On Wednesday, the agency in Mexico that manages elections began a recount for the tens of millions of votes in the race that was apparently won by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the party that ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000. The PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto won by about six points over old-school leftie Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. AMLO, as the progressive candidate is known, is contesting the election results, just like he did in 2006. He won’t accept defeat because defeat means accepting what he and his supporters believe is an inherently corrupt system. Nevertheless, he’s a pacifist and doesn’t believe in violence or armed conflict. And as a result, the rest of us over the past 72 hours have been groaning, sleeping, shrugging, or drinking a lot. The worst that can happen is that AMLO could call for another plantón, a permanent sit-in on the main drags of Mexico City, and shut down the urban center like he did in 2006. But that only ended up hurting his base and made his enemies in the establishment cry “I told you!” On Sunday, AMLO swept dense, voter-rich Mexico City by nearly 27 points.
Outside the Instituto Federal Electoral campus, rows of police officers in bright neon lime jackets and caps are lined up to protect the institute from a small band of young protesters still holding court on the sidewalk after a near-riot the night before. The protestors’ faces are covered in folded-over bandanas and they look like porros, Mexican street slang for paid provocateurs. The emergent #YoSoy132 movement had to send out a comunicado saying that whoever was outside the IFE at this point was not a member.
Inside the IFE, most of the foreign press has left. That leaves behind the bureaucrats, the Mexican beat reporters, the TV crews, and the hostesses in gray pantsuits. I take a seat in the IFE’s big-tent press hall, where dozens of computer terminals face huge screens projecting the state-by-state vote counts. We wait around for a press conference. The IFE councilors come and take their places on an elevated stage. The bureaucrats and the reporters have a back-and-forth in impenetrable jargon. The basic point, from what I gathered, is that with a difference of more than three million votes between Peña and AMLO, nothing much will really change at this point no matter how hard the progressives try. No matter how much evidence exists out there of vote-buying and vote “influencing.” It is the same basic message that is repeated over and over in Mexico—nothing will really change here, people, let’s be honest (but say it in a language no one else understands).
Every cabbie I’ve met in Mexico in the past few weeks has ended up admitting that they don’t believe democracy exists in this country. To them, Peña Nieto looks and sounds like an invented candidate, a puppet, a nice-looking avatar for the ominous Atlacomulco group from one of the PRI’s oldest, darkest wings.
The Grupo Atlacomulco is named after a drab town in the northwest section of the state that Peña Nieto previously governed. The name of the state is Mexico (imagine a state within America named America). Peña grew up in grim little Atlacomulco, which has long been a bastion of PRI power. Atlacomulco is the hometown of a string of governors of the state of Mexico, including two of Peña’s uncles. The most recent relative to have held the office was the governor that Peña himself succeeded, a scandal-ridden dinosaur named Arturo Montiel. Other alleged members of the Atlacomulco group send chills down the spines of people who regard the PRI as repressive and corrupt: Carlos Hank Gonzalez, a figure regarded by most as a bonafide crook who coined one of Mexico’s best known maxims, “A politician who is poor is a poor politician,” and his son, Jorge Hank Rhon, a clownish but dangerous figure who currently holds court over a private zoo of rare wild animals in the plush hillsides of Tijuana.
Then there are the alleged ties to Carlos Salinas de Gortari, still public enemy number one in Mexican political life. They say that the Atlacomulco group could not have flourished in the past few years without the blessings of the bald-headed former PRI president who had to flee to Ireland after his term ended because Mexico and Ireland didn’t have an extradition treaty. Salinas’s political rapsheet is long, cold, and bloody. It includes the stolen national election of 1988 and a likely involvement in the assassination of his potential heir, Luis Donaldo Colosio, in 1994. There was also the catastrophic devaluation of the peso that same year, and the signing of the NAFTA treaty with Bill Clinton, in many ways a disaster for Mexico, followed of course by the Zapatista uprising in the indigenous southeast.
In 2005, Salinas was a guest of honor at Peña’s father’s funeral. He also attended Peña’s swearing-in as governor. I don’t know what the relationship between Peña and Salinas is exactly, and I’m not sure anyone ever will, as long as we basically understand that everything in Mexico is smoke and mirrors. All of it could mean absolutely nothing. Maybe the apparent new president-elect of the country will run a clean, independent, dignified Mexican government for six years. In interviews, though, Peña has described his dealings with Salinas as “cordial” or “respectful.” Not a good sign.
Just ask your cabbie. They usually know what Atlacomulco means and strongly believe that Peña is merely the group’s golden child, its glossy production. One guy I talked to simply referred to Peña as ese muchacho, or “that young man.”
Having a good boogeyman and a good dark mythology to fret about is a good for small talk. We’ll have six solid years of material from here on out, for sure. The mood is grim this week in Mexico. On election day, I went to a so-called special polling place at the main eastern bus terminal in the city. These polling places are meant for people who are away from where they are formally registered on the day of the vote. The scene at special polling places is always chaotic. By law, there are only 750 ballots at each of them, but usually hundreds more than that line up and then aggressively demand ballots as the clock ticks.
At the bus terminal, I met a young industrial engineer from the port city of Tampico, in the Gulf coast state of Tamaulipas, Zetas territory. Lizeth Garcia Aguilar, 24, said she voted for AMLO. If AMLO doesn’t win, she said, “Se va a armar el pedo,” or, in English slang, “Shit is gonna go down.”
But she said so only haphazardly, with some resignation.
“In Tamaulipas, the PRI is in control, but the situation is bad. There’s a lot of drug trafficking,” Garcia said, still rubbing the purple ballot ink on her right thumb. “This is all a big scam, to be honest.”
Previously - #YoSoy132 and the Mexican Elections