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No business as usual

Mexican sit-ins demand vote recount

Published Aug 10, 2006 2:37 AM

Aug. 8—Throughout Mexico, the movement for social justice continues to take to the streets to press its demands.

Supporters of presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador took over tollbooths throughout Mexico City on Aug. 8, preventing federal officials from charging tolls on the highways into the city, and blockaded the agricultural ministry, preventing employees from entering. (Reuters)

The actions were in response to a court ruling that dismissed a full recount of ballots from the July 2 presidential election, in which what appears to be massive fraud led to the victory of the big-business candidate Felipe Calderón over López Obrador by a margin of less than one percentage point.

Protesters have occupied the Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s main thoroughfare, for nearly five miles since July 30. The 47 encampments have stalled traffic along a street containing government offices, the U.S. Embassy and luxury downtown hotels, with business in the area claiming losses of millions of dollars. They have also blocked the entrance to Mexico’s stock market.

López Obrador, who campaigned under the slogan “For the good of all, the poor first” and led in opinion polls for the majority of the last two years, made a public call for “mega sit-ins” when he spoke during what is being considered the largest public demonstration in Mexico’s history—some 2 million people on July 30. He himself has participated in the sit-ins, sleeping in tents with throngs of protesters in conditions of torrential cold rain and even scattered snowstorms.

Participants include families, people taking their vacations to spend their days at the camp, and people who return from work to sleep there at night. The highly organized encampments include kitchens every few hundred yards, portable toilets, handicrafts and classes for the children, live music and movies at night. (Los Angeles Times)

López Obrador has argued that there were counting errors in at least 72,000 polling places and evidence of fraud in some 600. Examples of fraud and errors include: Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) findings that 2,366 polling places had observers only from Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN); ballot boxes were dumped in Mexico City, a stronghold of López Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party (PRD); there were polling sites in PAN-dominated areas where the number of votes exceeded the number of registered voters; and sealed ballot packets were found opened at IFE offices in several PAN-dominated regions. (alternet.org)

The Federal Electoral Judicial Tribunal on Aug. 5 refused the demand of López Obrador and his supporters for a full recount, limiting the recount of ballots to those from 11,839 of the 130,400 national polling places—just 9 percent of polling places—to occur over five days beginning Aug. 9. The tribunal also ruled that the recount is to be conducted by the IFE, which López Obrador has accused of rigging computers to guarantee a Calderón victory. The announcement was made by Chief Magistrate Leonel Castillo, who told Milenio magazine a month before the elections that the court would reject any request for a recount. (Washington Post, July 25)

Federal legislator Emilio Serrano expressed the sentiments of many following the ruling. “They’re putting at risk the peaceful stability of the country. ... We’re prepared to die in the fight,” he yelled into a bullhorn outside the court. (Washington Post, Aug. 6) At the camps, local councilperson Hipólito Bravo said: “[The tribunal] sold themselves to the right, and now people are very angry. If there is a call for stronger actions, the people will follow.” (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 6)

At a rally later that day, López Obrador refused to accept the ruling and urged his supporters to continue their campaign of civil disobedience. He said: “We cannot permit that a group of the privileged continue controlling the government. ... Let’s have confidence in ourselves and our people. They might have money and power, but we have the power of the people.” (Houston Chronicle, Aug. 6)

The Post speculated: “The conditions are ripe for an escalation of protests. ... In nine days, summer break ends and tens of thousands of college students—known here for quickly mobilizing aggressive protests—will be pouring into the city.” (Washington Post, Aug. 6)

Oaxacan women fight back

Meanwhile, in the state of Oaxaca a group of about 500 women seized a state-run television station on Aug. 1 for six hours in order to broadcast a home video. It showed a violent police raid against teachers encamped in Oaxaca’s central plaza to demand a wage increase.

Since the raid on June 14, teachers, unionists and activists have set up a permanent encampment in the plaza, erecting barricades, smashing hotel windows and painting revolutionary slogans on buildings.

According to John Gibler of Znet Magazine, the women are members of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), which was organized after the June 14 raid to demand the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz. Ruiz not only is responsible for sending the 1,000 police to attack the encampment, but has spent millions to move government offices and remodel the historic town square—while the teachers’ 26-year-old demand for an increased federal budget in education has gone largely unheeded.

Gibler reports, “At present, Oaxaca remains an occupied city, where thousands of citizens camp out in the streets, blocking access to state government buildings ... and day after day the APPO accelerates the pace of the civil disobedience to force the fall of Ulises Ruiz.” (ZNet, Aug. 4)