Sunday, April 13, 2008

Immiseration as Political Strategy:  "Ungovernability" and the Mexican Left


The Frente Amplio Progresista Seizes the Mexican Senate

The Current Shutdown of the Mexican Congress

As I write, the Mexican Congress is now shut down and unable to conduct normal business owing to the fact that representatives of the Mexican Left, dominated by the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), though organized in coalition with other smaller parties as the Frente Amplio Progresista (Broad Progressive Front) have seized control of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate and are holding them in an effort to prevent the consideration of President Felipe Calderon's energy reform proposals designed to improve the Mexican state-owned oil industry through semi-privatization and administrative change. The deputies have vowed not to permit the business of the chamber to resume unless consideration of the reform is either scrapped altogether, which is their true goal, or postponed until August permitting a "national debate" in the meantime, the outlines of which are still vague and uncertain.

Partisan Political Background of the Current Controversy

It has happened before in recent Mexican political history.

Following the disputed presidential election of July, 2006 Mexico's PRD party (Party of the Democratic Revolution) and its allies shut down the nation's capital, Mexico City, for about six weeks, causing a complete disruption of political, economic, and civic life as protest encampments were erected in the city's center in late July and maintained there until mid-September while the PRD's candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador demanded a national hand recount of all 40 million plus ballots cast in the election. Then, immediately following the decision of Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal to name the candidate of the PAN Party (National Action Party), Felipe Calderon, as winner of the presidential election after a partial recount showed no significant reduction in his margin of victory, Lopez Obrador summoned a "Democratic National Convention" to meet in Mexico City in mid-September. This time the goal was to prevent the investiture of Felipe Calderon as President. The convention, whose delegates represented the various leftist Mexican parties, met in Mexico City in mid-September and made the not so surprising decision to name Lopez Obrador as "Legitimate President" of Mexico and to promote continued civil resistance to make it impossible for Calderon to assume office. As the December 1 date of investiture approached, congressional representatives of the PAN Party, anticipating that PRD legislators would seize the rostrum of the Congress as they had done in September to prevent then President Vicente Fox from delivering his annual report to the Mexican people, forcefully took control of the chamber to stop the PRD from making good on Lopez Obrador's threat to prevent a constitutional ceremony from taking place which was a necessary preparation for Calderon's investiture of office. The situation deteriorated into a controlled brawl with the PAN deputies winning in the early rounds owing to their numbers and unanimous action. The resolute actions of the PAN legislators did enable Calderon to assume office on December 1st, though Lopez Obrador and many of his supporters continue to claim that he is the "Legitimate President" of the country and their disruptive political tactics have continued, though at a reduced pace.

Nov. 2006: PAN Deputy Fights to Prevent PRD Deputies from Taking Rostrum

While all the above-mentioned disruption continued in Mexico City, a second and potentially more dangerous leftist mobilization in the southern state of Oaxaca brought the entire region to a standstill and only became related directly to Lopez Obrador's protest after the latter moved to reject the presidential election results. A teachers strike that began in May, 2006 against Oaxacan Governor Ulises Ruiz of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), whose resignation they demanded, transformed itself into a full-fledged shutdown of the capital city of Oaxaca and, as it wore on for months afterwards, of most of the state, with the key event being a botched crackdown on the demonstrators Ruiz attempted in June. The protesters formed a new organization known as APPO, acronym for the "Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca" as it is named in the original Spanish. APPO practically controlled the city of Oaxaca and much of the rest of the state from June through November of 2006. They forcibly seized local radio stations, permitting no competing sources of information from public broadcasts and they intimidated local newspapers. They virtually shut down the state and local governments, whose exercise of public responsibility already had been hindered by the bumbling and violent attempts of Ruiz to attack isolated APPO protesters, which resulted in several deaths. Commerce within the city of Oaxaca and its surrounding areas came to almost a complete standstill, even the tourist income from the Guelaguetza folk festival that is so important to the local economy disappeared when APPO declared a boycott of the event, which they enforced with a blockade of the auditorium where the event was held. After the protest became increasingly violent in late October and information began to surface from Mexican intelligence sources that the Bolivarian Left was bringing Venezuelan support to the aid of the APPO shutdown of the state, President Vicente Fox ordered the Mexican Federal Preventive Police to retake the city, which some 3,000 of its agents did on October 29 using armored cars and tear gas in the face of Molotov cocktails, burning barricades and vehicles, and more. Eventually, many of the protesters were arrested for various crimes and the PRD picked up the defense expenses of APPO leader Flavio Sosa, though he was still convicted and is now serving time in a Mexican jail.

Oct. 2006: Appistas Prepare Molotov Cocktails in Oaxaca

Oct. 2006: Mexican Federal Police Advance in Oaxaca City

Immiseration through Ungovernability

The political crises of the second half of the year 2006 in Mexico resulted in either the radicalization of Mexican leftists who previously had supported the country's political institutions, or they merely made the Mexican Left's true radical nature more visible, depending upon one's individual point of view. But whether we explain the recent radicalism of the Left in Mexico in static or dynamic terms, the real-world results of their protests are undeniable. The Mexican Left uses protest mobilization to promote the "Ungovernability" of the country as a political tactic designed to intimidate its opposition. This is not simply an outside analysis of the process. Mexican leftists use the word themselves, as one APPO leader stated in November, 2006: "The proposal is to demonstrate that there is no governability." In the post-election protests surrounding the shutdown of Mexico City's central business district from late July through September, 2006; businesses in the area suffered substantial losses, their employees went without jobs and income, which forced many to move to lesser-status work, tourism came to a virtual standstill, city services were disrupted, and transport through the city was most adversely affected. During the APPO shutdown of Oaxaca, local businesses also suffered, some of whom had their capital goods destroyed outright because APPO protesters did not find them particularly sympathetic, public buses and private vehicles were destroyed, tourism stopped completely during its most important season for the local economy, schools were closed for months, and the seizure of state and local government offices brought almost all public governance to a halt. "Ungovernability" means exactly what the name implies, that the country -- or state, town, whatever -- will be made "ungovernable," and this is exactly what was achieved.

