What went wrong in Mexico? What the U.S. media didn't tell you.
This year's July 2 presidential election in Mexico promised to be a hotly contested race essentially between the candidates of rival parties: the popular former mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), versus former Energy Secretary Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN), the controlling party of President Vincente Fox. Calderon's election platform would maintain the status quo favored by the business elite while Lopez Obrador promised a number of progressive measures, including a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has decimated Mexican farmers since it went into effect in 1994. As might be expected, the Bush administration fully supported Calderon's candidacy.
Long before the election, President Fox's government, and Fox himself, tried to prevent Lopez Obrador from even entering the race. When a money laundering and bribery scheme meant to implicate Lopez Obrador was exposed as a fabricated plot (an interrogation tape implicating PAN members in plotting to prevent his candidacy has recently surfaced), another plan, the so-called "desufuero scandal" was brought out. The new plan would strip Lopez Obrador of his governmental immunity and indict him on what were widely regarded as trumped up charges of ignoring a court injunction concerning the construction of a hospital access road in Mexico City. After widespread protests, President Fox decided that the strategy wasn't working and conceded at least a temporary immunity for Lopez Obrador.
While such efforts proved fruitless, it was clear that Lopez Obrador was going to have a very difficult time come election day. With his opponent well ahead in the polls only months before the election, Calderon launched a vicious negative campaign against the PRD candidate, which had its intended effects, as did a presidential debate which polls showed Calderon had won. Contrary to Mexican election law, President Fox actually ran advertisements attacking Lopez Obrador. For this, Fox was censured and ordered to refrain. More sly and illegal behavior came to light when one of Fox's former allies, Arnulfo Montes Cuen, accused Fox of diverting government money from antipoverty programs to Calderon's campaign coffers. Mere weeks before the election the two candidates appeared to be dead even in some polls, a condition ripe for election-day exploitation.
The Bush administration's award of a no-bid contract to the company ChoicePoint, ostensibly to provide "counter-terrorism databases" on foreigners, aroused further suspicion of possible exploitation. This effort was notable in that its focus wasn't on the Middle East but on Latin America--specifically on countries that employed left-leaning governments or that were threatening to do so, such as Mexico. Though it is unknown whether ChoicePoint's database service provided anything to PAN, the company's prior engagement would cause little comfort to those familiar with its employment in the electoral processes of the United States. (ChoicePoint was the company contracted by the state of Florida in 2000 to produce the now-notorious felon list that was used to scrub voters from Florida's voter rolls. Their list was notable for two salient features: it contained very few actual felons, and those listed were mainly Democratic voters or those thought likely to be so.)
Further suspicion fell on the election outcome when it was learned that the computer systems of the Federal Election Institute (IFE) were partly designed by companies and partners of Calderon's brother-in-law Diego Hildebrando Zavala. The IFE also learned that Calderon's party, PAN, had somehow acquired voter registration data, something strictly forbidden under law. The IFE downplayed this as a minor problem, although according to El Universal the extent of the acquisition appeared to be unknown. With voter rolls possibly in the hands of party operatives and questionable family ties to the tabulation software, the stage was set. A clean election was unlikely to appear on Mexico's horizon.
The night of Mexico's presidential election witnessed objectively strange behavior, both in the initial, real-time count (the Preliminary Elections Results Program or so-called PREP) and in the actions of IFE officials. As detailed in an analysis by University of Texas at El Paso Physics Department Chair Jorge A. Lopez, the IFE reported the PREP count after ten thousand ballot boxes had been tallied; no incremental count had been provided during this initial phase. At this point Calderon had a lead of more than 4 percent over Lopez Obrador, which, as the evening's PREP count proceeded, sharply and steadily decreased throughout the night.
By midnight many election observers believed that the result was inevitable: Lopez Obrador would win the election. However, at three o'clock on the morning of July 3, the day after the election, the trend suddenly halted and the tally maintained a constant and unwavering margin of 1.1 percent for Calderon over Lopez Obrador.
Not only was the PREP count inconsistent with itself--James K. Galbraith affirmed in his July 17 Guardian piece that vote totals didn't match the reported percentage said to have been won by each candidate--but the PREP count was completely at odds with exit polls conducted throughout the day, which reported that Lopez Obrador was maintaining a lead of some 2 percent over Calderon. Exit poll results weren't widely known, nor were they disseminated. The publication Proceso had reported that "senior Interior Ministry officials" had contacted Mexican television networks and persuaded them to "keep their exit polls off the air."
Other blatantly odd behavior by IFE officials confounded the PREP count. Some 2.5 million ballots, which Lopez Obrador had accused the IFE of withholding during election day, suddenly reappeared in time for the final count. This sudden emergence of 2.5 million ballots trimmed Calderon's initially reported winning margin of 400,000+ votes down to 257,000. The discovery of these "missing ballots" was presaged by previous reports and photographic evidence published in El Universal and later on the Narco News Bulletin showing that ballot boxes from at least three precincts won by Lopez Obrador were discovered in a Nezahuacoyotl garbage dump.
