News Analysis

Conservative forces in Mexico, alarmed by the electoral successes of left-wing movements in South America, are showing signs of mobilizing to prevent similar developments in that country.

Mexico appears to be poised for a movement leftward, following the emerging trend established in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. The left’s recent victories in these countries signal a repudiation of unrestrained capitalism and the neoliberal, “free-trade” policies of the World Bank.

The growing ferment in Mexico dates back to 2000, when widespread disgust with the decades-long corruption of the government-supported Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) resulted in the election of Vicente Fox Quesada of the National Action Party (PAN). Since assuming the presidency, Fox has largely continued the policies of his predecessors and operated in a manner designed to please the United States.

However, Fox was forced by public opinion to oppose the Iraq war, and this earned him a cold shoulder from the Bush administration. Meanwhile living standards for the majority of Mexico’s 100 million people continue to decline.

Recent polls indicate that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) is the favorite to win the 2006 presidential elections. The popularity of Lopez Obrador — who currently serves as the governor of Mexico’s federal district, the equivalent of Mexico City’s mayor — is based largely on his having marshaled the resources of his administration to help the working class, the poor and the elderly.

The PRD was formed in 1989 by left-wing elements of the PRI, the Communist Party of Mexico, and other left and progressive groups. It has had only marginal success in organizing, but the high visibility and popularity of Lopez Obrador may prove to be advantaggeous to in the PRD’s growth and influence.

Conservative forces in Mexico, led by Fox, recognize the political threat posed by Lopez Obrador and have been quick to label him a dangerous populist. There are credible suggestions that the Bush administration is also involved in the campaign to malign him. Now the Mexican administration’s efforts have gone beyond name-calling and includes an attempt to derail the PRD frontrunner’s campaign by prosecuting him in the courts.

In 2001, the Federal District government was expanding an access road to the ABC Hospital. The owners of an adjacent property went to court, claiming the work on the road was encroaching on their land. Although the property boundaries seem to be in doubt, a judge ordered work stopped.

The accusation against Lopez Obrador is that his people did not stop work immediately. The Fox administration subsequently decided to prosecute him for felony contempt and to move to strip him of his immunity under Mexican law.

A parliamentary committee approved the revocation of Lopez Obrador’s immunity last month. On April 7, the full lower House approved the revocation by a vote of 360 to 127. The whole PAN delegation voted for the motion, along with all but 12 PRI representatives and eight members of the Green Party, despite strong public sentiment against the move. It is expected that Lopez Obrador will be arrested shortly.

If Lopez Obrador is prosecuted, he cannot run for election until the courts decide the case in his favor. The court proceedings would likely drag out and prohibit him from running as a candidate.

In spite of the efforts by the Mexican president and conservative forces to prevent his candidacy and damage the PRD, Lopez Obrador remains unbowed. He has announced his candidacy for the presidency and vowed not to seek bail, but to go to jail in protest.

“They [the Fox administration] are the ones who carry out the trick of calling what little is given to benefit the majority ‘populism’ or ‘paternalism,’ but the huge amount that they give to the rapacious few they call ‘development’ or ‘recovery,’ he declared.

Many Mexicans believe the charges against Lopez Obrador are trumped up and another example of a political culture that has been characterized by mind-boggling corruption. The Mexican stock market has reacted nervously, fearful of public outrage. And Lopez Obrador appears committed to running a presidential campaign from the inside of a jail cell.