the ralph nader of mexico
Chile’s historic election, in which the center-left coalition led by Salvador Allende’s Socialist Party retained power is another step forward in a progressive sweep throughout Latin America. While the Che Guevara set tend to focus on Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, a former military coup leader turned “socialist”, and the populist but exciting Evo Morales in Bolivia, my interest is pulled toward the left governments in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Michelle Bachelet’s victory, becoming Chile’s first female President, is a tremendously exciting prospect for the region. Together, the reemergence of social democracy in the Southern Cone and the “Bolivarian revolution” are a resounding rejection of the neoliberal project in our hemisphere. However, the frustrating constraints of the global economy, as well as the strength of a fickle and skittish middle class mean that the way forward will be tricky.
Next up is Mexico, where a general election is set for July 2nd. The three way race between the oligarchical and populist PRI, the conservative-reformist PAN and the social democratic and labor-backed PRD will be closely watched. Just as Brazil’s Lula has been assailed from his left flank, PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has become a target of the Zapatista movement, which has launched a nation-wide tour meant to influence national debate. I’m all for this brilliant example of political theater, and the Zapatistas have long shown an ability to highlight the perspectives and needs of populations long marginalized by Mexico’s corrupt political elites. However, some of Subcommandante Marcos’ rhetoric leaves me worried. It is one thing to force a discussion of the broader implications of neoliberalism, and to mobilize a base that is interested in radically shifting the terrain of the global economy. However, as is the case in Brazil, Argentina and indeed in the United States, losing sight of the real differences between mainstream political actors is a deadly mistake.
The EZLN and its allied organizations have, for the most part, chosen not to formally participate in the election, though Marcos has taken to calling himself “Delegate Zero.” Instead, they argue that the tour and related mass events will raise the profile of indigenous concerns and force the heavy questions of Mexico’s place in the global economic order. However, when Lopez Obrador is excoriated as a traitor and it is argued that only non-electoral civil society organizations are “truly” left, the somewhat puritanical and overly-theorized nature of Zapatista politics comes to the surface. Obrador’s election will make a serious difference to millions of working-class and poor Mexicans. It will make a difference in Mexico’s and Latin America’s relationship to the United States. It won’t bring about a global autonomist-feminist agrarian revolution, but that shouldn’t be the litmus test for a candidate in 2006.
It’s easy, of course, for me to sit in Santa Barbara, USA, and critique the Zapatista’s political strategy. I’m not an indigenous farmer in Chiapas. (To be fair, nor is Marcos.) However, many grassroots mass organizations have not taken the same abolitionist stance toward politics as the EZLN is taking today- which is exactly why progressive candidates continue to sweep the polls throughout Latin America. If people listen to Marcos, the results could be disastrous. What’s exciting about what is happening throughout the hemisphere is that both the parliamentary center-left and a more inchoate and radical populist movement are increasingly successful at mobilizing popular support. Let’s hope the Bolivarian revolution doesn’t end at San Cristobal de las Casas.