Monday, July 31, 2006

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Un pocito español...

I was given permission by "rich", who posts regularly on the Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Mexico Message Board to reprint this true -- and perhaps cautionary -- tale.
...many years ago in Mazatlan when I was just starting to learn the language (I was)walking from the bus station to where I was staying (a couple of miles) and having not eaten on the bus trip, I decided to enter a little corner shop and buy a snack. In front of me at the cash register was an older guy speaking English with a strong Canadian accent buying a few items which he dropped on the counter and roughly ask "How much is this stuff?" The Mexican running the store shrugged his shoulders and replied No entiendo. to which the customer using gringo logic responded by speaking louder and slower "How much is it?" Again the Mexican responded No se, no entiendo. This continued a bit more an finally the Canadian grabbed a bunch of Pesos out of his pocket and slammed them down on the counter half yelling "Okay!" The Mexican looked at the money and said Okay. The guy grabbed his stuff and left. At this point I was a bit worried but with what at that time was a very rudimentary and poorly pronounced Spanish I put my stuff down and asked ¿Cuanto cuesta esto? The Mexican looked at my stuff, looked at me and in better English than I can speak responded "Don't worry about it, that guy paid for it." indicating the customer who had just left.
...and the moral of the story is...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

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Politically incorrect

Mexico On-Line is a great resource... for the less-than-budget tourist or those with a farily substantial pension who are considering retirement to Mexico. It's got its quirks. In the age of the internet, are there really adults of any age who don't know what certain common words mean. Oh, I can understand a website appealing to the tender sensitivies of timid sorts seeking a warm climate in a cheap place to live, who would be shocked if they read all the letters in f*** or sh**. I can almost understand ***, though it made responding to a message regarding gender isses problematic. (I could have lived with s*x, or even s**, but I finally had to resort to victorian euphemisms like "personal congress" and bizarre 1950s-style clinical terminology, like "same-gender interpersonal relationships" to talk about, something that an issue involving a word their software accepts -- "prostitution".) Anyway, it's not just "sex" that bothers these folks... it's "political correctness" -- GRINGO correctness. According to "Dr. Charles", Lopez Obrador is a "Communist" and some of the regulars seem convinced all hell is going to break loose if the Mexicans do something radical like follow their own laws and maybe decide they did elect Lopez Obrador. I love to read the folks who think that if the "left" takes over, they're going to be facing an angry mob of campesinos armed with machetes (probably demanding the agualdo the retirees never bothered to pay their campesino maids and gardeners, because... to hear them tell it... getting around Mexican labor law is what gringo retirees are supposed to do). Type "Socialism" -- a word that sometimes comes up when talking about a country where 4 of the 6 national parties are "Socialist" and you get "S*******m"! Fuck that shit!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

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The wild, wired west

Here's a few snapshots from my new neighborhood. This is the north end of the Sierra Madres, known to creative nineteenth realtors as the "Texas Alps"... thus, Alpine Texas, where I'm now ensconsed... doing a REAL JOB, I might add. The Big Bend is an interesting place... with about one person per square mile, there's plenty of room for the weird and the wired... and those who are both (I don't know how scared I should be about living someplace where I seem perfectly normal). Besides the native cowboys, Indians and Mexicans it attracts more than its share of folks stuck in the 60s (both the 1860s and the 1960s), Henry David Thoreau and Yosemite Sam wannabes, cranky individualists and harmless eccentrics. And... suprisingly enough... the hip, slick and cool. Marfa down the road is not only known for the mysterious lights (some of our "illegal aliens" may be from another gallaxy) but for its mysterious draw for artists, artistes and hangers-on. I think galleries outnumber any other business there... you can't find a pharmacy in downtown Marfa, but you'll refresh your soul, and find a latte in every remodelled gas station. Oh... and let's not forget our enterprising smugglers -- of marijuana and people. And anti-smugglers. While Migra (the United States Border Patrol to y'all) is a major employer (and Alpine even has a Federal Court House to handle the "traffic"), the National Guard is also around... as, once in a while, are the Minute Men. Who don't get much respect. Round about these parts folks think of the Minute Men as a bunch of pansies who wouldn't last ten minutes outside their RV parked somewhere on a dark desert highway. We don't need no stinkin fence. It's hard enough to communicate through the mountains and with that river serving as a national boundry, it creates some communications problems. The hipsters, the cowboys, the gangsters and the hippies (and even Yosemite Sam) are all wired. Though with all those professors who fled English departments holed up in old mining towns, you have a plethora of small publications, a daily on-line newspaper, but only two kinds of radio stations -- country AND western. There was an NPR station in Marfa, but it seems to be off the air lately. And the Sul Ross college station, which has been run by the profs over the summer -- meaning Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and other "golden oldies" for those of us who grew up on sexdrugsandrocknroll. There's no local TV station (and... a selling point, no Walmart within an hour of Alpine, and we're closer to the Evil Empire than most other population centers in the area), so add satelite TV. And cell phones... and international calling (for some stupid reason, it's still an international call just to Ojinaga, an hour down the road... but the dentist is a hell of a lot less expensive there. Being about the same distance to Chihuahua or El Paso, guess where I'll go shopping... unless I want to go to THE shopping mall in Odessa Texas). I'm actually behind the curve right now. I got my phone installed today, but I haven't received the modem and software for my highspeed conections (and, I'm working off an old Dell computer with Windows Millenium software), so for tonight, I'm using dial-up. Luckily, given that everywhere is long-distance, I contracted for unlimited long distance service, since I'm connected through Alburquerque right now. HOPEFULLY, I'll be back in cyber-Mexico within a week or so... AND... of course, those of you in REAL Mexico... please let me know if you'd like to post on this blog. With a "real job", I 'm not sure how much time and effort I can put into this for the next several months. Other opinioned, cranky Mexophiles welcome. I'll leave a light on for y'all.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

