For those who continue to follow events in Mexico’s conflicted southern state of Chiapas, there is an increasingly surreal sense of being through the proverbial looking glass. On a national level, the leftist PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is challenging his narrow defeat in the presidential race as fraudulent with massive protest movements; in Chiapas, Jose Antonio Aguilar Bodegas, the candidate of the PRI (which ruled Mexico through blatant fraud and corruption for 70 years) is attempting to emulate Lopez Obrador’s example—claiming his victory was stolen by the PRD candidate! The conservative PAN (the party of President Fox and his apparent successor Felipe Calderon) is backing Aguilar Bodegas out of mutual enmity for the PRD—despite the fact that the PRI stole many electoral victories from the PAN in its long tenure in power nationally. Just to make the political bedfellows even stranger, Jorge Kanter—the notorious conservative rancher long held to be the mastermind of the White Guards, the brutal paramilitary force of Chiapas’ landed oligarchy—has declared for the PRD candidate, Juan Sabines!
Kanter, now mayor of the southern colonial town of Comitan, is traditionally a supporter of the PRI (which held a monopoly on power in Chiapas until 2000), and says he views Sabines as an heir to the PRI tradition. This may hurt Sabines as much as it helps him, but it also speaks to the clear threat that the Chiapas PRD is becoming co-opted by the oligarchy—which helps explain the bitter split between the ostensibly left-wing party and Chiapas’ Zapatista rebels, who still maintain territorial control of much of the state. An excerpt from a Sept. 9 interview with Kanter in the national weekly Proceso, online at Chiapas95 (our translation):
It appears contradictory but it is true: the apparent governor-elect Juan Sabines Guerrero—backed by an alliance of the PRD, PT and Convergence—”could not have won without the support of the PRI”, in the words of the leader of the PRI mayors of Chiapas, Jorge Constantino Kanter.
“Juan Sabines is PRIista. He only obtained the registration of the other party. Sabines was a deputy for the PRI, a mayor for the PRI, and as the son of ex-governor Juan Sabines Gutierrez, he continues being PRIista, and for this reason we support him”, he said in an interview…days after the election day of this past Aug. 20.
The mayor of the city of Comitan…is one of 25 of more than 50 elected PRI officials who support Sabines, in repudiation of the official candidate of the PRI, Jose Antonio Aguilar Bodegas.
These words hearken to the Zapatista criticism that the PRD is starting to mirror the PRI, from which it emerged as populist pro-democracy offshoot after the stolen presidential elections of 1988.
The PRD achieved power in Chiapas with the election of Pablo Salazar as governor in 2000, breaking the PRI’s stranglehold on official power in the state. His election was seen as a political de-escalation in a state which had been harshly divided since the 1994 Zapatista revolt. It brought the state PRD, which had formerly been allied with the Zapatistas’ rebel government, back into the official institutional life of Chiapas, with the “rebel governor” Amado Avendaño agreeing to stand down. After 9-11, Salazar was quick to publicly deny that the Zapatistas are terrorists, and he even affirmed the legality of their parallel rebel government.
On the other hand, Salzar also engaged in actions which would endear him to the likes of Kanter. He met with George Bush to discuss counter-terrorism strategy, repressed a teachers’ strike and sent the state police to evict campesino squatters.
The Zapatistas abstained from the gubernatorial race, and have remained largely silent in the subsequent electoral dispute.