The Zapatista Other Campaign vs. Mexico’s 2006 Presidential “Election”
The View from Above and to the Right Fails Because It Ignores “the Repression Poll” from Below
By Al Giordano
Second of Two Parts
May 27, 2006
Yesterday in this space we analyzed the horizontal communications systems of the Zapatista Other Campaign in Mexico, and how the repressive government of Vicente Fox and its mass media have lost the netwar over how the Atenco atrocity is defined. If you are entering the story here for the first time, kind reader, you may wish to read Part I first.
In that story we concluded that key sectors of the Other Campaign have developed what the Pentagon analysts call “top sight,” an ability to see and utilize all the same information available to those from above. Today we conclude that “top sight” is not enough; that what Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials) has achieved could be called “bottom sight,” and it brought a key advantage to the Other Campaign during an hour of crisis that, together with the kind of communications network it constructed, succeeded in turning the tables on a false story imposed from above about what occurred in Atenco, where a police riot and subsequent invasion led to 217 arrests and more than 150 documented violations of human rights, including beatings, sexual torture and rape.
Since “top sight” includes, even when practiced from below and to the left, monitoring how those above view a given situation, and those above are obsessed with a Mexican presidential election that has been called for July 2nd, let’s look at the holy grail of politics from above: the polls.
(For those with a distaste for polls and electoral simulations, our apologies: this section shall be brief, but is necessary to explain, next, what really is happening on the ground in Mexico. Part of the argument addresses what the polls can’t see.)
According to all public opinion surveys for the past three years, candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) was on top, until this spring when, according to a poll by the daily El Universal, taken April 5th through 8th, the PRD candidate began to fall; from 42 percent support in the newspaper’s March poll to 38 percent in early April. Felipe Calderón of the PAN (National Action Party) of President Fox had risen to 34 percent of the preferences. The third candidate, Roberto Madrazo of the formerly supreme PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party, which governed Mexico for seven decades until 2000) was, according to the poll, stuck behind at 25 percent.
Two weeks later, in a poll by the daily Reforma, taken April 20th through 22nd, Calderón, for the first time, took the lead. This, two weeks before the Atenco atrocity. Calderón was then reportedly at 38 percent, with López Obrador down to 35 percent. Madrazo wallowed at 23 percent.
A week later, a poll by the daily Milenio, taken April 26th through 29th was within the so-called “margin of error” for the previous Reforma poll, and showed Calderón, again, on top: 36 percent for the PAN candidate, 33 percent for the PRD candidate, with the PRI’s Madrazo at 28 percent. In another poll, taken April 28th through 30th by Reforma, Calderón enjoyed a whopping seven-point lead with 40 percent to López Obrador’s 33 percent, and Madrazo back downstairs at 22 percent. These two polls, after an April 25th televised debate that López Obrador did not attend. An April 27th to 30th poll by GEA-ISA had Calderón up by double digits at 41 percent to 31 percent for López Obrador and Madrazo at 25 percent. A Mitofsky group poll taken April 28th to May 2nd had the race more narrow with Calderón at 35 percent, López Obrador at 34 percent, and Madrazo at 27 percent. An April 30th to May 3rd poll by Ulises Beltrán y asociados had Calderón at 37 percent to 32 percent for López Obrador and 27 percent for Madrazo.
All these surveys, again, were taken before the Atenco story hit on May 3rd, and showed the emergence of a two-man race between Calderón and López Obrador.
The first published post-Atenco poll was taken from May 5th through 8th by the Parametría group, and showed a tightened race with Calderón at 36 percent, López Obrador at 34 percent and Madrazo at 26 percent. An El Universal poll taken on those same days had Calderón at 39 percent, López Obrador at 35 percent and Madrazo at 21 percent. And a May 6th through 9th poll by Zogby (effectively, one day later) has Calderón at 38 percent, López Obrador at 33 percent and Madrazo at 25 percent.
More recently, a Reforma poll taken from May 19th to 21st has Calderón at 39 percent, López Obrador at 35 percent and Madrazo at 22 percent.
So, according to all the polls between April to the present, Calderón has been between 41 and 36 percent, Lopez Obrador between 35 and 31 percent and Madrazo between 28 and 21 percent. The post-Atenco polls show, if they show anything, a closer race, a freefall by Madrazo, and a better playing field for López Obrador than he had prior to Atenco, with his vote between 33 and 35 percent and Calderon between 36 and 39 percent. But this is only if we believe the polls, which are paid for by Commercial Media with their own interests and party preferences; a Commercial Media that in Mexico has never been honest (as Atenco demonstrates). We simply offer this analysis as part of our analysis of what those above are watching.
