Archive for July, 2006

Permanent Assembly in Mexico City

July 31, 2006

Federal cops say 180 thousand. Local cops say 2.4 million. Reforma, a newspaper whose owners support the candidate of the right, says 380 thousand. Make up your mind:

http://www.amlo.org.mx/fotogaleria/index.html
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/07/31/index.php
http://videos.eluniversal.com.mx/asamblea03ok.html

In retrospect, López Obrador’s speech will be deemed a foundational document in Mexico’s national history:

http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/365665.html

I have translated a few excerpts to give you the flavor of López Obrador’s speech (and of the event).

* * *

In a country like ours, with so much inequality and privileges, democracy acquires a fundamental social dimension and becomes a matter of survival. Democracy is the only option, the only hope for the poor, for the majority of the people, to improve their living and working conditions.

If the gates of democracy are shut, the alternative can only be submission or violence. That is why we have to defend and enforce our democracy.

* * *

From the beginning, we had indications of a victory, and today, 28 days after election, we are absolutely certain — we have all the elements and evidence to believe without hesitation that we won the Presidency of the Republic!

As I have said, in spite of a process plagued with irregularities and fraudulent acts, we — women and men — must feel very proud of the fact that they could not defeat us with ballots. That is why they refuse to open the ballot packages and recount the votes, one by one, polling place by polling place.

The most conclusive proof that we won the presidential election lies in the attitude of refusal and rejection that the candidate of the right has adopted in relation to our demand of counting the votes again, one by one.

* * *

I will never admit that this election was clean, free, or equitable. That would amount to self-betrayal. But I have told the candidate of the right that if he declares himself in favor of recounting the votes, I am going to accept the outcome — I am going to stop calling the citizens to demonstrate.

That is a commitment I have been making. They should not be afraid of democracy. I insist, if he believes he won, why the fear? Let there be transparency. Let’s recount the votes. That’s what we’re proposing.

* * *

Mexico, our great country, does not deserve to be ruled — and we won’t allow it — by a spurious president, without legitimacy, without moral or political authority.

We are now waiting for the Electoral Tribunal to make the decision to clean and make transparent this election by ordering that all votes be recounted. That is, I repeat, the most sensible and rational solution. That is the legal and political solution that best serves Mexico and democracy.

* * *

We know that the members of the Tribunal are subject to brutal pressures from the powerful — those who believe they are the owners of Mexico. We must clarify: It’s not that we don’t respect our political institutions. It is instead that, in our country — unfortunately — we have not yet build a tradition that ensures everyone that the people who have in their hands the institutions act with decency and righteousness.

Let’s not forget that in our country simulation has prevailed. Historically, the Constitution and the laws have been enforced only in the surface but have been violated in the substance.

In Mexico, unfortunately, law has meant the opposite of its raison d’être. They invoke a state of laws, but those in charge of imparting justice, instead of protecting the weak, only help to legalize the dispossession and the abuses committed by the strong. The law that has prevailed is the law of money and power, over and above all.

Although we don’t discard the possibility that the magistrates of the Tribunal may act as free men and women, with the moral stature, the courage and patriotism that this moment demands from them; although we still expect from them a responsible and patriotic attitude, we are not going to trust them blindly and we are not going to wait with our arms crossed.

Besides that, our history teaches us many lessons. We must remember that everything, everything that we have attained in our history as far as liberties, justice, and democracy are concerned, has been conquered with the organization and the struggle of the people.

Nothing — or almost nothing — has ever been a gracious concession granted by the powers. We became an independent country not because the Spanish Crown so decided, but because of the popular struggle led by Hidalgo and Morelos.

We had a Reform, not due to the will of the conservatives, but because of the conviction and tenacity of the liberals. And the little or much we attained in terms of social justice, we owe to the Mexican Revolution, to the struggle of Madero, Villa and Zapata — and many other anonymous heroes.

We should never think that democracy will ever be enforced from the top down. This can only be possible with the effort and the mobilization of the citizens. Democracy, like justice or freedom, is not to be begged, it’s to be conquered.

* * *

I am not driven by vulgar personal ambitions. I am not moved by the interest in money and have always said that power only makes sense — and may be even turned into a virtue — when it is placed at the service of the many. I fight for principles and ideals. That is what I deem most worthy in my life. Not public office, not even the most important office in the land.

* * *

I propose that we stay here, that we remain here — day and night — until the votes are counted and we have a President Elect with the modicum of legality that we Mexicans deserve.