It is important to note that "Ungovernability" is a form of civil resistance which, while not always passive, nonetheless does not propose terror as a means of achieving leftist ends. But in spite of the fact that leftist bloggers and ideologues in the U.S., Western Europe, and elsewhere have attempted to cast the PRD and APPO protests as continuing the great traditions of passive civil resistance which can be highlighted in the legacies of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., the differences in both methods and goals are more striking than the similarities. The great passive civil resistance movements for Indian independence and the realization of racial equality in the United States were founded upon the application of a method of individual self-sacrifice en masse, as protesters either demonstrated a willingness to surrender their personal liberty or actually gave it up when the police authority of the state took them into custody. The civil resistance of "Ungovernability" is only similar in that it does mobilize protesters en masse, but it seeks to concentrate them in a way that prevents the state from acting to remove them, thus there is no self-sacrifice beyond the inconvenience of attending the protest, and even in some of those cases, such as the specific instance of the manning of the protest encampments in Mexico City in the summer of 2006, demonstrators are paid salaries to keep them on the scene. And the goals are also distinct. In the protest movements Ghandi and King led, the specific outcome desired was the moral conversion of their opponents as the self-evident justification of the protest cause would become increasingly undeniable. "Ungovernability" has no moral goal in mind, its purpose is to make life for others so miserable that they face no other alternative than to act as desired. The passive resistance of Ghandi and King sought the subjective outcome of internal conversion, the civil resistance of "Ungovernability" seeks to force the objective calculation that the costs of opposition are so great in terms of human misery that they are far less preferable than the benefits of accommodation to the protest. As a tactic, "Ungovernability" promotes a strategy of successfully achieving political goals through the Immiseration of the population at large, forcing them to suffer the consequences of opposition.

What the Left in Mexico has decided is that it must be willing to destroy Mexico in order to save it.

The PAN Party's Attempts to Reform Mexico

Ever since Vicente Fox's historic election as President of Mexico in 2000, his PAN Party has attempted to modernize Mexico, but the pace of results has been slow. Fox did get some important financial sector reforms through the Mexican Congress early in his administration and the negative GDP and high inflation rates of the previous decade were reversed and brought under control. But there has been significant resistance to attempts to modernize the various state monopolies, such as those governing oil and public electricity, each of which still operates under antiquated organizational structures that date back to the six decades of rule by the PRI who, in spite of their penchant for using the revolutionary rhetoric of the Left, actually created a corporate state that submerged political tensions through common interest group representation. But giving every interest group a slice of the pie meant that you gave out jobs as political favors in the state-run monopolies and the consequences facing the country today in cost overruns and inefficiency are serious in both the electrical and petroleum sectors of Mexican industry. The need to modernize the oil industry is especially telling, since outright volume of oil production has been decreasing since 2004 and the country's need for access to foreign technical expertise to modernize its energy sector is severe, since nationalized oil reserves form the basis for a significant part of the Mexican federal government's income. But the Mexican Left will not admit of any justification for privatization and, for that reason, it is now determined to disrupt Mexico's political and governmental life in any way possible so as to prevent the adoption and implementation of Felipe Calderon's energy reform proposals.

One must keep in mind that the consequences of a failure to modernize the Mexican petroleum industry are well understood among the Mexican Left. They are in fact an essential part of their calculations. "Immiseration" is a strategy that does not admit of a need to alleviate suffering as an impetus for building political consensus. Rather; it imposes suffering so as to force compliance with a non-negotiable political program.


Some Research Notes:  Between July, 2006 and January, 2007 I concentrated on coverage of the political crises in Mexico arising from the disputed presidential election and the APPO protest within my capacity as a contributor to the News/Activism forum at Free Republic. I translated a large number of news articles from the Mexican press and elsewhere in Latin America from the original Spanish into English and posted them within the forum to expand news coverage beyond the English-only American media. At this first link you will find some 51 news articles covering the post-election controversy I translated for the forum indexed. At this second link you will find some 19 news articles covering the APPO-Oaxacan controversy translations indexed. There are perhaps two or three articles common to both lists. These articles form a significant part of factual information I have cited in my blog and if anyone feels they need a specific reference they may post a comment and I'll try to get to it. And at this third link you will find a full list of all my translations for Free Republic, which include both previous references and contains more than just my translations from Spanish. You will see I have also done some work monitoring Hugo Chavez, the FARC, Evo Morales, and more.

For those of you who read Spanish and are interested in following the Left in Mexico, I strongly recommend Andre Lopez Rivas's Mexico En Peligro Blog, which contains a wonderful archive of Spanish language newspaper and magazine articles posted, along with the occasional comments by the blogger himself. I regard this as a most essential resource, one which I have used extensively in my online research into the Left in Mexico.



Andrés López Rivas said...

Hola StJacques,

Muchas gracias por la mención. Seguimos por la misma línea y 'en línea'.



StJacques said...

¡Con mucho gusto Andrés!

Usted tiene un blog excelente y espero que siga con su trabajo fino.