Obrador Supporters Continue Long Protest

MEXICO CITY -- Standing among 150,000 people shouting ¡Viva Mexico! Geronimo Rodriguez Hernández, a 50-year-old brick maker, waved a large flag emblazoned with Mexico's national colors and the phrase Convención Nacional Democrática, or the National Democratic Convention. Even afternoon thunderstorms didn't deter Hernández from attending the Sept. 16 rally organized by the former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Gathered in the Zócalo, Mexico City's historic town square, the crowd cheered and chanted for the city's former mayor who was defeated in the July 2 election by 234,000 votes. While many said they felt emboldened by the nearly two-month-long protest, which halted traffic in the surrounding blocks, others blamed the encampment for driving away business and tourism, resulting in lost wages, particularly for waiters, taxi drivers and hotel staff. Until early September, when Obrador lost a battle with the nation's highest electoral court over the results, his supporters had been camping out in the square for seven weeks.

Obrador insists that the election was rife with fraud. Some have accused him of failing to challenge election regularities that benefited candidates from his party, the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. Despite criticism of Obrador's unwillingness to cede the election and his declining popularity in some polls, the rally was billed as an opportunity to join him in civil resistance for a chance to carve out an alternative political agenda to that of his opponent, Felipe Calderón.

In 2000, Hernández cast his vote for the current president, Vicente Fox, believing that the moment was ripe with the promise of change. For the first time in 71 years, the government would be led by a different party, the National Action Party, or PAN, instead of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, a party whose rule had frequently been characterized by electoral fraud and corruption.

As Hernández remembers it, there were pledges to alleviate poverty that were abandoned as Fox's once liberal campaign turned into a conservative force that sought to privatize industry and cut social programs. "I voted for him," Hernández said, referring to Fox, "with the hope that Mexico was going to improve, but now they say there is no poverty."

According to the World Bank, 50 percent of Mexico's 107 million residents live in poverty. Though the country experienced a notable upturn in its economic growth rate, the official rate of unemployment also doubled in recent years.

In May, Hernández, who makes 600 pesos per week, or roughly 55 U.S. dollars, voted for Obrador because of his platform to eradicate poverty through government assistance. He refuses to recognize Felipe Calderón as president. "We have to change the politics in Mexico," he said.

Dressed in a business suit, Ricardo Colomer Aguilar walked through the crowd holding a small portrait of Obrador against his chest. The 45-year-old restaurant manager also said that he would not support Calderon as the new president, citing his belief that three million votes had been mysteriously lost. "They are imposing Calderón on us," he said.

Aguilar, a father of three, hoped that Obrador would help create new jobs so that his children would not have to move to the United States for employment. Still, he was unsure of how the movement would proceed. "They never allowed the people to express themselves in this manner," Aguilar said.

Nearby, Candi Basilio, 17, and Mariel Muñoz, 20, purchased hot pink T-shirts for about three U.S. dollars featuring a large Mexican flag and a headshot of Obrador. Below the photo was the word "Presidente."

"We're fanatics of Obrador," Basilio said. "He's going to help the students."

María Luisa Piña, 57, who attended the rally with her 78-year-old mother, María Dolores Orozco, was waiting to hear the proposals. Neither of them had ever been politically active until Obrador began protesting the election results. They waited to hear the proposals. "In some manner, they have to help us," Piña said, hoping the platform would include aid for the elderly.

Eventually a sea of raised hands voted to form a parallel government by swearing in Obrador as president on Nov. 20. He plans to rewrite the Constitution in order to guarantee the people health care, food and work. The crowd also renounced Calderón and his cabinet's authority and condoned future acts of civil resistance.

Hernández, the brick maker, said it was too early to tell if the continued protest and refusal to recognize Calderón might result in military or political upheaval. He planned to stay involved regardless of calls to end the conflict. "We believe in Obrador and in the new system of government that he wants to create," he said. "That is our dream."

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