By Gabriel Martínez Saldívar – Jun 3, 2021
On Wednesday, June 2, the campaign period for Mexico’s midterm elections officially came to a close, ahead of the polls that will take place on Sunday, June 6. During this campaign cycle Mexico seems to have seen it all, going from the extremes of sheer parody to complete horror and violence: images of too many candidates dancing on Tik Tok and a former miss universe running for governor have mingled with the news and footage of more than 13 murdered candidates, victims of narco-violence. Moreover, polling this year will take place amidst a pandemic that, although seemingly under control in Mexico, is far from over.
But what has made this campaign stand out more than anything else is a looming sense that the sword of Damocles hangs over the head of the country, as evidence of US interference through its NED and USAID regime-change arms have surfaced in the past month. Now it is clear that the US Embassy in Mexico has been functioning as one of the cash cows behind the strange amoebic form assumed by the opposition in this election—a bizarre cluster of opportunist NGOs, disgruntled chambers of commerce and weakened right-wing parties (PAN, PRI and PRD) galvanized under the Va por México moniker. All this, of course, with a little help from The Economist and the OAS, as usual.
Many experts have identified the elements not only of US interventionism in Mexican local politics, but also of the hand of the national elites in conjunction with that interventionism.
The largest elections in recent history
According to the National Electoral Institute (INE), in total, 19,915 public office positions will be contested in this election. These include 500 federal seats at the House of Representatives, 13 governorships and a myriad of positions at the local level, such as municipalities and mayoralties in all 32 states. It has been said that this is the largest election in Mexico’s recent history.
Although legislative elections tend to draw less voters than executive ones, this poll may become a contended battleground where a “united front of the elites”—united by those receiving the financial aid from the US Embassy—now hope to take away the house majority held by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s party MORENA. This would create a legislative obstacle to government budget spending on social programs. However, there might be more sinister reasons at play than just cutting down on social welfare. Lately a term has started to be thrown around a lot in Mexico: “soft coup.”
Some people are afraid that they might be looking at a coup in the making; one that has accelerated with this election cycle and that has been evidenced in a series of components that have been previously observed in the experiences of countries like Honduras, Brazil or Bolivia. According to specialist Retana Yarto, interviewed by Contralínea magazine, MORENA’S loss of the house majority could open the door to a possible soft coup and weakening of AMLO’s position through the legislative and judicial branches.
The “US Ministry of the Colonies”
After the 2019 coup in Bolivia and the OAS’ blatant support and participation in it, there is a growing apprehension in the region of the long-time nefarious role that the “US Ministry of the Colonies” has played in elections. In Mexico, alarm bells went off with the presence of Arturo Espinosa Silis in the Federal Electoral Tribunal of the Judicial Branch (TEPJF), the court in charge of resolving electoral complaints related to elections.
Espinosa Silis is a Mexican electoral specialist who had intended to work for the OAS as head of the technical team in charge of the vote count audit right after the Bolivian elections and subsequent coup of 2019. However, in a strange turn of events, Espinosa showed up in Bolivia, only to resign immediately when his unfavorable views on Evo Morales surfaced, via an article that he had published earlier. Now, Espinosa’s presence in the TEPJF in Mexico, together with a team of OAS observers that will be working in the INE, is a cause for concern. Espinosa is far from neutral when it comes to his views on Obrador, as his Twitter feed can attest. This has brought into question the neutrality of his role as a possible electoral arbiter.
En México somos casi 130 millones de personas, el gobierno no ha vacunado ni al 10% de ellas, lleva menos de 8 millones con ambas dosis, pero el discurso del gobierno es como si ya hubiera vacunado al 50%. Ni adultos mayores, ni personal médico tienen vacunas al 100%.
— Arturo Espinosa (@EspinosaSilis) May 18, 2021
Todavía no vacunan al 100% de las personas mayores de 60 años, ya empezaron el registro de las mayores de 50 y hablan de vacunar a las mayores de 40, esto es el uso electoral de la vacuna, generar la percepción de que es un éxito y un logro de gobierno.
