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Monday, August 21, 2006 

Fox Caught in Mexico's Election Henhouse

It have been over seven weeks after the July 2 elections, Mexico still does not know who will be their new president. What is certain, the coalition Por el Bien de Todos (For the Good of All) continues to denounce the pro-government fraud, while maintaining their protests to defend democracy.

The partial recount ordered by Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF) has uncovered evidence of widespread irregularities. While the tribunal has not released any official results, judges discovered there were 49,000 more votes cast than there were people who actually voted in 11,839 polling places; ballot boxes were illegally opened; votes for coalition candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) had not been counted; and National Action Party (PAN) presidential candidate Felipe Calderon was credited with 14,847 more votes than he should have been. In Mexico, building an access road on disputed property is a minor offense, but enough to disqualify AMLO from running. It is obvious PAN and PRI that López Obrador is a master at self-promotion. AMLO turn the tables around and the used the situation to his advantage. He played the martyr and the victim of the power elite and the enemies of democracy, which resonated well with the people.

According to online newspaper, People's Weekly World, the tribunal will begin examining unclear ballots on Aug 21 with the goal of deciding whom to award the votes. The tribunal will also try to resolve other election disputes involving the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

However, it seems, the only reason tribunal called for a partial recount was to give an illusion that the TRIFE are actually investigating the election in hopes to satisfy those who are calling for an investigation. World also reported:
A source in Mexico's intelligence services told the World in an interview that four of the seven judges on the tribunal "respond to the interests of Calderon."

In addition, the government of President Vicente Fox was able to pressure the tribunal into not ordering a full vote recount, telling judges that their careers would go nowhere if they made the wrong decision. Six of the seven judges are set to retire from the tribunal next year, their terms coming to an end, said the source.
Recently (via the Unapologetic Mexican), Mex Files reported that CNN journalist Carmen Aristegui released a two-year-old interview of now-convicted Argentine businessman Carlos Ahumada. The video supports the claims made by AMLO that President Fox including National Action Party (PAN) member Federico Döring and senator Diego Fernandez de Cevallos have conspired with Mexico's ultra wealthy to block him from campaigning for Mexico's top spot.

According to El Universal (via dKos diariest, el cid), Ahumada fled the country when soon after he was convicted for bribing Mexico City officials and department heads.
He had fled to Havana to escape arrest on the graft charges. The Cuban government detected his presence and ultimately deported him back to Mexico, but not before questioning him and releasing tapes containing snippets of those conversations.
While being interrogated for 40 hours by Cuban authorities, Ahumada told investigators about the plot against AMLO. According to transcripts (via Charles at Mercury Rising), Ahumada told investigators that the plan was formulated by former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, two Mexican Cabinet Ministers from the Fox Administration - Secretary of the Interior Santiago Creel and Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha - and Senator Diego Fernández de Cevallos, a member in President Fox's party.

The plan was to release videos of prominent politicians with AMLO's administration taking bribes form Carlos Ahumada. The videos were taken with hidden cameras and were made public. Those involved were his finance chief, Gustavo Ponce; his right-hand man René Bejarano; former Mexico City mayor and a former PRD president, Rosario Robles; borough mayor of Tlalpan mayor, Carlos Imaz; and borough mayor of Gustavo A. Madero, Octavio Flores.

It is interesting to note, Rosario Robles provided Ahumada access to the party and the city administration's hierarchy so he could obtain government contracts. Once Ahumada was alone with party members, Ahumada would then video tape his conversations with them.

The first video occurred in March 2004, when Lopez Obrador's former finance chief, Gustavo Ponce was filmed gambling at the Bellagio Hotel (video) in Las Vegas, Nevada. The videos showed Ponce betting with huge sums of money, and information was given about Ponce depositing and spending thousands of US dollars at the Bellagio. Ponce was arrested on October 6 in Tepoztlán, an hour from Mexico City in the state of Morelos. Ironicly, Ponce, was part of an anti-corruption program during President Ernesto Zedillo's (1994-2000) administration. López Obrador named him Mexico City's Secretary of Finance in July of 2003.

