A Neighborhood's Loss Casts Shadows on a Political Gain
By GINGER THOMPSON
ACAPULCO, Mexico, Feb. 7 - The southern state of Guerrero, home to luxury hotels and sweeping slums, focused Monday on good news: Zeferino Torreblanca had just become the first opposition governor in the state's history, defeating the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had used fraud and repression to rule Mexico, and especially Guerrero, for more than seven decades.
But just a few miles away from the Pacific Ocean and over the condominium-covered mountains, residents in a ramshackle neighborhood called Miguel Hidalgo, far from celebrating Mr. Torreblanca's triumph in the voting on Sunday, were instead mourning the senseless death of 15-year-old Manuel Morales Borja.
On the morning after jubilant voters tossed a fake coffin, marked "PRI," into the ocean and looked hopefully forward to a new style of government, the people in Manuel's neighborhood carried his bullet-riddled body to the grave and wondered whether this violence-racked country was really capable of change.
"It's always the same during elections," said Sara Batista Novato, watching the coffin pass her door. "There's always violence. And there will only be more."
On Saturday, the eve of the elections, Manuel was standing at a pay phone across from a police station, waiting for his father to bring lunch. In a scene that would not have seemed out of place in Iraqi cities like Mosul or Baghdad, gunmen drove up and began firing automatic weapons. Officers fired back. Manuel went down in the cross-fire.
Three more people - all of them police officers - were killed that day in four separate attacks, and Guerrero braced for an election-day blood bath. But the contests went off with few hitches. And the PRI, struggling to recover its power after losing the presidency five years ago, was handed a resounding defeat in one of its oldest bastions.
As surveys of voters began to come in on Sunday, Mr. Torreblanca of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, or P.R.D., seemed as nervous about the voters' unrealistic expectations as he was jubilant about his impending victory. This state has Mexico's highest rates of illiteracy, poor housing and malnourishment, and it has endured decades of political violence.
True, he managed to bring pavement, potable water and sanitation services to forgotten neighborhoods like Manuel's in three years as mayor. But he is no miracle worker.
Dismantling corrupt government structures built over more than 75 years will hardly be possible during his six short years as governor, he acknowledged. In a television interview on Monday, he cited the violence on Saturday as an example of the powerful forces that continue to menace this society.
He said he would not make false promises or sugarcoat bitter truths. But he pledged there would be no backing away from democracy.
"I don't have any magic wands," Mr. Torreblanca said. "We are all going to have to work together to resolve our problems."
This is a corner of Mexico that is familiar with the guerrilla-style violence that killed Manuel on Saturday. Rebels have used these mountains to stage attacks against the government since the 1970's.
Organized crime has stirred tensions in recent weeks, with reports of gunmen in jeeps robbing travelers along the coastal highway, the seizure by police of a secret stash of high-powered weapons, and the machine-gun murder two weeks ago of Alexis Iglesias Aragón, one of this city's most prominent businessmen and president of the Visitors and Conventions Office. Everyone who is anyone showed up at the funeral.
Now, the poor son of a construction worker was dead. Insignificant, in the greater scheme of things, and investigators have said they are not even sure whether the violence on Saturday was related to drugs or politics. On the day he was killed, all sides in the election used Manuel's blood-soaked image for political gain. The PRI blamed the P.R.D. for the violence, saying it was trying to intimidate voters. The P.R.D. blamed the PRI. Not a single elected official, old or new, stood with Manuel's family at his funeral.
"This poor family has been left alone," Ms. Novato said. "How are we supposed to believe there will be justice?"
Manuel's parents did not seem to know what to do.
"I do not want to make a scandal," said his father, also named Manuel. "What good would it do anyway?"
Mr. Morales, a construction worker, helps build elegant vacation homes. His own family lives at the bottom of a ravine in a concrete hovel: two gray rooms furnished with two double beds, a wobbly table and a couple of plastic chairs.
All of it had to be moved out of the way to make room for Manuel's coffin,
carried by neighbors down the slopes of the ravine. On Monday, they carried
the coffin back up again for a wake at his old junior high school.
During the wake, someone at the back of the school chanted, "Justice! Justice!"
No one else joined in.