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Certain uncertainty

A purported union official on Wednesday visited with conservative candidate Felipe Calderón´s campaign staff and disputed claims that the presidential election was tainted. However, it turns out the union "leader" doesn´t appear to hold any post. The visit by Gastón Saenz of the Electrical Workers Union (SME) to Calderón´s campaign headquarters was a surprise since his 14,000-worker union staunchly opposes President Vicente Fox´s plans to allow more private investment in the government- run energy sector. Calderón, of the National Action Party (PAN), has promised to continue those efforts. On Wednesday, the union appeared to recognize Calderón as the apparent president-elect. The elections were "carried out democratically, cleanly, with all the political honesty that a democracy requires," said Saenz, presented as a top union adviser, adding that he had forwarded proposals to Calderón. Campaign officials stood by smiling as Saenz described the July 2 vote as clean, honest and democratic. But SME union chief of staff Enrique Bernal later said Saenz was a retired member of the union, and that he currently held no post nor spoke for the group.
(Mexico City Herald, 20 July 2006) Kelly Arthur Garrett, who knows more about Mexican politics than anyone alive, writes in the same paper:
A full recount of every vote cast for president could take as little as six days, leaders of the Andrés Manuel López Obrador campaign said Wednesday. ... "Six days of counting means six years of stability," said Horacio Duarte, the official liaison with the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) from López Obrador´s Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). ...The PRD claims a vote-by-vote recount would give its candidate the victory. But even if it doesn´t, the campaign leaders said Wednesday, a recount would confer legitimacy on the next president otherwise lacking in an election marred by allegations of rampant procedural irregularities. Calderón, however, has steadfastly refused to endorse a recount and has instead assumed the trappings of the president-elect based on his lead in the uncertified vote count. One argument against a full recount has been that it couldn´t be physically carried out in time for the Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF, or Trife) to declare a winner by the September 6 deadline.
With 130,000 actas nationwide, and 20 minutes to count each one gives 43,000 hours. Divided by the 300 national electorial districts gives you 145 hours per district. OK, if you worked around the clock, it's possible. But, I'd say eight to ten days would be more realistic. Even so, that ain't bad, and sure beats six years of uncertainty. The Calderón people, borrowing perhaps from the Bushistas in 2000, are claiming there just isn't time to resolve the election. What's the big hurry? The Electoral Tribunal's self-imposed deadline isn't until September 6. If the vote count starts next week, or even in two weeks... or even three weeks, there's plenty of time to be finished by September. Geeze, it's not like the President of Mexico has the code for launching nukes or anything. And, speaking of uncertainty, those folks who were screaming that the country was going to fall into chaos as a result of the uncertain outcome are... well... wrong, as usual. No violence has been reported from the pro-democracy protests.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

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Moving the masses -- Mexico City and across borders

It's official... Sunday's pro-democracy (or pro-AMLO, depending on how you look at it) demonstation did attract over a million people. The ALWAYS trustworthy Kelly Arthur Garrett writes in today's Mexico City Herald:
The million-plus Mexicans who gathered peacefully in Mexico City´s Zócalo Sunday may have participated in history, not just for their record-setting numbers but as mass inaugurators of what´s being billed as a new and permanent pro-democracy movement. But opponents of Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who led the march and rally, moved quickly Monday to accuse the PRD candidate of organizing the massive mobilization as an "incendiary" tactic designed to influence the contested election´s outcome. ... López Obrador has insisted since shortly after the July 2 vote that fraud perpetrated by the ruling PAN and facilitated by high officials in the Federal electoral Institute (IFE) tipped the balance in favor of Calderón. On Monday, he characterized the fraud as "old style" - such as ballot box stuffing and tally-tampering - rather than "cybernetic." The PRD candidate said that a certification of a Calderón victory by the Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF) - which he said he would accept "under protest" - would only underscore the need for an ongoing, mass democracy movement. "It´s unacceptable that a privileged group can use money and dirty tricks to illegally impose an illegitimate president," he said Sunday. "That´s why the general objective of this movement is the defense of democracy."
President Fox had to fly the whole way to St. Petersburg to get a few minutes with a guy who, thanks to "money and dirty tricks" is -- maybe, perhaps -- an "illegitimate president." Only to have George W. tell him that his goal, an immigration agreement with the United States, is dead. Nothing will be done before the end of Fox's term at the end of November (and coincidentally, just after the U.S. Congressional elections). Is this a failure for Fox or for Bush? Flying to Madrid for the "Encuentro Iberoamericano sobre Migración y Desarrollo" (Iberio-American Conference on Migration and Development), Fox said that immigration should be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem for destination societies. He spoke very little on its affects within the emigrant country however. At the same conference, the Subsecretary for Population, Immigration and Religious Affairs (all lumped together as a historical amomaly ... foreign missionaries and Spanish priests being at one time the bane of the government's existence), Lauro López Sánchez, called for the elimination of discriminatory policies and violence against migratory labor. And, in the "turnabout is fair play" department, runners up in the State elections in Chiapas are accusing the PRD governor Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía of using state resources to favor his party over opposition groups, including PAN and PRI. More later

Saturday, July 15, 2006

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Don't call us, we'll call you

The Federal Elections Tribunal magistrates are not refusing to answer their phones until they have reviewed all files relating to the presidential and legislative elections. Legislators, party representatives and various factions within the electorial alliances apparently are bothering the judges, who are trying to work through 359 separate complaints. That includes 169 received Friday, writes Jorge Herrera, in this morning's El Universal. In the same paper, James McKinney (writing also for the New York Times) reports Felipe Calderón, who -- if he won -- has done so by the smallest possible margin -- is saying the whole process is "unnecessary". AMLO, meanwhile, tells Jornada that a Calderón presidency will be "spurious", and, no matter what happens, he's going to continue working on his "alernative project for the nation". And... striking school administrators in Oaxaca (the teachers returned to the classroom last week) from the Asemblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca, burned scenery intended for the annual Guelaguetza folk festival. I haven't checked in with my friends in Oaxaca yet, but I'm sure most of them are livid about it. More later.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

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Out for the count...