The second video scandal came when René Bejarano, AMLO's former personal secretary, was aired on Víctor Trujillo's morning news show, "El Mañanero;" where he is best known for his Brozo the Clown character. The videotape shows Bejarano stuffing thousands of dollars (US$320,000) into his pockets and a briefcase. (video 1 and video 2). The video also shows a conversation taking place between Ahumada and René Bejarano. Interestingly, the video tape was presented by Federico Döring, an up and coming PANista.

Bejarano claimed the money was a cash contribution for Leticia Robles's political campaign for city borough mayor of Álvaro Obregón. Robles, denied any involvement in illegal campaign financing.

During and after the videos were released, AMLO held several press conferences denying any wrongdoing and accusing the Fox administration, first lady Marta Fox, former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, US government agents, the DEA, and the Bellagio Hotel of Las Vegas, among others, for taking part of a plot to implicate him in a fabricated money laundering operation. The timing of the videos was very close to the desafuero scandal, the failed attempt to knock AMLO out of Presidential contention. Interestingly, there are common players involved in the two scandals - President Fox, Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha, Secretary of the Interior, Santiago Creel, and Rosario Robles.

Plan B
After the first scheme to broadcast the videos didn't work, the next plan (the desafuero scandal) was to strip López Obrador of his parliamentary privileges for alleged contempt of judicial authority. Desafuero is the process, which the Mexican Congress votes to strip a government official's immunity in order to prosecute them. Mexican law forbids anyone under indictment from seeking the presidency. Once AMLO was striped of his immunity and taken to trial, if things go according to plan it would ultimately disqualify him as a presidential candidate.

In early 2005, AMLO was stripped of his immunity from prosecution by the PAN and PRI party members of Congress so that he can be charged for ignoring a court injunction to stop building an access road to a hospital.

One thing Lopez Obrador is good at is taking a bad situation and using this to his advantage. Before AMLO was formally charged, AMLO used the media to compare his situation to those of other famous international civil rights activists, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, who also had suffered in prison fighting against injustice. In the end, two PAN Senators posted López Obrador's bail.

The problem began in November 2000 when the city attempted to buy the land they needed to build the access roads. AMLO's predecessor, Rosario Robles, expropriated two segments of a piece of land called El Encino in order to extend an avenue to reach a hospital when the deal could not be reached.
El predio fue expropiado por el gobierno de Rosario Robles el 10 de noviembre de 2000. El 4 de diciembre de ese mismo año, la empresa Promotora Internacional Santa Fe interpuso un amparo.
Shortly after López Obrador took office, La Promotora Internacional Santa Fe filed a claim against the expropriation, arguing that it owned the land. In 2001, the federal judge ruled against La Promotora's petition to suspend the roadwork, naturally, the company appealed the ruling to a higher court. There, La Promotora had won a federal judicial order to suspend construction to an area that would not block access to the land. Faced with the courts ruling, Mexico City was now forced to cut a new stretch of road to provide access to the hospital.

In August 2001, the same judge, noted that the construction company still had equipment on the parcel and thus blocked the owner's use of it. The judge then asked the attorney general to charge various city officials, including the governor, AMLO, with contempt of court for disobeying his order. What makes this suspicious, Fox's Attorney General Macedo de la Concha did nothing for four years. It was not until January 2005, that AG Rafael Macedo resurrected the case and started the desafuero process. Macedo not only start the desafuero process, but he did not seek charges against any of the city officials that were directly involved with the case.

One interesting fact, AMLO is the first person the desafuero process is used for ignoring a court order in Mexico's history. According to a 2005 article from the Los Angles Times:
Constitutional expert Lorenzo Cordova of Mexico's National Autonomous University ... said many judicial orders are issued every day across Mexico and that a significant proportion are ignored by public officials without prosecution. He said he knew of no previous case in which a public official had been prosecuted for ignoring a court order. "This would be a first in Mexican history," said Cordova, a former advisor to the Federal Election Institute. "This is a case of selective justice and one that is eminently political in its application." (LA Times, March 19, 2005).
Another interesting fact, according to El Universal (via Narco News), Mexico City also questioned Escobedo's ownership of the land.
The document outlined that Federico Escobedo, supposed owner of "El Encino," has twice been to prison. The first time was for a fraud of more than seven million pesos in (the public housing program) INFONAVIT in 1993, and the second time for tax evasion, in 1995.

