of power for so long due to competent governance. I don't know how long it will be before anyone believes in the word of a Priista, but I shouldn't think that 2 or 3 decades more would be an inappropriate guess.

Was Ruiz Ortiz's election fraudalant? To some degree, yes. But the IFE manages and watches elections so closely here in Mexico that any widespread vote fraud would be detected and the election would have been thrown out. The IFE has done this several times before. And, since the party most in control of the federal government is in opposition to the PRI, it wouldn't have taken much to have allowed the IFE to gleefully void the election and call for a new one.

But that didn't happen because the evidence just wasn't there. Did Ruiz Ortiz buy votes? Of course he did. So did the PAN and the PRD and their various coalitions. Everyone got a big hoot out of an interview with a Oaxacan campesino that was published in the daily Reforma in the months leading up to the governor's election a couple of years ago. This simple fellow even allowed his photo to be published along with his name. He said, as best I can recall, "I'll vote for the party that gives me the most money." He was hauling a roll of shiny new barbed wire that he had just received at a political rally and was no doubt planning to attend the opposition's upcoming rally to see what they had to offer. That's the way business is done in Mexico. It's done by Mexicans to Mexicans.

And that's the way business is also done in the United States, Great Britain, France, Australia and Afghanistan. I'm sure that the we Americans as well as the British, the French, the Germans and the Canadians take greater pride in our votes than to sell them for a mere roll of barbed wire or a few sacks of beans and rice, but we sell them nevertheless. I remember my grandfather, spying a city work crew patching potholes in the streets, saying, "Is there an election coming up? I gotta go register!"

You take all that graft, lying, theft, intimidation and vote buying, common to democracies, move it to Mexico, where for 500 years "rule of law" was enforced at the whim of whomever was in power and at the point of clubs, knives and guns, and you might begin to understand why the Economist would declare, "The governor v most of the people." What the Economist fails to point out is this salient fact. Next month, the governor's political party, the PRI, will lose control of the state's congress for the first time in 70 some years. That's how things are supposed to work.

If the PAN joins with the PRD in opposition to the PRI, the governor will be forced to deal with an opposition state congress. The big problem for the governor's opposition is the crime on the streets brought on by some lawless members of the oppostion itself. They are turning the PAN and many members of their own PRD against them with this ongoing anarchy. Who wants to be associated with masked thugs?

Now let's address Governor Ruiz Ortiz and his performance in office. He has spent a gazillion pesos -- and still counting -- to move his offices to temporary headquarters while new state offices are being built and the former government palace was turned into a museum. In a state this poor and desperately needy, could such sums have been better spent? Of course they could have. A huge waste of resources has occurred. He further spent another gazillion pesos or two to completely redesign and rebuild the city's famous Zócalo, or central square.

People have been coming here for generations to spend their dollars, sterling, marks, francs and now Euros to visit "Colonial Oaxaca". The colonial zócalo no longer exists. It now looks like a park one would visit in Kansas City. No offense to Kansas City, but KC doesn't have 350-500 years of colonial history behind it. And the governor's inept and incompetent contractors felled many huge trees, some by design and some by accident, which has rendered the formally shady Zócalo of Oaxaca a place where you now can get a good blistering.

The governor has done the same thing to Parque Llano or, as it is identified on tourist maps, Parque Benito Juárez. He spent some 90 million pesos, about 9 million dollars, on the Zócalo alone. I don't know how much he has spent on Parque Llano but it has to be close to the same amount. I would estimate that $250,000 US each would have been enough to completely refurbish both areas with new water lines to the fountains, new electrics, new lights, new grass, flowers and shrubbery and some repair to the stone work. They started their project at Parque Llano by hacking the largest tree in the city to pieces.

And, of course, you know what is going to happen now. There will be almost no money spent to maintain these areas over the coming years and decades and, one day in the future, another maniac will tear it all out and do it again. To add to the misery, the SNTE and APPO thugs downtown have destroyed much of the new Zócalo, so that many millions more pesos will have to be spent just to fix it back to what it sadly became.

APPO barricades and street blockades now dot the city, making traffic a snarling nightmare. So, what does the governor do to at least try to alleviate this situation? He closes off even more streets for construction work then sends few if any of his poorly trained traffic policemen to at least attempt to keep traffic moving through what few streets are still open. Crossing the city during rush hours has become a challenge like that facing the Carthaginians at the base of the Alps. Only, we don't have any elephants.

The incompetence and stupidity are mind boggling in their pervasiveness. And it gets worse. The governor has taken all of these unilateral actions because, well, he's the governor, by God. He is a man still living in a sad and horrific, but none too distant past. He failed to realize that the old ways of doing things wre and are fast going out of style. I think that, even if he had realized this, he would have forged ahead, anyway. His offices and those of the state's congress are still at least partially filled with those who have got theirs and wanna git more.

Sound familiar? The national and state capitols of all the world are at least partially filled by people who have got theirs and wanna git more. And campaigns are being waged all around the world by other people who don't have theirs yet but are greedily trying to git it.

So, does all this justify the anarchy in the streets of Oaxaca? No way. Theft, vandalism, intimidation and murder are not to be excused under any circumstances. Criminals are criminals whether they occupy the halls of power or stand behind a stack of burning tires in the streets. There is no, "Yes, but . . ." And the majority of the people in Oaxaca City as well as those in other affected cities and towns around the state know this. They want this problem resolved. If it means federal force, they'll support it. The dirt poor indians from the hills will not support it. Neither will the criminals in the streets currently making a good living.

And it will be the dirt poor campesinos and the street criminals who will be making all the noise. It will be their reactions that you will see sread out all over the news. They'll be the ones hurling the Molotov cocktails and shooting at the police. They'll be the ones joined at the hip (but from a distance) by irrsponsible and fast-becoming-irrelevant demagogues like Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Jimmah Cahtah, Chávez and Fidel. Well, in the case of Carter and the great bearded one, long ago irrelevant, I guess.

Are most of the people against the governor? Define "most" and then define "against". Do most of the people support the anarchy in the streets? No. Are most of the people pleased with a crime ridden, money losing, poor-and-getting-poorer-by-the-day city and state? No. Will most of the people support federal intervention, by force if necessary (and it'll be more than necessary), to clear the streets? Overwhelmingly. Would most of the people support the governor's leaving office if they thought that all this would immediately go away? Undoubtedly. Would most of the people support the governor's leaving office because of the incompetency of his administration as demonstrated so far? Probably.

And the dirt poor campesinos who have been suckered -- again -- into believing that all this anarchy will improve their miserable lots? They are the ones who must rely upon Felipe Calderón to do something that no PRI government and no pre-PRI government has been willing or able to do in the past. Create jobs. That's what has really been lost here. Even the peaceful actions by the SNTE have all been a demand for charity. The teachers and the APPO thugs and the campesinos are all asking for, no, demanding charity. I haven't heard one word, not one word, from the protesters nor the criminals in the streets about the creation of jobs. They just want cash.

While it is easy to understand their demands for a portion of the money they see as being wasted on parks and zócalos, when, or if, they ever get some of that money, what's next? They can look forward to next year's strike and occupation of the downtown. And they can look forward to the ones to follow in the years to follow. Without jobs, this situation will never improve. So long as so many Mexicans believe that it is a man's right to raise a family and retire on a 1500 square meter cornfield, their lot in life will continue to deteriorate. And so long as one incompetent government after another, at the local, state and federal levels, does next to nothing to improve infrastructure and education, the campesino's lot in life will continue to deteriorate.

So, hey, why not burn buses in the streets?

Note: Not spell-checked due to Spanish strong accent inflections.

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