Mexico: Calderon sworn in amid chaos

We wonder if a year from now the big semantic debate in the US media will be whether there is a “civil war”…in Mexico. From The Scotsman, Dec. 2:

MEXICO CITY — Felipe Calderon took the oath of office as Mexico’s president yesterday in a lightning-fast ceremony before congressmen who exchanged punches and insults over the conservative leader’s narrow victory.

Mr Calderon entered congress through a back door and appeared suddenly on the speaker’s platform, the site of three days of fistfights and sit-ins by politicians from rival parties seeking to control the stage. Physically protected by sympathetic congressmen and flanked by the outgoing president, Vicente Fox, Mr Calderon ignored the chaos around him and raised his arm as he swore to uphold the constitution, almost inaudible over the noise.

The national anthem played, momentarily stilling the catcalls and shouting, before Mr Calderon made a quick exit and congress adjourned. Foreign dignitaries – including the former US president George Bush snr, the Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, and Prince Felipe of Spain – barely warmed their seats in a balcony overlooking the scene.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, claims he was robbed of the presidency and has declared himself Mexico’s “legitimate president”. In September, the Federal Electoral Tribunal declared Mr Calderon the winner of the disputed race by less than one percentage point.

After the inauguration, Mr Lopez Obrador led tens of thousands of supporters down Mexico City’s Reforma Avenue, the same boulevard they occupied for weeks this summer to protest at Mr Calderon’s victory.

Carrying banners that read “Lopez Obrador is president,” the sea of people marched toward the heavily guarded national auditorium, where Mr Calderon was to address the nation. Afterwards, Mr Calderon was to attend a military ceremony in which army commanders would swear allegiance.

Mr Lopez Obrador said he would never recognise Mr Calderon as president “If we don’t protest and we remain silent, there will never be democracy in our country,” he said.

After camping out in congress for three days in an attempt to control the speaker’s podium and prevent Mr Calderon from taking office, left-wing MPs seized the chamber’s entrances on Friday morning.

They draped a giant banner across the chamber reading “Mexico doesn’t deserve a traitor to democracy as president”, exchanged punches with ruling-party members and erected barricades of chairs as Mr Calderon’s supporters chanted “Mexico wants peace.”

“It’s good action,” quipped California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as he arrived.

Senator Santiago Creel, the former interior secretary, added: “I have never been in such an exciting session.”

Mr Calderon acknowledged the chaos during a ceremony in which he took control of the presidential residence from Mr Fox.

“I am not unaware of the complexity of the political times we are living through, nor of our differences,” he said. “But I am convinced that today we should put an end to our disagreements and start a new stage whose only aim would be to place the interests of the nation above our differences.”

See our last posts on Mexico and the “electoral crisis.

  1. Calderon cabinet signals escalated repression
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 3:

    Felipe Calderon Hinojosa started his six-year term as president of Mexico with a chaotic five-minute inauguration on Dec. 1, heavily guarded by members of the Presidential General Staff. Legislators from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and two allied parties chanted: “Illegitimate!” as Calderon and outgoing president Vicente Fox Quesada, both of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), slipped into the hall through a back door and rushed through the ceremony before fleeing the scene. The podium had been the site of fistfights between PAN and PRD legislators since Nov. 28, when the PAN deputies had seized it to keep the PRD from blocking Calderon’s swearing in.

    At around the time Calderon was inaugurated, some 200,000 supporters of the PRD’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador–who narrowly lost the July 2 presidential election to Calderon, according to election officials–began a march through downtown Mexico City from the Zocalo plaza to the entrance to Chapultepec park. Lopez Obrador, who held his own alternative inauguration on Nov. 20, told the marchers that they would “hold the flag [of democracy] high” during Calderon’s term. Representatives of the PRD and the leftist Workers Party (PT) promised that their members of Congress would resist pressures to collaborate with Calderon’s government, and PRD leader Leonel Cota Montano reminded the crowd that the media had expected the center-left movement to fade away quickly after the elections and that “there wouldn’t be people with Lopez Obrador on Dec. 1.” (La Jornada, Nov. 29, Dec. 1)

    Two of Calderon’s choices for his cabinet indicate that he is planning to take a hard line with the opposition and with militant grassroots movements. Calderon named Francisco Ramirez Acuna, the PAN governor of the west-central state of Jalisco, to head the Governance Secretariat (the interior ministry) and Eduardo Medina Mora, Fox’s public security secretary, to head the Attorney General’s Office (PGR).

    As Jalisco governor, Ramirez led a crackdown on activists protesting the Third Summit of Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union, held in Guadalajara in May 2004. In August 2004 the federal government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported that state authorities illegally arrested 73 protesters during the summit, subjected 53 of the prisoners to cruel and degrading treatment, and tortured 19 of them. [See WW4 REPORT #100]

    PRD senator Tomas Torres charged on Nov. 30 that as public security secretary Medina had ordered the arrests of hundreds of activists in the southern state of Oaxaca, and “should be impeached for the arbitrary detention and disappearances of social leaders in Oaxaca.” PRD general secretary Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo called Medina an “excellent” partner for Ramirez. (LJ, Dec. 1)

    Federal Preventive Police (PFP) started executing arrest warrants against Oaxaca activists on Nov. 25, just days before Calderon’s inauguration. On Nov. 27 the Public Security Secretariat said it had arrested 141 alleged members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO)–a coalition that has coordinated militant protests in the state for six months–and flown them to the San Jose del Rincon prison in the western state of Nayarit, about 600 miles from Oaxaca. All of them “have a highly dangerous profile,” according to the secretariat. (LJ, Nov. 28)