I assure you that this effort and sacrifice will not be in vane.

* * *

All the campgrounds will observe discipline, respect, and cleanliness.

We are going to take care of gardens, parks, historical monuments — no public spaces will be defaced or painted with graffiti. We will not fall in any kind of provocation. Our actions will be subject to the principles of peaceful civil resistance within the framework of non-violence. Legally, we will be making full use of the right to demonstrate guaranteed by the Constitution.

While we remain in Permanent Assembly, in all the campgrounds, from the Zócalo to the Fountain of “Petróleos,” we will hold an array of daily artistic and cultural events.

* * *

I will also be living in this place, while we remain in Permanent Assembly.

I know, friends, that what I am proposing will not be simple or easy to carry out, but this is what best serves our cause.

So, again, I will ask for your undivided attention. I am submitting this proposal to your consideration. I ask: Should we stay here? Yes or no?

[People answer “Yes!”]

I will ask again, this time in a different way: Those in favor of staying, please raise your hand.

[The crowd raise their hands]

Please lower your hands now. Now those who are against staying, please raise your hand.

[Nobody raises a hand]

Abstentions?

[Nobody responds]

We stay!

Rally in NYC – Sun July 30, 2006

July 30, 2006

¡Voto por Voto, Casilla por Casilla!
¡Mítin de Apoyo a la Marcha Nacional por la Democracia en la Ciudad de México!

Vote by Vote, Polling Place by Polling Place!
Rally in Support of the Marcha Nacional por la Democracia in Mexico City!

WHERE:
Outside of the
Consulate General of Mexico
27 E 39th St
New York, NY 10016

WHEN:
Sunday July 30, 2006 12 Noon

Le Mexique fracturé

July 29, 2006

My link today is to an excellent article by Ignacio Ramonet in Le Monde Diplomatique.  Enjoy!

http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2006/08/RAMONET/13739

Evidence of more poverty in Mexico

July 23, 2006

In the first year of the Vicente Fox administration, there was a serious attempt to develop an agreed-upon measure of poverty. A commission of specialists led by Enrique Hernández Leos, Miguel Székely, and other reputable scholars worked on the project. Before that, there was little consensus in academic and policy-making circles on poverty statistics in Mexico. Basically, each source had its own calculations and methodology, that the others suspected. And the party in power, the PRI, was known for cooking the books.

For years, the INEGI (Mexico’s official statistics agency) had been conducting a periodic survey of household income and spending (the ENIGH). Over time, the frequency of the survey became biennial and then — in the last couple of years — annual. The resulting database was to be used to compute the official poverty rate. There were some quirks, but the commission had the humility and good sense to agree on simple solutions. The sample didn’t give good information at the local or state level, but it was fine at the national level — and even at the male/female and urban/rural level.

The benchmark figure, in 2000, six years after NAFTA was implemented, was estimated in 54 per cent, that is, over half of Mexico’s population was poor! Rural areas and women were most affected. Improving matters in a situation so dismal, with a benchmark so low, had to be relatively easy for the new government. Or so people thought in 2000. But before I get to Vicente Fox’s performance in economic and social matters, let me say a few words about the social disaster he inherited.

What the 54 per cent poverty rate showed was the social devastation wrought in Mexico by the debt crisis of the 1980s. From 1982 to 1991, Mexico’s economy either shrunk or stagnated. It got a little lift from the depths of hell in the years prior to the implementation of NAFTA in 1994 (the years when Mexico joined the GATT, got a modest reduction in its debt burden, slashed tariffs and import permits, privatized state firms and banks, passed legislation to allow the full ownership of firms by foreigners, and the U.S. business press hyped these reforms incredibly). But then, precisely the year when NAFTA was put in place, the economy collapsed. That became known as the Tequila crisis (1994-1995).

After a year and a half (and a U.S. bailout that yielded a nice return to U.S. taxpayers), in the late 1990s, the average income of Mexicans grew, albeit very modestly in comparison to years bygone. (In the 1950s and 1960s, Mexico’s economy was stable and playing serious catch-up with the U.S. economy.) But some relief was felt in the late 1990s. By some more than by others, as it became clear that during those “NAFTA golden years,” wealth distribution regressed.

Economists infected with the “Washington Consensus” malaise (privatizations, “free” trade, tight fiscal and monetary policies, and de-regulation as panaceas) had predicted that Mexican workers and U.S. capitalists would be the big winners of NAFTA. They were right about the latter, but couldn’t be more wrong about the former. (They invoked a well-known result in trade theory, the Stolper-Samuelson theorem.)

