Racked by infighting and a stinging series of election losses, Mexico’s National Action Party [PAN] eked out a victory in the governor’s race in Baja California, a party stronghold with special significance as the first opposition victory that helped usher in the country’s democratic era. PAN has governed Baja California uninterrupted for 24 years since the historic election of Ernesto Ruffo Appel in 1989 took the state from the Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI], Mexico’s authoritarian rulers.
A PAN loss in its most symbolic state was considered ‘a potentially irreparable blow to the party.’ Adela Navarro, editor of Zeta, the crusading Tijuana weekly newspaper, put it more succinctly, calling a PAN defeat in Baja California possibly the party’s ‘knockout punch.’ PAN also took back Mexicali and Rosarito, two of the five municipalities that PRI won during the last round of municipal elections. But the state’s largest prize, the city of Tijuana, stayed in the PRI column with the election of the party’s mayoral candidate, Jorge Astiazarán.
PAN’s wins, however, weren’t theirs alone. Their alliance with the leftist party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution [PRD]—so effective in other states in the 2010 in beating back PRI’s surging momentum—was instrumental. During victory celebrations in the city’s Zona Rio neighborhood, the yellow and black flags of the PRD constituted a sizable visual portion of Francisco ‘Kiko’ Vega’s support.
While it was a good night for PAN, in an election characterized by low voter turnout, their victory was hardly a mandate or an affirmation of PAN governance. As tireless Tijuana booster Genaro Valladolid noted on his social network feed, now that the election is over, ‘We have to forget PAN, PRI, PRD or whatever, and become Tijuanenses and Baja Californians and work for the good of all.’ It’s in civil society, not political parties, where the profound possibilities for change exists.
Baja California—the iconic stronghold of the National Action Party [PAN] that delivered Mexico’s first state level opposition victory in 1989 and paved the way for country’s democratic transition just 11 years later with the historic election of Vicente Fox to the presidency in 2000—is no longer firmly in the column of the center-right party. For the first time in 24 years, the state’s governorship could fall back into the hands of the Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI], the authoritarian party that ruled Mexico for 71 years.
Fourteen states go to the polls in Mexico on Sunday, but all eyes are on the contest in Baja California, the small state with outsized importance as the only governors race in this first round of elections since Enrique Peña Nieto recaptured the presidency for PRI. The state’s political outcome has wide-ranging implications for the rest of Mexico and beyond. As the Economist noted, ‘Why should outsiders care about the hotly contested election for governor of Baja California on Sunday July 7th? Quite simply because it will help determine the future of the Pacto for Mexico, the strangely schizophrenic accord between Mexico’s three biggest parties which, in the coming months, is expected to address two of the most important reforms in Mexico in decades: oil and taxes.’
Baja California’s political fate to is tied to Peña Nieto’s reforms. The fragile alliance between Mexico’s three political parties that the president needs to push his reforms through congress hangs in the balance in Sunday’s election. Some have suggested PRI leaders in Mexico City would rather PAN keep Baja California, than deal the party a humiliating blow in its most symbolic of states and risk their participation in ‘the Pact.’
‘What does Enrique Peña Nieto’s government gain from a PRI victory in Baja California? Very little. And it could lose a lot,” Jorge Buendia, head of polling firm Buendia & Laredo, told Reuters.
One fact that bodes well for PAN’s political fortunes is their alliance with the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution [PRD]. While never a force in the Baja California’s politics, PRD’s effective governance of Mexico City and the youth vote propelled its presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrado to the status of second highest vote getter in the state after PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota in last year’s election. In an election that could be decided by a razor thin margin, the PAN-PRD alliance could be just enough to put Francisco ‘Kiko’ Vega over the top. These alliances have proved effective in the past in countering PRI. In 2010, the governorships of Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sinaloa—all PRI strongholds—were won with PAN-PRD alliances.
But all politics is local, and on the streets of Tijuana, PRI’s nonstop campaigning, massive rallies, and flag waving party faithful at nearly every intersection leaves no doubt they are in it to win it. And win it they might. Just .3 percentage points separate PRI’s Fernando Castro Trenti and PAN’s Francisco ‘Kiko’ Vega, according to a recent poll is Baja California’s most respected newspaper, Zeta. A surging PRI already captured the mayorships of all 5 of the state’s municipalities during the 2010 election cycle. Come Sunday, regardless of machinations of party leaders in the capital, PRI could pick off the state house.
Tijuana’s Xoloitzcuintles capped their impossible rise in Mexican soccer by winning the Liga MX championship—just two short short years after being propelled into its major leagues—with a 4-1 aggregate victory over Toluca, a storied club with more titles than the newcomer Xolos have years.
Up 2-1 over Toluca going into the match, the Xolos simply had to hold their lead and the championship would be theirs. The city of Tijuana held its breath. The Xolos unlikely success, during one of city’s most difficult periods, captured the imagination of Tijuana, and their respective arcs seemed to mirror one another. As Julio César Martínez Silva told the San Diego Union-Tribune’ Tijuana reporter Sandra Dibble, ‘The entire country used to say Tijuana is crime and drugs. It’s great that a ball can transform it into a place of togetherness.’
During the match, Tijuana was eerily silent. After a scoreless first half there was a palpable sense that victory was within reach, but no one wanted to jinx it. In 70th minute of the second half, Raul Arce sent a bending-blast-of-a-free-kick [3:15] over Toluca’s defense that ricocheted off the goal post. Arce’s teammate, Richard Ruiz, was in perfect position and tapped the ball beneath Toluca’s diving goal keeper.
Tijuana erupted. The noisy goal celebrations hadn’t even died down, when just a minute later, the yellow-mohawked Duvier Riascos caught a break away, and with beautiful footwork, danced right around Toluca’s goal keeper for another one. Riascos, always the showman, went right over to corner of stadium, just feet from Toluca’s fans, to rub it in.
As the San Diego Union-Tribune sports reporter Mark Zeigler described it, ‘The Tijuana forward tore off his jersey and ran toward the sideline, his arms extended, his face contorted in elation. Toluca fans, suddenly cognizant that their team wasn’t winning the Mexican soccer title for a record 11th time, angrily showered him with beer. Riascos turned his head as he sprinted by and playfully stuck out his tongue, trying to catch the sprinkles of cerveza in the chilly night air. Ah, the sweet taste of triumph.’
But Zeigler left out the next and best part. Too risque to include in a family newspaper, Xolo forward Riascos—like any dog would—got down on all fours, lifted his right leg, and performed a mock urination on the corner flag, marking his territory in Toluca for Tijuana for all of Mexico to see.
After a dark spell of catastrophic drug violence sparked a do-it-yourself cultural response that ruptured the old ways of doing things, a unique cultural climate has emerged in Tijuana in recent years. With little support from the city that gave rise to its sounds, Tijuana has become an epicenter of avant-garde music in Mexico, with some of the world’s most influential music makers are eyeing what’s happening here. Emerging Tijuana’s ‘moment of truth’ came recently, during three days of loosely coordinated music and art events that signaled that Tijuana is a place that can attract cutting edge international acts, but more importantly, it’s a city recognized around the world for producing them. You can read about the rise of Tijuana’s new musical vanguard here, in a piece I wrote for the Los Angeles public television station KCET’s Artbound website.