Cablegate: Oaxaca: State Electoral Politics with National

DE RUEHME #3174/01 3131808
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1. (SBU) Summary. Poloffs traveled to Oaxaca State October
14-16 to meet with a variety of local political leaders,
government officials, and civil society representatives.
Local elections in Oaxaca next year have caught the attention
of national party leadership, with more at stake than the
governorship, 25 local deputy slots, and hundreds of
mayorships. Talk of a broad alliance between six parties to
defeat the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) next year
is on everyone's lips, but the viability of establishing and
maintaining such a disparate coalition is uncertain. Such an
alliance will hinge on the ability of participants to agree
to a unity gubernatorial candidate. Deep wounds from the
2006 civil unrest still scar the state, but defeating the
incumbent PRI will be difficult. Oaxaca remains a highly
divided, tinderbox of a state. End Summary.


2. (SBU) One of the poorest states in Mexico, Oaxaca is still
trying to recover from the 2006 civil unrest that decimated
its critical tourist sector, left deep wounds on its
population, and further alienated the government from civil
society groups. Oaxaca features 16 different indigenous
groups, and about 1/2 to 2/3 of the population is indigenous.
Some 418 of its 570 municipalities are run predominantly
under the "uses and customs" system, which allows citizens to
adhere to traditional indigenous customs and practices in
judicial and electoral matters. State officials and
opponents alike pointed repeatedly to Oaxaca's numerous
municipalities -- the state accounts for about a quarter of
the national total -- as an important complicating factor in
running elections and effectively governing the state. State
officials complained, for example, that local police forces
are wholly uncoordinated across municipal lines and often
respond to their own internal rule set rather than to
codified regulations. With levels of organized crime-related
violence low but unemployment high, Oaxaca is one to the top
exporters of migrant workers to the United States, with
estimates of 1 to 3 million living abroad at any one moment.

Politics: All Eyes on Elections

3. (SBU) With the governorship, 25 state-level deputy slots,
and hundreds of mayorships up for grabs in July 2010, the
Oaxacan political buzz is almost exclusively focused on the
elections. A stronghold of the PRI old guard, Oaxaca would
be a valuable prize to PRI-opponents looking to turn the
electoral tide in the run-up to the 2012 presidential
election. Opposition to incumbent PRI Governor Ulises Ruiz
may capitalize on anger still simmering from the 2006
conflicts, but will face a formidable PRI electoral machine
bent on maintaining its current control of the state.

4. (SBU) Governor Ruiz has tried to run a tight political
ship since his near loss in the 2004 election, a race in
which he was widely suspected of electoral chicanery.
Opponents allege that he relies on old school tactics of
media control, pressure on electoral observers, and vote
buying. The PRI also maintains an elaborate patronage
network, such as doling out development programs to the party
faithful. Local academics note that the "uses and customs"
systems of governance in 418 municipalities often abets the
PRI's influence efforts (Note: Unsurprisingly, the PRI
codified the system by local law). In many municipalities,
mayors are selected and decisions made by a select few
elders, councilman, or in an open, public vote. In 27
municipalities, women are not allowed to vote in local
elections. Broadly speaking, the systems allow for the PRI
to deal with a small number of leaders to ensure continued
support, and open voting practices allow for increased
influence by the party on constituents. Moreover, analysts
and political leaders told Poloffs that, due to endemic
poverty, these districts would remain vulnerable to economic
manipulation under any leadership.

5. (SBU) Governor Ruiz hardly seems loved by most of the
Oaxacan population, perhaps providing an opening for a
gubernatorial candidate to break the PRI dynasty. While PRI

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local congressman Herminio Cuevas Chavez pointed to Ruiz's
work building hospitals and universities throughout the
state, most observers complained that both were barely
staffed and funded. Moreover, the 2006 civil unrest, the
state's heavy-handed response, and Oaxaca's slow recovery are
still seared in the minds of the state officials, analysts,
and opposition parties. Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD)
leaders Jesus Romero Lopez, coordinator of the PRD bloc in
the state congress, and Amador Jara, president of the PRD's
state executive committee, told Poloffs they hope to
capitalize on the October Supreme Court ruling that found
Ruiz and a number of his top security officials responsible
for human rights violations during the 2006 protests.
National press devoted considerable coverage to the ruling,
and Oaxaca state officials were clearly uncertain about how
to respond. Academics from a local university suggested that
the decision could have a real political impact, even if the
ruling itself does not mandate legal action against Ruiz.

