Spiritism, witches, rites and incantations: the black magic stories of Mexican politics
Spiritists, witches, shamans, priests, healers, and even clairvoyants inhabit an obscure, but not little known, quadrant of Mexican politics. These characters, who dominate in the magical, mystical, esoteric, metaphysical, occult, or supernatural thinking that has prevailed in the history of Mexico since pre-Hispanic cultures, are a silent -and sometimes decisive- influence on politicians of all times.
The album of these characters is extensive and includes the names of presidents such as Francisco I. Madero, Plutarco Elías Calles, Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Enrique Peña Nieto. It also includes governors, officials from all walks of life, union leaders, and party leaders, among others. The expert on this subject is José Gil Olmos, journalist of the weekly magazine Proceso, who has collected enough stories to fill two volumes of his title "Los brujos y el poder" (The sorcerers and power).
His journey begins in the convulsed stage of the Mexican Revolution, back in 1910, when revolutionary leaders embraced spiritism, then so fashionable, as a practice that influenced their personal and political decisions, says Gil Olmos.
Among all the spiritist revolutionaries of the time -which were not few-, the best known is Francisco I. Madero, the businessman, and politician who pushed for the end of Porfirio Diaz's dictatorship, called for the Revolution on November 20, 1910, to defend the democratic ideal betrayed by electoral fraud, and was fleeting president of Mexico for only 15 months (between November 6, 1911, and February 19, 1913), a victim of a betrayal that led him to the wall and rekindled the revolutionary fuse lit until 1920.
From then on, Olmos weaves together a collection of characters from all periods of Mexican politics, who have resorted to magic, spells, spirits, rites, incantations, and witchcraft to ward off dangers, attract luck and, above all, protect their power or widen their access door.
Rites and charms
In Mexico, the influence of magical thinking in the political class has been a constant then and now. "And it will be in the future, especially in times of uncertainty," says Gil Olmos. If in the past the journalist compiled fantastic stories of politicians who appealed to esotericism and supernatural forces to achieve their goals and clear the path of adversaries and enemies, in the present the vein seems not to be exhausted.
When speaking of politicians who are currently in the limelight, Olmos begins with the now-former independent presidential candidate, Margarita Zavala. Of her, he says she had a "magical" link with a shawl she frequently wore as part of her attire as the first lady, during the government of her husband, Felipe Calderón.
"For her, from that garment came her strength and energy because she was told so by a sorcerer introduced to her by teacher Elba Esther Gordillo", the then powerful leader of the teachers' union, who fell in disgrace and in jail during Peña Nieto's six-year term, accused of corruption.
Not even her sorcerers saved her. And it should be noted that "la maestra" has a special fondness for rituals. In "Los brujos y el poder", Olmos narrates that her thirst for power and her fondness for the occult arts took Gordillo to Nigeria, where a great voodoo witch doctor practiced a spell on her to protect her from a powerful political enemy, the then-president Ernesto Zedillo. To carry out the ritual, a lion had to be killed and Elba Esther bathed in its blood.
Apparently "la maestra" was a recurring advisor to Mexico's first ladies, because Olmos writes in his book that she also "advised" Marta Sahagún, first spokeswoman and then the second wife of then-President Vicente Fox, on the subject of bewitchment. Gil Olmos assures that she resorted to "enchantment works" to get Fox to marry her and, later, to subject him to her witticisms. The mixture included pills, concoctions, and "moorings", which served her in her lust for power and her influence in the decisions of the Presidency.
Elba Esther Gordillo's influence in Los Pinos put an end to Peña Nieto. And in front of him, she could do nothing. Perhaps the president had the good protection of "her witch in Atlacomulco", a municipality in the State of Mexico that gives its name to a political power group of the PRI, all of them from Mexico like the president. "She told Peña Nieto that he would be the one destined to govern," says Olmos.
In the anecdotes of black magic in politics, former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, perhaps the most controversial Mexican political figure still alive, could not be missing. Gil Olmos says that Salinas resorted to the supernatural power of some sorcerers from Haiti whom he hired to "do witchcraft" to his predecessor in the Presidency, Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, with the purpose of electing him as his "successor".
Those were the times of the so-called "presidential handpicking", the very undemocratic Mexican presidential practice, which gave the incumbent president -of the PRI- the absolute power to choose the candidate who would run for his party -the PRI- and, therefore, who would be the next president -of the PRI.
The governor of the pyramids
At this point in the text, there is surely a question: where did Gil Olmos get these stories? From his travels as a reporter throughout the country, he says. "Wherever I went, I came across these types of stories that I collected and then verified with a journalistic investigation".
During his journalistic travels, for example, he came across the story of Manuel Cavazos Lerma, then governor of Tamaulipas, who believed in the power of pyramids. That's why under the hat he always wore, he carried a small pyramid that helped him concentrate positive energy. He had also installed another pyramid in the van in which he drove around Ciudad Victoria and the rural communities, Gil Olmos wrote in his book.
Now he has detected the phenomenon of saints who are not saints, at least not for the Catholic Church, but the people have already made room for them in the space of their beliefs. There is Juan Soldado, who is the Saint of Migrants, in Tijuana; Juan del Jarro, in San Luis Potosí; Niño Fidencio, in Nuevo León; Benito Juárez, in Oaxaca; Pacho Villa, in the north; Emiliano Zapata, in Morelos; Jesús Malverde, in Sinaloa, among others. "These saints are also fulfilling a role very similar to sorcerers and shamans: people turn to them to ask for what the state does not give: security and welfare," he says.
Magic in the service of power
"Magic has been a permanent presence in the world of politics," says Olmos. And not only in Mexico, he warns. Former Argentinean president Carlos Saúl Menem, he says, was very superstitious and had a witch as his bedside who advised him on politics, he says.
It is true. The Argentinean press remembers her as Azucena Agüero Blanch and even the U.S. newspaper The New York Times wrote about her based on an interview she had with Menem's "seer" in his apartment in Mendoza, in January 1999. He also tells of Hugo Chávez, the dead former President of Venezuela, who turned the Miraflores Palace, the official government residence, into a sort of "Santeria temple".
Or Rosario Murillo, Daniel Ortega's wife, who redesigned the official images, from the flowers at public events to the national coat of arms, with bright colors following her approach to a New Age philosophy. She even had a series of "trees of life" installed in the main avenue of Managua for "good energy".
These examples show that supernatural, magical or esoteric thinking does not recognize borders among politicians and, much less, their ambitions for power. "That is another of the fundamental axes of this phenomenon," Olmos says. "It seems that the ambition for power almost demands belief in these supernatural powers in order to acquire strength and energy."