In any case, nobody can point to any hard polling data that shows that Atenco has played into the hands of the electoral right, a fear expressed by many supporters of López Obrador. An argument could, in fact, be made using this data that it has weakened the official candidate, Calderón — who is backed by president Vicente Fox — and that combined with their negative campaigning style, Fox and Calderón are inadvertently causing a counter-current that will manifest six weeks from now in higher voter turnout against them.
Pollster Federico Berrueto of GCE, whose late April pre-Atenco poll showed Calderón with his highest margin (10 percentage points) over López Obrador back then, told La Jornada this week:
“My prognosis is that what is being generated is an upset from the people, I would say even a social rebellion, which is what this fear campaign is provoking. The posture of the business and conservative sectors also worry me, because this is not the way to impede that a candidate win; it’s a way to polarize society. To those sectors I would offer the following tip: In the past four years it is under these conditions that the candidates of the left have won. If we revise the recent presidential elections in Latin America, the fear campaigns bring more people out to the polls.”
The pollster Berrueto also made the observation that Mexico’s López Obrador is “more moderate” than the other Latin American presidents who are said to be of the left, more moderate, he says, than Lula da Silva of Brazil. That, of course, is one of the points that Marcos and the Other Campaign have been making all along: that there is no candidate of the left on the ballot in Mexico. But the brutality of the Fox government, and its defense by Calderón in Atenco, has generated a resentment toward them that may draw a vote against them to the polls that, if not for that, might have sat this election out.
A Different Kind of Poll, from Below
While those focused on the above electoral campaign watch one kind of poll, there is another that we’ve been watching here: the daily repression count in Mexico against social organizers and leaders. Much of it occurs outside the direct context of the Zapatista Other Campaign. The violent (and unsuccessful) siege by the government against striking miners and metalworkers on the Pacific coast of Michoacan – which erupted into violence on April 20, bringing a body count of two dead and 40 wounded on the first day – occurred two weeks prior to Atenco, and just after Subcomandante Marcos’ visit to Michoacan.
In fact, Marcos was scheduled to visit that port city of Lázaro Cárdenas in early April, days prior to the confrontation, but opted to suspend his appearance there. The state organizing committee for the Other Campaign in Michoacan told the daily Cambio, at the time, that the visit was suspended because the Zapatista spokesman did not want to involve himself in a conflict revolving around charro (corrupt) union leaders. Indeed, on April 2, while Marcos was in other parts of that state, a strike did break out at the steel mill there, a strike over the government’s refusal to recognize the union leader. The strikers occupied the mill. On April 20, the government sent 800 shock troops and a bloody confrontation ensued, causing the two deaths and more than 40 wounded, on the first day of a conflict that continues a month later.
Imagine, in retrospect, if Marcos had gone to Lázaro Cárdenas, and if in the tumult, Other Campaign adherents had been arrested or beaten. The mass media would have – as it has with Atenco – attempted to blame the Other Campaign and its spokesman, and Marcos would be embroiled in a messy circumstance, perceived as defending the very kinds of institutional union leaders that have historically betrayed the workers of the nation (and who are, additionally, involved with two of the major political parties: PRI and PRD). Indeed, in the weeks since, there have been critiques from the left of Marcos for not involving himself in that conflict, and for not joining the mega-march by institutional unions on May 1 in Mexico City that supported those strikers, holding a smaller, but significant, march of 40,000 Other Campaigners from the U.S. Embassy to the National Palace.
“We must also prepare, compañeros and compañeras, for repression,” said Marcos last September. The repression did not begin in Atenco (nor in Lázaro Cárdenas). Beneath the media myth that Mexico has transitioned to “democracy” is the reality that State repression against social movements continues today, under Vicente Fox, with the same fury as it had under the previous president, Ernesto Zedillo, of the PRI. And this brings us back to the communications systems established by The Other Campaign – the aforementioned email lists, the websites, etcetera – because the Zapatista communications system had evolved greatly during the four months prior to May 3 in Atenco and this is what succeeded in turning the story around from what those in power had wanted it to be.