The always perceptive, and always on-targe Kelley Arthur Garrett, writing in the Mexico City Herald, notes that the battle now is one of perception, with Calderón's people attempting to paint AMLO as "an instigator of violence whose legal challenge of the July 2 election is based "on the simple fact that the outcome doesn´t favor him." German Martinez (I always thought of him as PAN's version of Newt Gingrich, though with his baby face and ties to the "Pious Wing" of the Party, might be their Ralph Reed), puts out an interesting "spin":
...saying the former Mexico City mayor will be "the one and only person responsible for any violence that may be generated" in the coming weeks. Martínez also insisted that the PRD and its electoral allies - the Labor and Convergence Parties, are maneuvering for a new election. "They´re looking to throw out the civic effort of 41 million Mexicans (the total number who voted) because of the simple fact that the outcome doesn´t favor him."
UHHHH... isn't the dubious nature of the vote count what's undermining those 41,000,000 people's civil efforts? AMLO's campaign manager, Manuel Camacho, said he expects the tribunal to order a full count, annul the election or declare Calderón the winner (any of which still leave plenty of time for a transition government to take over when Fox's term expires on the first of December ... this isn't the U.S., where there were only 14 weeks between the 2000 count and the January inaguaration). Moreover, he said the street protests were a healthy thing -- a non-violent way for the people (including the 65% of voters who did not support the right) to vent widespread anger among López Obrador supporters who feel the election is being stolen from them. Felipe Calderón says that to count all the ballots would be "absurdo", but he'll accept whaatever the Election Tribunal orders. Speaking to the Spanish daily El País, he claimed he could also mobilize the people... even filling Azteca Stadium (seating capacity 114, 465 ). He seems to be accepting that there will be a full count, or a recount of some kind. Who will be setting up the stadium, and who will drive the busses though? The syndicatos are threating mobilizations if there is not a "vote by vote." "ballot station by ballot station" count. ("voto por voto y casilla por casilla" sounds better in Spanish). These unions include UNAM employees, who manage the stadium. Whatever the outcome, there may be some procedural changes in the election process. Jornada reported that one problem is that the poll watchers signed tally slips without actually witnessing the tally. As I've pointed out before, the real surprise in this election was that PRD did so well nationally, being up til now as having only a limited, regional presence. In a lot of the country, you just don't have PRD voters, let alone poll watchers. American right-winger "Mark in Mexico" writes:
40,000 polling places had no PRD representative present during the voting, the counting and the tallying of results.
At any rate, AMLO's people are making the argument that just signing the tally does not mean the tally was correct -- or even actually witnessed. Probably true, and probably needing technical corrections by the next round of elections. This is going to be my last post for a few days -- As I mentioned, I'm moving to the Texas Big Bend, and have to pack my computer. I hope to get back to spending more time on Mexican history, though part of my new paying gig is to keep abreast of Mexican politics. I imagine I'll be writing more on immigration than usual, but will be maintaining this blog... though, of course, I'd welcome some "team members" to join in.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

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Election coverage on the fly...

I'm in the middle of moving out to the Big Bend area of Texas (where I'll be editing a regional -- both U.S. and Mexican sides of the border -- on-line newspaper), so will be in and out for the next few days. I've looked at today's Universal, Jornada and Milenio. I'll translate exerpts if I get the time today. Border Hotline is subscription only, so here's a big chunk of what I wrote (c'mon... buy a subscription already!)
It’s tempting to compare the surprisingly close – and not yet resolved – Mexican presidential election to our own 2000 Election. Resist the temptation! Right off the bat there are two big differences. First, the supposed loser was not, like Gore, the heir apparent to the sitting president. Lopez Obrador was the outsider, and the three parties in his coalition had never received more than 20 percent of the national vote. No matter who is the president next December, they will have to work with the Socialists. A second difference is that in Mexico it was the president’s party that was accused of using “dirty tricks” – and engaging in computer fraud -- to manipulate the vote. And PAN, the Fox Administration’s party, isn’t just accused of working against Lopez Obrador, but against the other main candidate, the PRI-Green Party coalition candidate, Roberto Madrazo, as well. Just to make it complicated, the PRI (which has a colorful history of tipping the ballot box in their favor) is also accused of frauds designed to suppress vote for the Socialists, in a few states. ... ...very close elections are not uncommon in local elections. What was unusual was how very, very close the “Preliminary Rapid Electorial Count” (PREP, in the Spanish acronym) was. ... Unlike Florida, where the close count immediately suggested fraud, in Mexico, the “PREP” results are always checked when there is no mathematically probable winner. But, when we hear of rechecks on this side of the border, Florida naturally comes to mind. The “denuncias” Lopez Obrador (and some minor parties) filed Monday are all part of the normal process. The Elections Tribunal has heard these kinds of cases before – again, at state and municipal level, but not in a presidential election. At worst, the Tribunal would order a new election, but with Inauguration Day not until December 1, there is plenty of time to rerun the election again. The only similarity to Florida is that everybody has an opinion about who stole (or didn’t steal) what, and by how much.
Steve Lendman, a Wharton MBA and Chicago businessman, having retired in 1999, has the time and inclination to write -- and write very well -- a nicely researched pro-AMLO two-parter on the Mexican elections in his blog. John Ross covers the on-going saga from Mexico City for The Nation.