To be fair, studies show that NAFTA alone had a rather modest impact on the average income of Mexicans — that is, NAFTA abstracted from other economic reforms Mexico implemented in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and separated from the peso crisis in 1994-1995 (which economists believe wasn’t the result of NAFTA, a view I tend to agree with).

But just as NAFTA may not be the culprit of all the bad things that have happened to Mexico in the last 12 years, it is clear now that “NAFTA’s golden years” had very little to do with NAFTA! This is not the claim made by a lefty. William Grubben, an economist from the Dallas Fed, has shown convincingly that Mexico’s growth in the late 1990s resulted mainly from the prior peso drop and not from NAFTA proper. In other words, the conditions that enabled the short-lived maquiladora boom of the late 1990s pre-existed NAFTA or resulted from the peso fall in 1994-1995.

How has Vicente Fox performed? He has been a complete disappointment. He promised growth at 7 per cent a year. He had it easy, relatively speaking. During this tenure, population growth decreased steadily, from almost 2 per cent to less than 0.5 per cent a year. The rate of incorporation of youth into the labor force slowed down from the explosive late 1980s and early 1990s. Although the U.S. economy slowed down in 2001 and 2002, Mexico should have been buffered by — manna from the heavens — the increase in the prices of oil and other raw materials that Mexico traditionally exports.

Here’s the real (not per capita, so subtract 1 per cent plus/minus to get an approximate per-capita figure) GDP growth that Fox accomplished:

2000 6.6%
2001 0.0%
2002 0.8%
2003 1.4%
2004 4.2%

In matters of economic policy, Fox spent most of his political capital trying to pass a mediocre “fiscal reform” in Congress that went nowhere. He went to Davos and spoke big words there, met the King of Spain a few times, and conducted himself as a pompous ass. There was no whole enchilada in migration matters. Not even a half-chewed corn chip, not in a midterm election year when immigrants become a handy scapegoat in the U.S.

So, Fox — as they say in Mexico — “nadó de muertito” (played dead) during his economic tenure. And that’s pretty much the PAN’s economic record as the ruling party. How about poverty? The poverty rate improved (i.e. went down) in 2002 (to 51 per cent) and 2004 (to 47 per cent). Rather modest gains, given the pre-existing high rates.

What happened in 2005? If the ENIGH was conducted on time, then the poverty rate should have been announced by now. But it hasn’t — at least officially. Again, officially, because in the last few days, Diario Monitor (http://www.diariomonitor.com.mx/hemeroteca/1153546150/tema-04-22072006.pdf) has been publishing notes saying that the ENIGH data was collected and crunched since early this year. However, the government kept the news on poverty a secret, not to hurt Calderón’s campaign. Who’d have guessed it — rural poverty increased 2.4 per cent from the previous year!

López Obrador has been claiming this was a “state election” (an election in which the government blatantly used the public resources to support the PAN candidate). He could easily use this as Exhibit ZZZ999999: Not to hurt Calderón’s prospects, the government kept poverty statistics from public view.

But, aside from the politicking, there’s nothing that shows the utter incompetence, the faith-base approach, the pompous vacuity of Vicente Fox as a public administrator like this statistic. And he had solid reasons to keep this information from the public. It could have damaged Calderón, his team — even the PAN as a whole. After all, Calderón was the minister of energy while his campaign coordinator, Josefina Vázquez Mota, was the minister of social development.

Sources and reference:

Mexico’s official time series on poverty and inequality:

http://www.sedesol.gob.mx/subsecretarias/prospectiva/CuadernosyDoctos/PDFs%20SEDESOL/PDFs%20Documentos/2as_Docu24.pdf

Mexico’s GDP growth series:

http://www.banxico.gob.mx/eInfoFinanciera/FSinfoFinanciera.html; http://dgcnesyp.inegi.gob.mx/cgi-win/bdieintsi.exe; http://pwt.econ.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt61_form.php

Willian Grubben’s study:

http://www.dallasfed.org/research/efr/2001/efr0103b.pdf

Evidence of fraud

July 22, 2006

The scanning and uploading of image files — as well as spreadsheets summarizing the stastistics — that document the “errors” in the results in the presidential election is in progress. These are the documents that back up the claim of recount López Obrador’s coalition submitted to the TRIFE, the federal electoral court. Again, the information online — massive already — is only a portion of the total. Gradually, the entire set of documents will be online:

http://www.lopezobrador.org.mx/actas/

http://www.amlo.org.mx/actas/

Click on the link labeled “Análisis detallado” to access the “actas.”