— Arturo Espinosa (@EspinosaSilis) May 18, 2021
Although Espinosa’s presence in the TEPJF might not by itself yield much information, it was strange to observe AP’s fact-checking mechanism, Verificación AP, going out of its way to deny Espinosa’s participation in the fraud in Bolivia or any connection between Espinosa and Lorenzo Córdoba, head of the National Electoral Institute (INE). Regeneración magazine’s Ricardo Sevilla extensively reported that AP’s fact-checking mechanism is directly linked to Claudio X. González, son of the president of Kimberly Clark México, and also to Enrique Krauze, reactionary contributor for Washington Post. X. González and Krauze are the most visible faces of the networks of elite NGOs receiving USAID and NED funding. Regeneración also documented that a team of people close to X. González is now working in the preliminary election result-counting mechanism (COTAPREP) of the INE.
In its function as an independent electoral body, INE turned a blind eye during the last two electoral frauds (in the presidential elections of 2006 and 2012) and has been openly hostile to López Obrador from the start of his presidency, going as far as threatening to annul poll results this election, due to what it considers proselytism by the president, in his daily morning press conferences. Part of AMLO’s policy of republican austerity has focused on lowering the exorbitant salaries of public functionaries. In a hostile gesture, the INE directors have recurred to injunctions to keep their millionaire salaries from being reduced.
US interference and local elites
As was denounced in a press conference on May 7, President Obrador issued a diplomatic note asking the US government to stop funding political organizations though USAID and NED in Mexico. So far, the US has given Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI), one of X. González’s many NGOs, the sum of $1.28 million. The US has still to respond to the diplomatic note; however, the White House stated in vague and general terms this week that it would not stop funding the journalists and NGOs that “fight against corruption.”
On the receiving end of USAID and NED money in Mexico one can observe the same group of Mexican “intellectuals” recycled in the different boards of NGOs such as MCCI, the Mexican Institute of Competitivity (IMCO) and México, ¿Cómo Vamos? (MCV) amongst others. Most of these board members belong to a petit bourgeoisie of “highly educated” individuals who worked at the service of the previous administrations, and who have seen their income significantly diminished in the AMLO government. The public spending on which these elite “thinkers” and journalists depended—the money given to the press and opinion “experts” in exchange for government promotion—has had a drastic cut, from $500 million to $100 million. This intellectual and “journalist” class is extremely angry and seems the most openly antagonistic.
An example of this is documented by Journalist Álvaro Delgado, who cites 13 intellectuals who received 188 public contracts for $39 million during the Peña Nieto administration, and who founded an organization called Signos Vitales, another group consolidated by X. González, now in the political opposition business.
How much of the "civil society" opposition to AMLO is actually driven not over concerns about "creeping authoritarianism" but instead by the fact that people who got rich off the state, no longer can?
Well, this NGO is full of people who lost millions.https://t.co/1g9JPOlL4P
— José Luis Granados Ceja (@GranadosCeja) May 31, 2021
It will thus take massive participation in this midterm elections, hopefully as massive as the 30 million people who voted for Obrador, to stop an opposition campaign that has secured US funding and funneled it through fake NGOs into an alliance of right-wing parties, and which has likewise received help from corporate arms as distant as The Economist, whose recent publication of their AMLO-bashing article “Mexico’s False Messiah” is also part of the electoral push.
A series of class antagonisms have thus surfaced during this election cycle that might not have been fully articulated before. A class that still holds most of the power in Mexico, that is, the bourgeoisie and the petite bourgeoisie, feel overtly threatened by President Obrador’s social programs; his forcing big business to pay taxes; his denial of granting new extraction concessions and his reduction of goverment spending. This social class articulates the threat that AMLO poses to their interests as “authoritarianism and populism.”
In this sense, to speak of a “soft coup” might just be to articulate the antagonisms of a ruling class that will not yield their surplus gains an inch, for if neoliberalism is a trickle-down affair, in their eyes, even that trickle belongs to them.
Featured image: López Obrador greets a young girl in a departures lounge at the airport in Campeche, following a campaign rally. Christopher Morris—VII for TIME