Monday, July 10, 2006

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Still confused (the election, again)

Joshua Holland, at has a good readable overview of the electorial process -- much better than anything I could throw together. His "spin" is that what's fashionably called by the U.S. right and left the "mainstream media" (i.e., the corporate media) is buying the line that Calderón won... which he hasn't -- yet.
It's already become fashionable to compare Mexico's 2006 vote with the impasse that followed Florida's contested race in 2000. There are many differences, but one stands out... Andre [sic] Manuel López Obrador, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), is not going to go down without a fight. Millions of frustrated Mexicans who had pinned their hopes on "AMLO" will have his back. The media have been dutiful stenographers for the Calderón campaign and reported that López Obrador's call for massive (but peaceful) protests demanding a fair count is somehow bad for Mexican democracy. ... Crucial to the mainstream narrative is that conservative candidate Felipe Calderón has won the election -- that the National Action Party (PAN) candidate took it in a squeaker. Yes, there are reports of "irregularities," we're told, but the vote was clean and López Obrador's protests only prove that he's a sore loser who simply won't accept the outcome of a close loss (sound familiar?). That narrative is wrong for one simple reason: nobody has won Mexico's presidential election. Regardless of what the New York Times or Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) claim, the results aren't in. Under Mexican law, only the Federal Electoral Tribunal, know by its Spanish acronym TRIFE, can say who will serve as Mexico's next president.
(and more)
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God and AMLO, part 2

I received an e-mail this morning... something given the post below, makes it worth sharing:

The Anglican Bishop who is the presiding bishop of the Anglican Church in Mexico gave a quick plug for AMLO on Sunday here at St. Pauls. Since the offering (unless designated as a church pledge) went directly to him and it was 8000 pesos. I think I am the only one who even caught it.

Whether it's legal or not for a church to contribute to a political campaign, or if this would be considered a violation of Mexico's severe restrictions on clerical interference in political matters, I don't know. I presume the funds will be given to some organization not tied to either the Church or the "Alianza por el bien de todos". Protestants in Mexico generally support the left (or, rather, they feel threatened by the militant Catholic wing of PAN and find radical separation of church and state prevents persecution or hardship), but the Anglicans, who are only 0.1% of the Mexicans, aren't like the Baptists or Seventh Day Adventists -- mostly poor and rural, likely to be discriminated against by their overwhelmingly Catholic neighbors, and who find radical separation of Church and State their best defence -- and who fear what might happen (and in some cases, has happened) when the "pious wing" of PAN runs the local administration. The Anglicans are generally well-to-do people, and their churches tend to be in the snazzier parts of town, or in the "gringo ghettos" as they are often the church of choice for English-speaking foreign residents. I'm frankly surprised... first the Auxillary Bishop of Mexico City, now the Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Communion. Whether this indicates a recognition of the justice of AMLO's quest, or a larger grassroots campaign to change the system (coming even from the elite) I can't tell yet.
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God and Benito Juarez on AMLO's side... IFE defends its statistics

Auxillary Bishop of Mexico, Monseñor Carlos Briseño Arch, presumably speaking for Cardinal Rivera (who is in Spain on church business) -- and by extension for the Catholic Church -- paraphasing the father of Mexican nationalism (and, anti-clericism) BENITO JUAREZ ("Entre los individuos como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz") discounts reports of political violence, and defends the right of the people to protest the election, Notimex reports. While the Church still does not directly speak on political issues, it's hard not to read the "signs and wonders" in the Monseñor's remarks. I have never heard a cleric quote Juarez, even though this particular quote is known to every Mexican schoolchild and is the basis of Mexico's non-interventionist foreign policy and the pithiest statement of the Mexican theory of justice and equality. Moreover, the Bishop said "the people have a right to make themselves heard, to oppose if they disagree, and of course, to demonstrate that there exist some type of irregularities and inconsistenciess in the elections". That's a quick and dirty translation... but even in the veiled language the Church uses when talking to the State, it's very, very clear. The Federal Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes of the Past" (FEMOSPP) questions -- as do others the timing of ex-President Luis Ecchiverría's arrest, and "unarrest". Rosario Ibarra de Piedra (who, ever since her son was "disappeared" in 1974 has been hounding the government, the PRI, and Luis Echiverría personally -- she ran for President as a Trotskyite in 1982, just for the chance to raise embarrasing questions, and won a Senate seat this election as a "Coalicion Por el Bien de Todos" plurinominal candidate) thought the arrest coming four days before the election was a "Foxist joke". Echiverría's release, this weekend, doesn't make sense either... UNLESS, of course, it was indeed designed to both surpress PRI votes, and to shift undecided voters to PAN. FEMOSSP is appealing the judge's decision. AND... though I haven't been able to follow up today, IFE is insisting their quick returns were correct, and they have nothing to hide (I don't think they do... but the party's may). From Sunday's Jornada:
by FABIOLA MARTINEZ In the latest attempt to explain to the public the differences between the Preliminary Electorial Results Program (PREP) and those results coming from district calcultations, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) will today release a detailed report of the controversial system, which last Monday showed Panista Felipe Calderón having a 1.04% advantage (402,708 votes) over Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador of PRD. However, the district calculations - the results of which were official release Thursday - show the difference between the two candidates of only 0.58%, equivalent to 243,394 votes. Starting early Monday, and continuing all week, advisors and the technical committee responsible for the PREP have insisted that there were no "without incidents nor contingencies", even though 11 thousand 184 actas (ballots cast) for the president were disqualified and not included in the count. In other words, these ballots, representing 2,581,226 citizens were not scrutinized, because of irregularities or supposed illegibilities in the statistical sample ballots. In spite of that, the advisors insist PREP worked as it was designed to, playing its proper role, and is not expecting any changes before the next federal election. "There is nothing to hide and in three years - during the elections to renew the House of Representatives we will again use his tool that gave us very precise results in calculating the presidential results," said advisor Arturo Sanchez Gutiérrez, president of the Commission of Electoral Organization.
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Want to live in Mexico... but don't want to teach English ?

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

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We won't get fooled again...

WOW... Mexico City is used to mega-demonstrations, but THIS IS IMPRESSIVE... 250,000 to 500,000 (more than Calderón's "victory" margin) in the Zocalo demanding the Electoral Tribunal recount the votes. And, unlike the "million citizen's march against crime" (originally intended to be an anti-AMLO march), this was not a carefully organized event... the PRD, like the Democrats in the U.S., aren't known for their organizational skills. By the way, I'm tickled to see myself quoted in the U.S.'s premier political blog, Daily Kos. The "comments" to Mexico: Vote Counting Software Hacked (reprinted from Correntewire) include some excellent additional postings and references (as welll as opinions, natch!) regarding possible vote miscounts (and the role Diego Zavello Hildebrando plays in all this).

