Mexico’s “Democracy” Spurns Millions of Immigrants that Sustain Its Economy
The “Trickery” of the PAN Takes Aim Against Foreign Votes Not in its Favor
By Margarita Salazar
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign on the Other Side
July 9, 2006
Los Angeles, California.- Even though Mexican immigrants sent $20 billion in remittances back home in 2005, as many as 10 million potential voters were sidelined from Mexico’s electoral “democracy” by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE, in its Spanish initials) during the country’s 2006 presidential race. The party of the presumed winner, the National Action Party (PAN), once again showed its scorn for the downtrodden, denying them their right to vote through sly trickery.
As those remittances poured in last year, Mexican legislators reformed the Federal Code of Institutions and Electoral Procedures (COFIPE) to allow more than four million interested Mexicans to vote in the presidential elections. However, a previous estimate by the IFE put the number of eligible voters in the United States at 10 million.
Nonetheless, a few months before the July 2 elections, immigrants discovered these measures were no more than a blatant ruse, denying them access to voting booths that could have easily been installed in consulates and embassies to facilitate the process.
Instead, in April, authorities mailed electoral packages to more than 40,000 registered Mexicans so that they could vote via express mail. These packages only went out to those who dished out the $9 registration fee needed to be inscribed on the electoral list.
Morevover, in order to vote, every Mexican in the United States must have a current voter’s credential, which is not renewable from abroad. The IFE never established the necessary electoral infrastructure outside of Mexico, nor was it possible for citizens abroad to learn about the proposals of each candidate.
This last complaint is being publicized by a growing chorus of several Mexican community leaders in Los Angeles.
Such a claim would be noteworthy if those 10 million Mexican migrant workers actually saw a true option in the proposals put forth by the different candidates. But the hard reality is that these Mexicans, who risked their lives to emigrate to this country, left their own country because its political system – to which the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) also belongs – has only offered them unemployment, low wages and the repression of those social sectors opposed to such policies.
With the closing of the polls and the irregularities that are coming to light, the debate over the elections has begun to polarize those that sympathize with electoral “democracy” and those who, based on their analysis of the reigning political system, believe that the electoral system only benefits the privileged classes.
The complexity of the issue leads to different interpretations, which at the same time indicate different scenarios, depending on who is providing the analysis.
A Crumbling Electoral Democracy
According to the IFE, 32,632 Mexicans voted in the United States, of which 58.29 percent voted for Felipe Calderón of the PAN, 34 percent for Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD and four percent for PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo. Community leaders had a mouthful to say about these results, detailing the way the IFE hatched the “fraud” on the other side of the border.
Felipe Aguirre, national advisor for the PRD in the United States, explained that those numbers do not reflect all the votes cast by Mexicans abroad, because thousands of people that live in the border states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas crossed over to Mexico to vote in special booths located in Chihuahua, Baja California, Sonora and Tamaulipas. These votes were not considered by IFE as “votes from abroad.”
The process enabling Mexicans to exercise their right to vote from abroad (approved in February 2005), asserts Felipe Aguirre, was “rigged” from the start by PAN militants that used associations of Mexicans in California to manipulate the vote in favor of their candidate.
Just as they did in Mexico, in Southern California, the PANistas used the state databases of civil organizations, clubs and federations – here, with the complicity and coordination of the Mexican consulate – to identify citizens’ voting preferences.
Armed with this information, PANistas easily obstructed the registration of those not in organizations that openly sympathized with their party.
These accusations point to former Secretary of Social Development Josefina Vásquez Mota, who left her post early this year to join Calderón’s campaign team. Under her watch, with help from the consulate, the personal information of every organization of Mexicans living in the United States was used to determine the amount of federal monies destined to development projects in the home communities of these U.S.-based immigrants; even though many of these projects were half-funded by the financial resources of the migrants themselves. This relation was exploited by making resources conditional on the support of the PAN and its candidate.
Aguirre, who is also Maywood, California’s vice mayor, adds that before the presidential elections, private associations were created to serve the PAN, such as the Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM), which received a $4 million grant from the Ford Foundation to strengthen the organizations and federations of Mexicans in the U.S. that have existed for many years and traditionally sympathize with the PRD.
A group of PRD supporters in Los Angeles demonstrated in front of the Mexican Consulate on July 5 to demand that the election be “made clean.” They said they would continue protesting until a vote-by-vote recount is undertaken.
With the claim that elections must be “clean and clear,” opponents of the IFE’s behavior demanded that the pro-PAN bias of this electoral institution cease.
All this has occurred in spite of the PRD’s leadership showing little interest in publicizing its proposals among the immigrant population and lacking a consistent campaign on this side of the Rio Grande.
To make matters worse, the PRD finds itself divided in these lands after having named José Jaques Medina as the president of its organization in the United States. This disturbed the party’s social bases, many of whom consider Jaques Medina to be a person focused on his own political interests and not in the immigrant community.
The Odyssey of Those Who Hoped to Vote
On July 2, a caravan of around 500 people left Los Angeles to vote in Tijuana, where they were witness to the insufficient supply of ballots.
It should be noted that most of those who went to vote in Mexico are people who enjoy dual citizenship, which allows them to leave and enter the United States freely. The undocumented wouldn’t dream of risking a border crossing just to vote for the next president of the Republic.
Another factor: the cost of traveling to Tijuana and back could only be paid by those who have a certain economic stability, in contrast to those who live day-by-day earning minimum wage that must cover rent, telephone and other utility bills, in addition to remittances sent back home to their families in Mexico.
Chihuahua-born journalist Rubén Tapia, who has lived in Los Angeles for more than 25 years, said he was very upset by the IFE’s trickery. In his case, Tapia requested an absentee voter form ahead of time. He sent the documents that the IFE requested but the IFE sent them back him, saying that he needed to send a copy of his voter’s credential on both sides of the documentation. Once again he sent in his documents, spending $9, but the IFE again insisted that his documentation was incomplete.
Rubén Tapia explained that he called the toll-free number on the IFE website several times to file a complaint about this anomaly. Fed up with the bureaucracy and the hysterical secretaries who could never give him a valid reason for the hold-ups, he remained insistent but never received a solution. He even had a serious talk with IFE official Oscar Mora, but still nothing happened. Tapia eventually spent more than $100 in gasoline in order to travel to Tijuana to vote.
The community journalist was one of the Mexican citizens who lobbied the Mexican Congress for the right to vote of Mexican expatriates.
David Silva, another voter who traveled to Tijuana, said that many Mexicans were unable to vote their due to the lack of ballots.
He said that many Mexicans who wanted their votes to be counted were upset, and felt that the Mexican government is using a sort of slight-of-hand to make their votes vanish.
For his part, Juan José Gutiérrez, director of the Latino Movement USA, said that in this electoral process “ten million Mexicans who were denied our right to vote were left out of the game,” in an “extremely foul process in which not all of us could participate” thanks to “the PRI and PAN’s trickery.”
As some observers have commented, the “Other Side” is a microcosm of Mexico. The borer states of California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas are a sort of “extension” of Mexico, at least in terms of their high numbers of Mexican immigrants.
As we can see, opinions vary, depending on who expresses them. The numbers also tilt back and forth in the endless dance of statistics, depending on who calculates them and what his intentions are.
For working people like Cristina González – a native of the Costa Grande region of Guerrero who works for minimum wage ($6.75 per hour) in a shrimp packing plant in Huntington Park – all the candidates are the same. “There is much corruption. The truth is there is no hope for change in Mexico, no matter who wins. The only hope is that god allows me to keep working,” she said.
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