Sprawling and teeming, Mexico City is divided into 16 administrative districts called delegaciones, many of which have larger populations than most cities. “Delegación” is often translated these days as “borough,” since the system is reminiscent of, though not exactly equivalent to, that of New York.
The borough chief is still usually referred to as the delegado, a term left over from when each was appointed by the regente,
or head of the Federal District (Mexico City), himself appointed by the
federal executive branch. Now everybody’s elected, and the borough
chief position is roughly equivalent to what a municipal president— a
mayor — would be if Mexico City were a state rather than a Federal
Except no borough has a legislative body — no city council or cabildo.
There’s only the citywide Federal District Legislative Assembly, or
ALDF. Hence a borough chief’s function is strictly administrative, with
almost all effort aimed at land use decisions, borough-specific public
works projects and the handling of local law enforcement.
nature of the job, then, puts it firmly into the political
stepping-stone category, a launching pad for higher office. It’s also
akin to a baseball umpire — only your failures are noticed. And,
inevitably, it attracts charges of corruption.
mini-civics lesson is by way of introducing today’s slightly hysterical
lead headline in El Universal, which brings together those three
elements of the job description: “Chapulines leave behind chaos in public works and security.” This needs some exegesis, so let’s take a look.
“Chapulines” comes from the native Náhuatl word for grasshoppers. It’s
operative slang for political office holders who are abandoning their
incumbency to run for a different position. The term especially applies to
those Federal District borough chiefs seeking to make the hop to a
legislative post, either as a federal deputy or member of the ALDF. It’s not meant as a compliment.
All 14 PRD delegados
acted en masse this week, taking leaves from their posts to seek their
party’s nomination as deputy candidates. The exodus was unpopular, and
is attacked almost daily in the press.
Never mind that their
terms are up this year and they can’t run for re-election. Never mind
that they can’t be borough heads and seek a congressional nomination at
the same time. In the public eye, their action removed all doubt about
their commitment to personal gain over governing well. And the fact that
they can come hustling back to their jobs if their new dreams don’t
work out, like cheating spouses, infuriates their constituency all the
El Universal’s story today attempts to stir the pot by
showing the business of the 14 PRD borough chiefs-on-leave is not only
unfinished but poorly performed. An “analysis carried out by El
Universal” finds that the crime rate increased in half the boroughs, and
the number of complaints about land use or construction violations went
up in eight of the 14. “In some cases,” the paper concludes, “the
situation is worse than when they took office in 2012.”
hardly “chaos.” If crime is up in half the boroughs, it’s down in the
other half. If “some” PRD boroughs are worse off, then most are better
off. It’s all how you look at it.
The real story of the chapulines
is that virtually all of them have been accused of corruption or
something resembling it. Some of the charges are petty and all are
unproven. But the fact remains that the 14 PRD borough chiefs (the two
others belong to the conservative PAN and the PRI-affiliated Green
Party) have contributed more than their share to the party’s
increasingly wretched reputation.
URGE FOR GOING
Things are so bad chez
PRD that several of its most respected members have bolted in recent
weeks — either to retirement, to Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s nascent
left-of-center alternative party (Morena), or to as-yet-undefined
greener pastures. The latest is former Mexico City Mayor and current
Senator Alejandro Encinas, an avuncular professor-type who balances
solid man-of-the-left credentials with a respectable image and
He summed up his reasons for leaving
rather convincingly yesterday: “There’s a great disenchantment, a
malaise, much indignation, even shame at the current situation in the
PRD.” An equally honest way of putting it might have been: “I’m getting
out of this hell-hole while I still have a piece of my reputation
intact.” El Universal’s No. 2 front-page head puts it a third way,
quoting Encinas: “The PRD is hopeless.”
yet revealed what he’ll be doing, or with whom. Perhaps more will be
forthcoming at another speech he has planned for today. The guest list
is interesting: PRD co-founders Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo
and Ifgenia Martínez, plus fellow former Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, once the
party’s shining light and as of now still a member.
THE END OF THE LINE
be fair, the PRD is probably no more corrupt than the PRI, no more
dysfunctional than the PAN, and no more riven with self-absorbed
careerists than any of the nine parties, large or small. But the worst
of its woes are more recent than those of other parties, and they
include the biggest fish of them all — the alleged mass murder mastermind of
Iguala, the former PRD Mayor José Luis Abarca.
And as luck
would have it, the party’s latest scandals are of the lingering variety,
such that each day’s headlines take its image down another notch.
Today’s example is Reforma’s main front-pager: “Line 12 gets worse.”
This refers to the newest addition to Mexico City’s once-proud Metro
system, which was built to take passengers from the isolated
Tlahuac borough 25.5 kilometers across the southern part of
the city. Half of it was shut down last March because of construction
incompatibilities, just months after its much-ballyhooed inauguration.
The closure was a political blow for Ebrard, not to mention for the
hundreds of thousands of commuters that used the line daily. It was
during Ebrard’s administration that the mega-project was planned, built
and put into service. Now the “incompetent” label that political enemies
had tried to pin on the PRD city government — unsuccessfully, as the
city noticeably improved during the party’s 17-year reign — finally had a
basis in reality.
City leaders under Ebrard’s successor,
Miguel Ángel Mancera, knew the only way to stop the hemorrhaging was to
get the damn thing fixed. That hasn’t happened. Now it looks like the
trains will never fit the curvy tracks of the above-ground stretch of
the line. Replacing them will be costly, to say the least, and will also remind
everybody of the strange decision to lease the current cars for more
than what it would have cost to buy them.
The fallout from all
this is that the PRD faces the prospect of losing its majorities in the
ALDF and among the 16 borough chiefs in the June election (Mancera has
three years left in his term). That scenario becomes even likelier when
you factor in the intention of AMLO’s Morena party to go all out in the
DF, splitting the left vote. If the abstention or annulled-vote
campaigns amount to anything, that will hurt the PRD as well, since most
of that movement’s advocates reside on the left.
has been the PRD’s bastion since the party was born in 1989. With no
real nationwide presence, they don’t have much if they don’t have the
capital. A dwindling minority in the federal Congress, maybe a few governorships, a
state legislature or two. That’s it.
Unless the PRD base somehow holds, Mexico is looking at a stretch without a viable progressive
electoral force. Even its traditional detractors, such as big business,
will lament the loss, as right-wing pols trot out the old bromide,
“Mexico needs a responsible alternative on the left.” What they’ll
mean, of course, is, “We need a convenient straw man to scare people
with.” But they’ll still be right.