Saturday, July 08, 2006

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AMLO and I... pondering our next move

AMLO first Hector Tobar and Richard Boudreaux, of the Los Angeles Times, do their usual excellent job of unkinking the lastest twists in the election saga. I've redacted quite a bit of the whole article, mostly because it is "registration required", though the same article will be reprinted within a few days all over the U.S. Lopez Obrador Challenges Mexican Election Results
MEXICO CITY -- Top aides to leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called Friday for a recount of nearly half the votes cast in Sunday's presidential election and edged close to demanding that the entire vote be nullified. The statements by the Lopez Obrador camp of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, revealed a two-part strategy to deny a victory to Calderon, who on Thursday was proclaimed the winner of the vote by a margin of just over half a percentage point. By demanding a recount of about 18 million of the 41 million votes cast, aides said Lopez Obrador hopes to overcome the 244,000-vote margin proclaimed for Calderon. Lopez Obrador has been asserting since Monday that there were widespread irregularities in the tally. Simultaneously, Lopez Obrador's aides charged that President Vicente Fox improperly had influenced Sunday's presidential vote -- an accusation that could provide grounds to ask the Federal Electoral Tribunal to nullify the election and order a new one. ... Lopez Obrador's allies have been arguing that the president's many television and radio commercials touting the successes of his administration were a thinly veiled attempt to aid his party's candidate. Mexican law forbids the incumbent to intervene in the election of a successor. Fox "violated the principles of equity, impartiality and objectivity," said Ricardo Monreal, a top official with the Lopez Obrador campaign.Calderon, for his part, said he would prevail in any legal battle. If his victory stands, he would take office on Dec. 1. ... Mexico's electoral tribunal has overturned the results of several gubernatorial and mayoral elections in recent years, ordering new votes to take place. In those cases, the losing candidates made charges similar to Lopez Obrador's: that local leaders used their influence over media and control of government coffers to violate the principle of "equity" in the competition between the candidates. But legal experts said it was not clear if the tribunal had the authority to overturn a presidential election. ... The court has until September to validate the result of the election. Until it does, Calderon's victory has no legal standing.
AND NOW, ME... I've taken a job as Assistant Editor of an on-line newspaper because... well... besides needing to find a job at this point... it's rare to find anything that integrates skills you acquire over a lifetime, but usually only get to use one at a time (I've been a software document specialist, a journalist, an ESL teacher and a business administrator at various times) ... and -- as an added bonus -- this job requires keep my interest and ties to Mexico, and fostering my interest (some will say obsession) in Mexico's culture, politics and history. I will shortly be relocating to Alpine Texas (believe it or not, with a population of 6000, it's the big city in the Big Bend), and probably shuttling back and forth between Chihuahua and Alpine (ONLY 320 Km... about 200 miles for the metric system-challenged). And, I'll have to go to City Council meetings, edit articles (something I don't always bother with here) and deal with underpaid, overworked reporters. You know... work. I learned today someone is filiming a movie about a terrorist invasion across the Rio Grande/Bravo del Norte in the Big Bend -- obviously, my work is cut out for me in the Big Bend. While I expect I'll be writing more on border issues than national politics, this never was intended to be a "Mexican Political Blog" -- I'd started out just writing on the everyday weirdness of Mexico, especially the weirdness of Mexico City. At some point, I realized what was needed -- but I didn't have the resources, knowledge or contacts to bring off (and, I've never had the time to edit myself -- especially when I can barely see straight, writing at 3:30 in the morning) -- is something more substantial than one person can handle. I'd much prefer writing about Princess Salm-Salm or Alemeda Park on a Sunday Afternoon or Luche Libre, but the political issues are important, and gathering the news items is about the best I can do right now. There are tourism sites everywhere, and more than a few "These Damn Mexicans Should Listen To Me" sites, and a few wonderful "My Life and Welcome To It" sites, but not much for those who accept that Mexico is not the United States, that it has its own (generally "leftist", "far leftist" compared to the U.S.) politics, culture, history and perversities that are all well-worth exploring. So... Mexicans, Mexiles and Mexophiles ... those of you who enjoy sharing your own twisted versions of the eccentricities and everyday surprises of Mexico... send me an email, so I can add you to as a "team member". Provided they behave themselves, promise not to steal posts or corrupt traditional lefty values, I might even let in a PAN apologist or two.

