This column was written by Sergio Aguayo Quezada, Professor at Mexico's Colegio de Mexico, and translated into English by me.
A bitter political feud between the left and the right is testing the democratic transition in Mexico. The alarming rows intensified after the Lower House (House of Commons) took away immunity from the Mayor of the nation's capital, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), a member of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).
In the background deeper wounds fester.
The metropolitan zone of the city of Mexico is a colossal metropolis where all contradictions of this Hemisphere converge.
Three million cars and 19 million people --eight million in the capital and the rest in one of its bordering states --manage to survive within an area of 3,300 square miles.
Distinguished and plebeian, sophisticated and illiterate, grey and polychromatic, insecure and solidary, violent and tender, vicious and virtuous. In short, it embodies all the contrasts that arise from the clash between its opulence and its misery. A few hours in this flawed city are sufficient to comprehend the elements of its social conflict.
Mexico City has always been the birthplace of the democratic transition that began formally with the student movement of 1968, continued with the massive protests against the fraud that in 1988 placed Carlos Salinas de Gortari in the presidency and ended in the 90s, with the mobilizations in favour of a free and reliable ballot system.
In general terms, Mexican society might be conservative, but its capital and an important section of the metropolitan area are now governed and/or controlled by the PRD.
Mexico, like all Latin American countries, is searching for new alternatives. With few exceptions, the rules of market economics and liberal democracy are universally accepted. Simultaneously though, there is dissatisfaction with the outcome of structural adjustment policies imposed in the 80s by Washington and the financial international system.
Despite its contradictions and limitations, the social policies promoted by AMLO's government, coupled with his abilities as communicator, have managed to win the support of a majority of Mexican citizens. If the elections were held today, he would undoubtedly be president.
Last century, Mexico was legendary for electoral frauds, which, in key moments, allowed the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) to control the country for seven decades. But, in the presidential race of 2000, the candidate of the right-wing Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), Vicente Fox, wrested the presidency from the PRI, which nonetheless kept a substantial quota of power in Congress and in a good number of States.
Alas, after seizing the reins of government, Fox lost his reformer's zeal and opted, first, for an understanding, later, for an alliance, with the old regime. Thus the retrenchment to the past.
Recently, Fox, the PAN and the PRI took advantage of a misdemeanour, shielded under the flag of legality, and impeached AMLO to prevent him from competing in the presidential elections of July 2006.
In Mexico and elsewhere, most agree that the issue was manufactured by a hypocritical manipulation of the laws aimed at preventing AMLO, who heads the presidential polls, from running.
In the authoritarian Mexico of the past, the president "chose" his successor in a smooth process that the popular imagination baptized as "the dedazo" (the big finger).
As far as the new Mexico is concerned --the one that wants to become a democratic nation--, the right is mounting an undemocratic "manazo" (putsch) against the left, which squandered what democracy had granted to a free and fair ballot system.
Most, if not all, Mexican intellectuals have expressed their disapproval of AMLO's impeachment process, echoing what 70 per cent of Mexicans actually believe: Fox, the PAN and the PRI have betrayed democracy and, under the shield of legality, transformed the civic clash between the left and the right into a dangerous feud.
Nobody knows what repercussions are festering or the consequences are in other areas. For the time being, all macroeconomic indicators continue strong, partly due to the healthy ties between Mexico and North America.
For now, the issue is in the hands of the Judicial Power, which has the obligation to guarantee a fair verdict. Since nobody knows if the verdict will be up to par, Mexico is experiencing a return to a past where all distrusted its institutions and voting system.
If "the manazo" prevails, the conflict may escalate because the left has enough resources and structure to confront the right. The government of the Distrito Federal (Mexico City) is the richest of the country and employs 170 thousand bureaucrats. Also, the PRD has woven an extensive, and on occasions corrupt, network of social organizations that cover other sections of the metropolitan zone. For the time being, simmering anger is evident especially in the metropolitan zone of Mexico City. Nevertheless, it might spread, as the presidential assemblies of July 6, 2006 aren't imminent.
A peculiarity of the Mexican democratic transition is that it happened in isolation. The world was indifferent to its domestic social conflicts prior to the repression in 1968 and the electoral fraud in 1988. All progressive governments, including Cuba, were seduced by the liberal foreign policies of its authoritarian regime. Europe looked the other way arguing that Mexico was key to the United State's security, and the U.S. disregarded principle for the sake of stability on its southern border.
Today, in 2005, Mexico is a member of the community of democratic nations.
In the face of AMLO's impeachment process, the international press, without distinctions of ideology or continent, has reacted against it, accurately identifying the elements of a conflict that casts doubts on the application of all basic democratic rules. It is clear that the source of the conflict does not lie in AMLO's candidacy but in the loss of those principles.
At present, restoring all democratic rules, including its social order, and reverting this setback to the past, is in the hands of Mexico�?s judicial power, and in the international community.
While we wait for the verdict, the diagnosis is very clear: Mexico is at risk.