US hypocrisy re/’people power’


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,,1844618,00.html

'People power' is a global brand owned by America

The US and the western media back protests over controversial elections when it 
suits them, but are silent over those in Mexico

Mark Almond
Tuesday August 15, 2006
The Guardian

A couple of years ago television, radio and print media in the west just 
couldn't get enough of "people power". In quick succession, from Georgia's rose 
revolution in November 2003, via Ukraine's orange revolution a year later, to 
the tulip revolution in Kyrgyzstan and the cedar revolution in Lebanon, 24-hour 
news channels kept us up to date with democracy on a roll.

Triggered by allegations of election fraud, the dominoes toppled. The US 
secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was happy with the trend: "They're doing 
it in many different corners of the world, places as varied as Ukraine and 
Kyrgyzstan and, on the other hand, Lebanon ... And so this is a hopeful time."

But when a million Mexicans try to jump on the people-power bandwagon, crying 
foul about the July 2 presidential elections, when protesters stage a vigil in 
the centre of the capital that continues to this day, they meet a deafening 
silence in the global media. Despite Mexico's long tradition of electoral fraud 
and polls suggesting that Andrés Manuel López Obrador - a critic of the North 
American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) - was ahead, the media accepted the 
wafer-thin majority gained by the ruling party nominee, Harvard graduate Felipe 

Although Mexico's election authorities rejected López Obrador's demand for all 
42m ballots to be recounted, the partial recount of 9% indicated numerous 
irregularities. But no echo of indignation has wafted to the streets of Mexico 
City from western capitals.

Maybe Israel's intervention in Lebanon grabbed all the attention and required 
every hack and videophone. Back in 2004 CNN and the BBC were perfectly able to 
cover the battle for Falluja and the orange revolution in the same bulletins. 
Today, however, even a news junkie like me cannot remember a mainstream BBC 
bulletin live from among the massive crowds in Mexico City. Faced by CNN's 
indifference to the growing crisis in Mexico, only a retread of an old saying 
will do: "Pity poor Mexico, so far from Israel, so close to the United States."

Castro's failing health gets more airtime than the constitutional crisis 
gripping America's southern neighbour, which is one of its major oil suppliers. 
Apparently, crowds of protesters squatting in Mexico City for weeks protesting 
against alleged vote-rigging don't make a good news story. Occasionally 
commentators who celebrated Ukrainians blocking the main thoroughfares of Kiev 
condescend to jeer at Mexico's sore losers and complain that businessmen are 
missing deadlines because dead-enders with nothing better to do are holding up 
the traffic. Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko was decisive when he declared himself 
president, but isn't López Obrador a demagogue for doing the same?

The colour-coded revolutionaries of the former Soviet Union had a pro-western 
agenda - such as bringing Georgia and Ukraine into Nato and the EU - but in 
Latin America radicals question the wisdom of membership of US-led bodies such 
as Nafta and the WTO. The crude truth is that Washington cannot afford to let 
Mexico's vast oil reserves fall into hands of a president even half as radical 
as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.

But didn't the western observers certify the Mexican polls as "fair", while they
condemned the Ukrainian elections? True, but election observers are not 
objective scientists. The EU relies on politicians, not automatons, to evaluate 
polls. Take the head of its observer mission, the MEP José Ignacio Salafranca: 
as a Spanish speaker in Mexico, Salafranca had a huge advantage over many of the
MEPs in Ukraine who draped themselves in orange even while en mission - but he 
is hardly neutral. His rightwing Popular party is an ally of Calderón's Pan 
party, which is in power in Mexico. Calderón was immediately congratulated by 
Salafranca's colleague Antonio López-Istúriz on the "great news".

The days of leftwing fraternalism may be over, but the globalist right has its 
own network, linking the Spanish conservatives, American Republicans and 
Calderón's Pan party - and they provided the key observer. To paraphrase Stalin:
"It doesn't matter who votes, it matters who observes the vote."

Salafranca has a track record as an election observer. In Lebanon's general 
elections in 2005 he had no problem with the pro-western faction sweeping the 
board around Beirut with fewer than a quarter of voters taking part and nine of 
its seats gained without even a token alternative candidate. "It is a feast of 
democracy," he declared. His mood changed when the democratic banquet moved to 
areas dominated by Hizbullah or the Christian maverick General Aoun. Suddenly, 
"vote-buying" and the need for "fundamental reform" popped up in the EU 
observation reports.

Unanimity on the scale seen across Lebanon suggests that the cedar revolution - 
despite the hype - did nothing to promote real democratic pluralism. Hizbullah's
hold on the south is the most controversial aspect of the sectarian segmentation
of Lebanese society, but everywhere local bosses dominate their fiefdoms as 
before. Similarly, more scepticism about Ukraine's revolution would have left 
people better informed than the orange boosterism that passed for commentary 18 
months ago.

But Mexico is different because it is so under-reported. The cruel reality is 
that "people power" has become a global brand. But like so many global brands it
is owned by Americans. Mexicans and any other "populists" who try to copy it 
should beware that they're infringing a copyright. No matter how many protesters
swarm through Mexico City or how long they protest, it is George Bush and co who
decide which people truly represent The People. People power turns out to be 
about politics, not arithmetic.

· Mark Almond is a history lecturer at Oriel College, Oxford

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