Arithmetic errors or fraud?

July 21, 2006

Skjellifetti, a reader, posted the following — very interesting — question and comment:

If the ballots are in the care of the TRIFE, how does Obrador know that “the figures were completely out of whack with the ballots in the packages?” My understanding is that current Mexican election law does not require TRIFE to recount all of the ballots. That law was agreed to by all of the parties before the campaign began. The Europeans and other neutral observors seem to think that the election was fairly clean. By asking for a change in the recount rule now, Obrador looks more and more like a sore loser.

Having said that, a recount of such a close election is not an unreasonable request in a democracy. But it would also not surprise me if Obrador lost the recount, too. Sometimes things are done cleanly, there are no conspiracies, and you discover that there really are more of them than there are of you.

The answer to the question is straightforward. At the end of election day, each polling place was supposed to count the votes manually — in the presence of an IFE officer and representatives of all the parties in the election. The result had to be recorded in an “acta” or document stating the total number of ballots received (TB), the ballots left unused at the end of the day (BU), and the votes cast (VC). The votes cast are broken down into votes for each candidate (say: PRD, PAN, PRI, NA, ALT) and void votes (VV). Then, a copy of the “acta” was supposed to be given to the IFE officer and each party representative, one copy had to be displayed outside of the polling place, and another copy had to be included with the ballots in the packages that everyone there had to seal and send to their respective electoral district.

Clearly, a consistency condition that can be easily checked just by looking at the “actas” — without knowing what’s inside the ballot packages — is this:

TB = BU + VC

where:

VC = PAN + PRI + PRD + NA + ALT + VV

It would have been nice if the IFE had reported in the PREP, not only PAN, PRI, PRD, NA, ALT, and VV, but also BU and BR. They didn’t, although they have that information in their database, which could be accessed by the parties. What they did was to include a rate of “citizen participation,” i.e. VC/registered voters. But then you need to do inference.

A second issue is the consistency between the capture of the information from polling-place “actas” into the IFE’s computer system (posted on the PREP). There’s an awful lot of inconsistencies between the figures input in the PREP and what the physical “actas” say. López Obrador is claiming to have physical evidence that at least 60 per cent of the “actas” have inconsistencies! (They are scanning them all and they’ll soon be available online for everyone to peruse.) The “actas” report 1.5 million votes that cannot have a physical support in actual ballots — that is, if the number of ballots reported in the actas themselves are correct.

López Obrador is not talking about “actas” that made it into the 11,000+ “actas” the IFE dumped in its folder of inconsistent “actas.” As of today, the IFE only deems inconsistent 1.55 per cent of the “actas” — all other “actas” are fine, says the IFE. (Note that this figure used to be larger, which led — in some cases, during the district count — to opening the ballot packages, only to find that in an overwhelming number of cases, López Obrador had had his count decreased and Calderón’s increased in the “actas.”)

Let’s take a step back. Aren’t arithmetic errors common in any election? Yes, but if they are true arithmetic errors, you’d expect them to have the statistical distribution typical of a random variable. Say (without accepting such result as final) that the final outcome is, as the IFE says, PAN 36.38 per cent, PRI 21.57 per cent, and PRD 35.34 per cent. Then, the arithmetic errors should match these proportions pretty closely. I mean, we’re talking large numbers here — the laws of statistics apply.

The problem with these “arithmetic errors” is that they’re strongly biased against López Obrador. My suspicious mind guesses that’s the reason why you see López Obrador demanding a full recount — vote by vote, polling place by polling place — whereas Calderón and his powerful backers resist such event tooth and nail. How do you dispel these doubts without opening the packages?

Yesterday, López Obrador (along with his assistants Claudia Sheinbaum and Octavio Romero Oropeza and computer wiz Esteban) returned to Carlos Loret de Mola’s radio show in W Radio (Televisa’s XEW). They brought 21 well-labeled boxes with documents — copies of “actas”. In paper about 30,000, out of the 50,000 “actas” with “arithmetic errors” that López Obrador’s team has so far been able to review. (They left a DVD with evidence of the 50,000.) Claudia Sheinbaum said there are still more “actas” that their team hasn’t been able to review yet.