6. (SBU) The state electoral council assured Poloffs that
they are well-prepared for the elections next year, but it
can hardly be considered a fair arbiter of the state
elections scene. They claimed to have fully resolved issues
that led to controversy and allegations of wrong-doing in the
2004 vote. Blaming "outsiders" and "guerrillas" for the 2006
unrest, they expect a peaceful electoral process next July.
Virtually every other analyst or political leader with whom
Poloffs spoke indicated that elections in Oaxaca are always
difficult and highly contentious, and that they expect at
least some sort of political unrest. A local academic (and
of course, Ruiz's detractors) also noted that the voting
public does not have much confidence in the monitoring
authority and believes them to be compromised by the state

PAN-PRD: An Unnatural Alliance

7. (SBU) There is widespread talk of a broad alliance between
six parties to defeat the PRI next year, but the viability of
establishing and maintaining such a disparate coalition is
uncertain. Composed of the center-right National Action
Party (PAN), leftist PRD, Convergencia, Worker's Party (PT),
New Alliance (PANAL), and a local state party, the alliance
would be a grab bag of political ideologies and interests.
Nevertheless, Ruiz's rivals are convinced that a unified
opposition would afford them a real chance at defeating the
Oaxacan PRI dynasty. PRD state deputy Jesus Romero told
Poloffs that the PRI can count on some 485,000 votes. The
PRD's 430,000, along with backing of the state teachers'
union and 150,000 votes for the PAN, could be enough to usher
a "transition government" into the state capital. He noted
that with the backing of the teachers' union, the party would
not necessarily need the PAN for votes but would need the
PAN's financial backing for campaign and voter mobilization
purposes. The parties will have to register an alliance with
the state electoral authorities by February 9.

8. (SBU) The viability of such an alliance -- which is not
unheard of in the annals of Oaxacan politics -- will mostly
hinge on the ability of participants to agree to a unity
gubernatorial candidate. PRD leaders and local analysts
suggested that Convergencia Senator Gabino Cue Monteagudo --
Ruiz's opponent in the 2004 elections and the candidate of a
PAN-PRD-Convergencia alliance -- is well-liked and would be a
strong contender. He is already touring Oaxaca along with
2006 PRD presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
to build support. The benefit of a Gabino Cue candidacy,
according to Oaxacan opposition politicians and observers, is
that he is well-known and liked in the state. Moreover,
Deputy Romero indicated that Lopez Obrador has pledged
tacitly to support the alliance if the candidate is Cue by
not speaking out against PAN's participation. If the
alliance were to select a PAN candidate or a leader from
outside the political realm, such as a businessman or state
celebrity, then Lopez Obrador might not stay quiet.

9. (SBU) PRD leaders indicated that the alliance is part of a
broader national strategy in preparation for the 2012
presidential elections. They told Poloffs that they, along
with the PAN, would like to deprive the PRI its leadership of

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a state that is electorally significant for the party -- at
the very least, a non-PRI governor would certainly not use
state resources to support a PRI candidacy. Moreover, the
PAN, in particular, is looking to replicate the alliance
approach in Mexico State in the 2011 gubernatorial vote in an
attempt to defeat PRI presidential hopeful, Governor Enrique
Pena Nieto. The PAN believes that a PRI loss in his own
state would seriously tarnish Pena Nieto's image and
compromise his own presidential campaign. The PAN and PRD
are discussing similar strategies in Veracruz and other PRI
states with upcoming elections next year.

PRI Dynamics

10. (SBU) The October Supreme Court ruling against Ruiz has
complicated his role in the election and his political
future. While the governor generally selects his preferred
successor as candidate, PRI contacts in Mexico City have told
Emboffs that the PRI's National Executive Committee will step
in to impose someone who is perhaps less close to the
governor, but more palatable to the voting population. Party
president Beatriz Paredes will reportedly have a larger role
in Oaxaca than she usually does in local elections in
PRI-controlled states. Local analysts in Oaxaca suggested
PRI Senator Adolfo Toledo would be a PRI candidate who could
unify the various party factions, but said that he had been
defeated by Gambino Cue at the ballot box before and would
therefore be at a disadvantage should Cue be the contender.
Ruiz, who has been angling for either the party presidency
and/or a cabinet position in a potential future PRI
administration, may have to temper his political aspirations.
His already dubious national reputation has been further
stained with the Supreme Court ruling, and it is unlikely
that the party would select him to be the next PRI
standardbearer. Nevertheless, he will continue to have
considerable sway within the party and in the federal
congress, with his 14 deputies (and with some level of
influence over an additional 30-40, according to a Oaxacan
academic) giving him effective control of the third largest
PRI bloc in the lower house.

