Mexico City Prepares for Election; Citizens Skeptical About Vote
As a student of Latin American history and literature, I had mixed emotions about traveling to Mexico City to do thesis research during the first weeks of June. On the one hand I was afraid that maybe my Spanish wouldn't be good enough or that I had completely misinterpreted Mexican history and culture and would perpetrate all sorts of social faux pas. On the other hand, I was thrilled to be finally entering the heart of an area whose unrest and depression interested me.
I had studied Mexican history over the past two years in my concentration and had been particularly interested in the government regulation of lowerclass peoples. For that reason I had travelled to the nation's capital to look up information for my thesis on the rules that bound prostitutes of the early 20th century. I was also interested, however, in learning about the one of the most stable political systems in Latin America, and to see how it held power during elections, which were only two weeks away.
Upon checking into my hotel, I noticed hundreds if not thousands of people milling around the central Zocalo, or large metropolitan plaza, and half of them seemed to be passing out political propaganda. There were colorful political banners all around and a man was driving a van while proclaiming the merits of the Socialist candidate Cuahetomoc Cardenas through a megaphone on top of the vehicle. The opposition candidate directs his appeals to disaffected members of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and workers.
When I heard there was a political rally to be held in the Zocalo later in the afternoon I resolved to go. There were several cars pulling up to the square, and a few men and women appeared to be braving the rain to express their political feelings, and I decided to enter the crowd to learn about Mexican politics.
Grabbing my camera and umbrella, I rain outside to the rally. While I did wind up talking with the man with a megaphone, whom I presume was a member of the Socialist party, I was upset to see so few people at the procession. For a city some claim is over 25 million strong, I thought, surely more than a few hundred people were in opposition to the PRI, which has been in power for decades.
So I began asking the people who I met what they felt about the upcoming elections. And, while I did find that most of them were in opposition to the PRI, they were resigned to the fact that as it had won for the past six decades, so it would win again. I was left with the impression that many Mexican people did not feel any good would come of any attempt to change.
My first taxi ride to the Archivo General, for instance, brought me some insight into the problem. I had seen the name Salinas all over the walls and posters of the city, and I wondered why he seemed to be receiving such widespread support. When I asked my cab driver, who went by the name Sr. Rodolfo, if Carlos Salinas de Gotari was the official candidate of the PRI, he informed me that well, yes, he was the candidate of the PRI, but more than that, he would be the next President of Mexico.
At this point I questioned Sr. Rodolfo closely on his political statements. Was he a strong PRI candidate, or were so many people in favor of the ruling party that Salinas was guaranteed to win?
Sr. Rodolfo proceeded to explain that the candidate of the PRI always won--it was just a fact. All those banners hanging around the city had been placed by the PRI and moreover, the supporters had been recruited and payed to scream in support of the Insitutional party.
We had talked about such behavior in my Latin American history class freshman year, and I guess I could just never accept such things as true. I had written essay question after essay question on my final exam on that very subject, the PRI's manipulation of the public, but the facts had never sunk in until then.
But other conversations convinced me that the PRI was there to stay. A second taxi driver with whom I spoke, for instance, explained that elections were really just a formality in the nation. "You think that we go and have a secret ballot election?" one asked me, "like you have in the north? Ha!" He said that in Mexico he had, in the past, written his vote on a piece of paper which disappeared into a cardboard box that he was convinced had ended up in the "basura", or trash. "Salinas will win," he said "even if no one votes."
Thus it was that no one seemed particularly impressed by the emergence of Cardenas--or if they did, they merely expressed disappointment that he would not win. The press in the United States has followed his campaign closely, saying that he is the first opposition candidate in years to maintain widespread appeal, yet whether or not he could ever win is highly uncertain. It distressed me to see several people who might have voted for Cardenas or a new government, but did not plan to because they felt the dominance of the PRI was inevitable.
Today is election day, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the race between Salinas de Gotari, Cardenas and other candidates belonging to such opposition parties as the conservative and northern-based National Action Party (PAN). It will also be interesting to see how the people react to the election results themselves and whether they will continue to resign themselves to a fate they feel only the PRI controls.