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Way to Go, México

"México ahora es un país dividido", declaró el periodista Jorge Ramos en su cubertura del día en que el presidente de México Felipe Calderón hizo la "protesta de la constitución". Pero, hay que decir también que, ahora más que nunca, México es un país democrático.

Watching Felipe Calderón begin his presidency did not make for pleasant television viewing. The Mexican congress was clearly divided in three. Members of the PAN (Partido Acción Nacional) stood on the dais where the incoming president would normally stand with the outgoing president to receive the bandera presidencial. The Pan-istas amassed there to ensure that Calderón, their party's candidate, would be able to get to the dais through the PRD's human blockades. Members of the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática) who weren't blocking the entrances stood just below the dais, glaring at the Panistas, and shouting. Members of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) grouped themselves toward the back of the hall, Mexican flags in hand. Meanwhile, outside the halls of congress, PRD's defeated presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke fervently, jabbing his hands in the air, to a crowd of thousands in Mexico City's Zócalo, preparing to lead them on a march up to the doors of the Cámara de Diputados.

Calderón and outgoing president Vicente Fox had to enter through the back door, as though they were maintenance staff and not national leaders, a first in Mexican history. While Calderón recited his presidential oath, some PRD members blew whistles, and others shouted to drown him out. The pomp and circumstance were reduced to just over four minutes. News agency EFE described the ceremony as "fugaz y cargada de tensión".

It looked bad. It was messy. A couple of men hit each other, though no real fights broke out. Everyone was loud. It looked like a football pep rally being held for opposing teams at the same time and place. Yes, the appearance was one of division. But this messy picture was also the appearance of honesty in a country that has a long history of being denied democratic expression.

There remains substantial doubt as to whether Felipe Calderón won enough votes to be elected president, although the Corte Electoral ruled that he did. The PRI's candidate Roberto Madrazo clearly did not have enough votes, but the PRD's "AMLO" ran neck-and-neck with Calderón. To this day, AMLO insists that he won the election, that there needs to be a state-by-state recount, and that he plans to set up a "parallel" government of his own.

A decade ago, I might have seen all this as another surrealist event in querido México. Instead, I see this chaotic inauguration as an important lesson. The diputados in the PRD had the guts to actively protest, without resorting to violence, and without caring about superficial appearances. Where were the protests from our Democrat congressmen when there was clear voting fraud in 2000 in the US? What might have changed if they had banded together and spoken out? If, as a group, they had had the mettle to at least look the unelected president in the eye and say, "We're not buying this."? More important, how might we the people have changed in our thinking, in our caring, in our actions? How many now dead Iraqi civilians, US, Canadian, and British troops might be alive today?

While I believe that Felipe Calderón will make a better president for México than López Obrador would, I also believe that it is entirely possible that Calderón did not win an indisputable majority of the popular vote. Yet, more important than what I believe is what I have learned from estos diputados mexicanos who have set an example for other democratic countries, reminding us that a silent people cannot also be free.

Text and image, copyright 2006, Ysabel de la Rosa. All rights reserved.
Image: The sculpture"El caballito " in downtown Mexico City.

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