When the "final count" (really just a count of the precinct tally sheets) was undertaken, which removed the 10,000 polling station lead Calderon acquired in the PREP count, things were once again looking good for Lopez Obrador. On July 5, 2006, Reuters reported that, with 75 percent of polling stations counted, Lopez Obrador had a lead of 2.2 percent, completely agreeing with the exit polls from election day. But by the next day Calderon's numbers mysteriously recovered and moved him into the lead with the slimmest of margins. It was during the tallying of the final 25 percent of precincts that the voting pattern, constant throughout the count, suddenly exhibited incredible behavior, with precincts then reporting wins for Calderon by margins of 5 to 1, 10 to 1, and, near the very end, ballot ratios of 100 to 1. Professor Victor Romero of Mexico's National University pronounced this turn of precinct events a "miracle" and a statistical impossibility, though the miraculous numbers were hardly the result of divine intervention. In fact, La Jornada ran a still photo from a videotape clearly showing an IFE official stuffing a ballot box.
After such evidence of blatant voter fraud emerged, demands for a full recount followed. While pronouncements by the IFE, Calderon, Fox, the Bush administration, and many in the mainstream U.S. press had blessed the election as the "cleanest in the history of Mexico" (given Mexico's history, this might actually be true), the IFE finally agreed to a partial recount after several enormous public demonstrations--referred to as the "voto por voto" campaign. The IFE continued to resist a full recount, claiming that only evidence of ballot box tampering could justify such action. When videotape taken by Mexican-born Hollywood director Luis Mandoki, working on a documentary about Lopez Obrador, showed that numerous ballot packets and boxes in several precinct stations were open, some appearing to have been broken wide open, this was still not sufficient for the IFE to declare what was obvious to almost everyone. There were serious grounds to believe that many ballot boxes had been tampered with and, by extension, that the entire election was tainted. Though a full recount appeared unlikely given the establishment's resistance to it, a partial recount was forthcoming, a recount that would demonstrate serious problems with the PREP and final count tallies.
Mexico's Supreme Electoral Tribunal (known as TRIFE) ordered a recount of 11,839 of Mexico's 130,000 precincts (about 9 percent). None of the recounted precincts would be ones where the near-impossible ballot ratios of 100 to 1 had been observed. Nor would they be precincts where ballot boxes had been found in the garbage. Despite ignoring what appeared to be the most blatant signs of election fraud, the recount still dearly demonstrated ballot problems and evidence of both ballot box stuffing (known as taqueo) and ballot looting (saqueo). The Narco News Bulletin reported that in 7 percent of Mexico's precincts, over 126,000 votes had been altered either through taqueo, enhancing Calderon's total, or through saqueo, reducing Lopez Obrador's. In previous instances of election fraud on this scale, the TRIFE actually annulled the precincts in question. But TRIFE failed to observe its own precedent. Were these precincts annulled, the decision would have given Lopez Obrador the win by 425,000 votes.
But this wasn't the decision. On September 5 TRIFE ruled that Calderon's "win" would stand, despite having annulled almost 238,000 votes. TRIFE hasn't revealed the rationale behind the annulment, which didn't significantly alter the overall result, nor has a transparent accounting of the recount been produced.
The overall judgment revealed significant problems with the ballots but TRIFE refused to acknowledge any larger fraud effort, something that, at this point, seems patently clear. In fact, an independent study of the vote recount issued September 2 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined that there was a significant reduction in the vote count for Calderon and an actual gain for Lopez Obrador. CEPR notes that this is "inexplicably one-sided" something that shouldn't happen from "mistakes." What is clear from all this is that, in every single instance of partial recounting after the initial PREP tabulation, Calderon's winning margin was reduced, sometimes significantly so, as in the case of the suddenly "rediscovered" 2.5 million ballots by the IFE.
As consumers of corporate news media in the United States, Americans are generally unaware regarding most of what has been chronicled here. Many are probably wondering what all that fuss was about in Mexico, if they wonder about it at all. In part this is a result of our general disinterest in international affairs that aren't based in warfare, but it is much more a function of the national media and the manner by which it chose to portray the Mexican elections. To those reading U.S. newspapers, Lopez Obrador is a "leftist" and a rabble rouser; a grouser clearly unhappy with the result of a "free and fair election." To viewers of television news, the issue of the Mexican elections would have been scarcely a blip amongst reports of terror threats, wars, and references to Nazis and "Islamofascists."
In reality, Lopez Obrador is much more of a centrist in Mexican politics and, in fact, almost didn't receive his party's nomination because he wasn't far enough to the left. However, Lopez Obrador's popularity in Mexico couldn't be denied, and it was recognized that he would have the best chance to win against Calderon. But Vincente Fox's government and the PAN party mounted an anti-democratic program of illegal campaigning, money laundering, and election rigging that simply wouldn't allow the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. That the Bush administration backed Felipe Calderon and subsequently declared the Mexican election clean says much more about its policy of so-called "freedom and democracy" than it does about the election itself.
The Mexican election was a profound test of the democratic will of that country. That will was seen in the throngs who protested and demanded a fair election. Sadly, the incumbency of Mexico's ruling elite, beholden as they are to our own country's ruling class, chose power over the people's choice. This is something Americans should be deeply concerned about, not only because Mexico is a close neighbor but because we need to start recognizing that our hypocrisy regarding the ideal of democratic government is something the rest of the world is well aware of, even if we choose not to be.
Kenneth Anderson is a scientist living in Baltimore whose political, social, and media commentary appears in various online forums, including Op-Ed News and his daily blog at www.anythingtheysay.com.
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|Date:||Nov 1, 2006|
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