Friday, July 07, 2006

All posts were moved (11/2006) to

Now what? Those election results

I don’t think the ghosts of 1988 are hanging over this election, but there are some troubling aspects to this very close election. With only 243,934 votes separating the first place and second place winners, questions about missing ballot boxes, dubious federal actions and attempted voter suppression are going to linger. I predict that besides the PANistas and the Fox Administration’s overt assistance for Calderón, the “Alianza por el Bien de Todos” (PRD-PT-Convergencia ticket) is going to question how much Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente (aka “Subcomandante Marcos) had to do with the narrow victory for the right. After all, Marcos’ “Other Campaign” was vigorously working to keep Lopez Obrador out of the Presidency – ostensively because AMLO is too much like other Latin American leftist (i.e., a realist when dealing with the United States and the World Trade Organization – though I suspect it’s more that the ELZN finds it easier to negotiate with PAN. I’m not the only one wondering about this much too close election. I think we’re going to see more stories about dumped ballot boxes in the next few days. I didn’t even have to go into the wild world of the Mexican polemical press to find them. The analysis is by a respected talking head… and my references are from regional papers rather than the “usual suspects”... the national dalies and the foreign wire services. Ballot Boxes In Dump (Reuters) The daily newspaper El Universal reported 10 ballot boxes and a polling station report were found in a garbage dump in a poor neighbourhood on the edge of Mexico City. El Universal reports other ballots and tallies in a Xalapa dump. PRD has reasons for suspicion (El Universal, 6 July 2006 -- my translation) EL UNIVERSAL analyst Jorge Zepeda Patterson concludes that "the election results are irreversible, but the PRD is within its rights to be suspicious of federal authority’s actions, and of some omissions by IFE." He added that "we hope that the courts have the flexibility to conduct hearings that will calm the winners as much as the losers.” Questioned on how the next president will govern in a divided Mexico, Zepeda Patterson said that the divided electorate is not the problem. A more serious concern is that 40% of Mexicans did not vote – that is, only one in four voted FOR Calderón. This is a mandate for a pluralistic, inclusive government, especially one that includes those who espouse the views of his chief opponent – that is, that are “first of all for the poor.” The analyst emphasized that such a plural government is not necessarily a political coalition, "I do not believe in that type of governments. It is not necessary to create a patchwork of parties” to govern under policies that inclusive, tolerant and democratic. Asked what foreigners could take away from the elections, Zepada Patterson responded “I believe the impression was reasonably good. It is an enormous test to have a competition this bitter, and there are lessons that were learned. I still insist the Federal Government acted irresponsibly: Fox’s open support in favor of his party’s candidate, the intervention by the PRG [Federal Attorney General’s Office] in the Echeverría matter and in the affairs surrounding the Jalisco candidate Zamora were advance payments on settling electoral debts.” [MY NOTE: ex-President Luis Echeverría, after several years of inaction by the Federal Prosecutor, was suddenly arrested on genocide and human rights abuse charges; Zamora was tied to narcotics trafficking. In both cases, the “real reason” seems to be to discredit PRI politicians in contested regions. There is coverage in the Matamoros Manaña, in El Expreso (Hermosillo) and other regional media] On the reaction of the Stock Market (BVM), Zepeda Patterson he admitted that “of course” it responded favorably to the election results, because there is no doubt that Felipe Calderón is the candidate who assures stability in the short term, although he may not be the best option in the long run: unless the government is responsive to the interests of the poor there will be upheaval. The economist and sociologist also said that the confidence in IFE was buoyed. While the exercise shows an enormous confidence in citizen participation, there is doubt about the moral legitimacy of the Institutes leadership. "We must return to designating citizen advisors who are true notables, of moral authority and irreproachable reputation. Finally, asked if democracy there isn’t more to democracy than voting, and voter participation, the analyst was "in agreement. We are democratic most of the time, and what we just lived through was a civic celebration of democracy, but now we must turn completely democratic. The problem for us is that we are an electoral democracy but not a political democracy".

Thursday, July 06, 2006

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When the going gets strange... election (and other) chincanery update

UPDATE (8 PM, 6 July): The official count gave Calderón 15,000,284 votes to AMLO's 14,756,350... barring any changes by the Elections tribunal, it looks like the original PREP count will hold up. I haven't made up my mind what it all means -- though, as I posted here, it looks like PAN will have serious concessions to the left to get anything through Congress, and that Calderón will need to work with a "coalition cabinet'. I may post later... or, maybe I'll take a break from the elections to look at "normal" Mexican weirdness. UPDATE (7:40 PM 5-July -- Mexico City time: IFE is not breaking down votes by state or district yet, but the ballot count results they're releasing now show AMLO in the lead with 36.69% of the votes, to Calderón's 34.65%. Madrazo is far behind at 22.1%, Mercado at 2.71 and Campo at 0.94. Most of the change appears to have been overestimates (intentional or accidental ... maybe a bad statistical model, or really just too close to give an accurate result) for Calderón and Madrazo. STILL... IFE is warning us not to take these as a trend... yet. To quote the Ira Gerswin -- HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON? (5-July) Way back in November 2003, the U.S. Libertarian website, Insight Magazine reported on FBI misappropriation of Las Vegas casino surveillence tapes. It was on one of those tapes -- showing the Mexico City comptroller gambling with city funds -- that an up and coming PANista, Federico Döring, showed on Brozo the Clown's morning TV show... and kicked off the year long attempt to force AMLO out of office (AMLO, of course, survived quite nicely, turning into an even more viable Presidential candidate than he ever was before the outbreak of disafuero-mania back in early 2005). Greg Palast has dug up a whole slew of old information that I knew, but had more or less forgotten about, dealing with more U.S. government misappropriation of Mexican voter data -- also suggesting (unofficial, or at least plausibly deniable) U.S. support for PAN. And, as I noted on 29 June, Carmen Aristegui
acting on a tip from some so-far "unnamed source" accessed voter data herself, using "Hildebrando117" as her password. "Hildebrando" is, of course, Calderón's inconvenient brother-in-law.
Something is going on... while the new report that Calderón only leads AMLO by 0.6% is being reported in all Mexican media sources, there is an excellent report in English in this morning's Los Angeles Times written by Héctor Tobar and Carlos Martínez .
Late Tuesday, election officials added the 2.5 million votes to the public count. Lopez Obrador outpolled Calderon on these ballots by more than 145,000 votes, narrowing Calderon's lead to slightly more than 257,000 ballots, or 0.6 percentage point. Election authorities said that as many as 900,000 votes remained to be added to the official tally because polling station results had not yet arrived at regional election headquarters. An undetermined number are from the remotest rural areas of southern Mexico, which lean toward Lopez Obrador. ... Tuesday's developments were the latest twist in an already strange saga pitting two candidates on opposite ends of the ideological divide. The vote is the closest in Mexican history. ... At a news conference Tuesday, leaders of the PRD repeated and elaborated on Lopez Obrador's charges of irregularities in the preliminary count. Campaign chief Ortega said results from 13,086 polling stations — slightly more 10% of the total — were not included in the initial count released by election officials. Party leaders said results from many stations in the states of Jalisco, Sonora and Guanajuato, strongholds of Calderon's National Action Party, appeared more than once in the preliminary results. Cesar Augusto Morones Servin, a pollster hired by the PRD, said fewer votes were counted in the presidential race than in the races for congressional deputies and senators. Mexicans were voting for all three. Blank or "null" ballots are included in the vote total, and all three categories should have had the same number of votes, Morones said. ... Suspicion among Lopez Obrador's supporters was heightened Monday when the investigative magazine Proceso, citing police intelligence sources, reported that senior Interior Ministry officials had attempted to shape media coverage on election night. Ministry officials called the news directors at Mexico's two leading television networks and requested that they not broadcast the results of their exit polls, Proceso reported. Interior Minister Carlos Abascal did not deny making such calls... "We insist that the electoral process has to be absolutely respected, because it was transparent," Abascal said. "It is characteristic of democracy to have argument and passionate rivalry, but it is also characteristic of democracy to submit unconditionally to the referee and the result."
Of course, one expects the referee to be using the same rulebook for all the teams... and that none of the teams is getting information on the other teams from someone outside the game. AND IN OTHER DUBIOUS NEWS FROM MEXICO...