They showed to the camera a few cases of discrepancy between the figures in the “actas” and the figures in the IFE report. I’ll list here only those I was able to capture. (The video is here: http://media.amlo.org.mx/Entrevista_Loret_20072006.wmv.) By the way, at a point, Loret de Mola wondered whether they were cherry picking only “actas” with discrepancies that affected López Obrador. In reply, Claudia Sheinbaum challenged Loret de Mola to pick any “acta” and find discrepancies that didn’t help Calderón or hurt Andrés Manuel.

A casilla in Gustavo A. Madero, Distrito Federal
PRD in the “acta” 295
PRD in the IFE database 195

A casilla in Guadalupe, Nuevo León
PAN in the “acta” 186
PAN in the IFE database 786
VC 965
TB 603

A casilla in Ciudad Valles, San Luis Potosí
PAN in the “acta” 166
PAN in the IFE database 766
VC 884
TB 412

A casilla in Chilapa, Guerrero
PAN in the “acta” 32
PAN in the IFE database 132

A casilla in Michoacán
PRD in the “acta” 159
PRD in the IFE database 59

Loret de Mola, echoing an argument that critics of López Obrador have voiced, asked the candidate of the left why his representatives in those polling places where the “actas” were altered didn’t complain or why they signed those “actas” if they were so irregular. Of course, Loret de Mola, as an interviewer can ask loaded questions that may or may not reflect his personal political views. But what calls my attention is the tendency of López Obrador’s critics to blame the victim.

A few days before the election, I denounced on a Mexican Internet forum that López Obrador’s web sites had been hacked. For some reason I don’t understand, López Obrador’s team didn’t denounce that attack publicly (they have denounced the latest hackery, but not that one.) A serious poster on that forum replied saying that the blame fell on López Obrador’s computer team, because they didn’t have the security expertise required to do their job right. The discussion in the forum was political, not technical. So I replied (with an analogy way over the top, but I’ll say in my excuse that I was trying to make a point in a forum with lots of noise) saying:

“If your young sister is raped by a thug, instead of condemning the rapist, would you take it against your sister because she didn’t carry a gun in her handbag or because she didn’t learn martial arts to defend herself?”

I got no reply.

Violence or diversion?

July 19, 2006

This morning, Mexico’s press was almost unanimous in giving great prominence to the heckling of Felipe Calderón by a small group of people, one of whom banged the windows of his SUV and made an obscene sign with his hand. The bodyguards from the “estado mayor presidencial” (the equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service) rushed Calderón away from the place.

The PRD has denied organizing this particular protest. Alejandro Encinas, Mexico City’s interim mayor and PRD leader condemned the action in strong terms. But the press is using this particular instance of heckling as the kind of mob actions that López Obrador is unleashing by not giving up. A lot of noise is being created.

I work at an office in a building located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in New York City (yes, envy me — or not, since this is one of the areas most exposed to a future terrorist attack in the U.S.). Some mornings I stop at a Korean deli on 35th and buy coffee or something. Some of the employees there are Mexican and they get their information about Mexico via Univisión and Telemundo. One of them told me, “Hey, I support López Obrador, but I don’t think he should be threatening Calderón and his family.” “What do you mean?” — I asked. “Well, it was on TV last night.”

The basis of this smear is López Obrador’s remarks in his Zócalo speech last Saturday. Except that there was no threat. You can read the speech here (and Google language tools should help you translate if your Spanish is rusty). There’s no threat anywhere in the speech. He did mention to Calderón that, in deciding what to do next, he should think of his family and those who love him most, because the damage caused to his personal reputation by a fraudulent presidency “cannot be washed off with all the waters in the oceans.”

Clearly, the point of all this trickery is to distract the public from the main issue in dispute: the recount — vote by vote, polling place by polling place. (This is, by the way, what the PAN used to demand when it was in the opposition.) The decision is in the hands of the TRIFE. Yesterday, the president of the TRIFE (the electoral federal court), Leonel Castillo, was assigned the legal case presented by the Coalición por el Bien de Todos (López Obrador ‘s coalition) to have the votes recounted. There’s a lot of speculation about the course of the case in the court, but there’s very little substantive that can be said at this point.

But yes, that is the main issue. López Obrador is staying on message, pressing the point wherever he can. Yesterday, he was interviewed by Televisa’s Carlos Loret de Mola — a smart, a bit arrogant, good-looking yuppie, the son of an old political pundit and writer from Yucatán. Loret de Mola is confrontational in his interviews and he can get under people’s skins. But López Obrador is an experienced debater. Considering his rather understated style, he was pretty snappy in his replies.

