Vicente Fox, Mexico’s president, said on Tuesday that Mexico’s City’s local government had to defend the rights of residents who are suffering from the effects of road blocks erected in protest at last month’s presidential election result.
His comments come as the capital’s 20m inhabitants woke up Monday morning to chaos after supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftwing presidential candidate, occupied Paseo de la Reforma, one of city’s most important avenues.
The occupation, which Mr Lopez Obrador announced at a rally on Sunday afternoon, is the latest – and until now most provocative – phase of what he calls “the fight to defend democracy”.
Ever since Mr Lopez Obrador, a 52-year-old former Mexico City mayor, narrowly lost the July 2 presidential election to the centre-right Felipe Calderón, he has insisted that the election was fraudulent and has demanded a full manual recount of the votes.
The occupation aims to place pressure on the country’s electoral tribunal, which has until September 6 to weigh evidence that Mr Lopez Obrador claims proves there was foul play.
But in an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, Mr Fox said the local government, which is run by Mr López Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), had a duty to ensure the free passage of residents as well as the rights of PRD supporters to protest.
“It must reconcile those two interests or it must resolve them. I am watchful to see that it takes its decisions,” he told the FT. But he added: “Let’s give it time to respect the law. We have to wait.”
Earlier, Rubén Aguilar, Mr Fox’s spokesman, ruled out any possibility of sending in federal police to clear the road blocks. “It would be an unacceptable interference by the federal government,” he said. “Public security is a matter for local and state governments.”
As yet, there is no sign that the local government is prepared to free up Paseo de la Reforma – in spite of the chaos the road blocks have caused to traffic and to businesses, which complain of lost sales that now run into tens of millions of dollars.
Indeed, on Tuesday, Marcelo Ebrard, the city’s newly elected mayor and a central figure in Mr Lopez Obrador’s PRD, reconfirmed his commitment to Mr Lopez Obrador’s strategy. “Sometimes you have to take part because what is at stake is the vote,” local media quoted him as saying.
Perhaps more worrying for the capital’s residents, Mr Lopez Obrador said this week that his “civil resistance” campaign would escalate in the coming days. There is even speculation – as yet unfounded – that he and his supporters could try to block access to and from the international airport.
Mr Fox, who was on a trip to the northern state of Chihuahua, refused to comment on the speculation. “Let’s just wait for the facts,” he said.
In recent days, Mr Lopez Obrador has become increasingly aggressive towards Mr Fox, and on Sunday once again accused him of being “a traitor to democracy” for allegedly campaigning on behalf of Mr Calderon – an activity that Mexico’s strict electoral laws prohibit.
But Mr Fox said he did not feel offended by such comments. Instead, the leftwing candidate’s criticism was “the best example of the freedom that Mexico is experiencing. Everyone can say what they want”.
Such freedom of speech, he said, had been one of his biggest achievements since he was voted into office six years ago, ending more than seven decades of one-party rule under the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Mexico, he said, “is democratic now – fully democratic”.
Asked what he intended to do once he left power on December 1, he said he planned to spend time on his ranch to ride horses and be with his family. He also said he intended to write his memoirs – an undertaking that could run into three volumes. Above all, he said, he would “enjoy life. Life is beautiful.”