Mexico’s Youth Protest a Return to the Past

Every six years, Mexico goes through an extended period of political paroxysm called presidential elections. Campaigns hijack the routines of normal public life, the media are monothematic, political propaganda litters the streets of large cities and remote villages.

In a nation whose history has been marked by caudillos and defined by seventy-one years of one-party rule, presidential elections determine the political future. I’ve witnessed and written on five of them so far. In 1988, when the vote count showed a clear tendency toward victory for center-left candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the computer system “crashed,” interrupting the vote count and enabling the political system to install yet another candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). While in office, the neoliberal reformer Carlos Salinas de Gortari faced two contradictory events that convulsed the nation on the same day—the country’s entry into NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the launching of an indigenous armed uprising.

In 1994, PRI candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was assassinated in broad daylight following a major campaign speech. Amid widespread rumors of palace intrigue, a last-minute replacement—Ernesto Zedillo—stepped into office. To this day, the debate over what really happened (and why) fills books and films and shadows the halls of power.

In 2000, Vicente Fox, the candidate of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), broke the PRI stranglehold on power. Although power changed hands formally, Fox ruled six years in a PRI-PAN alliance designed to lock in the neoliberal economic model and keep the Left at bay. Many leftists had promoted a “useful” vote for Fox to end the PRI’s one-party rule. Instead, the country ended up with a new face in government and six more years to consolidate an economic model of, by, and for the rich.

In 2006, electoral fraud won again as the PAN hopeful, Felipe Calderón, was declared the winner over the center-left candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador by a suspect half point. Millions of López Obrador supporters filled the streets for months in protest. Faced with public demands to investigate charges of foul play and specifically to count the ballots, rather than just tally sheets, the electoral courts counted only 9 percent of the ballots. A subsequent study of documentation from roughly half the polling places showed anomalies in the count, casting doubt on more votes than the difference between the two candidates in just the half surveyed. The court confirmed evidence of illegal practices and irregularities in the vote count, but ruled to officially name Calderón the victor.

Mexican elections are never dull.

The 2012 Elections

Then, in 2012, history came full circle. The PRI, stripped of the presidency for twelve years, returned to power in elections marred by accusations of vote-buying, money-launderi...

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.