Friday, March 13, 2015

Today's Mexico CIty Headlines: The Green Party is neither Green nor a Party in any meaningful sense of either word. But it sure knows how to do political advertising that gets the job done.

The party getting the most headlines at this stage of the  election season is the Green Party, more formally known as the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico, or PVEM. One of those headlines is El Universal’s lead today: “It’s profitable for PVEM to violate the law: experts.” That head needs some context. So does the Green Party itself.
    The first trick for understanding the Green Party is to forget everything you may associate with the word Green. The Mexican Green Party is no more an advocate for environmental protection than the U.S. Tea Party is. They grabbed a winner of a name back in the mid 1980s before anybody else did. It’s a pose. Nothing more.
    The second is to forget everything you may associate with the word Party. The PVEM stands for nothing and promotes no political philosophy. It operates not as a party but as a family business, first under the leadership of a PRI veteran named Jorge González Torres and then his son Jorge Emilo González Martínez, who was barely 25 when he first served as a legislator in 1997, earning the nickname of the Green Child or Green Boy that stays with him today at the ripe old age of 42.
    The PVEM has survived and even thrived by attaching itself to major parties at just the right time. It joined forces with the conservative PAN for the 2000 vote, helping Vicente Fox usher the PRI out of power. Then, like a power-hitting outfielder after a good free agent year, it took up a better deal with the PRI, eventually helping Enrique Peña Nieto usher the PRI back into power.
    The PRI-PVEM marriage has been a keeper so far, and the Greens will be teaming up again with the ruling party to help it keep its plurality in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress. They get a lot in return. The PVEM has 29 deputies, four Senate seats and even a governorship (Chiapas) — a healthy hall for a minor party.
    A key to the Greens’ political success, in addition to the sycophantic relationship with the PRI, is its relentless quick-hit political advertising — as effective as it is cynical. Their strategy is to hit hard and often on two categories of issues.
    One category consists of popular proposals —like eliminating extra costs in public schools or banning the exploitation of animals in circuses — that the PVEM supported and became law. Another includes extremist positions that have no chance of going anywhere — re-instating the death penalty, for example — but nevertheless let the party brag about its toughness and commitment to reducing crime.
    If you live in Mexico, you can’t miss these spots. They’re everywhere — radio, television, billboards, transportation facilities, bus stops, even on tortilla wrappers. They function as a publicity arm for the PRI, its grassroots advertising department. And they work, because they take advantage of the one constant in democratic politics — the near-total cluelessness of the typical voter.
    There is one small problem, though — the ads are illegal. They violate campaign laws in just about every way imaginable — content, location, timing, quantity, you name it. The reaction of the INE, the new electoral authority, was to issue a wrist slap, making sure it didn’t hurt too much. That favorable treatment helped precipitate a walkout from the INE sessions by seven of 10 parties, since it seemed to confirm every suspicion they had about the INE’s commitment to fairness. Only the PRI, the PVEM and the Panal stayed in their places, that last party being another party-for-sale flirting with the PRI.
    Eventually the PVEM was fined $78.5 million pesos for its transgressions, and that amount will be supplemented by the TEPJF, the judicial body overseeing the elections. This is where we get to today’s EL Universal lead story. Anybody who pays attention to a campaign like this one — including several experts interviewed by El Universal — understands that a fine is the least of the Green Party’s worries. It’s considered part of the cost of campaign advertising — and well worth it, according to pollsters and political consultants.
    Said one of them, Carlo Ángel Varela Maldonado of Varela and Associates, "Spending $80 million pesos more in fines is worth reaching the results of positioning the PVEM with 11% of the vote according to polls.”
    That’s presumably the consensus opinion, including of the PVEM and PRI. “Fine us all you want,” the Greens seem to be saying. “We know a favorable cost/benefit ratio when we see one.”
    Inevitably, some people, notably in Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party, are starting to talk about taking away the PVEM’s status as a party. Their justification: nothing else will re-assert the force of law.
    Meanwhile, an untold number of citizens will be voting for Green candidates under the delusion that they’re supporting an underdog party that's courageously challenging the established powers and committed to protecting the environment. In reality, they’re supporting parasites living off the most powerful party in the nation and who couldn’t care less about the environment.

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