“Do you condemn yesterday’s attack on Calderón by your supporters?” López Obrador answered, “no, I condemn the fraud.” Right — fraud big, heckling small. López Obrador made it clear that he doesn’t approve or encourage this type of protests, but he said there are millions who feel betrayed by the electoral system. He said he’d do his best to channel that anger in peaceful ways (it’s in the record), but that he’s not going to condemn it when people heckle Calderón. He’ll save his condemnation and rigtheous indignation for bigger sins.

Loret de Mola pressed on, “So, are things getting out of control? Can’t you control your people?” And “If you don’t condemn people who attack Calderón, how can you avoid being seen as a violent leader?” Instead of playing defense, López Obrador launched a counter-attack and challenged Loret de Mola and Televisa to look at the big political crime that the PAN and its backers are trying to commit at the expense of the popular will.

López Obrador showed a couple of polling place tallies (new ones I hadn’t heard about) where the figures were completely out of whack with the ballots in the packages. (He promised he’d return to the show with boxes of documents showing similar discrepancies, if Loret de Mola cared to look at them.) Just in those two cases, Calderón had one thousand — one thousand! — votes added to him by “arithmetic error.” López Obrador asked Loret de Mola and Televisa to get morally outraged, not only by the heckling of Calderón, but also by these discrepancies — and dig deeper.

Another important point López Obrador made was in answer to a question regarding the mass protests and civil disobedience campaign he’s calling his supporters to wage. “Aren’t you trying to pressure the TRIFE?” López Obrador’s answer could be loosely translated as, “Yeah… sooo? Isn’t the PAN pressuring the TRIFE as well, with the help of the mass media and a few rich people with special interests?” So, he defended the right of the people to pressure the TRIFE . It’s legal, it’s in the Constitution. It’s the right to protest, which is meant to exercise pressure on authorities. What’s the point of a protest if it doesn’t pressure an authority?

Absolutely!

James K. Galbraith on the Mexican election

July 18, 2006

Today, I’ll limit myself to linking James K. Galbraith’s article in the Guardian. Please click below and read on:

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/james_k_galbraith/2006/07/the_mexican_standoff.html

Democracy without the demos

July 17, 2006

Yesterday’s demonstration in Mexico City’s Zócalo was the largest in the country’s recorded history. One million and a half — as the organizers claim? One million and one houndred thousands — as the local police estimate? Two hundred thousand plus — as per Reuters? Who knows. Look at the photos — it was huge!

http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/07/17/index.php

http://fotos.eluniversal.com.mx/fotogaleria/wfg.html?gal=2419

Today, as expected, the pundits in the press are ignoring the demonstration — or minimizing it (“the Zócalo can be filled with 150 thousand people,” says Sergio Sarmiento in Reforma, to which I feel like replying, “go ahead, try to do it yourself in defense of Calderón”), or demonizing it as a crime of lesa democracy.

Large masses of people demand at some personal cost that their vote be recounted, one by one, because they are convinced that the official results of the election (according to the IFE) are fraudulent. And, by so doing, they — the people, the demos in democracy — are deemed a threat to Mexico’s democracy! When you use money to influence the political process, that’s your inherent right within a democracy. If you use your feet and voice, and cooperate with those who suffer the same grievances as you do, that’s a threat to democracy.

I pick on Sergio Sarmiento because I deem him one of the most intelligent critics of López Obrador. Other critics are too wacky. Clearly, they are hired guns that cannot be taken seriously. Sarmiento’s opinions tend to reflect the views of a layer of urban intellectuals with sophistication and international experience (Sarmiento lived in Canada and speaks English fluently).

Sarmiento’s latest piece in Reforma criticizes what he deems to be López Obrador’s strategy: his challenging the election and using mass mobilization to subvert or weaken Mexico’s democratic institutions, which — implicit in Sarmiento’s text — are to be protected from the mobs. This position has some logic. What it doesn’t have is grounds in the reality of Mexico’s social life as can be seen if one ventures outside of the rich and middle-class enclaves that punctuate the country. It is a view that summarizes well the illusions of Sarmiento’s readership, the wishful thinking of a modern Mexico where 50 million poor are effectively invisible or, when visible, a pliable mass that wicked demogogues can easily manipulate.

