Mexicos Fox blinks in face-off with mayor

News Analysis

Right also defeated at OAS

The Bush administration and its right-wing allies in Latin America are not doing so well. People’s forces in Mexico and continent-wide scored important victories last week.

In Mexico, the right-wing administration of President Vicente Fox blinked first in a showdown with Mexico City’s tough leftist mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Most polls show Lopez Obrador to be the frontrunner in the 2006 presidential elections. The popular mayor from the left-center Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) has staked out a position against U.S.-backed neoliberal policies of free trade, privatization and austerity, and has praised Cuba’s socialist government.

Fox’s right-wing National Action Party (PAN) teamed up with the former ruling group, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to block Lopez Obrador from running. Fox’s attorney general, Rafael Macedo de la Concha, cooked up criminal charges against the mayor, based on the flimsy issue of his supposedly having ignored a court order to stop a road construction project in 2001. Under Mexican law, Lopez Obrador could not have run for public office until the matter was cleared up, too late for the election.

Lopez Obrador turned the issue to his advantage, and the PAN, PRI and Fox now bitterly regret getting into a spitting match with him. A majority of Mexicans saw through the maneuver and turned out for increasingly larger demonstrations in support of the mayor, culminating in a march by well over a million people through Mexico City on April 24.

Fox blinked first. This past week, Fox withdrew the accusations and forced the resignation of Macedo de la Concha. Although Lopez Obrador’s immunity has not, at writing, yet been formally restored, it is clear that the right wing has backed down and, in fact, Lopez Obrador’s chances for 2006 have improved.

On another front it was the U.S. that blinked first: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to save face for the Bush administration by bowing to the inevitable and acceding to the election of Chilean Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Insulza, a Socialist, as secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS).

This was a double defeat for the United States. Originally, the Bush administration was pushing ex-President Francisco Flores of El Salvador, a close U.S. ally, for the post. However, it soon became apparent in Latin America that this was as a reward for El Salvador’s participation in the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq, which seems to have killed his candidacy.

The U.S. then switched support to Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Derbez. But Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez went to work also and lined up support for Insulza.

The Derbez candidacy crumbled last week, a process that was helped along by the ouster of Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez by angry workers and farmers. The popular uprising was a reaction to policies closely resembling those advocated by Derbez and his boss, President Fox, and Gutierrez’s ouster further eroded Derbez’s vote count.

In the Latin American media, the story goes that Lula subsequently persuaded Condi Rice that the election of Insulza was inevitable, and she — not wishing to come out so publicly on the losing side — talked Mexico into withdrawing Derbez’s candidacy. Insulza has now praised the statesmanlike attitude of the United States, but it is clear who won and who lost.

The OAS is widely perceived in Latin America to be an instrument of U.S. imperialism. (The U.S. pays 60 percent of its budget.) No radical changes should be expected, but the defeat of two U.S.-backed candidates in a row shows which way the winds are blowing in the region.