Monday, April 18, 2005

Democracy Rhetoric Only Goes So Far

You know, sometimes there just isn't enough politics in Arizona, you have to search for topics in different countries (other than Ukraine, I mean).

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 17, 2005

The usual Bush administration “tomorrow is too far away/let’s have more tax cuts today” thinking guides their Mexico policy, too -- and Arizona will bear the consequences.

The administration is missing the longer-term boat yet again in the run-up to the 2006 Mexican presidential elections. The Mexican constitution imposes a one-term limit, so President Vincente Fox, of the National Action Party (PAN), can’t run again.

The second-most important Mexican elected official is the head of the Federal District; usually called the Mayor of Mexico City, the office’s importance lies somewhere between a U.S. mayor and state governor. The current mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known by his initials, AMLO), has a substantial lead in presidential polls. AMLO, after playing coy, plans to run as the candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

AMLO has been a relatively controversial, but still remains popular. His administration has been tarnished by two high-profile scandals. The city’s police chief was videotaped engaging in high-stakes gambling in Vegas; later, audits found $3 million dollars missing from municipal accounts. Also, AMLO’s former personal secretary was taped accepting a $320,000 payment. Nobody found evidence that AMLO participated, but he refused to distance himself from either man until well past the point of painful obviousness.

AMLO attributed both scandals to political conspiracies, led by President Fox and past president Carlos Salinas, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Conspiracy theorizing usually doesn’t help with videotapes of money changing hands, but AMLO’s PAN and PRI opponents just handed him an actual injustice with which to cloak himself in martyrdom garb.

The incredibly obscure dispute arises out of municipal expropriation of land by AMLO’s predecessor needed for road to a new hospital. A judge enjoined construction in 2001, but work continued. In the U.S., this dispute would be a civil matter; officeholders routinely get sued in their official capacities . The Mexican federal prosecutor alleges that AMLO personally knew of the violation of the court order, and under Mexican law, that’s a criminal matter.

Mexican law also provides for official immunity for officeholders, so these kinds of criminal proceedings stay on hold until their term of office ends. But the national legislature, the Chamber of Deputies, can remove this immunity (in a process called desafuero), which makes the official subject to arrest. Moreover, Mexican law also prohibits anybody facing a criminal charge from running for president.

PRD holds only a quarter of the seats in the Chamber, and the PAN and PRI deputies carried the desafuero vote by a wide margin. While PAN and PRI were bitter enemies in the last election, now PRI is seen as more of a centrist, or even conservative, party, informally allied with the center-right PAN in opposing the center-left (and front-running) PRD.

To Americans, talk of the vital importance of elected officials respecting judicial orders sounds less impressive after the Schiavo legislation and GOP leader Tom DeLay’s “inartful” threats against judges. Similarly, the Bush administration, which usually loves to talk about democracy, has been curiously silent. So far, a State Department spokesman has said only that barring AMLO from running is an internal Mexican matter.

Unfortunately, the Mexican ruling parties, and Bush, are playing into AMLO’s hands. The desafuero vote gives AMLO proof that the PAN and PRI really are out to get him, and nothing helps a foreign candidate’s popularity like Bush’s opposition.

The administration may be ignoring its pro-democracy rhetoric to help its friends in the PAN, but Arizona will pay if we lose this bet. Any efforts to bring order to the U.S.-Mexico border require much work from both countries’ governments. If the Mexican authorities won’t help, increased U.S. enforcement alone won’t solve the problem.

By implicitly siding with the PAN and PRI, the Bush administration has made its Mexican friends (and U.S. oil types) happy today, but at the expense of two long-term (read: next year) problems. They’re making AMLO more popular among Mexican voters, and making the candidate and party with the least interest in helping us with border problems the likely winner.

This may not matter to people living in Washington, D.C., but to those of us in Arizona, today may be O.K. but tomorrow sure won’t be pretty.

No comments: