Leftist Presidential Hopeful Tries to Keep Mexico's Attention Without Violence

Facing weeks of indecision in Mexico's disputed presidential race, supporters of leftist presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are battling to maintain the country's attention without turning to violence.

The new "civil resistance" campaign kicked off Tuesday with a protest of dancers, musicians and a clown aimed at recapturing fading interest in Lopez Obrador's claims that vote fraud cost him the July 2. race.

Many had worried the leftist candidate's supporters might turn to violence, adding to the problems of a country already tarnished by tumultuous strikes and gruesome drug killings, but organizers say they are determined to avoid that.

CountryWatch: Mexico

"Our struggle is not to block streets, because that doesn't help us in the media," said Jorge Marinero, 33, a campaign image consultant who was helping man one of the tiny protest camps set up by supporters in front of hundreds of electoral offices nationwide.

Mexican news media have been full of images in recent months of striking teachers whose violent protest forced the cancellation of Oaxaca's famed Guelaguetza festival, and of burned-out cars and dead bodies left by street battles between drug gangs. The leftist's supporters realize Mexicans aren't eager for more violence.

"What can help us in the media," Marinero said, "are protests that are creative, positive and intelligent," some drawing on Mexico's ancient cultural traditions, like the Aztec symbolism related to mirrors, then made of obsidian.

Some of Lopez Obrador's supporters have proposed carrying mirrors, which would not only reflect Mexico City's sometimes glaring sun — the symbol of Lopez Obrador's party — but also "light and hope."

"We are going to be very innovative, energetic, but firm," said Jesus Ortega, a coordinator of the campaign.

In a sample of that lightheartedness, protesters turned to clown outfits, accordion music and dancing during a demonstration at the office of a business group they accused of running ads implying the leftist candidate would cause crisis and instability.

"I just can't take this vote count seriously," said Hena Moreno, 29, who wore clown makeup.

Individual supporters have already adopted such tactics. Hundreds printed up T-shirts with the slogan "I'm a renegade too" after President Vicente Fox used that word to refer to those — like Lopez Obrador — who refused to accept an official tally that gave ruling party Felipe Calderon a 244,000-vote advantage, a margin of less than 0.6 percentage point.

Lopez Obrador claims a combination of ballot-stuffing, campaign overspending and support from government and business groups tipped the race to Calderon. He has filed a legal challenge demanding a ballot-by-ballot recount. Under law, a president-elect can't be declared until the country's top electoral court weighs appeals.

The court has until Sept. 6 to declare a winner, and Lopez Obrador's supporters are trying to keep his case in the spotlight until a decision is made.

Attending a recent rally, supporter Jesus Puga Torres carried a papier-mFachDe skeleton of the kind used in Mexico's Day of the Dead ceremonies. It was accompanied by the sign: "RIP, Mexican Democracy."

Supporters have also carried hand-lettered posters with poetry at protests and plastered them across the outside walls of Lopez Obrador's campaign headquarters.

"I don't care what they say/ what all the others say/ About you," read one poem taped to Lopez Obrador's headquarters. "I will follow you anywhere/ because each day/ I admire and love you/ more and more and more."

There is no doubt a harder, more militant edge to Lopez Obrador's campaign. "I am used to polemics," Lopez Obrador said recently. "I will defend my principles to the end of my life."

He has his own version of black-power leader Malcolm X's "by any means necessary" speech to rouse crowds. Quoting 19th century president Benito Juarez, Lopez Obrador is fond of saying, "We will rescue Mexico by whatever means possible, with whatever is possible, and to whatever extent possible."