Mexican leftist Lopez Obrador sworn in as head of parallel government
MEXICO CITY – Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was sworn in as Mexico’s “legitimate” president Monday, launching a parallel government that he hopes will revive a movement aimed at keeping President-elect Felipe Calderon from governing.The ceremony is the latest chapter in Lopez Obrador’s unsuccessful battle for the presidency. He claims fraud and dirty campaign tactics were responsible for Calderon’s narrow victory in the July 2 vote, and his parallel government could spend the next six years calling for street protests that have already dented the economy and prompted travel warnings from the U.S. Embassy.Rosario Ibarra, a human rights activist and senator from Lopez Obrador’s left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party, placed the red-green-and-white presidential sash across his shoulders. While the action lacks legal recognition, Lopez Obrador hopes to assume the moral leadership of millions of poor Mexicans.Based in Mexico City, Lopez Obrador’s parallel government has its own Cabinet. But it will not collect taxes or make laws, and it relies on donations to carry out its plans.”I swear to honor and fulfill the constitution as legitimate president,” Lopez Obrador said to tens of thousands of supporters in Mexico City’s main plaza, the Zocalo.One of its first orders of business will be trying to prevent Calderon’s Dec. 1 inauguration ceremony.”We’re not going to give the right free rein,” Lopez Obrador said in a final stop in the southeastern state of Veracruz last weekend. “We’re going to confront it.”On Monday, he said the first thing he would do as “legitimate president” is hold a plebescite asking voters to approve the drafting of a new constitution that would demand fairness and plurality in the news media, and combat business monopolies.He also said he would cancel ex-presidents’ generous pensions, “and we will propose to Congress an audit of the Treasury Department … because the privileged of Mexico … don’t pay taxes and when they do pay them, they get them back later.”Supporters who showed up to honor Lopez Obrador carried signs lashing out against not only Calderon but the Roman Catholic Church, mainstream news media and rival leftists such as Zapatista rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos, who repeatedly criticized Lopez Obrador during the campaign.”We are going to make Calderon realize at all times that he is an illegitimate leader,” said 55-year-old Beatriz Zuniga, an unemployed professor of Latin American studies. “He’s got a limited amount of time. This man will not finish his term.”Zuniga spoke as vendors braving a blustery, bone-chilling afternoon hawked flags declaring “Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico’s Legitimate President.”Marco Ramirez, 34, a university researcher watching from a sidewalk cafe, said he believed many of the demonstrators were receiving money from the Mexico City government, which is run by Lopez Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party.”This affects the country’s image,” he said. “It puts out a very bad image.”It remains to be seen whether Lopez Obrador can keep up the challenges throughout Calderon’s term. Some members of his leftist party, known as the PRD, have already expressed disagreement with Lopez Obrador’s strategy of using Congress – where the PRD is now the second-largest force – as an arena for protests rather than negotiations.Columnist Armando Fuentes wrote in Mexico’s Reforma newspaper that Lopez Obrador’s “swearing in” ceremony was “a circus act, a farce.”But Oscar Aguilar, political science professor at the Mexico City Iberoamerican University, said that the leftist could have the backing to undermine Calderon.”The problem is that he’s not a Don Quijote, because the social and political conditions are fertile ground for this kind of leadership,” Aguilar said. “Many of the poor … see this type of leadership as a solution.”Protesters have held the center of the southern city of Oaxaca for months to demand the ouster of Gov. Ulises Ruiz and many people worry that Lopez Obrador will follow suit and renew street protests. His supporters seized Mexico City’s center for nearly two months this summer.Some citizens appear to be tiring of political unrest.This month, Mexico City was rattled when several bombs exploded at political offices and banks. No one was injured, and a small, radical group not tied to Lopez Obrador claimed responsibility.The violence has affected one of the country’s main sources of income. Revenue from tourism was down 4.3 percent in the first nine months of 2006, compared to 2005.President Vicente Fox canceled a traditional Nov. 20 parade commemorating the country’s 1910-1917 Revolution, apparently to avoid friction with Lopez Obrador’s event.Appealing for calm, Fox on Monday urged Mexicans to follow the path of democracy.”Nobody has the right to think or decide for the people,” Fox said.But Lopez Obrador’s platform resonates with many Mexicans, so much so that the business-friendly Calderon from Fox’s conservative National Action Party has borrowed ideas such as pensions for the elderly and reduced utility rates for the poor.Some of Lopez Obrador’s closest aides have suggested they will follow the example of Bolivia, where protests drove a succession of leaders from office.