"This is the person who says he is owner of the property, although he's not the only one who claims it. At least two other people claim ownership of this land in the Santa Fe neighborhood," the document stated.
La Jornada provided some insight on how La Promotora Internacional Santa Fe took part in this scandal. La Promotora acted as a proxy for Escobedo from the time Escobedo and the city tried to negotiate a deal.

During March of 2005, the President Fox and his Secretary of the Interior, Santiago Creel ran a negative media campaign trying to draw comparisons between López Obrador and common criminals.

In order to convince the public that President Fox had no hand in failed desafuero coup plot; Fox suddenly backed down his "desafuero" crusade after days of defending the case against López Obrador. Fox defended the desafuero because it was necessary to preserve the rule of law that he had ushered in, insuring that "no one is above the law."

Surprisingly, Fox announced on TV that Attorney General Rafael Macedo had decided to resign from office over the "polarized controversy" surrounding the prosecution of AMLO.
"I am convinced that as a Mexican, as a soldier of the republic, as a man of laws, I should open a space for the president so he can make decisions that he thinks are best to lead the country, in the political moments that the country is living, to promote unity and consolidate democracy," Macedo said in an address carried live on television.
This was clearing a sign that Fox was trying to save face and using it as a way to drop the contempt of court charges.

With the recent events surrounding the July 2 election, it is clear Fox is losing what ever credibility he had left and PAN is beginning to lose their's with the recent revelations provided by CNN journalist Carmen Aristegui. The PAN has let down and continues to let down its democratic mask. During Fox's tenure, PAN showed that it too suffers from the same authoritarian virus that infected the PRI. It completely forgot the teachings of one of its founders, Efraín González Luna, who was politically persecuted and firmly opposed to the partisan use of power.

It appeared that the 2000 elections had put an end to a one-party ruling era. However, recent events are beginning to appear to be a warning that the country might not have changed and that it might remain a one-party authoritarian regime, but just with a different party. At most, it could turn out to be a two-party authoritarian regime, with the PAN and the PRI running the show. A couple of signs might indicate Mexico is heading towards this path. One, the agreement between the PAN and the PRI to bump AMLO from running for president during President Fox's 2004 "desafuero" crusade.

The other sign was the formation of the Federal Election Institute (IFE) and the right to serve on IFE's General Council. In 2003, it is obvious there was pack between the PRI and the PAN on who would serve on IFE's General Council because there is a clear indication that López Obrador's party was excluded.
...the appointment of the IFE's current General Council (2003) has raised questions about the Institute's overall impartiality by comparison with that of its predecessor because it was structured without the active participation of the PRD. (National Democratic Institute, Pre-Election Observation)
Recent development also point that this might be the case. El Universal just reported that the Federal Electoral Tribunal accepted a citizens' petition the Court to review the performance of the IFE during the July 2nd elections.

It does not seem to matter to either President Fox, Felipe Calderon, or any of the PAN Representatives that over 1 million of the country's citizens are demanding a full recount. They seem intent in trying to revive Mexico's old tradition where the President handpicks his successor. Back to a time where elections were just a facade of competition and the people could do nothing to change the ruling party's monopolistic control of political life. By refusing to listen to its citizens, they are clearly calling into question Mexico's democracy.

The government's current and past actions do constitute an attack against the citizenry and against a true, complete democracy. It is unfortunate that People's Weekly World is not one of Mexico's news source because if what the online newspaper's source said is true - four of the seven judges on the tribunal "respond to the interests of Calderon" - it is this kind of information the public has the right to know.

By manipulating a court's decision is a blatant attack on Mexico's social and electoral democracy. And such practice does nothing more but destroy what little trust the Mexican public might have for the democratic processes.


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