Latin America will see 11 presidential elections in the next year. But it is the elections set to take place in Mexico on 2 July 2006 that are currently attracting most attention internationally.
There are two key reasons for this. First Hugo Chavez, Venzuela’s charismatic left wing president, recently clashed with Mexico’s current president Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive and member of the neo-liberal PAN party.
The row between Fox and Chavez exploded at the recent Summit of the Americas, where Chavez accused Fox of being a “puppy of the US”. The war of words is likely to damage the chances of the PAN presidential candidate, Felipe Calderon.
The PRI, Mexico’s other main neo-liberal party is standing Roberto Madrazo, who has accused Chavez of interfering in the contest.
The third candidate López Obrador of the PRD currently has a narrow lead in the opinion polls. The PRD, which broke away from the PRI in 1989, is widely viewed as being on the left of Mexican politics.
The second reason why Mexico’s election has attracted widespread attention is the involvement of the Zapatistas—a largely indigenous group based in the Chiapas region, which rose up in armed revolt on New Year’s Day 1994.
In January, the Zapatistas are set to begin their “other campaign” — a series of tours of Mexico, partly tied in to the electoral calendar, but set to continue until March 2007.
The “other campaign” is not a typical electoral campaign. The Zapatistas are not standing or supporting a candidate.
They are instead calling for an end to privatisation and autonomy for Mexico’s 57 indigenous peoples.
The Zapatista spokesperson, subcomandante Marcos, has been particularly critical of Obrador and the PRD.
The PRD hopes to capitalise on dissatisfaction with neo-liberalism, but has also sought to reassure the international capitalist elite that it will not introduced any changes too radical for them to stomach.
Many of those in the PRD today were recently members of the PRI and have jumped ship for opportunistic reasons.
This has added to the feeling, widespread in Latin America, that official politics will only replace one corrupt elite with another, and cannot lead to real change.
The “other campaign” is a serious attempt to tap into this feeling. As of 2 October the campaign had received the backing of 920 indigenous organisations, NGOs, left wing groups and other collectives.
For many years the Zapatistas have been encircled in Chiapas by the Mexican army. Their re-engagement with wider political life is an important step in a continent where politics has increasingly been shaped by the rejection of neo-liberalism.