When in 2004, it began to become clear that Andres Manuel López Obrador was a serious candidate for President, and it very much looked like he would be President, opponents were continually flummoxed in their attempts to discredit the populist Federal District governor.
Unable to make much headway in the polls, the opposition sought to undermine López Obrador by attacking his administration. It became routine, and even comical, to see the attempts by opposition groups to find persons inconvenienced in some fashion by some urban improvement who would claim their human rights were violated. The problem was finding sympathetic "victims".
Typical of the "victims" at the time was the wealthy and arrogant homeowner who had built an extension on the back of their house onto public parkland. Although given a chance to compensate the Federal District, he refused, claiming he was a better steward of public resources (like trees) than a socialist-run municipal parks department. He got a rather curt response, and one the voters loved the morning the Federal District's Environment Secretary showed up at dawn with a court order, television cameras... and a backhoe. Other private property owners, including the Presidential compound, that had built out into public lands over the years (whether through ignorance or arrogance) for some reason were very quick to settle their debts to the District.
The types of victims of land use disputes who might be sympathetic — squatters who had moved in Xochilmilco, were generally ignored, not being the kinds of people likely to vote, or — if they did vote — not vote for conservative rich guys who wanted to protect trees from the public.
And worse, for those trying to claim AMLO ran rough-shod over the citizenry, his administration had been particularly cautious to avoid breaking either the spirit or the letter of the law in land-use cases of this type.
The ABC (American-British-Cowdry) Hospital, which began life in the 19th century as oil baron Lord Cowdry's gift to the U.S. and British "colony" in Mexican City, has always served an exclusive clientele, today serving both the better-heeled Mexicans and those who demand an "American" hospital. Although located in the more exclusive residential/commercial environs of Santa Fe, it is not directly accessible from the main roads. One tends to forget that Santa Fe was an indigenous commune until the 1960s, and has large housing projects today. To provide access for emergency vehicles, and shorten the route from the more populous (and less wealthy) parts of Santa Fe, the Federal District had been planning since 2000 to build an access road from the main route through the area.
The proposed road ran though a piece of property whose ownership was in dispute, and had been for generations. When, in 2004, the López Obrador administration, arguing that hospital access was a necessity (and, recognizing the populist appeal of opening an "exclusive" emergency room to people) green-lighted the project — despite the unsettled ownership issue — in 2004. The several different claimants, who hadn't been heard of until then, all suddenly decided their rights were being violated, and there was a court injunction (amparo) ordering work halted. Which it was, but López Obrador, having been named in the injunction, and not personally answering it, was — at least technically — in contempt of court. However, Mexican elected officials have impunity from prosecution.
The Fox Administration couldn't resist the obvious symbolism of their nemesis bull-dozing his way through legal procedures. With PAN and PRI politicians both having a stake in putting the brakes on López Obrador's seemingly unstoppable drive to the Presidency, the Administration was able to push through the Congress a "desafuero"... not quite an impeachment, but a removal of that legal immunity. With a criminal conviction disqualifying one from holding public office, López Obrador turned the tables on the opposition, by temporarily stepping down (with the approval of the District Assembly, controlled by his party), and surrendering to the court — which forced the judge to review the evidence, and dismiss the charge.
López Obrador successfully made himself the sympathetic victim of the opposition's over-reach, but this may have been the beginning of the end of his presidential run. His loss in 2006 (or, for those of us who think he actually one, the very close showing by Felipe Calderón) had more than a little to do with both PAN and PRI's re-doubled efforts after the disafuero fiasco to refine their attacks on the leftist candidate, and on López Obrador's own tendency from that time forward to reflexively attempt to garner sympathy for every subsequent political attack. With the "mainstream media" having been opposed to him since the first inklings that he would mount a presidential campaign, he was presented as a "whiner" and paranoid (which is, unfortunately, somewhat true... although even paranoids have real enemies) full of self-pity... which, naturally, is likely to turn off a good number of otherwise supportive potential voters.
And... six years later, the courts finally having gotten around to figuring out who owns what, and how much the land is worth, AMLO's likely rival for the leftist candidate in 2012, and the present Federal District Governor, Marcelo Ebrard, yesterday shelled out 70 million pesos to buy the disputed property.
My suggestion... name the road "Avenida Andrés Manuel López Obrador".
Richard Grabman is a historian, writer and publisher based in Mazatlán (Sinaloa). Since 2001 he has published on his blog The Mex Files, one of the most popular foreign-language blogs on Mexico. Richard has recently joined our team as an editor, mainly for the 'Culture & Religion' section. This is his first article for The Voice of Mexico.