Update on Obrador

Thu Apr. 28, 2005 1:42 PM PDT

Yesterday, the Mexican Attorney General's office was abuzz with talk about Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador being able to head back to work despite his pending felony charges.

The AG's office had originally filed felony charges against Obrador after stripping him of his immunity over a minor incident. (The backdrop here was that the popular Obrador was becoming an electoral threat to the ruling National Action Party; convicting him would make him ineligible to run for office.) Obrador would have had to serve jailtime, but two members of the ruling PAN posted Obrador's bail against his wishes. Leaving Obrador in jail, they feared, would turn him into a martyr and might lead to increased popular demands that he be able to run in the 2006 elections. As it is, this past weekend an estimated 1.2 million people took part in the "March of Silence" in Mexico City to protest what they viewed as a cheap political ploy by the government.

The bail posting, oddly enough, ended up backfiring on the government. The presiding judge declared that the authorities had not followed the "correct procedure in setting the bail for the mayor," and sent the case back to the Attorney General. The AG insisted he would re-file the charges against Obrador. But then the evening brought shocking news. President Fox announced that the Attorney General, Macedo de la Concha, had resigned, along with the Assistant Attorney General, who was overseeing the case against Obrador. President Fox then hinted that he may backpedal, noting that de la Concha's replacement will "exhaustively review the case against the mayor, while seeking to preserve the greatest political harmony in the country."

This all seems highly disingenuous. Not to mention that the sudden turnaround in the government's stance towards Obrador affirms the notion that the movement against Obrador was just a political stunt to begin with. But I'm not complaining. If the charges against Obrador are dropped and he is allowed to run in the 2006 election, this will have been a great victory for the Mexicans who have pushed for democracy. But the government may also be buying some time, waiting until the public simmers down. It's hard to believe that Fox's party teamed up with the other majority party PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), pushed things this far, and are now simply backing down. It seems likely that we'll see some more clever pre-campaign strategies to keep Obrador out of office, especially since there has been hardly a peep from their democracy-spreading neighbors to the north.

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