Bill Masterson, who, when he isn't insulting people posts misleading (or non-existent) data about Mexico on a number of websites, especially the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Mexico Branch (lately under the names"longford" and "johnq"). As I found out a long time ago, even a fool has his uses. But -- like anyone who has spent time in Mexico -- I have some sneaking admiration for a good con job on the gringos. Who conned who is the question.

The June 11, 2006 Naples (Florida) News has a story by editor Phil Lewis about U.S. immigrants to Mexico. Their source? One "Bill Masterson", who... according to Lewis

writes for the Peoples Guide to Mexico, a Web site for U.S. citizens wanting to retire or seek business opportunities south of the border, has been researching the matter.

Then goes on to quote a February 2002 article Bill WROTE (he hasn't written for that publication since 2002)on U.S. immigration. Even if the facts WERE somewhat plausible in 2002, they aren't based on anything concrete ... and some of what's presented as "new proposals" (like a national identity card) weren't -- to my knowledge -- ever seriously proposed, even back then. AND... IN THE SLICKEST TRICK OF THE WEEK Who do you think is the one clear winner in the election? According to la Maesta, Señora Hoffa, Elba Esther Gordillo... SHE DID!. From her point of view, she had to destroy the party in order to save it. There's some scary stuff going on... so I'll end with something really scary... Elba Esther in the (um... flesh, I think):

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

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What's in your Croc pot?

Scott Parks, in Melaque Jalisco, who incidentally publishes one of the best MexPat websites, has found that like so many of us MexPats, the little annoyances of life don't disappear ... they just get more interesting. When I had a house in Houston, battling moles and fending off baby possums wanting to come in the house was just one of those minor incidents that come with a lawn. Possums are ugly critters, though the babies are ALMOST cute -- as are the babies in Scott's back yard. But, it'd be very hard to warm up to their 3-meter long mom sitting off in the lagoon who wasn't real happy when her little darlings were put in a bucket ... Scott has more photos, a short story and a WAV file of baby crocodile croaking.
All posts were moved (11/2006) to

It ain't over til it's over... or -- PAN: better really late than never

The preliminary vote count has Calderón ahead of AMLO by a little over 400,000 votes. While these are only a quick tabulation, and a full count is required, all the wire services are reporting that it appears Calderón won. The very narrow margin of victory -- if indeed, the full count matches the preliminary one. As I wrote last night, IFE is going to have to make a convincing case that its count was accurate for Calderón -- or AMLO, for that matter -- to be seen as the legitimate president-elect. Unlike people in the U.S., after the contested 2000 election, Mexicans are not going to accept a dubious "technical" victor. I don't have a say in the election, but I make no secret of having prefered AMLO. Even if he didn't win, the PRD did very well indeed. It normally only gets about 15% of the national vote, and isn't even represented in large parts of the country. The "Por el Bien de Todos" coalition looks to have captured 30% of the votes for Senate and Deputy -- and that's a HUGE increase, especially considering the two other parties in the coalition (PT and Convergencia) were lucky to get one or two "set aside" (proportional representation) seats normally. With Alternativa probably also getting at least a proportional seat or two in both houses, there'll be a broad leftist bloc balancing out PAN. With PRI (which, everyone forgets that PRI and PRD are both member parties of Socialist International) -- which is naturally a rival, but will agree with the leftist bloc on broad issues, Mexico is in no danger of shifting permanently to the right. PANAL (Nueva Alianza) is just Elba Esther Gordillo's creature, and will probably side with PAN (Elba Esther's attempt to swing her faction of PRI to support for PAN is what got her tossed out of the party in the first place)... which is like Jimmy Hoffa backing Nixon -- but still, PANAL is TECHNICALLY a labor party. So -- what's changed? PAN is LOSING SUPPORT! While they gained one delegacion in Mexico City (Cuijamalpa, which is similar to a lot of exurbs in the U.S., going from rural to suburbanite yuppie within 10 years), they lost voters in even strongholds like Guanajuanto. In Morelos -- the governor's race is -- like the Presidential one -- a close call between PAN and PRD. The PRI candidate was basically a joke (she was the one whose daughter was trying to bribe the voters with free panties), but the PRD is taking over municipalities and the state legislature. After being told that the 2000 election meant an end to Mexican leftism, and a turn to neoliberalism, the Mexican voters in 2006 are back to their normal pattern: ever since Alvaro Obregón defined "the Revolutionary Party" back in 1920 as "everyone who supported the Revolution", about 60% of voters have gone labor/left. Of course, for many years THE Revolutionary Party was PRI, which really didn't need to spend so much time and effort on stealing votes over the years. The big democratic change came when PRI became too wrapped up in neoliberalism and technocratic governance to lose leftist support. It was Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano's stolen left-wing victory in 1988 that led to the democratization of the system. PAN was merely the accidental (or -- perhaps not so accidental: Jesse Helms and right-wing Republicans had a lot to do with it -- but that's another story) beneficiary of the changes. In 2000 PAN managed to tone down its clerical wing, and gave the synarchists (the Mexican form of Francoism) a "human face" (it's no accident that that José María Aznar, Spain's former Minister-President, and Partido Popular leader openly supported PAN while in Mexico) and attracting voters tired of the PRI or uncomfortable with openly leftist leaders like Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano (AMLO was always being described in the U.S. media as a "firey leftist" -- usually by reporters who'd never heard Cárdenas speak. AMLO is languid -- and even at his firest, he's laid-back by comparison). And Fox promised radical change. Buyer's remorse... or voter's remorse ... and PAN's reversion to it's old ways (in one of the more notorious incidents, a new PAN administration in Aguacalientes posted "NO DOGS OR GAYS" signs at city swimming pools) probably limit the party's growth. Marta Fox -- like Aznar the Spaniard -- is a smiling, semi-reformed fascist and was too visible for voters to miss. And PAN's "pious wing" has made a comeback, with Manuel Espino Barrientos' election as party leader (this would be like electing a Christian Coalition leader as head of the Republican Party). Its growth potential is limited, unless either the Mexicans turn reactionary and clerical (not bloody likely!) or the party broadens its appeal. Calderón has already realized that the only way to form a legitimate administration is going to be to form a coalition with the left. It sound like, grudgingly, and only 86 years late, the right is joining the Revolution. (Yes, yes... I know Wikipedia isn't considered the most reliable source of unbiased information... but they're not bad for basic biographical data or general information)

