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Patronage and PRI-dominance BY ALISON GARDY Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico IN THE MONTHS before the August 21 national elections, Mexico’s Institutional worry about places like Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl. Located on the eastern outskirts of Mexico City, Nezahualcoyotl \(which takes its namein the Nahuatl, “hungry coyote”from the pre-Cortesian poet-King of four million and six million people. A former squatters’ settlement that has burgeoned over three decades of massive rural migration, “Neza” is one of Mexico’s largest urban zones. It has a large working class, a small middle class and a huge concentration of young, rebellious rockers. Though the PRI has always controlled Neza’s local government, using pork barrel and Mafia-style tactics of intimidation and exclusion, Neza residents nevertheless voted overwhelmingly for opposition candidate Cuauhternoc Cardenas in the presidential elections of 1988. That is why the PRI had reason to worry about Neza in 1994. The 1988 protest vote represented mistrust and disgust toward a government that seemed more a burden than a help, more a danger than a defender for ordinary citizens. Many Neza residents, for example those who struggled with PRI government officials to get the most basic services of drinking water, a sewage system and paved streets, take personal credit for their city’s growth and improvement and contend that the huge street-paving program begun by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari was an attempt to keep Neza voting for the PRI. Yet many choose not to criticize the PRI openly, for fear of reprisals. Neza’s curious demographic mix and its political ambivalence make it a sort of small-scale model of the Mexican republic. During the recent elections, it became a place where new democratic ideas met old political ploys, where political tolerance faced pressure to vote for the PRI, and where a nascent democracy quietly took root amid a tangled web of cronyism. Voters went to the polls to select a president, senators and local representatives. All nine parties plastered propaganda on Neza’s walls, telephone poles and bridges. They strung up plastic flyers across avenues and streets, Alison Gardy is a freelance writer based in New York. which gave the city the appearance of a confusing carnival or, as one Neza resident put it, “a place to dry your laundry.” Never before had so much propaganda from so many different political parties covered the area. The PRI, however, erected enormous bill. boards and had more plastic banners than any other party. PRI advertisements occupied the most visible places, and television and radio promoted the PRI more than any other party. And the PRI went one step further. “Because the people are so disillusioned with the PRI, it is asking for votes in exchange for services people have been demanding for years,” said Eva, a Neza resident who refused to give her last name, “But the PM does this each time there is an election,” she added. “Then we never hear from them again.” Eva, who raises chickens in her home, told the same thing to a local PRI candidate who campaigned door-to-door for this year’s elections. He shook residents’ hands and asked if he could put his campaign stickers with the PRI logo on their doors. Eva asked the candidate, Luis Alberto Contreras, why the government still had not paved her street. Eva had been elected treasurer of a neighbors’ committee six years ago after her Neza neighbors had come together in a nonpOlitical fashion to organize and pressure the local government for street pavement. Eva collected the equivalent of $1,000 from her neighbors and paid it in deposits over the last six years to the local government. But the street was never paved. One government fraud after another gobbled up the neighborhood money. Each new local administration blamed the previous one and asked the residents to pay again. Worse, the enraged neighbors began to suspect that Eva had stolen the money. Anxious to clear her name of suspicion, Eva, a soft-spoken woman, challenged the PRI candidate when he came to her door three weeks ago. “You’re here for first and last time,” she told him. “Now you want my vote. Now you shake my hand and hug me. But when you’ve won and go to your office, you won’t let me pass through the door.” Contreras promised Eva that her street would be paved if the neighbors supported him. “Trust us,” he said. “We won’t deceive you.” “We don’t believe in the PRI anymore,” Eva said. As she spoke, she began to draw a crowd. The neighbors agreed. SHORTLY AFTER the encounter, Eva received a letter in the mail. It was from the local PRI office. They had named her as a party block leader for her neighborhood: She even received a diploma with her name and official title. In the letter, Contreras thanked her for her membership in the PRI. Eva was baffled. She had never enrolled in the party. On the contrary, she had voted for the opposition in 1988. “Shouldn’t the neighbors vote for their block leader?” she asked Contreras’ campaign manager. “No,” came the reply. “You’re the block leader. We have faith in you.” Other letters arrived on PRI stationery. One thanked Eva, for her campaign efforts on behalf of Contreras. Another invited her to a lunch for PRI supporters. Another invited her to a breakfast for PRI supporters. Eva went to neither. Then she received a certificate in the mail that named her PRI representative at a voting booth on election day. Angry that the PRI was coercing her but flattered that it was courting her, Eva decided to accept both positions, as PRI block leader and polling-place monitor. Another Neza resident who insisted on anonymity “not because I’m afraid,” he said, “but because they look for you later,” . recently watched local and state workers pave his street in one week. He and his neighbors had been pleading with the government for pavement for years and never got a response. When asked if he thought the quick pavement job had to do with the PRI’ s trying to win votes, he replied, “Of course!” In the weeks before the August 21 elec tion, Neza residents collected little gifts or obsequios, as they are called, from the PRI. T-shirts, hats, jackets, aprons, water buck ets, pens, pencils, erasers, notebooks, all with the PRI logo and the name Of a PRI candidate emblazoned on them. And in still, ‘ .. ‘ abandoned sections of Neza or in other settlements on the outskirts, such as La Virgen, Escondida and Puente Rojo, the government rushed in at the last minute to meet citizens’ demands. Tractors plowed gravel into streets that had become muddy pools and in one day, workers erected street lamps. The party even courted Neza’s rebellious rockers by luring them to political speeches with the promise of a concert with the best known bands playing the latest popular music fad, la quebradita. Hundreds of disaffected teenagers flocked to the concerts, stomped and swirled for hours and then lis THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13