The papal visit was a natural for conservative National Action Party (PAN) hopeful Josefina Vazquez, but the mega-event in the Mexican bible belt city also attracted Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Pena Nieto and his actress wife Angelica Rivera, as well as Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the standard bearer of the nominally leftist but center-drifting Progressive Movement political coalition. Virtually unknown, the National Alliance Party’s Gabriel Quadri rounded out the political quartet.
Lopez Obrador’s onetime arch-enemy, former president Vicente Fox, showed up and extended a handshake to an old foe. A stunned Lopez Obrador returned the greeting, later saying he had no hard feelings from past political rows that brought Mexico to the brink several years ago.
The Pope’s Mexican stop-over on his way to Cuba also stirred clandestine groups. The Temple Knights, an organized crime group that runs a shadow government in some parts of the country, declared a truce in honor of the Pontiff. Less welcoming were the hactivists from Anonymous who disrupted the Vatican’s web pages, and the underground, leftist Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), which sent a missive from “somewhere in Guanajuato” lambasting the Papal state for shielding pedophiles, protecting Spanish fascists and giving political cover to the oppressors of Palestinians. The purpose of the Pope’s visit, the EPR charged, was to hoodwink Catholics into supporting the right as the election season gets underway.
Guanajuato generated tons of prayers, press coverage, praises, and denunciations. Analysts and academics will long dissect the meaning and symbolism of a church-state encounter held in the middle of a power transition. John Ross, the late radical U.S. journalist who covered Mexico for decades with a flair from a cluttered cubbyhole in the Hotel Isabel, and seemingly managed to piss off everyone from the Interior Ministry to the Zapatistas in the process, surely turned in his grave.
Passing away after a battle with cancer last year, Ross colorfully reported on many Mexican elections and wrote a novel, Tonatiuth’s People, about the 1988 elections that cost Cuahtemoc Cardenas the presidency and like, the 2006 contest, was widely denounced as a fraud.
But the 2012 race is very different from previous elections Ross covered. Unlike 2000 when Vicente Fox dethroned the PRI from its one-party rule, there is no easy target for collective venting. And unlike 2006, when a left-right polarization between Lopez Obrador and eventual victor Felipe Calderon turned up the political heat, little burning passion is in the air-at least until now.
Even Chiapas’ Zapatistas, who organized the “Other Campaign” in 2005-2006 in an attempt to channel popular discontent away from the electoral process and into a new national revolutionary program, have withdrawn from the public stage.