[OPE-L] Wallerstein on Mexico

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sat Dec 16 2006 - 08:01:48 EST

Commentary No. 199, Dec. 15, 2006

"Mexican Turbulence: Uprising or Civil War?"

Subcomandante Marcos said last month that Mexico is "on the eve of a
great uprising or a civil war." He is continuing "the other campaign"
launched by the Zapatistas. And Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, candidate
of the Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) in the election of
June 2, 2006, has asserted very loudly, and to very great public
support, that his election was stolen. He has refused to recognize
Felipe Calderon who took the presidential oath on December 1, and has
established his own competing structure, the "legitimate government" -
with offices, a cabinet, and representatives in each region. Meanwhile,
what started earlier this year as a teacher's wage strike in Oaxaca
morphed into a general anti-capitalist uprising that took over the town
under a structure that called itself the Popular Assembly of the
Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO in Spanish), and demanded minimally the
dismissal of the PRI provincial governor, one Ulisses Ruiz.
State and federal police eventually moved in with force, put down the
uprising, and the leaders of APPO have been arrested.

How did the next-door neighbor of the United States get to a point
where its government is actively and vigorously challenged as
illegitimate, and where people are discussing whether the legal
president can actually last out his six-year term, ending an 80-year
period of relative political stability? One has to put together three
elements to explain the turbulence: 500 years of oppression of the
indigenous peoples of Mexico; the deterioration of Mexico's
twentieth-century political institutions; and the impact of the North
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Mexico's basic welfare.

Mexico is a White settler country in which the majority of the
population is composed of indigenous Indian peoples plus peoples of
so-called mixed blood. Numbers make a difference, especially when the
racial/ethnic stratification has remained fairly constant for so long
and the gap in living standards is so blatant. The most recent political
consequence of this underlying tension has been the emergence of the
Zapatistas (the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional) in Chiapas
in 1994. The Zapatistas have proved themselves to be a lasting,
meaningful political force whose "other campaign" that they started
last year has begun to have its impact throughout the country. The
"other campaign" is not a campaign for  electoral power, nor to take
over the present Mexican state. It seeks to empower local
communities and oppressed groups of every variety (women, peasants and
workers, gays) in a struggle against capitalism and imperialism - in
Mexicoand throughout the world.

There is a second front - the formal political arena established in
the wake of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. After a shaky beginning,
Mexico settled down into one-party rule under the aegis of the Partido
Revolucionaria Institucional (PRI). PRI was at its revolutionary height
in the 1930's during the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas, who nationalized
petroleum and pursued agrarian reform by establishing government-backed
communal land projects known as ejidos. Ever since 1940, the PRI has
moved away from the path of Cardenas, becoming more and more
bureaucratic, conservative, and corrupt. Initially, its only opposition
was a Catholic-based, pro-business rightwing party known as the Partido
Accion Nacional (PAN).

In the 1980s, there was a breakaway to the left from PRI with the
founding of the PRD. The PRD's 1988 candidate for president was
Cardenas's son, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. It is generally agreed that the
1988 election was stolen by PRI, but the PRD did not fight this
indignity. In 2000, the candidate of PAN, Vicente Fox, won, finally
ousting PRI from  presidential power and sending it on a precipitate
political decline. When the PRD candidate in 2006, Lopez Obrador was
said to be defeated, he did not fade away passively like Cuauhtemoc
Cardenas in 1988. Instead, he has sought actively to delegitimize his
opponent's supposed victory.

The Zapatistas and the Lopez Obradistas represent two wings of
Mexico's popular opposition. They represent different political
strategies, and at the moment are not working in unison with each other.
But APPO in Oaxaca indicates the kind of forces that might bring the two
together. Both support APPO, and APPO has been totally autonomous from
both of them. There may be many more APPO's in the near future.

The final element to put into the picture in NAFTA. Mexico's upper
strata have done well under NAFTA. But the lower strata are worse off
than ever. One of the many consequences of course has been increased
trans-border migration into the United States, which has led to internal
turmoil in the United States - between a new "nativist" anti-immigrant
movement and an aroused Latino political constituency. If the
world-economy takes a further downward turn in the coming year or two,
Mexico's legal government may face a drastic fall in income and find it
difficult to weather the storm. And the two turbulences - that of Mexico
and the United States - may join forces.

"Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble,"
intoned the witches in Macbeth.

by Immanuel Wallerstein

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