Even during placid times, Mexico's annual Informe, or State of the Union address, makes for high political theater. And so when outgoing President Vicente Fox arrived at the San Lázaro Congress building in Mexico City to give his final Informe last Friday night, Mexicans were ready for some drama. And they got it. Congressmen loyal to leftist presidential contender Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has spent the past two months protesting the results of the July 2 election, jumped from their seats and surrounded the broad podium, shouting "Fuera!" (Out!). So obdurate were the legislators that they blocked Fox, decked out in his presidential sash, from delivering his speech. All he could do was hand the text to congressional leaders in the lobby and go home.
The confrontation was the latest noisy move by López Obrador's supporters, who condemn his apparent electoral loss as a fraud. It is unlikely to be their last. This week Conservative Felipe Calderón, a member of Fox's National Action Party (PAN), is expected to be declared the winner by a razor-thin margin, after two months of ballot recounts and bitter legal challenges. But thousands of López Obrador stalwarts insist they will continue occupying the Zócalo, Mexico City's main plaza, and the Paseo de la Reforma, its principal avenue, where they have been living for weeks under pup tents and sprawling tarpaulins. "We'll stay here as long as it takes to get López Obrador declared the winner," says Norma Cruz, 48, a poor housewife from the rural southern state of Oaxaca who has been camping with her husband and four children in the Zócalo for almost a month. "This is the only way left to take on the monopolies of economic power in Mexico."
At this point, though, Cruz is more likely to witness the second coming of Montezuma than to see López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, declared President. There is little compelling evidence that victory was stolen from him. To many observers, including prominent Mexican leftists, his refusal to accept the fact that he did lose--if only by 243,000 votes out of 41 million cast--is no longer democratic protest but demagogic petulance. Polls show that Mexicans are exasperated by the massive political street fair, complete with mariachi bands and the aromas of regional cooking. But the most hotly contested election in the nation's history has exposed more glaringly than ever the potentially violent social divide in Mexico. Addressing this split in a constructive way will be crucial to Calderón's ability to defuse the growing turbulence. And that, in turn, could have a beneficial impact on Washington's efforts to curb illegal immigration, which may not be successful until its southern neighbor builds more reliable government institutions and a more equitable economy.