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Student Murders Throw Mexico's Left-Wing Party Into A Tailspin

Dec 3, 2014
Originally published on December 4, 2014 9:34 am
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MELISSA BLOCK: Mexico is facing one of its greatest political crises in recent years. The turmoil comes after the disappearance and presumed killing of 43 college students. Authorities say a local mayor had ordered an attack on those students. That mayor was backed by the country's premier left-wing party, the PRD. That scandal has thrown the historically progressive party into a tailspin and NPR's Carrie Kahn reports that things got worse when one of its most respected statesmen resigned.

CARRIE KAHN: Almost every day there's a protest in the streets of Mexico, some of the largest in recent memory.

(CROWD CHANTING)

KAHN: Why are you killing us if we are the hope of Latin America chants this crowd of young students during a march this week, referring to the attack on 43 college students more than two months ago. The young protesters - many wearing berets, clad in revolutionary red and black colors and Che Guevara T-shirts - shout demands for President Enrique Pena Nieto to step down. Such scenes repeated throughout major cities in Mexico should be the left's time to shine as Pena Nieto's opposition. Yet, there are no yellow and black flags of Mexico's leading progressive party, the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, waving in the crowds.

CONGRESSMAN RICARDO MONREAL: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: The crowds will reject them, says Congressman Ricardo Monreal of the Movimiento Ciudadano Party. He says right now all political parties are seen as corrupt. But the PRD has been singled out for special blame. The mayor of Iguala who allegedly gave the order to attack the 43 students was backed by the Party and the former governor of Guerrero who stepped out of the height of the crisis also belonged to the PRD.

MONREAL: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: The Mexican left is undergoing one of its worst crises, says Monreal, a former PRD member himself. He says it lost its credibility with the people and is wracked with internal divisions and infighting. Cracks in the Party's reputation were apparent way before the case of the 43 students - several high-profile leaders deserted in recent years. But perhaps the biggest blow to the PRD took place this week when its founder and elder statesman, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, now 80, quit says Andrew Selee, a Mexico scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

ANDREW SELEE: The resignation of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas from the PRD is very much as though the Kennedy family were to leave the Democratic Party in the United States. It is the family that has been symbolic of the Mexican left.

KAHN: Cardenas ran three times unsuccessfully for the presidency, and his father, one of Mexico's most beloved presidents, nationalized the country's oil industry in the 1930s. But Selee says Cardenas's departure could modernize the party. It's been widely criticized for losing its principles, too willing to make pacts with the center and right Parties.

SELEE: It often sounds like an old left from Europe from 50 years ago and yet in practice, has been so immensely pragmatic that it often stands for nothing and incorporates people from widely different ideological views.

KAHN: Mexico's left has long struggled for a unified mission. It was repressed for much of the 20th century and in the latter half took a big shift to the middle, away from armed movements to form the PRD and participate in partisan politics. Battling ideologies were the party's foundation and may be its demise, says Gaspar Rivera, a professor of labor and Chicano studies at UCLA.

GASPAR RIVERA: This is a watershed moment. I think that the PRD as a national party has diminished its presence, and now it has become, really, a regional party.

KAHN: The Party is still dominant in Mexico City where it legalized abortion and gay marriage, but most analysts say the PRD is bracing for big electoral losses in the next year's midterm elections. Housewife Evelia Cruz Gallardo, who came to this week's protests with her two voting-age daughters, say they are done with the PRD.

EVELIA CRUZ GALLARDO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: I regret voting for them in the past, she says. From now on, all politicians are going to have to work a lot harder to get my vote.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.