I’ll repeat here an argument I have made before: No, fundamentally, Mexico’s political system is not weak due to the wickedness of political leaders such as López Obrador. Mexico’s political system is weak due to the divide between the haves and the havenots. And this far, the threat to the stability of Mexico’s political institutions doesn’t come from López Obrador or the masses of people who voted for him and now back up his challenge to the IFE’s election results. The threat to Mexico’s political stability comes from those who have tried to derail López Obrador’s bid for the presidency by using lots of money (including some that rightfully belongs to the public) and all sorts of dirty tricks. In the opposition to López Obrador, a lot of Mexicans — the poor, the forgotten ones, the ones with a darker skin, “los jodidos” — see a large-scale replica in the national political stage of the endless difficulties that afflict their day-to-day personal lives.

Sarmiento sees a paranoid López Obrador, whose constitutional immunity from criminal prosecution (as Mexico City’s mayor) was taken away (the infamous “desafuero”) due to his own legal neglect, rather than to the malice of those who oppose him. But the poor have reasons to suspect the actions of those who use the law when it serves them well and ignore it or trample it when it doesn’t. Sarmiento sees a clean election with a result López Obrador should have accepted inconditionally from the outset — any doubt of IFE’s partiality being another expression of paranoia. The people sees “gato encerrado” — an attempt to defraud them.

Catch 22?

July 13, 2006

Based on press reports, my understanding is that the Coalición por el Bien de Todos (López Obrador’s) is contesting the election on the following grounds:

(1) inequity in the process since, among other things, (i) the PAN violated the legal limits on campaign spending and (ii) government resources were used in support of the PAN candidate, and

(2) manipulation of the results in a number of polling places (the PRD is talking of “tens of thousands” of polling places).

In my understanding (and I’m NO legal expert), if the TRIFE rules that there was inequity, the whole election could be invalidated. López Obrador says he doesn’t want that scenario and is ruling it out in interviews, but it had to be included as an alternative demand in the legal documents submitted by his coalition to the TRIFE.

The manipulation of the results at the polling-place level can be inferred from the few cases where the ballot packages were opened (begrudgingly by the PAN) during the district-by-district review of the tally. I have no doubt that the sum total of the votes López Obrador lost as a result of retail “irregularities” is huge, particularly in Querétaro, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Colima, northern Michoacán, and northern states.

But there may be a legal procedural problem here for López Obrador. According to knowledgeable commentators (e.g. Jorge Alcocer and Jose Woldenberg, both of whom were personally involved in the design of the current electoral system), the argument to open the electoral packages before the TRIFE has to be casuistic, meaning that to open ballot package X, you need a specific argument Y showing reasons why that particular package must be opened.

It may be hard for López Obrador’s legal team to argue on the basis of the general presumption: Since, in the few cases (rather random) where the packages were opened, the bias in the result was invariably against López Obrador and substantial, then there’s grounds to doubt the results of polling-place tallies in areas where the PAN is politically dominant. Therefore, the packages must be opened and the votes recounted.

To me, professionally deformed as I am by my training in statistics and econometrics, random samples tend to have pretty good information about the characteristics of a population.  But lawyers and judges may operate under a different logic. Isn’t this a catch-22 situation for López Obrador?

* * *

One separate point I’ve been meaning to make here is that there’s a campaign in Mexico’s airwaves, orchestrated by very rich/powerful people afraid of a victory of the left, according to which López Obrador’s legal challenge and — above all — his call for his supporters to mobilize subvert the legal democratic process. Fortunately, very serious commentators in the press, including some whose hearts are with Calderón (Sergio Sarmiento comes to mind), are saying that both, legal challenge and mass mobilizations in support of López Obrador, are within the bounds of the law. Indeed, Mexico’s constitution acknowledges the right to protest and demonstrate.

While Televisa and other media outlets find this distasteful, it is clear that the very purpose of these demonstrations is to show the whole political establishment, the government, the media, the business class, etc. — and, of course, the TRIFE judges — that a lot of regular people are massively involved in the process, backing up the legal demand to open the ballot packages and recount the votes one by one, at least in polling places where the popular perception of fraud is greater. There can be no conflict between an institutional democratic process and the popular engagement in it.

What these people protesting on the streets are saying is that the TRIFE has a very delicate decision to make. Either the outcome is legal and legitimate or else, for the time being, the political establishment can forget about the dream of a stable political system in Mexico.


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