Mexico's Fractured Electoral Landscape
By John Ross
07/11/06 -- - MEXICO CITY (July 11th) – A full week after the
most viciously contested presidential election in its modern
history, a Florida-sized fraud looms over the Mexican landscape and
the nation has been divided almost exactly in half along political,
economic, geographical and racial lines.
Mexico has always been two lands – "Illusionary Mexico" and
"Profound Mexico" is how sociologist Guillermo Bonfils described the
great divide between rich and poor. But now, should it be allowed to
stand, right-winger Felipe Calderon's severely questioned 243.000
vote victory over left-wing populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO)
will split the country exactly in half between the industrial north
and the impoverished, highly indigenous south with each winning 16
states – although the southern states won by Lopez Obrador, who also
won Mexico City by a million votes, constitute 54% of the
Moreover, the disputed election pits an indignant Indian and mestizo
underclass that believes AMLO was swindled out of the presidency by
electoral fraud against a wealthy white conservative minority that
controls the nation's media, its banks, and apparently, the Federal
Electoral Institute (IFE), Mexico's maximum electoral authorities.
Lopez Obrador charges the IFE and its president Luis Carlos Ugalde
with orchestrating Calderon's uncertain triumph.
At a raucous July 8th rally that put a half million supporters in
Mexico City's vast Zocalo plaza, the political heart of the nation,
Lopez Obrador called upon his people to demand a complete vote by
vote recount of the results. Speaking from a flatbed truck set up in
front of the National Palace, the official seat of the Mexican
government, the fiery, former Mexico City mayor characterized
President Vicente Fox as "a traitor to democracy" and for the first
time at a public meeting uttered the word "fraud", accusing the IFE
of rigging the election to favor his opponent.
Indeed, fraud was the central motif of the mammoth meeting. Large
photos of IFE president Luis Carlos Ugalde slugged "Wanted for
Electoral Fraud" were slapped up on central city walls and tens of
thousands of protestors waved home-made signs dissing the IFE
official with such colorful epithets as "No To Your Fucking Fraud!"
Throughout the rally, (which was billed as a "first informative
assembly"), the huge throng repeatedly drowned out Lopez Obrador's
pronouncements with thunderous chants of "Fraude Electoral!" At
times, AMLO seemed on the verge of tears at the outpouring of
support from the sea of brown faces that pressed in around the
The gathering in the Zocalo signaled the kick-off to what is
sometimes called "the second election in the street"; a mass effort
to pressure electoral officials into a ballot-by-ballot recount that
Lopez Obrador is convinced will show that he was the winner July
2nd. The IFE has resolutely resisted such a recount.
AMLO, a gifted leader of street protest, is always at the top of his
game when he is seen as an underdog battling the rich and powerful
and the next days will be heady ones here. This Wednesday (June
12th), the left leader is calling upon supporters in all 300
electoral districts across Mexico to initiate a national "exodus"
for democracy that will converge upon the capital on Sunday, July
16th for a mega-march that may well turn out to be the largest
political demonstration in the nation's history. Indeed, AMLO
already set that mark in April 2005 when 1.2 million citizens surged
through Mexico City to protest Fox's efforts to bar the leftist from
the ballot – the president dropped his vendetta three days after the
But Lopez Obrador and his Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)
will not just do battle in the streets. Evidence of wide-spread
ballot box manipulation in a third of the 130,000 polling places
(including ballot-stuffing and duplicate numbers in thousands of
them), malfeasance in the reporting of district totals to the IFE,
inexplicable cybernetic confabulations in both the preliminary count
or PREP (`3,000,000 mostly AMLO votes were removed) and the final
tabulation in the districts, are being presented to the nation's top
electoral tribunal (code-named the TRIFE) by Lopez Obrador's battery
of attorneys in an effort to persuade the seven justices that a hand
recount is the only way to determine who will be the next president
of Mexico. Such recounts have recently been conducted in close
elections in Germany, Italy, and Costa Rica as well as in Florida
2000 until ordered shut down by the U.S. Suprime Court.
Felipe Calderon and the PAN and Ugalde's IFE consider AMLO's demands
to open the ballot boxes an "insult" to the "hundreds of thousands
of citizens" who were responsible for carrying out the election.
"The votes have already been counted - on Election Day" Ugalde
upbraids Lopez Obrador.
The TRIFE is an autonomous judicial body with powers to annul the
presidential election – it has annulled gubernatorial elections in
Tabasco (AMLO's home state) and Colima and invalidated results in
entire districts because of electoral flimflam in recent years.
Lopez Obrador and the PRD have also petitioned Mexico's Supreme
Court to invalidate the election because of Vicente Fox's apparently
unconstitutional meddling on behalf of Calderon, and this reporter
has learned that AMLO is considering calling upon all PRD elected
officials not to take office December 1st if the ballots are not
recounted, a strategy that could trigger constitutional crisis.
Despite the uncertainty about who won the July 2nd election, the
White House and Ambassador Tony Garza, a Bush crony, have been quick
to congratulate Felipe Calderon for whom they exhibited an
undisguised predilection during the campaigns – President Bush
actually called the right-winger from Air Force One and Garza has
been lavish in his praise of the much-questioned performance of the
IFE as proof of "a maturing Mexican democracy."
The U.S. embassy has a track record of intervening in Mexico's
presidential selection – Ronald Reagan recognized Carlos Salinas as
the winner of the stolen 1988 election within 96 hours of the
larceny. In 1911, U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson signed off on
the assassination of Mexico's first democratically elected president
Francisco Madero, to whom Lopez Obrador has often compared himself.
Most of the U.S. Big Press has followed in lockstep with the White
House – the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post
all expressed editorial satisfaction at Calderon's coronation based
on the results of the admittedly manipulated preliminary count. The
New York Times, however, which 18 years ago, after free-marketeer
Carlos Salinas stole the presidency from leftist Cuauhtemoc
Cardenas, called that tormented proceedings "the cleanest election
in Mexican history", this time around was more cautious, voting for
a ballot by ballot recount before extending its benediction to the
As tens of thousands of AMLO's supporters, "the people the color of
the earth" Subcomandante Marcos names them, march across the Mexican
landscape on their way up to the capital to demand electoral
justice, invoking scenes of the great movement of "los de abajo"
(those from down below) during Mexico's monumental 1910-1919
revolution, the country holds it breath.
In Mexico, the past has equal value with the present and the memory
of what came before can sometimes be what comes next. These are
history-making moments south of the Rio Bravo. North Americansd need
to pay attention.
A shortened version of this piece appeared on the Nation.com. John
Ross's "Making Another World Possible – Zapatista Chronicles
2000-2006" will be published this October by Nation Books.
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