Wrong story: Protesters squatting in Mexico City

Gerrard Winstanley office at evnuk.org.uk
Tue Aug 15 15:35:08 BST 2006

'People power' is a global brand owned by America 


The US and the western media back protests over controversial 
elections when it suits them, but are silent over those in Mexico 

Mark Almond
Tuesday August 15, 2006
The Guardian 

A couple of years ago television, radio and print media in the west 
just couldn't get enough of "people power". In quick succession, from 
Georgia's rose revolution in November 2003, via Ukraine's orange 
revolution a year later, to the tulip revolution in Kyrgyzstan and the 
cedar revolution in Lebanon, 24-hour news channels kept us up to date 
with democracy on a roll.

Triggered by allegations of election fraud, the dominoes toppled. The 
US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was happy with the trend: 
"They're doing it in many different corners of the world, places as 
varied as Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and, on the other hand, Lebanon ... 
And so this is a hopeful time."

But when a million Mexicans try to jump on the people-power bandwagon, 
crying foul about the July 2 presidential elections, when protesters 
stage a vigil in the centre of the capital that continues to this day, 
they meet a deafening silence in the global media. Despite Mexico's 
long tradition of electoral fraud and polls suggesting that Andrés 
Manuel López Obrador - a critic of the North American Free Trade 
Agreement (Nafta) - was ahead, the media accepted the wafer-thin 
majority gained by the ruling party nominee, Harvard graduate Felipe 

Although Mexico's election authorities rejected López Obrador's demand 
for all 42m ballots to be recounted, the partial recount of 9% 
indicated numerous irregularities. But no echo of indignation has 
wafted to the streets of Mexico City from western capitals.

Maybe Israel's intervention in Lebanon grabbed all the attention and 
required every hack and videophone. Back in 2004 CNN and the BBC were 
perfectly able to cover the battle for Falluja and the orange 
revolution in the same bulletins. Today, however, even a news junkie 
like me cannot remember a mainstream BBC bulletin live from among the 
massive crowds in Mexico City. Faced by CNN's indifference to the 
growing crisis in Mexico, only a retread of an old saying will do: 
"Pity poor Mexico, so far from Israel, so close to the United States."

Castro's failing health gets more airtime than the constitutional 
crisis gripping America's southern neighbour, which is one of its 
major oil suppliers. Apparently, crowds of protesters squatting in 
Mexico City for weeks protesting against alleged vote-rigging don't 
make a good news story. Occasionally commentators who celebrated 
Ukrainians blocking the main thoroughfares of Kiev condescend to jeer 
at Mexico's sore losers and complain that businessmen are missing 
deadlines because dead-enders with nothing better to do are holding up 
the traffic. Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko was decisive when he declared 
himself president, but isn't López Obrador a demagogue for doing the 

The colour-coded revolutionaries of the former Soviet Union had a pro-
western agenda - such as bringing Georgia and Ukraine into Nato and 
the EU - but in Latin America radicals question the wisdom of 
membership of US-led bodies such as Nafta and the WTO. The crude truth 
is that Washington cannot afford to let Mexico's vast oil reserves 
fall into hands of a president even half as radical as Venezuela's 
Hugo Chávez.

But didn't the western observers certify the Mexican polls as "fair", 
while they condemned the Ukrainian elections? True, but election 
observers are not objective scientists. The EU relies on politicians, 
not automatons, to evaluate polls. Take the head of its observer 
mission, the MEP José Ignacio Salafranca: as a Spanish speaker in 
Mexico, Salafranca had a huge advantage over many of the MEPs in 
Ukraine who draped themselves in orange even while en mission - but he 
is hardly neutral. His rightwing Popular party is an ally of 
Calderón's Pan party, which is in power in Mexico. Calderón was 
immediately congratulated by Salafranca's colleague Antonio López-
Istúriz on the "great news".

The days of leftwing fraternalism may be over, but the globalist right 
has its own network, linking the Spanish conservatives, American 
Republicans and Calderón's Pan party - and they provided the key 
observer. To paraphrase Stalin: "It doesn't matter who votes, it 
matters who observes the vote."

Salafranca has a track record as an election observer. In Lebanon's 
general elections in 2005 he had no problem with the pro-western 
faction sweeping the board around Beirut with fewer than a quarter of 
voters taking part and nine of its seats gained without even a token 
alternative candidate. "It is a feast of democracy," he declared. His 
mood changed when the democratic banquet moved to areas dominated by 
Hizbullah or the Christian maverick General Aoun. Suddenly, "vote-
buying" and the need for "fundamental reform" popped up in the EU 
observation reports.

Unanimity on the scale seen across Lebanon suggests that the cedar 
revolution - despite the hype - did nothing to promote real democratic 
pluralism. Hizbullah's hold on the south is the most controversial 
aspect of the sectarian segmentation of Lebanese society, but 
everywhere local bosses dominate their fiefdoms as before. Similarly, 
more scepticism about Ukraine's revolution would have left people 
better informed than the orange boosterism that passed for commentary 
18 months ago.

But Mexico is different because it is so under-reported. The cruel 
reality is that "people power" has become a global brand. But like so 
many global brands it is owned by Americans. Mexicans and any other 
"populists" who try to copy it should beware that they're infringing a 
copyright. No matter how many protesters swarm through Mexico City or 
how long they protest, it is George Bush and co who decide which 
people truly represent The People. People power turns out to be about 
politics, not arithmetic.

· Mark Almond is a history lecturer at Oriel College, Oxford

mpalmond at aol.com

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