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LAS AMERICAS Mexico’s Political Hangover BY BARBARA BELEJACK Mexico City THE MORNING AFTER the election of the century, the cafe at Atoyac, Guerrero, was still. Everyone simply drank their coffee and stared at the television set, listening to Diego, Cuauhtemoc and Zedillo \(throughout the campaign it was ala word. If they did, it might have been, “The King is dead! Long live the King!” I was never any good at predicting jury verdicts in Cameron County, Texas, so I don’t know why I should be any better at predicting the results of a Mexican election. We always assumed Zedillo would win, but with about 40 percent of the vote, changing the dynamics of presidencialismo in Mexico. The morning after the elections we woke up to figures reminiscent of 1988a major defeat for the opposition. People walked about slightly dazed, as if coming off a major hangover. But. Mexico had just finished two days of ley seta , the election”dry law”. I have always considered Mexico City taxi drivers to be some of the most informed sources in the world. This summer I have met taxi drivers who talked about Mexican politics in terms of surrealismo and Dali paintings. I met taxi drivers who kept their own polls of passengers, who sported Zedillo stickers on their cars and later explained, “but taxis don’t vote.” Perhaps the most enlightened one of all was taxi driver who proclaimed, “I don’t know who’s going to win the election but I know who’s going to lose: el pueblo mexicano.” The story of the August 21 elections is uniquely Mexican, the result of a 65-year. old political institution, a particularly tumultuous year and the overwhelming fpresence of mass mediaTelevisa in particular, but the same could be said for most of the electronic and print media that functions as the publicist for the ruling party. But it is also a universal story. This is where we are at the end of the 20th century. Stuck with creaky 18th-century institutions such as one “man,” one vote that are almost irrelevant in the age of computers and marketing. If the Mexico City taxi driver knew who would lose the election, we all Barbara Belejack is a freelance writer based in Mexico City. should have known who would win: the Bolsa would win, the Stock Market would win, the global economy would win, everyone prepared to write off rural Mexico with the same cavalier attitude used to write off America’s inner cities, would win on August 21. I spent election day along the Costa Grande of Guerrero, just up the coast from Acapulco but a million light years away from the plush hotels and swank discos. It’s a place where campesinos come to town toting machetes and where modernity exists in the form of a satellite dish or a pirated version of the latest Juan Gabriel cassette. It’s a place where poverty, partisan politics and contested elections are all in the natural order of things. In 1988, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas’ supporters took over the town hall at Coyuca de Benitez, an hour’s drive north of Acapulco, in the wake of the Salinas victory, which was propped up by lost, stolen, disappeared and altered ballots. After municipal elections last fall, the town hall again was occupied. In recent weeks, the Costa Grande, along with the mountains of Guerrero, has been linked to guerrilla activity. Just before the elections, La Jornada published a series of interviews with purported teachersturned-guerrillas. The parish priest in Coyuca has been repeatedly mentioned as the suspected leader of the movement ; and on election day the Costa Grande was teeming with Mexico City reporters, a crew from Miami-based Telemundo and other foreign media, all looking for the next revolution. What they found instead was the usual clash between the legalistic minds of the agrarian world of the Costa Grande. In Mexico City, subway stations are filled with IFE posters that quote 18th-century French philosophers on liberty, democracy and plurality. In Coyuca de Benitez, signs posted on the town hall indicate where campesinos were to line up for their PROCAMPO \(govelection. In Coyuca de Benitez, the citizens have become accustomed to police in black shirts, black pants and black boots, lounging around the town hall. At Tecpan, a regional vote-counting center further up the coast, dozens of police blocked off the streets near the 114E. Throughout the night, crowds gathered to watch the votes come in. From time to time, a pickup truck would roll in from the sierra and there would be some dispute about the legality of the ballots it was carrying. The crowd would shout, the count would stop and the entire delegation would move outside to deliberate with the crowd. The atmosphere was tense, but nothing happened; the crowd was penned in, always under the watchful eyes of the Guerrero police and a woman sporting IFE credentials, dressed in jeans and carrying a notebook and cellular phone. Not long after the July 6, 1988, presidential elections in Mexico, Chileans voted a resounding No! to the continuation of the Pinochet regime. Political analysts here generated endless articles, wondering aloud what it was about Chile that allowed its citizens to oust a military dictator while a supposedly democratic country was having problems running a supposedly democratic election. Since then, Mexicans have watched the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. They’ve watched a black man freed after nearly three decades in a South African prison elected president of that country. And they’ve watched another supposedly democratic election in which Mexicans voted a resounding No! to change in their own country. The jury on this election won’t be in for a long time. \(We still don’t understand what tion I have found, so far, is one advanced by Fatima Fernandez Cristlieb, an expert on Mexican media. “There’s a whole range of reasons for those who voted ‘no,’ and from here on in we have to try to untangle them, to analyze them, to understand the enormous array of reasons why they said ‘no’ to change. Among those I see most clearly, there is a ‘no’ cast out of fear; a ‘no’ that can be explained by submission; a ‘no’ that can be explained by a threat; a ‘no’ that comes from inertia; a ‘no’ that comes from satisfaction; and a ‘no’ expressed as a matter of convenience.” The optimists here \(their numbers are the next sexenio as the buffer stage, an interim leading up to the creation of another political system. I don’t. I wonder about all those “no’s” that Fernandez listed. And I don’t see how they can be changed. 12 SEPTEMBER 2, 1994