Lessons in Democracy from Mexico.

AuthorConniff, Ruth
PositionOVER THE WALL - Essay

Mexico's populist president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and his new Movement for National Regeneration party (MORENA) swept into power on July 1, riding a backlash against the corrupt status quo.

By handing MORENA a majority in Congress and victories in local elections across the country, voters gave the party, and the new president, a mandate for change.

Sounding like a Mexican Bernie Sanders, Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, as he is widely known by his initials, promised repeatedly during his campaign that he would break up the "mafia of power" that has had a stranglehold on the country for many years.

Indeed, the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) not only lost the presidency, but dropped the number of seats it holds in Congress from 204 to forty-two, while the conservative National Action Party (PAN) lost its hold on Mexico's northern states. MORENA, an acronym that also means brown-skinned, overthrew established power in a country where skin color is tied to a deeply entrenched caste system.

The day after he won, Lopez Obrador announced he was moving to sell the presidential airplane and turn the luxurious presidential palace into a national museum.

Pro-democracy activists are optimistic that Lopez Obrador will combat the violence and brazen election fraud that have become common practices of both the PRI and the PAN.

This was Mexico's biggest election in history, with thousands of federal, state, and local offices up for grabs. It was also the bloodiest in recent memory, with 132 candidates murdered in the lead-up to Election Day. Among those was Aaron Varela, a MORENA candidate for mayor in the little town of Santa Clara Ocoyucan, in the state of Puebla, who was found dead in a van.

I visited the spot where the murder occurred with local MORENA activist Araceli Bautista Gutierrez and a group of international election observers. We were monitoring polling places in the area to document irregularities and, by our presence, to try to deter voter intimidation and fraud.

"We are not on yellow alert here," Bautista Gutierrez told the group. "It's red."

"We have gotten used to violence in our town now that we are governed by Antorcha Campesina," she added.

A political group with powerful connections in state and national politics, Antorcha Campesina has a long and shady history. Founded in 1974, it functions as a paramilitary arm of the PRI and claims to fight for the interests of the poor. But in rural communities...

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