Judicial Reform Moving Forward

11. (SBU) While Oaxaca's judicial reform efforts have been
questioned as a model for the rest of the country, they do
serve as a bright spot for this troubled state.
Implementation of the new model -- including oral trials and
alternative dispute resolution -- began in 2007, and State
Attorney General (PJE) Evencio Martinez Ramirez says that the
reduction of bureaucracy, decrease in corruption, and
increase in the speed of trials have had a real impact on
citizens in the state. Oaxaca's implementation process
started in specific districts but covered all crimes, much
like that of Chihuahua. Unlike Chihuahua, which invested
millions, Oaxaca had to adopt the new system with very
limited resources. Attorney General Martinez told Poloffs
that state governments that complain that a lack of resources
inhibit the transition to a new system are merely looking for
excuses -- claiming that they need a great deal of resources
means they are fundamentally rejecting the reform. Oaxaca
has also tried to include indigenous justice traditions --
including public proceedings -- to facilitate its
transformation process.

12. (SBU) Oaxaca started using oral trials about 2 years ago,
and so far has had 72 audiences under the system. Oral
trials have actually reduced the number of bureaucrats
necessary to process cases, increased the speed of trials,
and improved the quality of investigations. The Attorney
General noted that prosecutors are forced to prepare cases
better since they are now accountable to the public, and that
cooperation between investigators, prosecutors, and judges
has also improved. Instead of a jury, cases are tried before
a panel of three judges.

13. (SBU) Oaxaca is also proud of its restorative justice
system. About 50 percent of cases can be dealt with through
alternative justice mechanisms, which can be applied to over
200 kinds of crime. The use of restorative justice is

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voluntary, but so far thousands of cases have been dealt with
using these mechanisms. These tools have helped expedite the
judicial process since it enables prosecutors to weed out
cases going to trial. PJE officials noted that the use of
restorative justice, such as mediation, has also caused a
cultural shift in the understanding of justice in the state.
For example, many mediation cases end with the defendant
accepting responsibility for their crimes and asking
forgiveness from victims. The Attorney General was effusive
in his praise for USAID's work in assisting the state's
efforts, saying that its training support has been

Human Rights

14. (SBU) President of the Oaxaca State Human Rights
Committee Heriberto Antonio Garcia -- appointed by the local
congress -- told Poloffs that the state government is
responsive to its recommendations. The Committee made 28
recommendations to the state in 2008, of which 26 were
accepted (if not fully complied with). So far, the Committee
has received 1,700 complaints in 2009, and has made 26
recommendations, of which 20 have been accepted. Garcia
opined that citizens are making more complaints because they
have more confidence in the system, and noted that local
police, municipal leaders, and teachers are the greatest
offenders -- over 50 percent of complaints are against the
latter. Tellingly, a high-ranking Committee official told
Poloffs in the moments before the president's arrival that
while the Committee is technically autonomous, it is fully
funded by the state government and, therefore, cannot truly
be independent. Moreover, he said he is concerned that next
year's budget will be seriously curtailed since the state
government will be pulling funds to run its election

15. (SBU) A local representative of human rights NGO
CentroPro, Alejandro Sandoval, had a different take on the
state's human rights situation. He noted that Oaxaca
citizens have always suffered from flagrant human rights
abuses, mostly due to the highly authoritarian nature of the
state government. Sandoval also pointed to a recent UN Human
Rights Commission document naming Oaxaca as the most
dangerous state in Mexico for human rights defenders. He
noted that the local NGO community is working more closely
with federal government officials given its poor relationship
with the state. Civil society's relationship with the state
Human Rights Committee is very bad, and Sandoval argued that
the Committee is unresponsive to complaints made by the
organization. He disparaged judicial reform efforts, and
said that he is concerned about the state government's
efforts to pull funds from various programs for electoral
campaign purposes. Sandoval did note that civil society
organizations are dialoguing with Ruiz's political opponents
and support the idea of an electoral alliance.


16. (SBU) Political parties are viewing Oaxaca's local
elections through a national lens as they gear up for the
2012 presidential contest. The gubernatorial vote may be
particularly hard fought, although the PRI's opponents seem
far from finalizing an alliance. Given the PRI's virtually
guaranteed 480,000-plus votes, its control of state spending,
and its extensive patronage networks, an alliance is the only
way to unseat the PRI from the state house. Deep wounds from
the 2006 civil unrest still scar the state, and the recent
Supreme Court ruling may open some political space for PRI
rivals. It will be far from an easy fight, however -- the
supposedly "very unpopular" governor still ensured a PRI
sweep of the July 2009 legislative contest, winning every
federal deputy seat. National party leadership will meddle
in the state political process, but the PAN and PRD's ability
to replicate an alliance strategy to defeat other PRI leaders
in local elections over the next two years is uncertain given
the peculiarities and conditions unique to each state.
Oaxaca remains a highly-divided, tinderbox of a state, where
seemingly contentious local issues have national resonance.

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