Monday, July 03, 2006

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And the winner is....

DAMN, this is close. I stopped watching the elections returns after it was announced that there wouldn't be an official announcement until Wednesday. IFE keeps changing the figures on the official PREP (Programa de resultos electorales preliminares) and, if you refresh the screen, it'll change (or it is as I write this). As of NOW... Calderón leads AMLO by less than 1%. I used to think you got a better idea of actual party support by looking at Senate and Deputy results... which show PAN with about 35%, PRD-PT-Convergencia with about 30, PRI-Verde 26... and, one I can't yet figure out, "Señora Hoffa's" Nueva Alianza with 4.5 (but less than 1% for their presidential candidate... what-his-face). Alternativa (Patricia Mercado's party) is doing better than I expected in the Presidential race: 3% (and a little over 2% in Senate and Deputy counts). Patricia Mercado's last party (in 2003) tried to appeal to an unworkable coalition of feminists, gays, Protestants, traditional indigenous people and the handicapped (and -- to the party's credit -- had a viable candidate in Oaxaca -- Amaranta Gomez, a one-armed, Protestant tradional Zapotec cross-dressing intellectual and educator!). This time out, Alternativa was hoping for a bit more than the "college professor vote" -- and may have captured some of the left who was uncomfortable with AMLO. I don't know if Alternativa will get any seats or not. They'll need 2.5% to become a permanent party, and in the horse-trading that always follows the election, they may just end up with PRI-PT-Convergencia in being able to form a leftist Congressional majority. PRI-Verde is capturing about 26% of the Senate and Deputy votes, but less than 20% for president. Partially, I'd guess that Roberto Madrazo's personal unpopularity cost the party in the votes for the top slot, but that they still command at least a quarter of national voter preference. If you add the break-away Nueva Alianza's 4.5%, THE party is still collecting about 30% of all votes -- down from the slightly more than a third it had previously, but not a huge loss. On the other hand Nueva Alianza -- being basically Esther Elba's creature -- may back PAN, which would give them the largest bloc in Congress. HOWEVER... just to confuse matters... PRD probably will work with PRI (despite long protestations that the two will never work together, in practical terms, they'd have no choice) -- bringing back Mexico to it's traditionally left-of-center orientation... even if Calderón is President, since he's announced he will (and in this close of an election, would have no other choice, given that his legitimacy will otherwise be challenged) form a coalition cabinet including the left. As the saying goes... more will be revealed...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

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Family Values ...

Well, she's just trying to help out mom... Maricela Velázquez, daughter of Morelos PRI Gubenatorial candidate, Maricela Sánchez Cortés, has been charged with several electoral law violations. Velázquez and several companions were distributing campaign material in both Axochiapan and Telixtac municipios. Residents in Telixtac held the candidate's daughter for several hours before turning her over to authorities. By late afternoon, she and her four accomplices were freed on bail, pending further criminal charges stemming from distribution of illegal campaign material, including cigarette lighters, umbrellas, running shorts and LADIES' UNDERWARE. Would you take panties from this woman..???
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Illegal Aliens -- good for 'murica, good for bidnes...

RAYMONDVILLE, Texas (AP) - Ground has been broken for a 2,000-bed detention center to help end the "catch and release" policy for non-Mexican illegal immigrants, federal officials said. News of the facility comes just weeks after President Bush's May 15 vow to continue to add detention space for immigrants awaiting hearings or deportation proceedings. While Mexican illegal immigrants are quickly brought to the border and deported back to Mexico, immigrants from countries other than Mexico have routinely been processed by Customs and Border Protection officials and released with a notice to appear before an immigration judge at a later date. The "catch and release" system has been blamed on a lack of detention space. The planned $50 million facility would so far be the largest of five such facilities in Texas, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said in Wednesday's edition of the weekly Raymondville Chronicle. "Secretary Michael Chertoff is moving (ICE) away from catch and release to catch and return," Pruneda said. News of the new facility comes a week after Florida-based GEO Group Inc. announced a $10.6 million, 575-bed expansion, to its 875-bed facility for federal detainees in Del Rio. Other immigration detention centers are in Port Isabel, Laredo, Pearsall, and Taylor. Officials in Raymondville said the facility would bring 150 to 200 jobs to the beleaguered county in the first month, and a total of 400 jobs once center is completed. Raymondville city commissioners on Monday agreed to sell a 53-acre parcel of city parkland for the facility, which was unanimously approved by the Willacy County Commissioner's Court. "I'm very happy as we need economic development in our community," County Judge Simon Salinas said. It was not clear Wednesday who would be building or operating the facility, though county construction crews have already been grading the site.

What no one is talking about is that Raymondville is a for-profit business, run by Corrections Corp of America, which presently runs the Willacy County Jail in Raymondville... beset by continual scandals involving prisoner abuse, mismanagement and financial impropriety. Ah, capitalism at its best.