Mexico and Florida have more in common than heat: There is evidence that left-leaning voters have been scrubbed from key electoral lists in Latin America
Saturday July 8, 2006
The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk
There's something rotten in Mexico. And it smells like Florida. The ruling party, the Washington-friendly National Action Party (Pan), proclaimed yesterday their victory in the presidential race, albeit tortilla thin, was Mexico's first "clean" election. But that requires we close our eyes to some very dodgy doings in the vote count that are far too reminiscent of the games played in Florida in 2000 by the Bush family. And indeed, evidence suggests that Team Bush had a hand in what may be another presidential election heist.
Just before the 2000 balloting in Florida, I reported in the Guardian that its governor, Jeb Bush, had ordered the removal of tens of thousands of black citizens from the state's voter rolls. He called them "felons", but our investigation discovered their only crime was Voting While Black. And that little scrub of the voter rolls gave the White House to his brother George.
Jeb's winning scrub list was the creation of a private firm, ChoicePoint of Alpharetta, Georgia. Now, it seems, ChoicePoint is back in the voter list business - in Mexico - at the direction of the Bush government. Months ago, I got my hands on a copy of a memo from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, marked "secret", regarding a contract for "intelligence collection of foreign counter-terrorism investigations".
Given that the memo was dated September 17 2001, a week after the attack on the World Trade Centre, hunting for terrorists seemed like a heck of a good idea. But oddly, while all 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, the contract was for obtaining the voter files of Venezuela, Brazil ... and Mexico.
What those Latin American countries have in common, besides a lack of terrorists, is either a left-leaning president or a left candidate for president ahead in the opinion polls, leaders of the floodtide of Bush-hostile Latin leaders. It seems that the Bush government feared the leftist surge was up against the US's southern border.
As we found in Florida in 2000, my investigations team on the ground in Mexico City this week found voters in poor neighbourhoods, the left's turf, complaining that their names were "disappeared" from the voter rolls. ChoicePoint can't know what use the Bush crew makes of its lists. But erased registrations require us to ask, before this vote is certified, was there a purge as there was in Florida?
Notably, ruling party operatives carried registration lists normally in the hands of elections officials only. (In Venezuela in 2004, during the special election to recall President Hugo Chavez, I saw his opponents consulting laptops with voter lists. Were these the purloined FBI files? The Chavez government suspects so but, victorious, won't press the case.)
There's more that the Mexico vote has in common with Florida besides the heat. The ruling party's hand-picked electoral commission counted a mere 402,000 votes more for their candidate, Felipe Calderón, over challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador. That's noteworthy in light of the surprise showing of candidate Señor Blank-o (the 827,000 ballots supposedly left "blank").
We've seen Mr Blank-o do well before - in Florida in 2000 when Florida's secretary of state (who was also co-chair of the Bush campaign) announced that 179,000 ballots showed no vote for the president. The machines couldn't read these ballots with "hanging chads" and other technical problems. Humans can read these ballots with ease, but the hand-count was blocked by Bush's conflicted official.
And so it is in Mexico. The Calderón "victory" is based on a gross addition of tabulation sheets. His party, the Pan, and its election officials are refusing López Obrador's call for a hand recount of each ballot which would be sure to fill in those blanks.
Blank ballots are rarely random. In Florida in 2000, 88% of the supposedly blank ballots came from African-American voting districts - that is, they were cast by Democratic voters. In Mexico, the supposed empty or unreadable ballots come from the poorer districts where the challenger's Party of the Democratic Revolution (PDR) is strongest.
There's an echo of the US non-count in the south-of-the-border tally. It's called "negative drop-off". In a surprising number of districts in Mexico, the federal electoral commission logged lots of negative drop-off: more votes for lower offices than for president. Did López Obrador supporters, en masse, forget to punch in their choice?
There are signs of Washington's meddling in its neighbour's election. The International Republican Institute, an arm of Bush's party apparatus funded by the US government, admits to providing tactical training for Pan. Did Pan also make use of the purloined citizen files? (US contractor ChoicePoint, its Mexican agents facing arrest for taking the data, denied wrongdoing and vowed to destroy its copies of the lists. But what of Mr Bush's copy?)
Mexico's Bush-backed ruling party claims it has conducted Mexico's first truly honest election, though it refuses to re-count the ballots or explain the purge of voters. Has the Pan and its ally in Washington served democracy in this election, or merely Florida con salsa?
*/ Greg Palast is the author of Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf? China Floats Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08 and other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War