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by Diego Cevallos

Mexico: a Country With Three Presidents

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's president-elect, Felipe Calderon, will take office Friday in a country with a stable economy free of pressing concerns, but in the midst of a violent social conflict in the southern state of Oaxaca and an unprecedented rise in drug trafficking.

His situation is quite the opposite to that of outgoing President Vicente Fox, who began his six-year term with plenty of political capital, limited social conflicts and high expectations in Mexico and abroad after his victory over the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed the country from 1929 to 2000.

Along with the Oaxaca conflict, Calderon also will have to deal with the runner-up in the presidential campaign, who refuses to admit defeat and is claiming to be both the "legitimate" president and the new leader of the left.

"We will hold mass demonstrations against the illegitimate Calderon, because we know that he only won the (July presidential) elections by fraud, and that he is partly responsible for the crisis here in Oaxaca," Florentino Lopez, one of the leaders of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), told IPS.

"We warn him now, he will not find it at all easy to govern," said the APPO leader by telephone from Oaxaca, the capital of the Mexican province of the same name, where police and activists clashed again on Saturday.

The activists set fire to at least 15 buildings, including the courthouse, the historical Juarez Theater and the local offices of the Foreign Ministry.

Lopez said six people were killed in the clashes, 50 injured, and 141 arrested.

The social uprising in the province started in May with a strike and demonstration by teachers demanding higher wages, and escalated amid fruitless negotiations between the government and APPO, an umbrella group of Oaxaca civil society organizations. In October, the Fox administration sent in 5,000 federal police to attempt to restore order.

The deaths reported by APPO on Saturday must be added to 17 previous deaths of demonstrators and reporters.

The protestors' main demand is the resignation or removal of Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who they accuse of being corrupt and authoritarian. However, the governor, a member of the PRI, refuses to step down, in spite of pressure from members of his own party to do so.

"Here (in Oaxaca) Calderon will face an unrelenting front of social protest. We will only agree to talks with the new administration if he shows in practice that he is willing to legitimize himself in the eyes of society, and to acknowledge our demands," Lopez said.

APPO, whose members were camping out in the center of the capital of Oaxaca until October, when they were evicted by police, said that on Friday, when Calderon is inaugurated, it will hold a mass protest against the new government.

The Broad Progressive Front, a coalition of left-wing parties and members of Congress that support former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have announced that they too will hold demonstrations on that day. They are also threatening to prevent Calderon from being sworn in as president, but they have not said how they plan to do so.

The congressional authorities, led by the conservative governing National Action Party (PAN), ordered the deployment of a large police operation around Congress for the past two weeks, in order to prevent demonstrators from interrupting the ceremony, and to guarantee the security of some 13 heads of state and government who will be attending.

It is clear that Calderon will be taking office under conditions "far less favorable than Fox faced," at a time when political forces are much more polarized and even resentful, said Professor Carlos Bazdresch with the Economic Research and Teaching Center (CIDE).

Lopez Obrador, who lost the presidential election to Calderon by barely half a percentage point, said that "the fascist right" stole the election, although electoral judges and some observers, including those from the European Union, found no evidence of fraud.

The leftist candidate was proclaimed the "legitimate president" of Mexico on Nov. 20 by tens of thousands of his supporters, at a meeting for that purpose in Constitution Square in Mexico City, popularly known as the Zocalo.

When Fox won the July 2000 elections and took over as president in December 2000, the left and the PRI accepted defeat, and some of their leaders even offered to cooperate with the new government.

Fox also took over a country with a stable economy, according to the main macroeconomic indicators. These conditions, at least, are similar to those Calderon will inherit.

Fox aroused high expectations, domestically and internationally, because he was the first to defeat the PRI in what were relatively smooth elections.

Eighty-three foreign dignitaries attended his swearing-in ceremony, whereas only 33 have confirmed they will attend Calderon's inauguration.

Calderon's future administration had "a bad birth," not because there has been any evidence of fraud in the elections he won, but because there is a sector of the population that still doubts the legitimacy of the new president, said Jesus Silva-Herzog, a columnist for the newspaper Reforma.

The new president will be the head of a bankrupt state -- not in terms of its public finances, but in terms of the impotence of a political structure that is seriously overwhelmed by the powers of delinquency, he added.

The violence perpetrated by Mexican drug traffickers has reached appalling levels. Last weekend, at least nine people were murdered by drug gangs, including "grupera" singer Valentin Elizalde, and a prosecutor from the Office of the Prosecutor-General, Jose Sanchez.

So far this year, close to 2,000 people have been murdered in execution-style killings attributed to drug gangs. Most of them were shot to death, but about 30 were decapitated.

During the Fox administration, the police and the army arrested several leaders of drug-trafficking gangs. But studies show that domestic consumption of drugs has increased, as has the violence associated with the drug trade.

Local drug traffickers, who have agreements with cartels in Colombia and other drug-exporting countries, smuggle 70 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States, as well as large amounts of heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana.

Calderon promized to bring the full weight of the law to bear on drug traffickers, and to pursue dialogue in social conflicts such as that of Oaxaca. However, he also said that he would "enforce the law" against social groups who disturb the peace.

"Calderon will inherit a crisis for which his party (the PAN) and he himself are responsible. At least in Oaxaca, he will find a common front, united in struggle," Lopez said.

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Albion Monitor   November 29, 2006   (

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