On January 10, during the first days of The Other Campaign’s national tour, in Chiapas, Marcos was handed letters from two political prisoners and social fighters: Horacio Enriquez Escobar, in prison for seven years on a six year sentence, and Santana Campos Perez, in since September accused of homicide. Marcos and the Zapatista Sixth Commission sent them to the email list of all adherents in Mexico.
What came, soon after, were more denuncias – in Mexico, that’s the word used for a legal or moral complaint – into Marcos’ emailbox, about the repression they faced for their political views and activity, often because of their involvement with the Other Campaign. And thus it became the Other Campaign policy to share the denuncias of repression against any adherent with all.
Since then, more than 70 denuncias of repression – not including those from Atenco-Texcoco – have been distributed through that route. They include three political assassinations of indigenous leaders in Mexico over the first four months of 2006. They include scores of illegal arrests (including of journalists), beatings, a kidnapping and forced drugging, raids on the homes of human rights workers in Chiapas, intimidation and surveillance against social activists, cutting of government funds and social programs in communities and at a university that welcomed Subcomandante Marcos during his tour, violent paramilitary-style attacks on people for distributing leaflets or posters, a human rights attorney framed on drug possession charges. In the grand majority, these are cases of repression against adherents of the Other Campaign in retaliation for holding a meeting, or an assembly, or — in the case of 73 campesinos arrested in Hidalgo, or 26 who protested outside the World Water Forum in Mexico City — a peaceful demonstration, or in the case of 80 youths attacked by police in Jalisco, for holding a fiesta. Or, in the March 8 case of environmental activist Lucilia Gonzalez, on her way to an International Woman’s Day event to which she had been invited in the hall of the state congress in Cuernavaca, she was illegally arrested by police
As has been the rule in Mexico over the past six years, these attacks against decent people by a repressive state as punishment for speaking out and participating in “democracy” don’t receive media coverage. The corporate human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International don’t say or do anything about them. And in most cases, people are left to wallow in jail, or wounded, or dead, alone, in silence.
The Other Campaign, with the horizontal communications system it has developed, and its “all for one” ethic, has begun to fight back. In some cases, the national and international solidarity developed led to fast results: Nicanor Salud of San Blas Atempa, Oaxaca, freed on the same day he was arrested when a crowd of people surrounded the state prosecutor’s office and took him back by unarmed force. The release, after two nights in prison, of Narco News journalists and others illegally arrested in Oaxaca May 1. The freeing of political prisoner Jacobo Silva from solitary confinement after the Other Campaign revealed what had been done to him. The freeing of Damaso Villanueva from prison in Chiapas. Indeed, in Atenco, 188 of the 217 people arrested on May 3 and 4 are out of jail (although most still face charges, and five have been deported). But if not for the solidarity efforts of the Other Communications Network, they might well all still be there, or disappeared, or worse.
A rule of thumb for public opinion polling (your correspondent, years ago, designed and conducted many) is that, to get realistic results, at least 400 people must be surveyed. In less than five months of The Other Campaign, more than 400 adherents, social fighters, have been imprisoned by a repressive regime. This poll – a survey of repression – is what is seen from below, and what continues to generate the social rebellion that that one pollster from above worried aloud about this week.
And so, in the end, a clear vision of what is really happening in Mexico doesn’t require – as the Pentagon analysts say – “top sight.” It requires “bottom sight,” the view from below. From this vista, the repression has failed, but the system is broken and flailing, so more is to be expected. And to those who, in their wishful thinking, or privileged notions of civility, believe that this crisis can be fixed by an election, or that there is such a thing as a fair and free election in a land of so much State repression, or that this current social storm is going to blow over any time soon, we recommend developing better “bottom sight.” Today, any fifteen-year-old with a modem can develop a “top sight” that rivals that of governments. Gaining “bottom site” involves sharing the risks with those who fight from below.
It is this “bottom sight” that gives Marcos and the Other Campaign strategic advantage right now over those who have the State and mass media at their service. Its what gave him the ability to impose in recent weeks – for the first time in history – conditions on Televisa and other media to gain uncensored, uncut, interviews on the airwaves and elsewhere. In one of those interviews he explained it in the following way: The Other Campaign isn’t generating the conflicts. It is making the conflict, which already rages down below, visible. And in doing so, has, again, pioneered a model for an Other Communications Network that serious social fighters everywhere can begin to put to use.
Click here for Part I of this story: The Zapatista Other Campaign and the Netwar over Defining Atenco
Click here for more Narco News coverage of Mexico
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